The Ballad of the Games broadcast on BBC Radio 2 from 2 July 2012 for six weeks

Original blurb from the BBC – click here for media pack

Extraordinary moments from the history of the Olympic Games from Olympia to London 2012 are told in words and specially-written songs in the six-part series ‘The Ballad of the Games’ starting on BBC Radio 2 at 10pm on Monday July 2nd.

More than sixty new songs have been written for the series by songwriters Jez Lowe, Chris Wood, Julie Matthews, Boo Hewerdine, Steve Tilston and Martin Simpson, drawing inspiration from interviews with Olympic athletes taking part and people who were there. Singers include Bob Fox, June Tabor, Chris While and Julie Matthews, Barry Coope and Nancy Kerr and musical accompaniment comes from John McCusker, Andy Seward and Andy Cutting.

This new series of Ballads lifts the lid on moments of Olympic history, telling stories using the memories of athletes, family members or people who were there to inspire new songs. It’s the second series of Ballads from Smooth Operations for BBC Radio 2 since executive producer John Leonard revived the groundbreaking Radio Ballad techniques of Ewan MacColl and Charles Parker of fifty years before.

The six hour-long Olympic Ballads broadcast as follows:

July 2nd: The Olympics from Olympia to London 2012, via the Much Wenlock Games, the father of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin and the two previous Olympics in London, in 1908 and 1948. Jez Lowe contributes a song about 1908 400m gold medallist Wyndham Halswelles, Bob Fox leads the vocals on ‘The Make and Mend Olympics’ of 1948 and Julie Matthews considers the athleticism of Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen in ‘Give a Woman Wings’. Among the contributors are British athletes Dorothy Manley, Tommy Godwin and Dorothy Tyler, with celebrated Olympic historians Wolfgang Decker and Stephan Wassong of the German Sports University in Cologne and Judith Swaddling, the British Museum’s expert on ancient Greece.

July 9: Berlin 1936. The Ballad tells not only of Jesse Owens’ four golds at the Olympic Stadium (‘Jesse Owens’ Shoes’ by Jez Lowe) but also of the Berlin Olympic Bell tolling for the dead of Langemark (‘The Bell’ by Martin Simpson); of high jumper Gretel Bergman (interviewed in New York aged 97 for the Ballad) being dropped from the German team because she was Jewish (‘Nie Wieder’ by Julie Matthews, sung by Chris While); of US sprinters Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller being dropped from the relay team because they too were Jewish (Martin Simpson), and of Estonian wrestler Kristjan Palasalu, who won two gold medals that would later save his life (‘Palasalu’ by Jez Lowe).

July 16: Munich 1972 opens with hopes for a vastly different Games to Berlin (‘Eyes of Many Nations’ by Jez Lowe) with memories from organisers Brigitte Maibohm, Dr Klaus von Lindeiner and Olympic Village mayor Walter Troeger. Olga Korbut’s feature interview inspired Chris Wood to write about her performance and Julie Matthews celebrates the gold medal won by Mary Peters (‘Irish Gold’). Athletes David Hemery, David Wilkie, Ron Hill, Yvonne Arnold and Joe Neville contribute.

The tragedy of the massacre of the Israeli athletes inspires Steve Tilston, Jez Lowe and Chris Wood to write incredibly delicate and sensitive songs about the subject. Steve Tilston’s ‘Black September’ charts the rise of the terrorist group and Jez Lowe’s ‘Did Not Compete’ was inspired by the struggle of sports results agency boss Ulricht Kaiser to categorise murdered Israeli wrestler Mark Slavin in his summary of the Games. Mark Slavin’s sister Tali and Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andre was murdered, discusses her feelings towards the Palestinians. Chris Wood’s remarkable reflective song ‘Impotence and Innocence’ addresses the Palestinian motivation for carrying out the attack: global publicity for their cause.

July 23: Athletes heading for London 2012 talk about their preparations and songwriters transform their accounts into music.

July 30: The politics, boycotts and controversy which have surrounded the Games from their earliest times are the subject of this Ballad. The first row over whether professional athletes should take part is explored in Martin Simpson’s song about 1912 US decathlete Jim Thorpe, with details from his son Bill. The Moscow boycott of 1980 is revisited by Julie Matthews in ‘The Political Divide’; she also penned ‘Silent Salute’ on hearing a Ballads interview with Black Power podium protester John Carlos. The human consequences of the East German regime’s quest for sporting gold through doping is told by Jez Lowe in ‘Steroid Jack’ and the tragic tale of Andreas Krieger is taken up by Martin Simpson in ‘Little Blue Pills’. Krieger started life as Heidi, a shotputter for the GDR, but massive doses of testosterone turned her into a man. Professor Werner Franke who discovered the scale of the blue pill scheme and Prof Dr Jutta Braun, an expert on the secrets of the GDR, also contribute.

August 6: The final Ballad is dedicated to the stamina and mental determination needed to complete the most gruelling of races, the marathon. Jez Lowe celebrates the 1908 marathon finish between Dorando and Johnny Hayes, and also writes about East German Waldemar Cierpinski. He equalled Abebe Bikila’s double marathon gold in 1980 but missed out on the treble because of the GDR’s boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Interviews for the series took reporter Vince Hunt to the US, Israel, Palestine and Germany as well as across the UK. The songs have been produced by Andy Seward, the series is produced by Kellie While and the executive producer is John Leonard.

The first series of modern Ballads in 2006 won two Sony awards, addressing issues like the decline of the steel and shipbuilding industries, thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland and the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Ballad of the Games is a Smooth Operations production for BBC Radio 2 and each programme can be heard again for a week after transmission via Listen Again at

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