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The Charles Parker archive


The Charles Parker Archive is a nationally significant resource for the study of the social, cultural, and political history of Britain in the second half of the twentieth century.

The archive offers a wealth of possibilities for research in a wide variety of subject areas. It gives a unique view of the wide-ranging work of an energetic cultural activist in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

The archive contains rare and significant material about the experiences of Black, Asian, Irish, Chinese, and Jewish communities, and of travellers, including discussions about discrimination and racism.

There is also important material about disability, including interviews in which people talk about visual impairment and their experiences of contracting and being treated for polio.

More generally, the archive is a rich resource for the study of folk music, pop music, drama, vernacular speech and the oral tradition, and of the Folk Revival of the 1950s onwards, including interviews with and performances by many musicians as well as songs and interviews with traditional singers such as Sam Larner and Harry Cox.

There is a great deal of material about working life and industry, ranging from mining, shipbuilding, road building and domestic work, to shoemaking, factory work, and fishing.

There is material of local interest relating to Birmingham and the Black Country and to other parts of Britain and about other countries, including America, Greece, Poland, Sri Lanka, Chile, Vietnam and India.

The collection could also be used to study the history of broadcasting, the development of documentary radio and its relationship with film and television.

What is in the Charles Parker archive?

Reel-to-reel tapes, working papers, and personal papers created by Charles Parker during his career as a BBC producer, lecturer, musician, actor, writer, and activist.

The archive includes approximately 5000 hours of sound recordings, transcriptions, working notes, production books, scripts, and papers related to nearly 200 programmes and projects, correspondence and newspaper cuttings, and a library of over 1000 books on international folk music and culture, politics, history, and religion.

For a more detailed description of the Charles Parker archive, consult the full catalogue, available online as MS 4000.

The Charles Parker Archive Digitisation Project

The reel to reel tapes have been digitised onto CD and catalogued under two Heritage Lottery Projects.

The original tapes are now preserved in a separate store, while all documentation relating to them is kept with the listening copy of the CD.

The digitised copies are available to be listened to in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research at the Library of Birmingham.

There are listening copies at the British Library National Sound Archive.

Related Collections

Charles Parker was involved in many cultural activities in Birmingham, and had strong links with many other organisations.

The following is a list of other collections held at the Library of Birmingham which may be of interest in research relating to Charles Parker:

  • MS 1611 Banner Theatre, 1973 to 1988
  • MS 1642 Records of the Grey Cock Folk Club, 1976 to 1988
  • MS 1705 Records of the Clarion Singers, 1939 to 1992
  • MS 1804 Records of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre c.1963 to 1968
  • MS 1913 Recordings and files about 'The Ballad of Charles Parker', BBC broadcast, 1995

Catalogues for the collections listed above are available for consultation in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research.

Page last updated: 15 March 2024

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