Ref NoMS 1611
TitleBanner Theatre of Actuality
Date1973 -
DescriptionCharles Parker was a leading figure within Banner Theatre until his death in 1980 and the records reflect this. Parker was both business manager and creative inspiration and his contribution is charted in almost all elements of the collection. Papers dating from Parker's time with the BBC and his collaboration with performers such as Dilip Hiro and Ewan MacColl are included, as are personal papers that refer to performance matters of various sorts. Banner Theatre's commitment to honouring the memory of Charles Parker is also reflected in this collection. The company played an active role in establishing the Charles Parker Archive Trust [see MS 4000].

A striking feature of the Banner Collection is its re-use of material at different points throughout the collection. This can be attributed to a number of factors: economy, Parker's contacts & performance output, the principle of actuality.

At a practical level, Banner Theatre has generally operated under severe budgetary constraints. This is reflected in the collection by the extensive re-use of paper with notes, scripts etc being writtten or typed onto the reverse of previously used paper [and the widespread use of scrap paper for notes etc]

At a creative level, Charles Parker provided a useful source of copy radio scripts as research material for Banner's productions. Scripts of the Radio Ballads and B.B.C. radio broadcasts produced by others appear in these records, as do transcripts of folk music and folklore recordings undertaken by Parker and others in the 1950s and 1960s.

A key principle of actuality as adopted by Banner is the maintenance of a 'library' of recorded material [whether audio, visual or written] that can be deployed across a range of productions wherever an 'authentic' insight or message is required. In keeping with this principle, a 'data bank' has been assembled of photographic stills, slides and video images, recordings of oral testimony, music and sound effects and written reference material [original research notes, newspaper cuttings and collected secondary sources] and material often appears in more than one production e.g. certain images and extracts of miners' oral testimony has been deployed in 'The Big Hewer' radio ballad and T.V. broadcast and the Banner productions of 'Collier Laddie' and 'Saltley Gate'.

The following arrangement of papers has therefore been adopted for this collection. For written resources, whether scripts & transcripts or research notes, the material is located wherever possible with the relevant production. Where material appears in two or more productions, it is left with associated records for those productions. This resultant duplication across the whole collection is accepted as a consequence of its particular nature and the background & operating ethos of the Theatre Company. However, duplication within individual components of the collection is minimised, with exact duplicates being removed wherever possible. Where paper records cannot be identified directly with particular productions, they are listed as a general research resource under MS 1611/F.

MS 1611/F is styled as 'Technologies of Memory' and this designation reflects both the practical and informational aspects of 'multi media' records. Whilst some audio and visual records can be associated with specific productions, the concept of a data bank [as demonstrated by the original archiving project of 1985 which generated a card index system based on name and subject] and the particular conservation needs of 'multi media' records has resulted in this separation of such records from the main run of productions.

As well as the main theatre company, Banner has also supported a singing group for many years and its records are reflected in the collection. Banner has also collaborated with a range of groups over the years, such as the Women's Group, Handsworth Youth Project and North Staffordshire Miners' Wives Group. Again, these records are relflected in the collection.

Joy Ashworth Performer [amateur group]
Deborah Aston Stage Manager
Jilah Bakhshayesh Musician, performer
Jan Bessant Performer [amateur group], administrator
Pam Bishop Tour organiser
Larry Blewitt Photographer
Paula Boulton Performer
Don Bouzek Theatre director, Ground Zero, Canada
Rhoma Bowdler Choreographer, director
Stuart Brown Writer, administrator
Dave Butler Administrator
Josephine Cannon Stage Manager - 'Little Red Mole'
Rocky Chessman Performer
Jacqueline Contre Performer, administrator,
Dave Dale Performer, musician 1984 -
Miriam Dale Tour organiser, Administrator
Charlie Davis Technician, sound engineer, video editor
Bob Etheridge (d. 2008) Performer[amateur group], photographer
Antonia Finch Administrator
Gaelle Finlay Administrator
Anna Ford Theatre director
Ian Gasse Financial development worker, co-ordinator
George Gordon Performer[amateur group]
Kevin Hayes Performer [Song group], photographer
Tim Hollins Performer [amateur group], management committee member
Jazz Jackson Stage manager
Aidan Jolly Musician, performer, audio-visual co-ordinator
Cheryl Martin Playwright
Tsepe Mukeba Performer, musician
Bill Murphy Performer, tour co-ordinator
Amani Naphtali Director [Redemption Song]
Gaylan Nazhad Performer, musician
Bernard O'Donnell Co-ordinator
Marion Oughton Performer (amateur group), singer, management committee member, professional storyteller with a long association with Banner Theatre
Charles Parker Founder member, performer
Sophie Partington Performer
Naomi Paul Performer [amateur group]
Marion Pike Administrator
Frances Rifkin Performer, director
Maureen Russell Performer, management committee member
Chris Rogers Founder member, performer, musician and song-writer
Dave Rogers Founder member, performer, song-writer and artistic co-ordinator
Vic Summerfield Performer [amateur group]
Fiona Tait Archivist, Management committee member
Bob Whiskens Performer
Colin Whiskens Technical assistant for 'Redemption Song' tour
Dean Whiskens Technical assistant
Fred Wisdom Musician, performer
John Wrench Musician, performer [amateur group]
Peter Yates Musician, performer, photographer

