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The radio ballads were the joint creation of Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger.

A radio ballad is a sound-tapestry woven of four basic elements: songs, instrumental music, sound effects and the recorded voices of those with whose lives each program deals.

These programs were revolutionary for their time, using as they did the actual spoken words of the ‘informants'. Up until this time, this 'actuality' (as the trio dubbed it) was transcribed and then interpreted by trained radio speakers. The radio ballads lead you effortlessly from to song to music to sound effect to the spoken word and back again, revealing the effect of a way of life upon those who lead it. They are entertaining, informative, musical, poetic and educational.

There were eight radio-ballads, created, between 1957 and 1964.

The Body Blow was originally conceived as an exploration of the psychology of pain, but the project eventually focused on the subject of poliomyelitis, a disease prevalent at the time. Inspired partly by the montage sequences in Alain Resnais' film, Last Year in Marienbad, the programme is a journey into the minds of five polio sufferers, two partially and three totally disabled.

This was the fifth in the series, broadcast in March 1962 and made with a considerably smaller budget and on a much shorter timescale than the previous radio ballads. Fieldwork was kept to a minimum and the interviews conducted in a single hospital in the course of a fortnight. Stylistically, the programme marked a departure from its predecessors, abandoning the fades and cross-fades technique in favour of montage blocks lending the narrative, according to MacColl, "the quality of the stream-of-consciousness passages in James Joyce's Ulysses". Taking just two weeks, Peggy Seeger scored the songs for just two voices and four instrumentalists and the programme was completed in four days in the studio.

The lyrics dealt with difficult topics: rehabilitation after chronic illness, adjustment to paralysis, the process of physical therapy. The subject matter caused criticism and scepticism pre-transmission but it was subsequently hailed by the critics as a tour de force. The Body Blow was never released as an LP, but tapes of the programme were later used in hospitals and health care centres for training purposes.

Program prepared with the help of The Polio research Fund


released March 27, 1962

Script, song lyrics and music - Ewan MacColl
Orchestration and music direction - Peggy Seeger
Production - Charles Parker
Actuality recording - Charles Parker
“℗ 1962 BBC [(BBC Worldwide Ltd)]; this recording ℗ and © 2019 Ewan MacColl Limited”

Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger

Brian Daly - guitar
Alf Edwards - English concertina, ocarina
Alfie Kahn – flute, harmonica
Peggy Seeger – guitar, 5 string banjo


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Ewan MacColl London, UK

This site is maintained by the MacColl family, aiming to make Ewan's catalogue available to download.
Ewan MacColl is known to most as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. ... more

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