Radio Ballads (1957-1964)

The Radio Ballads, considered classics of radio production, describe the lives and experience of working people in their own words and music. The picture shows Charles directing a recording session of John Axon.

The illustrations below were drawn by Eric Fraser for the Radio Times.

The Ballad of John Axon concerns a steam-locomotive driver from Stockport, posthumously awarded the George Cross for an act of heroism in 1957 when he refused to abandon his runaway train and saved lives at the expense of his own.

Song of a Road – building the first motorway

Singing the Fishing features the men and women of the herring fishing fleets of East Anglia and Northeast Scotland.  More info – photo and map

The Body Blow – the battle against polio

The Fight Game – why boxers fight

On the Edge – the experience of growing up

The Big Hewer – getting the coal – was named after the mythically prodigious miner of coal legend who appears by a different name in each mining locality.  Swansea University Library contains the South Wales Coalfields Collection which includes a study project on the Big Hewer

The Travelling People – how gypsies survive.  The travellers were natural subjects with their rich folk life, songs, legends and inborn gift for storytelling; they were also a fascinating social study, maintaining fierce pride and independence in the face of constant hostility and persecution.  Further information and photos

The Radio Ballads have now been released on the Topic label, and a full set of reviews can be seen on the Musical Traditions web site. The story of the Radio Ballads is told in Peter Cox’s book “Set into Song”, published by Labatie Books – this is now out of print but the contents can be accessed via – and the series of landmark radical works were discussed by the author at a Free University Day in 2008 – click here for the audio.

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