ACA Association of Community Arts
ACGB Arts Council Great Britain
ACTA Action for Southern Africa
AEGIS Adult Education group in Barnsley [South Yorkshire]
AES Adult Education Services
AEU Amalgamated Engineering Union
AFCA Association for Community Arts
AFFOR All Faiths for One Race
AMEC Turkish Political Party
ASTMS Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs
AUEW Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers
AUEW TASS Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers [Technical Administrative and Supervisory Section]
BBC British Broadcasting Corporation
BL / BLMC British Leyland [Motor Corporation]
BMI Birmingham and Midland Institute
CABIN Campaign against Building Industry Nationalisation
CARF Campaign against Racism and Fascism
CBI Confederation of British Industry
CCA Corby Community Arts
CDP Community Development Project
CD - ROM Compact disc - read only memory
CET Council for Educational Technolgy for the United Kingdom
CIS Counter Intellingence Services
CJA Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
CND Camapign for Nuclear Disarmament
COHSE Confederation of Health Service Employees
COSATU Congress of South African Trade Unions
CPAG Child Poverty Action Group
CPGB Communist Party of Great Britain
CRE Commission for Racial Equality
CRIS Coventry Resource and Information Service
CSEU Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions
CTUC Commonwealth Trade Union Council
DHSS Department of Health and Social Security
DLO Direct Labour Organisation
FBU Fire Brigades Union
FEDC Federation of Engineering Design Companies
GBAC Green Ban Action Committee
GDR German Democratic Republic [East Germany]
GLA Greater London Arts
ICA Institute of Contemporary Art
ICEC -Chile International Commission of Enquiry into the Crimes of the Military Junta in Chile
ICPP Inner City Partnership Programme
IMF International Monetary Fund
IRA Irish Republican Army
ISTC Iron and Steel Trades Confederation
IWA Indian Workers' Association
LRD Labour Research Department
MAAS Minority Arts Advisory Service
MAC Midland Arts Centre, Birmingham
MEM Midland Electrical Manufacturing Co. Ltd
MIR Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria [a Chilean revolutionary political party]
MSC Manpower Services Commission
NALGO National Association of Local Government Officers
NCB National Coal Board
NF National Front
NPLA National Power Loading Agreement
NTO National Tenants' Organisation
NUM National Union of Mineworkers
NUM-COSA NUM - Colliery Officials & Staff Association
NUPE National Union of Public Employees
NUT National Union of Teachers
NUVB National Union of Vehicle Builders
ODR Outdoor Relief Strike [Belfast]
PCN Political Song News
POP Post Office Preservation Campaign [Birmingham]
PTA Prevention of Terrorism (Special Provisions) Act 1974
RAWP Resource Allocation Working party
RCN Royal College of Nursing
ROSAC Retention of Steelmaking at Corby
RTI Research Training Initiatives
SACU Society for Anglo - Chinese Unity
SCARF Sandwell Campaign against Racism and Fascism
SPAM Saltley Print and Media Workshop
SWAPO South West Africa People's Organization
TACT The Association of Community Theatres
T & GWU Transport and General Workers Union
TOM Troops Out Movement
TUC Trades Union Congress
TURC Trade Union Resource Centre (Birmingham)
UCATT Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
UDA Ulster Defence Association
UDM Union of Democratic Mineworkers
UNISON Public Service Trades Union
VDU Visual Display Unit
WEMAS West Midlands Ethnic Minority Arts Service
WMA West Midlands Arts
WOW Women of the Waterfront
YOP Youth Opportunity Programme
YOTA The Year of the Artist 2000 - 2001
YTS Youth Training Schemes
FormatCubic metres
AccessConditionsAll accessions: NO COPYING of recorded material or artistic papers (e.g. scripts, songs, music) or images permitted without permission from Banner. Tape recordings and DVDs etc. from this accession cannot be served until surrogate playing copies have been made. See Depositor field for Contact details.
AdminHistoryBanner Theatre of Actuality was formed in 1973 as a theatre group of the Grey Cock Folk Club, which had itself grown out of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre. Banner developed as a socialist theatre company. It was part of a movement of radical theatre companies that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Whilst Banner generally regarded itself as deriving from the Russian revolutionary tradition of agitprop [agitation and propaganda] theatre, it specialised in incorporating 'actuality' and music into its performances.

