Ballad of John Axon celebrated in Radio 4 Archive Hour

saraparker210‘Like Blackpool Went Through Rock’ – BBC Radio 4 Archive Hour to coincide with 50th anniversary this summer of the first broadcast of ‘The Ballad of John Axon’.

Charles Parker’s daughter Sara has first hand experience of using the Charles Parker Archives as she begins researching the programme.

To hear my father’s voice again after many years, to listen to Ewan MacColl’s amusing and sometimes barbed memories of my dad – this was the beginning of my journey into the Charles Parker Archives. It was both emotional and inspiring as well as a reconnection with who I am.

I have worked in Radio – mainly for the BBC – for the past 20 years. It is a career which chose me because for many years I had no intention of following in my father’s footsteps. Now I have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 through the independent production company ‘Falling Tree’ to make a programme presented by Sean Street to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of The Ballad of John Axon.

Sean Street is Professor of Radio and Director of the Centre of Broadcasting History Research at Bournemouth University. My father was born in Bournemouth and so it is fitting that Sean, who has a long-standing enthusiasm for the Ballads, should initiate the annual Charles Parker Day at the University there. He will bring analysis to the programme about the Ballads importance to radio and other media both then and now, whilst I will bring my passion for creative radio making and desire to give people and communities a voice – something which I am now convinced is imprinted in my DNA.

My research has only just started but as I listen to lectures given by Charles, I have been surprised at how similar we are in many ways in our approach to interviewing and programme making. Not that I could ever make a programme like the original Radio Ballads, although I was involved with John Leonard and John Tams in the 2006 Radio Ballads for BBC Radio 2. I am not claiming the genius of my father, Ewan MacColl or Peggy Seeger but a passion for the truth which I hope will help me find my way through the twists and turns in understanding the alchemy of those three creative minds which it seems have had such a lasting impact on broadcasting.

My guide in this quest has to be archive material and the memories of those who knew my father, Ewan and Peggy – as well as those who are carrying the work forward in contemporary radio, TV and film, or theatre. It seems remarkable that I can hear my father’s voice again on a CD but because of the tape recorder it is possible. Furthermore thanks to the digitalisation and the secure home in Birmingham Central Library, the Archives are not only safe for future generations but also easily accessible and well logged.

As well as Charles’ lectures and thoughts, I have discovered his original field recordings for John Axon and discussions about his work, as well as studio tapes – all of which give valuable insights into the making of the Radio Ballads.

However I would not be a producer worth the ‘Parker’ name if I didn’t supplement material, both from the Charles Parker Archives and those of the BBC, with some of my own interviews and recordings.  Anyone who feel they may be able to help in the making of this programme, please contact me at sara.parker@bbc.co.uk or via the Charles Parker Archives.

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