Charles Parker was born in Bournemouth in 1919 and was in turn a submarine commander, a pioneer of radio broadcasting and oral history, an inspiring lecturer and folk musician and a political campaigner. He worked as a radio producer for the BBC in Birmingham from 1954 to 1972 when he produced his most famous works, a series of eight Radio Ballads with Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger.
Parker was a committed socialist with a passionate interest in world politics and culture, from Chile and Vietnam to China. Largely the inspiration behind the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre, the Grey Cock Folk Club and Banner Theatre, he was a leading figure in the Folk Music Revival of the 1960s and 1970s. He collaborated with several well-known dramatists, musicians and broadcasters such as the playwright Arnold Wesker, the film maker Philip Donnellan and the folk musicians Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. He was also involved in documenting the experiences of a range of social and cultural groups including people with hearing and visual impairment, travellers, and black and Asian communities.
At his death in 1980 he left a huge archive illustrating all aspects of his life and work including correspondence, notebooks, transcripts of lectures, production books, articles, over 4,500 recordings of speech and music, and a library on the oral tradition, drama, music and politics. He was involved in anti-racist activity from the late 1950s and this is reflected in the collection which also includes rare and significant material on Gypsy and travelling communities. During his research he became increasingly aware of the ill-treatment of travellers and the prejudice which existed towards them. In 1969 a controversial eviction from a site in Birmingham led him to form the West Midlands Gypsy Liaison Group to campaign for travellers’ rights with his long time collaborator Phillip Donnellan.
The archive also includes a wealth of material for the histories of black, South Asian, Chinese, Irish and Jewish communities including, for example, recordings of the Stewart family gospel singers originally from Trinidad, material compiled for the documentary film The Colony (1964) on the experiences of the African Caribbean community in Birmingham, Of One Blood (1966) on apartheid, racism and human rights in South Africa, Vietnam and Greece, Asian Teenager (1968) and Under an Apple Tree (1970), made with Dilip Hiro, on the experiences of Indian and Pakistani children growing up in Britain.
A detailed catalogue of this collection is available in Birmingham City Archives, collection reference MS 4000,
and will be available online soon.