Actuality is recorded interview material and sound effects, and Charles Parker, one of the founding members of Banner, was influential on the style of actuality employed. He was adamant that, 'the technology must be anchored in working class experience, which is where the folk revival, the ballad form and vernacular speech come in, to create a genuinely popular theatre.' [Parker 1974]. Charles Parker was a performance specialist, initally as a radio producer and later through live music and drama performances. As a B.B.C. radio producer in the 1950s, he embraced the then new technology of the portable tape recorder. This allowed him to incorporate vernacular speech and folk songs into radio programmes without the intervention of an announcer. Parker was made redundant from the B.B.C. in 1972 and used much of his redundancy package to purchase tape recorders and other equipment for Banner Theatre.

In collaboration with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, Charles Parker developed a series of 'Radio Ballads' from 1958 to 1964 [see MS 4000]. These placed working class voices at the heart of the performance and so avoided their experiences being mediated by B.B.C. narrators. Ewan MacColl's influence on Charles Parker was significant both for Parker's personal development and for the future development of Banner Theatre. MacColl had worked with Joan Littlewood from the 1930s, in the Workers' Theatre Movement and also with Archie Harding's experiments with B.B.C. radio documentary. They developed a montage technique both for radio programmes and theatre productions. Parker would later draw on these experiences. In the early 1960s he produced 'The Maker and the Tool', a series of four multi-media documentary pieces for the Centre 42 Festivals. Centre 42 had emerged as an organisation committed to spanning the gap between artsworkers and a potential working class public. Whilst it ultimately failed to maintain the support of the Trades Union Congress [TUC] and did not sufficiently engage with working class audiences, Centre 42 did indicate that working with grass roots trades unionists could prove more beneficial to artsworkers than working through union hierarchies. This lesson was adopted by Charles Parker and his 'Maker and the Tool' series bridged the gap between the 'Radio Ballads' and later experiments which culminated in Banner Theatre.

Another device that Parker incorporated into the Banner performing philosophy was the 'Festival of Fools', a satirical cabaret format used by MacColl and the Critics Group in the 1960s. This device was based on the notion of 'the world turned upside down' and permitted hard hitting points to be made in a humourous, mocking manner. Productions such as 'On the Brink' and 'Sweat Shop' utilised this device.

Banner Theatre's first full show was 'Collier Laddie' [see MS 1611/B/1] and was regarded by Charles Parker as expressing, at least in embryo his ideas on proletarian culture. He asked Rhoma Bowdler to adapt it from the Radio Ballad 'The Big Hewer' in a manner that made it accessible to working people. Bowdler needed to work with the strengths of the available performers, which were musical rather than conventionally dramatic. The production established some basic elements which have since been incorporated in many other Banner productions; 'actuality' material, folk songs and slide projections.

One of the members of that first production was Dave Rogers, who has continued with Banner Theatre to the present day and can be regarded as providing, with Parker the major focus and drive for Banner. Indeed, Roger's influence on Banner over 30 years has provided both continuity with its founding aspirations and the impetus to adapt to new political and social challenges that have emerged during this period.

