William Collins is partnering with Decca Records to revive its spoken word label Argo, making classic recordings of works by the likes of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mary Shelley available digitally for the first time.
Originally founded in 1951, Argo Records’ first major project recording, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, was created between 1957 and 1964. It featured a range of major actors then at the beginning of their careers, including Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi and Prunella Scales.
Laura Monks, co-managing director of Decca, said the archive was a “treasure trove” featuring recordings of other much-loved adaptations of classic books, dramas and poetry.
Kevin Long, Decca’s senior catalogue manager, said: “When we first unearthed these spoken word tapes from deep within our archives, most of them hadn’t been touched for many decades; it felt like we were discovering the ‘modern spoken word’ equivalent of the Mayan artefacts. It was a huge sense of pleasure when we first listened to them, knowing that the classic titles and distinguished narrators—along with the astoundingly high standards of production—were perfect for the new digital generation to enjoy. We’re thrilled to be embarking on this exciting new partnership with William Collins.”
The first titles, scheduled for release later this summer, will include Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women read by Glenda Jackson; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer read by Bing Crosby; a range of Sherlock Holmes short stories read by Robert Hardy; and George Eliot’s Silas Mariner read by Dame Judi Dench.
Further recordings, covering various classics, curated poetry treasuries, speeches and short stories, as well as a range of children’s titles, will be announced in due course.
The Argo list will be available globally on all digital audiobook services.
Jack Chalmers, senior audio editor for William Collins, added: “Everyone at William Collins has been blown away by the breadth and range of the Argo catalogue, and we cannot wait to bring it’s incredible recordings into the digital age. The history and heritage behind these productions is as captivating as the recordings themselves, and we are extremely proud to be partnering with the wonderful and dynamic team at Argo to bring them back to life.”