Report of the Charles Parker Day 2008 at the Centre For Broadcasting History Research,
Bournemouth University, by Professor Seán Street
Director, The Centre for Broadcasting History Research
The fifth Annual Charles Parker Day conference, organised and hosted by The Centre for Broadcasting History Research in The Media School at Bournemouth University, was held at the Hotel Miramar in Bournemouth on Friday 4th April, and this year formed part of the commemoration of 50th anniversary of the first Radio Ballad, The Ballad of John Axon.
The day began with a welcome from Gillian Reynolds. As in previous years, the event was a blend of talks and presentations based, not only on the work of Charles Parker, but on the broader field of the radio feature, past, present and future. Piers Plowright spoke fascinatingly about the radio work of Glen Gould, discussing the eccentric genius’s thoughts on subjects as diverse as the Menonite Communities of Canada and Petula Clark. Independent producer Alan Hall explored the feature maker’s art from a personal perspective, drawing parallels between shaping radio documentary and the act of composition. Seán Street spoke about the work of the distinguished US National Public Radio producer, David Isay, his 1997 NPR feature The Sunshine Hotel and subsequent developments in Isay’s work, including the Storycorps oral history project (audio file available here). From Birmingham, Sian Roberts shared interesting material from the on-going educational work that is developing out of the Connecting Histories project, some of which has grown directly out of material in the Charles Parker Archive.
The main focus however, was as always, the work of Charles Parker himself, born in Bournemouth in 1919. Andy Cartwright discussed Parker’s skill as an editor, and analysed examples from the Radio Ballads, eloquently demonstrating his ability to “set the speech like a jewel in a ring”. There was this year, a strong visual element to the day. Ken Hall discussed some of Charles Parker’s influences, as well as showing extracts from Philip Donnellan’s television versions of Radio Ballads. Andrew Johnstone showed a draft version of his television documentary about the making of the Radio Ballads, and discussed movingly his own friendship with Charles, beginning with a fan letter, leading to a meeting which in turn proved to be a seminal moment in Andrew’s development as a programme maker.
As in previous years, the future of radio was represented by the awarding of the Charles Parker Prize for Student Radio Features (audio file available here). The judges were Simon Elmes, Creative Director of the BBC Radio Documentary Unit, Clare McGinn, Head of Network Radio at BBC South in Bristol and Miranda Sawyer, radio critic for The Observer. The prize – £500, jointly funded by the Charles Parker Archive Trust and the Centre for Broadcasting History Research, together with a two week work placement in the BBC Radio Documentaries Unit – was awarded to Matthew Rogers of University College, Falmouth, for his feature A Long Commute, about Latvian migrant workers in Cornwall. After completing his work placement, Matthew wrote of the prize:
“It has greatly influenced my outlook towards my future career options. The whole experience was far wider and deeper than any I could have imagined. Thank you for facilitating the Parker Prize, it has really embellished my life in a wonderful way.”