The Ballad Story

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started14th May 1957
ended9th Jul 1957
1 school year
duration25 mins
subject 📚English
age rangeAge 14-15Age 13-16
languageenIn English
ITV's First TermHierarchyPrevious.gifPrevious series: Looking and Seeing Next series: On Leaving School HierarchyNext.gif

The Ballad Story is an ITV schools TV series from the 1950s, covering English for secondary school pupils.

An overview of literary ballads and narrative poems from the Middle Ages to the present - the present being the mid-1950s and represented by American 'Talking Blues'.

The Programmes

The series is presented by actual school teacher John Lord and includes performances of old and new ballads by artists including Ewan MacColl[1]. The first episode begins with a calypso specially written for the series by Cy Grant[2].

Early episodes look at the process of writing a ballad and encourage viewing pupils to write their own. The final programme in the series presents several of these viewer-written ballads. Apparently a work called A Ballad of Moby Dick written by Susan Gordon of Peterborough and St Margaret's High School, Harrow, was selected as the best entry[3].


Before embarking on the series the company was aware that the ballad "does not really lend itself to television presentation."[4] Reflecting afterwards the company concluded that the problem was only slightly overcome. "Some schools complained that after the second programme the only real use of vision (apart from seeing the performer) was to show the stresses in metre, but a later broadcast on the American ballad gained full marks for the use of animated maps showing how the movements of settlers across America were celebrated by ballads."[5]

These improvements came too late for some viewers though. In the Midlands, where the local ITV company ATV relayed the programmes from London, newspapers reported that at least two local schools which tried the experimental ITV programmes had dropped The Ballad Story halfway through the term[6].

Episode List

# Title Broadcast
1. What is a Ballad? #1957-05-14-00-00-0014 May 1957
2. Making Your Own Ballads #1957-05-21-00-00-0021 May 1957
3. Traditional and Border Ballads #1957-05-28-00-00-0028 May 1957
4. The Popular Ballad #1957-06-04-00-00-004 Jun 1957
5. The Literary Ballad #1957-06-18-00-00-0018 Jun 1957
6. The American Ballad #1957-06-25-00-00-0025 Jun 1957
7. Ballads From Many Lands #1957-07-02-00-00-002 Jul 1957
8. Your Own Ballads #1957-07-09-00-00-009 Jul 1957


Year Term Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Channel Details
1956-57 Summer 1957 Tuesday, 2:45pm ITV

The series was broadcast by Associated Rediffusion in London and Associated Television in the Midlands only. The only other active broadcaster at the time, Granada Television in the north of England, did not take this term's schools programmes.


Introduced by John Lord
Consultant Alan Lomax
Director Roger Jenkins
Producer Alan Nicholson


Sources & References

  • Ashley, Robbie (1957) 'Robbie Ashley's TV Page' in Birmingham Sunday Mercury 12 May 1957. p.8
  • Associated-Rediffusion (1957) ITV Goes to School: An Experimental Term. pp.10-11
  • Associated-Rediffusion (1961) School Report: The First Four Years. p.29
  • 'Pupils' Songs Broadcast' in Harrow Observer and Gazette 18 July 1957. p.2
  • 'Schools TV Gets Mixed Reception' in Birmingham Post and Gazette 27 June 1957. p.7
  • Thomas, James (1957) 'No 10 out of 10, Sir' in News Chronicle 17 May 1957. p.6
  • TV Times listings. 1957
  1. TV Times listing for episode 2 says "Ewan MacColl will sing (...) Sir Patrick Spens, a traditional tragic ballad"
  2. Thomas (1957) says "Mr. Grant, backed by a skiffle group and a trio of Chelsea types decked out in the kind of clothes most schools actively discourage, started a session which would not have disgraced The Six-Five Special." Confer Ashley (1957).
  3. Harrow Observer and Gazette (1957) says "Of all the schools throughout the country Peterborough and St. Margaret's had the most in the programme. Indeed A Ballad of Mobey Dick, written by Susan Gordon. was chosen as the best entry. The other two were The Ballad of the Mayflower by Delia Willis, and The Ballad of Brave Sir Rodney, by Jane Agnew."
  4. Associated-Rediffusion (1957) p.11
  5. A-R (1961)
  6. Birmingham Post and Gazette (1957) says "There were both bouquets and brick-bats for the programmes so far. Two of the schools have dropped the Tuesday programme The Ballad Story, from regular viewing. One of them - Upper Thomas Street Boys' Modern - has dropped the Monday programme as well."


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