Thalidomide: An Oral History

  • Swansea University
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


This collection contains audio interviews with 16 individuals.

The recordings in series OH1/F, K, L, M and Q are closed for 100 years to preserve the anonymity of the interviewees.



Physical description

106 audio files WAVE audio files and mp3 audio files when originally accquired

Biographical note

2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the withdrawal of the drug thalidomide from the market in the UK. To acknowledge this, Swansea University, in collaboration with the Thalidomide Trust, funded by Wellcome Trust, embarked on an oral history project to collect together a selection of oral testimonies from a cross-section of the thalidomide population. Despite the uniqueness of the thalidomide story, no previous oral history project had been attempted. The project was headed by Professor Anne Borsay of Swansea University; the project assistant and interviewer was Dr Ruth Blue.

The interviewee selection process took into account gender, social and economic background, range of impairment, institutionalisation, education and personal relationships. The Thalidomide Trust provided an anonymous selection of possible interviewees, using the selection criteria above, which was assessed by Professor Borsay and Dr Blue who chose twenty potential interviewees. These anonymous individuals were contacted by the Thalidomide Trust, provided with information about the project and, if they were interested in participating, were given contact details for Dr Blue.

The interviews themselves followed the British Library's Life Stories structure and consisted of a series of semi-structured questions over three two-hour sessions, following subject guidelines but being primarily led by the interviewee. As the interviews took place in people's homes, often covering very personal and sometimes troubling memories and reflections, it was decided that a relaxed and conversational approach would be more appropriate than a more formal approach. The first interview aimed to cover birth, family, childhood, primary and secondary education and early medical interventions. The second would cover adulthood, further education, career, relationships, disability prejudice and later medical interventions. The final session aimed to be a time for reflection, both on the part of the interviewer and interviewee, to discuss any areas felt to be missing from earlier sessions. It was also considered an optional interview as, after reviewing the transcripts of the first sessions, an interviewee may decide that a follow-up session was not necessary for them.

Ethical approval for the project was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee of the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University who also reviewed the questions and the formal consent procedure. Involvement from the Thalidomide Trust and Thalidomide Society was also ensured to safeguard the interests of any vulnerable adults. Project management was the responsibility of Professor Borsay. However, the advisory panel for the project met (with Professor Borsay and Dr Blue) four times between the start of the project in March 2012 and the end of the project in March 2013. The advisory panel consisted of: Geoff Adams-Spink (thalidomider and BBC Disability Correspondent), Jennifer Haynes (Manager of Archives and Manuscripts, Wellcome Library), Martin Johnson (Director, Thalidomide Trust), Vivien Kerr (Secretary of the Thalidomide Society), Louise Medus-Mansell (thalidomider and Chair of the Thalidomide Society), Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds (thalidomider and Proprietor of RMS Disability Issues Consultancy), Rob Perks (Head of Oral History, British Library) and Angela Saward (Curator, Moving Image and Sound Collection, Wellcome Library).

Copyright note

Copyright is held by the Wellcome Trust: this material is made available under a Creative Commons licence.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.


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