Eight decades of talking books

Jamie Cuthbertson.
Jamie Cuthbertson.

An ex-serviceman who was blinded over 15 years ago in a tragic army training exercise has spoken of his love of the RNIB’s ‘talking books’ library.

Jamie Cuthbertson (54), from Bearsden, lost his sight during a demolition training exercise in Farnborough when 100 detonators exploded very close to him.

He served with the Royal Engineers between 1982 and 1988.

Sight loss charity RNIB is marking the 80th anniversary of its ‘talking books’ library, a collection of over 22,000 audio recordings of a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, now the largest collection of its kind in Europe.

Jamie, a former Royal Engineers Captain, said: “The talking books library gives me simple access to reading, delivered to my door and in the format of my choice. They are also unabridged versions of the books which is great. I love it.

He prefers the modern digital format delivered on CD, but is starting to experiment with RNIB’s Overdrive system, which allows subscribers to download books almost immediately online.

His favourite to date is ‘In Another Light’ by Andrew Greig. Jamie added: “The talking books service is an invaluable link for many isolated individuals with sight problems, who would find it difficult to get to their local library and to select books.

“It takes away all the problems and just lets you get on with the reading which is what it’s all about. There’s so much choice, I will never run out of options.”

RNIB first began testing different ways to make ‘talking books’ after the First World War, when many soldiers had been blinded. In 1935, the charity sent out its first talking book, Agatha Christie’s ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. This was recorded on 12-inch shellac gramophone record. Today, RNIB sends out more than 1.5 million Talking Books a year on CDs, USB sticks or as digital downloads to over 34,000 blind and partially sighted people in the UK.