From the late 1970s, another major influence on Banner was Frances Rifkin, who was their first recruit from the emerging political theatre movement. She helped Banner to refine its theatrical style as witnessed by the production 'Steel', co-developed with Peter Yates [see MS 1611/B/16]. This used 'actuality' in a more conventionally 'theatrical' mode and employed techniques to convert actuality into dialogue, while still making use of monologue and direct audience address.

Aidan Jolly joined Banner as a musician in 1992 and led a new direction in the company's political and artistic strategies. 'Sweat Shop' was notable for the use of contemporary technology to weave 'soundscapes' where actuality recordings and amplified music were blended together. The production also marked a move away from the ethos of folk club performances with their emphasis on audience participation towards a more classical form of agitprop show, albeit with a range of contemporary sounds and styles.

Jazz Jackson provided stage management services for Banner's production 'In the Reign of Pig's Pudding' and he collaborated on 'Rock 'n' Roll Jordan', a joint project between Banner and Strange Fruit Theatre.

Banner's ethos has always been to use performances to campaign for change and its focus of campaigning has evolved in parallel with its creative advances. The subject matter considered has also reflected social, economic and political developments in the past thirty years.

Banner's origins as a performance element of the Grey Cock Folk Club imbued it with an affection for the intimacy of small scale activities. It undertook radical street theatre protests on local issues, such as 'Green Ban' and 'The Great Corbini' which were concerned respectively with the threatened demolition of Birmingham's Central Post Office and the proposed closure of Corby Steelworks. Such street theatre initially continued alongside full theatre productions but the demands of the latter eventually led to street theatre being abandoned.

By Banner's later standards, its first full production 'Collier Laddie' was not politically hard hitting [see MS 1611/B/1]. Whilst the performance did consider unemployment in the inter-war period and the dangers of pit life, there was an emphasis on comradeship and craft pride in the mining industry at the expense of critical analysis of the adverse circumstances remaining in that industry.

Similarly, 'Saltley Gate' was a celebration of working class solidarity [see MS 1611/B/9]. It was deployed to good effect as a morale booster during the prolonged industrial disputes of 'Grunwick' [1976 - 1978], the Miners' Strike [1984 - 1985] and the protests against pit closures [1992 -1993].

Originating as street theatre protest against works closures in Corby, 'Steel' was developed into a full theatre production from 'The Great Corbini' with relevance, not only to steelworkers but to all workers fighting against closures and redundancies [see MS 1611/B/16].

With 'Sweat Shop' [see MS 1611/B/28], Banner began to move away from single issue, geographically narrow subject matter. In story and song, 'Sweat Shop' looked at 250 years of struggle against low wages and inhuman working conditions across the world.

'Redemption Song' [MS 1611/B/31] used physical theatre, 'actuality' and music to link stories from African asylum seekers, the British Black experience and the Liverpool Dock Strike.

Banner has had a close but sometimes turbulent relationship with the trades union movement. Whilst receiving commissions from national union figures for works such as 'Put People First' [NALGO] and 'Black and White in the Red' [Fire Brigades Union], Banner has sometimes fallen out with union hierarchies over its support of grass roots movements, such as 'Steel' which supported rank and file strikers against the wishes of the ISTC leadership.

Whilst Banner Theatre is a creative theatre company that utilises performance to campaign for change, it also operates within the existing legal framework. It is a company limited by guarantee and also a charity as determined and supervised by the Charity Commission. All this generates a tension within the collection, between the production records that reflect the campaigning, often radical stance taken by performers and the administrative records that reflect the practical aspects of operating within the established legal and social order.

Banner Theatre has operated from a number of addresses over the years. Initially based at 30 Hartopp Road, Saltley it has since occupied premises at 117 Lozells Road; 173 Lozells Road; 44 Bradford Street, Deritend; All Saints Street, Hockley; 85 Grosvenor Road, Handsworth and the Friends' Meeting House, Moseley Road, Balsall Heath. It is currently [2007] based at the Oaklands Centre, Winleigh Road, Handsworth. The company's socialist and anti-racist stance has attracted negative comment and worse. The Lozells Road premises were fire-bombed in 1988.

