The Charles Parker Day Conference is a well established event in the national radio conference calendar and is an opportunity to reflect on this innovative producer’s work and examine within a wider contemporary context the philosophy behind his radio productions.
This year’s Charles Parker Day, held at the University of Westminster in central London, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first transmission of The Body Blow with a session examining of how attitudes to the portrayal of disability on radio has changed since this fifth Radio Ballad was transmitted. The Body Blow was unique in 1962 as it allowed the people with polio to tell their own story rather than be mediated through a presenter or reporter – giving the listener a greater insight in their lives.
The discussion was led by Geoff Adams-Spinks the former BBC disability correspondent and we heard the thoughts of Trish Caverley, Bridget Flint and Aidan Linton-Smith all of whom contracted Polio as children. Having listened to The Body Blow in preparation for the session they gave a mixed response – some considered it still condescending but all were moved by the personal testimonies within the programme which brought back some bad memories of how they were treated after diagnosis. Aidan and Bridget, who are member of the British Polio Fellowship, also expressed concern that the general public regard polio as having been eradicated and this means it is difficult to draw the media’s attention to Post Polio Syndrome – a series of medical conditions that are now beginning to affect those who contracted the disease during the epidemics of the 1950s.
In terms of the representation of disability issues on the radio it was felt that more needed to be done to get issues affecting the disabled community on programmes and features across the output. There are still important programmes to be made with the skills of future programme makers to innovate like Charles Parker’s to bring these issues to a wider audience in a radical and thought provoking way.