Archives in Podcasts: Victoriocity
Okay, during these quarantined times you've likely got a number of podcasts queued up to at least make the ticking clock scenario of your life more interesting. But what if that ticking clock had lots of gears and switches and unnecessarily long, yet wonderfully worded explanations attached to the whys, wherefores, and what-have-yous of its existence? What if that ticking clock was part of a world where Victorian Era steampunk went a little sideways, longways, and backways? What if that ticking clock wasn't a clock but the beating heart of the mechanized Queen Victoria herself?
Well, my friends, that means you've been listening to Victoriocity this whole time and we haven't been talking about it! Maybe we should hang out more? Yeah, we should.
Written by Chris and Jen Sugden, Victoriocity is a detective comedy set in Even Greater London where the creators dialed the steampunk up to 11 before realizing there were numbers higher than 11, both conceptually and in reality, and had a good laugh about it. The story follows Detective Inspector Archibald Fleet (Tom Crowley) and investigative reporter Clara Entwhistle (Layla Katib) as they become embroiled in a bevy of conspiracies. We the audience are guided along by the helpful exposition of the Narrator (Peter Rae) wherever clarification is needed.
As it stands, there are only two seasons of the podcast, but in each season there is at least one instance of an archives being present, more or less. Anything that I'm about to reveal below isn't necessarily a massive spoiler, but it's something to keep in mind if you'd rather go listen to the whole show before reading this. I'll wait...
Season 1, Episode 5 "The Tower" - in which Detective Fleet questions the ravens of the Tower of London for information about the murder of Dr. Salik.
It's a fairly short scene, but important in terms of getting Fleet headed in the right direction, depending on your point of view. Lured there by the ravens of the Tower, Fleet finds himself conversing with the Ravenmaster, who happens to be an anthropomorphized raven capable of human speech. The Ravenmaster offers Fleet a look at the ravens' archives, which turns out to be a large sack full of the bits and baubles ravens often pick up because they like to collect things. Still, Fleet does find something of importance that sends him off towards the story's end game.
I know I got a tickle out of the bait and switch of the archives being a large sack. Although, I'm sure there are some archivists out there who've dealt with the donor equivalent of a giant sack of stuff to process. I do not envy them.
Season 2, Episode 5 "The Penny Gaff" - in which Fleet and Clara encounter two archives! Two archives, everyone!
It doesn't happen a lot, but this might be the first time where a piece of media has even mentioned more than one type of archives! Hold on, I may need to sit down. This might be too much!
Splitting up to find more information on magician, suspected murderer and traitor Edouard Vidocq, Clara returns to her paper, the Morning Chronicler, and requests access to their archives. Augusta Bell, the Chronicler's chief editor, calls upon Lavender Boothroyd, archivist for the Chronicler. Unfortunately, Boothroyd is rather old and hard of hearing, as one is want to be, and provides nothing in the way of helpful information. She does, however, provide the laughable set-up for the name Boothroyd to be repeated for some time.
I know it plays into the stereotype of the old as the hills archivist, but at least it was a woman this time. Progress?
Elsewhere, Fleet travels to Central Administration to track down Vidocq's criminal case files and records. What follows is a grand narration of the scope and expanse of what has to be a corporate and/or government archivist's dream:
Central Administration was the birthplace, and final resting place, of all official paperwork in the city. It was a twelve-mile long, football pitch wide grey, flat, low construction; the apogee of architectural blandness. So perfect in its featurelessness that visitors would struggle to recall not just what it looked like, but also that they had visited, or indeed worked there, for fifteen years.
Born out of the Victorian impulse to impose orderliness in a stubbornly ambiguous reality, Central Administration was an archivist's paradise.
So, yeah, I'm well on board for bureaucratic shenanigans. Fleet meets up with Administrator Winter, who asks for the unique document number the case files should have, but Fleet doesn't possess. Neither does he have the record index reference number. This one hit too close to home, since a lot of my job requires project numbers as the primary means of discovery, which many people do not have when looking for archival records.
Winter is also a fountain of philosophical fun, doling out some quotable gems like the fact that Central Administration, "Furnishes the world with Truth," and, "If you don’t keep a record of it in what sense did it really happen?"
I'll be honest, I can't disagree with Administrator Winter. Those ideas aren't outside the normal discourse archivists have when talking about keeping records as a matter of societal memory. Reality, as we know it, relies on records (paper and digital) to provide evidence of existence. Sometimes you need a Victorian era archivist to really drive it home.
So, if you're in need of a good time and some fantastic writing and acting, take a listen to Victoriocity. Then we can talk about it and become lifelong friends!