A key element of Banner Theatre in its early years was a practical dependence on and a philosophical commitment to volunteer and amateur performers. Between 1974 and 1979, Banner operated as an amateur company. By 1980, sufficient grant aid had been secured to employ a paid core of 5 members and this allowed Banner to develop its community theatre approach. It retained its 'main' group as an amateur ensemble with a 'floating population' until the late 1980s. The resulting interaction between a professional core and amateur group enabled Banner Theatre to capitalise on the community art model where small numbers of paid professionals facilitated community groups with their own performances. From the early 1990s the company has operated as a professional organisation with paid company members.
ArrangementMS 1611/A Administrative records
MS 1611/A/1 Minutes of meetings
MS 1611/A/2 Financial records
MS 1611/A/3 Correspondence; grant applications; booking forms
MS 1611/A/4 Publicity material
MS 1611/A/5 Reviews of performances
MS 1611/A/6 Theatre unions and other companies
MS 1611/A/7 Funding bodies, including grants
MS 1611/B Banner Theatre Productions
MS 1611/B/1 Collier Laddie, 1974
MS 1611/B/2 Shrewsbury 24, 1974
MS 1611/B/3 Race Show/The Great Scapegoat, c.1974
MS 1611/B/4 Sell Out of the Century, 1974
MS 1611/B/5 Fields of Vietnam, 1975
MS 1611/B/6 Christmas Choppers, 1975
MS 1611/B/7 Viva Chile!, 1974
MS 1611/B/8 The Great Divide, 1976
MS 1611/B/9 Saltley Gate, 1976
MS 1611/B/10 Green Ban/ General Post Office campaign, 1976
MS 1611/B/11 Acocks Green Project, 1977
MS 1611/B/12 Dr Healey’s Casebook, 1977
MS 1611/B/13 Housing Game and Direct Works show, 1979
MS 1611/B/14 Tenants’ show, 1981
MS 1611/B/15 People’s March for Jobs, 1981
MS 1611/B/16 Steel, 1981
MS 1611/B/17 Motor Trade/On the Brink, 1981
MS 1611/B/18 Unemployment show, 1982-83
MS 1611/B/19 Put People First, 1984
MS 1611/B/20 Miners’ Strike, 1984-85
MS 1611/B/21 Songs of Struggle, 1987
MS 1611/B/22 Liquid Assets, 1988
MS 1611/B/23 The Little Red Mole, 1988
MS 1611/B/24 In the Reign of Pig’s Pudding, 1989
MS 1611/B/25 Ewan MacColl, The Red Megaphone, 1990
MS 1611/B/26 Rock ‘n’ Roll Jordan, 1990
MS 1611/B/27 Nice Girls, 1990
MS 1611/B/28 The Green, Green Shoots of Recovery, 1995
MS 1611/B/29 Sweat Shop, 1994
MS 1611/B/30 Criminal Justice show, 1996
MS 1611/B/31 Redemption Song, 1997
MS 1611/B/32 Fortress Europe, c.1998
MS 1611/B/33 Come with me, c. 1998
MS 1611/B/34 Free for All, 1999
MS 1611/B/35 Reclaim the Future, 2000
MS 1611/B/36 Black and White in the Red, 2000
MS 1611/B/37 Wild Geese, 1999
MS 1611/B/38 Migrant Voices, 1999
MS 1611/B/39 Burning Issues, 2005
MS 1611/B/40 Strangers in Paradise Circus, 2007
MS 1611/C Handsworth Community Theatre Project
MS 1611/D Women’s Group Projects: Womankind,1975, Women at Work, 1980, You've got no sense of humour,1981
MS 1611/E North Staffordshire Miners’ Wives Projects
MS 1611/F Technologies of memory
MS 1611/F/1 Audio tapes
MS 1611/F/2 Video tapes
MS 1611/F/3 Photographs and slides
MS 1611/F/7 Printed books and papers for research, campaigning material etc.
MS 1611/G Banner Song Group
Related Material'Workers' Playtime; Theatre and the labour movement since 1970' Alan Filewood and David Watt 2001
Rogers, Dave 'Singing the Changes' (2005)
See also Acc. 2020/011 Material deposited by the Charles Parker Trust which includes Banner Theatre scripts.
DS/UK/103Mackney; Paul (b 1950); educator, trades unionist and social campaignerb 1950
DS/UK/127Yates; Peter; theatrical activist
DS/UK/128Rifkin; Frances; theatrical professional
DS/UK/132Harding; Archie; radio producer
DS/UK/153COHSE Confederation of Health Service Employees; 1946 - 1993; trade union1946 - 1993
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