Doncaster’s Five Minute Histories: A Look Behind the Scenes

27th April 202112:40 pm28th April 2021 4:17 pmLeave a Comment

Doncaster’s Five Minute Histories are audio recordings produced as part of Heritage Doncaster’s History Health and Happiness programme. The recordings provide immersive experiences that recreate historical events, through storytelling and sound effects.


Doncaster’s Five Minute Histories are audio recordings produced as part of Heritage Doncaster’s History Health and Happiness programme. The recordings provide immersive experiences that recreate historical events, through storytelling and sound effects.

So grab a cuppa, put your feet up and travel back in time to listen to the stories of the day.  

About History Health and Happiness and Doncaster’s Five Minute Histories

History, Health and Happiness is an Arts Council funded programme that uses history and storytelling to connect with communities and individuals who may be experiencing social isolation, loneliness or struggling with their mental health. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, in-person social clubs and events have been replaced with online social clubs and activity packs, supplemented with Five Minute Histories.  

With guidance from local mental health organisations, our aim was to make Five Minute Histories mindfulness breaks, helping people to take notice and immerse themselves in historical stories. To maximise accessibility, the recordings are available in different formats, including CDs which have been posted out to potentially isolated and vulnerable people, including those feeling the strain of lockdown.

History Health and Happiness team preparing activity packs for distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How are they made?

Step 1:
Selection. We selected a mix of stories relating to Doncaster’s history, some of these stories are widely celebrated, such as the story of the Mayflower pilgrims, and some of these are yet to be fully uncovered, like the story of Joan Jurdie. We also responded to the results of a poll on social media where our audiences requested wartime stories, Roman stories and stories of witchcraft in Doncaster!  

Step 2:
Research. With help from the curatorial and archives teams, our writer begins researching to uncover as much as they can about the historical events from newspapers, oral histories and even archaeological evidence! The curatorial team has also helped us to track down the descendants of people featured in the Five Minute Histories, from as far afield as Canada and the USA.

Teddy Mulvey’s story is told in ‘A Hooton Pagnell Love Story’, with help from his descendants. Image by kind permission of Mark Warde-Norbury

Step 3:
Writing. The time it takes to finish a script can vary greatly depending on the content and research available. Our writer usually writes 2 or 3 drafts before everyone in the team is happy with the outcome, and it is often tricky to narrow down the fascinating stories. Heritage Doncaster’s curatorial team have been a tremendous help by reviewing some of the initial drafts before our brilliant volunteers and sound effects bring them to life.  

Step 4:
Casting. Before we can start producing, we need to find people to voice our characters. This is the trickiest bit! We’ve had a tremendous amount of help and support from Heritage Doncaster staff and their family members but it becomes a little more difficult when we’re trying to find someone with a particular voice and accent. The best method to recruit volunteers so far is by use of Twitter. Through Twitter several people have come forward to help us, from writers to soldiers, school teachers to actors and entertainers, as well as others who also work in museums across the country!

Step 5:
Acquiring Sound Effects and Music. When we have all our voices we speak to Gary Hammond, a percussionist from the band Beautiful South, and he works on creating some very convincing sound effects for the recordings. Where sound effects cannot not be made from Gary’s home and studio, we source sound effects from, and Youtube’s Audio Library.

The percussionist, Gary Hammond at Work

We have also worked with Roger and Andrea Offord from the Doncaster Waites. The Doncaster Waites are group of local musicians who have combined a passionate interest in music and history. They play the historical music of the streets from 1457 to 1832; songs for feasts, for weddings and for civic events. The Doncaster Waites have kindly supplied music played on instruments like the hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes and recorders!

The Doncaster Waites with their instruments

Step 6:
Producing and Distribution. When all the audio elements have been collected, producer Rob Pearson works his magic to bring everything together. It certainly has not been an easy job for Rob, since each piece of audio has been recorded separately, on different devices and in different locations! Each five-minute history track is produced as an audio recording for soundcloud and a series of 5 or 6 tracks are burnt onto CDs to be distributed by History Health and Happiness across the Borough! We’ve also been sharing them on our Youtube channel and on social media.

Rob Pearson working in the studio
Series one of the Five-Minute Histories in production.

What we have we learnt from writing the Five-Minute Histories

Balance is Important.  

The Five Minute Histories original purpose was to enable listeners to escape back into Doncaster’s past, through creative storytelling. We wanted the five-minute histories to be both entertaining and immersive, but also thought-provoking and accessible. Some historical dramas focus on being completely faithful to the time-period being portrayed and while they are excellent resources, the five-minute histories aim to be a little bit different. They aspire to enable listeners to enter into the spirit of the time-period through dramatization. However, we’re still retelling historic events, so keeping balance between historical accuracies and creative license is important! Here are some aspects of script writing we’ve had to consider.  

Firstly, the 5-minute histories utilise contemporary dialogue, perhaps most notably in Sarrius the Potter. The reason for this is that if the dialogue were too reminiscent of its time, it would be completely incomprehensible to us today. While using contemporary language can conflict with the time-period its set within, it is crucial, particularly for our purposes of entertainment and education, that the language is relatively contemporary. We also include music and sound effects to help immerse our listeners, selecting the most historically appropriate sounds wherever we can, but our selection has been dependant on what has been available to us in lockdown.  

Not only can it be difficult to decide on a dialogue style for your characters from history, but often there is actually very little information available about the personality of your character. For example, would Sarrius the Potter be the Dell Boy or the Sir Alan Sugar of Roman Doncaster? Since Sarrius lived in Doncaster roughly 1,880 years ago, nobody today knows whether he was kind or cruel master, what his favourite colour was, or whether he enjoyed Roman cuisine or not. Not knowing much about your character’s personality can make it difficult to know just how to tell the story.  

Even if you do have a great insight into your character, coming up with the plot can still be tricky as historical events rarely follow a nice story arc. Real life is far more messy and complicated than a drama, so it can be difficult to present the entirety of one event or the life of one particular character during a short audio drama. This means being very selective over which parts of the story to tell, which can be hard if you feel the whole story is deserving of attention! For Charles Ward VC, we had to decide whether we wanted to recreate his award ceremony with Queen Victoria, or focus on recreating the ‘Welcome Home’ celebrations in Leeds. The latter seemed more fitting and newspapers chronicled the event, allowing us to base a story around the historical event, but we still had to use some creative license!  

What’s more, is that audio dramas rely somewhat more on audio cues and verbal explanations, than audio-visual dramas do, and certain actions can be trickier to present audibly. For example, Lilian Lenton’s most stealthy escapes would rely much on much more commentary and sound effects to bring it to life. Whereas being questioned at court is far easier to convey through certain use of language and relatively few sound effects!  

Writing the five-minute histories has involved continuous adaptation and learning. While we try to achieve balance through our use of narration, achieving it can sometimes be tricky! However, we hope that these stories have made our listeners feel, smile, laugh and feel inspired. Also that our listeners are able to learn more about these extraordinary events from the past, and make connections with the present day. Whether it is being persecuted for being different or fighting for a cause you believe in, it doesn’t take a moment to see the similarities between these stories and the present day – We can all most certainly learn from the past.

Get in touch!

If there are any stories you would like us to share, or if you would like to get involved in Doncaster’s Five Minute Histories – whether to share your knowledge, volunteer your acting talents or storytelling skills – please email us at [email protected] or look for @DoncasterMuseum on social media.

Written by admin - Modified by Robyn Coney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *