In the late 1950s, folk musicians Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger and BBC radio producer Charles Parker joined forces on a radio endeavor unlike anything the BBC (or the world, for that matter) had heard before.
By 1964 the trio had carved their place in radio history with the Radio Ballads, eight documentaries that brought voices from England's furthest corners and least-celebrated communities to the airwaves in one-hour, non-narrated programs that were part radio documentary, part sound-rich poetry, and part musical tapestry.
The first Radio Ballad, The Ballad of John Axon, told the story of a steam-locomotive driver from Stockport who was posthumously awarded the George Cross for an act of heroism when he refused to abandon his runaway train, saving the lives of others at the expense of his own.
To mark the 50th anniversary of The Ballad of John Axon, Sara Parker (daughter of Charles) and Sean Street collaborated on Like Blackpool Went Through Rock, revisiting the making of this monumental radio program, and exploring the Radio Ballads' influence on today's documentary makers and audiences. The program is a Falling Tree production.
Sara Parker is an award-winning independent producer, mainly for BBC Radio. Her montage style gives voice to individuals and communities, often covering hard-edged social issues from prostitution and pornography to teenage violence and suicide. Daughter of pioneering producer Charles Parker, one of her recent programmes explores the making of the Radio Ballads - a 1950s series produced by her father with folksinger/songwriters Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger,which revolutionized British radio feature-making.
The BBC Web site has more information on the original Radio Ballads as well as the modern Radio Ballads produced in 2006. An essay by Ewan MacColl on the original series is available at the official Peggy Seeger Web site. And be sure to listen to producer Sara Parker's 2008 TCF Conference session on the Radio Ballads.