Interview with Dennis Rookard, 11 November 1998
Level: Category
Sound Archive
Level: Fonds
Level: Series
Essex Folk Movement Oral History Project
Level: Sub-Series
Scope and Content:
Dennis Rookard [DR] interviewed by Sue Cubbin [SC] in Brentwood on 11 November 1998. DR talks about his early career outside broadcasting, recording interviews with members of the public, socialism, working for numerous radio stations (including LBC, Essex Radio and BBC Essex), the English and Essex folk movements, and the relationships he established with folk performers.

Tape 1 Side A

[00:00:00] DR talks about being raised in a gaslit cottage in Brentwood; people working for the railways, factories, or malt works; being a 'railway buff' and trainspotting; his family working on the railways; Brentwood rail; 'Peggy' the diesel shunter.
[00:04:48] Leaving school in 1957; working as an electrical engineer contractor's boy; wanting to be an electrician; being fired after asking for an apprenticeship; becoming a socialist; the 'servant class’ in the 'big houses on Hutton Mount'; repairing vacuum cleaners; different coloured telephones in one of the houses.
[00:08:20] Being fired from a job in Ilford for trying to set up a trade union; becoming a night-time telephone operator; Brentwood being the last of six manual telephone exchanges; training in Canterbury; his first night at Brentford exchange, the sleeping arrangements; the need for a manual exchange.
[00:14:10] The exchange managing their own duty rotas, maximising overtime payments, 'Whitleys', sick leave days; basic and take-home pay.
[00:16:43] Becoming interested in music between 1951 and 1953; listening to children's radio, around 1945 to 1946; seeing Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953 from Shooters Hill, Blackheath, and helping at the music hall show; being shown around Greenwich Observatory.
[00:19:00] His first experience of folk music; hating country dancing at Crescent Road school; buying a 4-track Philips 3542 tape recorder to record pop music and practice being a DJ; hearing 'The Ballad of John Axon', a radio ballad by Charles Parker [CP], Ewan McColl [EM] and Peggy Seeger; being inspired by CP talking to real people, revolutionising radio; training as a photographer.
[00:25:05] The down to earth nature of folk music; recording performances at the Railway Tavern for hospital radio; joining Harold Wood Hospital radio in 1964; recording people with his tape recorder; reading 'The Amateur Tape Recorder' magazine and learning about tape correspondence; his socialism being underlined by travelling to Barnsley and Manchester; getting a Philips Portable tape recorder around 1959; interviewing people about their jobs and making documentaries; recording CND rallies in London; recording Judy Garland at the Prospect of Whitby, Wapping.

Tape 1 Side B

[00:00:00] Going to Chelmsford to find out about hospital radio, provided by Marconi late 1950s to early 1960s; pirate radio in 1964; not getting a radio slot because of his accent; joining Harold Wood Hospital Radio and rebuilding the station over ten years; pop music on the radio and the advantages of long songs; swapping telephone operator shifts to work on the radio; recording folk music at the Railway Tavern on Sunday evenings; lost tapes and how much he collected; the quality of performers on Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) marches in London; the number of performers; Martin Carthy [MC], Thameside Mummers, and Paul Simon [PS].
[00:08:01] Cecil Sharp and the rejection of the 'old style' folk tradition; MC and others finding folk songs; his own period of discovery, collecting information and recordings; building a relationship with performers, only using recordings for radio; recording PS performing the recently composed 'Sound of Silence' before he was famous; Salisbury Hall, The Hated People competition entries, winning awards for his recordings; having his microphone broken by the noise; folk music being looked down upon.
[00:17:54] Working in broadcasting from around 1973, leaving telephone operation; applying for Capital Radio; being the Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Hospital Radio Broadcasters; sending in a demo to LBC and meeting John Clare; being offered a three-month contract at LBC, which he was on for 18 months before being made redundant.
[00:26:00] Becoming a freelance reporter around 1974; working for BBC World Service and the British Forces Broadcasting Service [BFBS] for the next 20 years; discovering folk clubs and recording folk music; opportunities to broadcast folk music at LBC; performances in the studio; the publicity folk got from LBC; differences in the folk scene between traditional, contemporary, and 'cabaret'.

