Charles Parker Day 2009

Report of the Charles Parker Day 2009, National Media Museum, Bradford
in Association with the Centre For Broadcasting History Research,
Bournemouth University
by Professor Seán Street
Director, The Centre for Broadcasting History Research

The sixth annual Charles Parker Day event was held on Friday 3 April in the splendid setting of the National Media Museum in Bradford.  The venue proved to be an ideal one for the varied presentations and screenings, and the NMeM staff handled the logistics with great efficiency and courtesy.

The day began with a fascinating insight into the early development of the Radio Ballads from location to studio by Peter Cox.  Taking as his starting point The Song of a Road, the author of Set Into Song – Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker, Peggy Seeger and the Radio Ballads explored the evolution of the production process towards the optimum methodology as exemplified in Singing the Fishing.

Peter’s presentation was followed by Gerry Harrison’s intriguingly titled talk, “The real Guy Pringle”. This was the name that R. D. (Reggie) Smith’s wife, Olivia Manning, gave him when she wrote her Balkan and Levant trilogies.  After the war, recruited into the BBC by MacNeice and in spite of his Communism, Reggie enjoyed an almost legendary career as a producer in Features and Drama, working with MacColl, Parker and Donnellan as well as “the knights and dames of the stage”.  Gerry is working on a biography of Smith, and his talk certainly whetted the appetite for this!

Paul Long and Mary Irwin turned our attention to Philip Donnellan with a presentation focusing on the insider view of the production, professional culture and politics of BBC radio and TV documentary as provided by Donnellan in his (as yet, unpublished) autobiography We Were the BBC: an alternative view of a producer’s responsibility, 1948-1984.  Donnellan was Parker’s colleague, friend and collaborator as well as producing several TV adaptations of the Radio Ballads. Paul followed this with an introduction to Donnellan’s “Omnibus’ film of 1977 Pure Radio which gave a fascinating insight into the personalities of the BBC Radio Features department at its height, including footage of Charles Parker at work on location.

A Tribute: Charles Parker Day has always celebrated the art of the feature maker past, present and to come and this year Simon Elmes, Creative Director, Documentaries and Features, BBC Radio, remembered one of the most gifted practitioners of recent times, Nigel Acheson, who died just before Charles Parker day in 2008.

The day ended with a presentation by Jacqueline Contre of Banner Theatre, in which she explored the subject of Multiculturalism onstage, discussing the process of connecting with audiences through cultural diversity.  In doing so she provided evidence of a pleasing continuity between the work of Parker, MacColl and Seeger, and current projects and concerns.  Jacqueline is a former performer and administrator with Banner, at present undertaking doctoral research into the work of the Company, at the University of Warwick.

Charles Parker Day was first organized by the Centre for Broadcasting History Research at Bournemouth University and sadly 2009 is the last event with which I will be directly involved.  Charles Parker Day 2010 will be hosted by the University of Sunderland, and directed by Andy Cartwright.  My own part of this enterprise has been a joy, and I thank everyone who has contributed to the event over past years.  I wish Andy and his team great success for the Seventh Charles Parker Day next year.

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