Tape 2 Side A

[00:08:34 - 00:08:39] Redacted.

[00:00:00] Working for David Keddy, 1981-82; getting a folk show on Essex Radio; the advantages of getting good equipment; visiting folk clubs in Essex; using Essex Folk News by Ron Carroll to find clubs and activities; recording local musicians in Halstead, Leigh-on-Sea, and Leytonstone; pretending not to have microphones if the act was too bad; some folk clubs not wanting to be recorded; recording quality; Colin Cater [CC] objecting to microphones but later writing songs for radio competitions; Rick Christian following him to be recorded; being fired from Essex Radio after a year; being swapped out for BFBS folk show; his relationship with John Wellington.
[00:10:51] Joining BBC Essex after leaving Essex Radio; broadcasting the Folk Show for eight years; folk musicians playing live in the studio; doing documentaries; acts that came on the show, including Bill Farrow, Jim Garrett, Mick and Sarah Graves' band, Metric Foot, Syzewell Gap; sea shanties, balalaikas with bagpipes, gospel; complaints about the noise; his broadcasting style; enjoyment of John Clarke’s 'Moon over Dagenham'; competition to write a folk song about Essex, won by CC; preference for singer-songwriters like Chris Jones [CJ] and Jack Forbes [JF].
[00:18:01] Meeting JF at Essex Radio; producing a documentary on the cocklers of Leigh-on-Sea; an unfinished documentary on Tilbury Docks; taking his tapes from Essex Radio; recording the Jarvis Bay IV coming into the docks at Tilbury; interviewing a survivor of the North Atlantic Convoy in the Second World War; JF and CJ providing the music; using 'Rolling Down the River' in the documentary.
[00:23:41] Recording hospital radio dramas and music at the BBC Essex studio in the evenings; the end of the BBC Essex Folk Show; falling out with co-presenter Rick Christian; receiving records and CDs from the audience, who ranged into Kent, Suffolk, and south and east London; complaints from Radio Kent; ratings; complaints about the show.
[00:28:58] His taste in folk music; electric and contemporary folk; not liking fantasy folk; Scottish folk, Brian McNeill and the link between folk and Scottish independence; not liking grand opera or country and western; preferring 'workers' music.

Tape 2 Side B

[00:00:00] The sense of discovery associated with interviewing people; creating a Second World War 'radio ballad'; researching fighter pilots and Marconi in the BBC Sound Archive; putting music to a recording of a co-pilot on a bombing run; Johnny Coppin's tribute to his navigator father; selling the tape to BFR [British Forces Radio].
[00:04:38] Sam Larner, the 'voice of the common man'; CP discovering EM as he discovered CJ and JF; working with Bill Farrow and recording a pastiche of a 1950s rock and roll song at Old House; folk music as 'people's' music; music hall music as folk music; pop songs as people's music; the material Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp missed.
[00:08:54] His best recording of a session group at Felsted Folk Club; the Cutty Wren' and 'The Cuckoo's Nest'; his time recording and broadcasting music; his career; doing extra on TV work.
Dates of Creation:
11 November 1998
1 hour 46 minutes 51 seconds
Creator Name:
Sue Cubbin
Admin History:
Dennis Rookard (1942-2010) started his career in radio broadcasting by recording interviews and folk clubs in the early 1960s. After a stint at Harold Wood Hospital Radio, he presented folk shows for LBC, Radio Essex and BBC Essex. He built relationship with a variety of folk music performers through his recordings and broadcasting career.
Archivist Note:
Copyright transferred to ESVA
Physical Characteristics:
4 MP3 files [digital copies of original cassettes]
Related Unit of Description:
For a handwritten transcript of this recording, see SA 30/7/1/2/3
Dates of Description:
5 May 2022
Not Available:
Digital item(s). For access please email ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk