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And finally

Wednesday 18 December 2013, 11:28

Stuart Maconie Stuart Maconie Presenter

A year ago, almost to the day, I sat in a kitchen in a rented cottage in the Lake District and waited, eagerly but with a bottom note of trepidation, to the first in a series that had occupied my time (and several other people’s) for the best part of the preceding year. Late in 2011, Bob Shennan, the controller of Radio 2, asked me to write and present a history of pop. With what some might call chutzpah and others might term cheek, I asked if I could do something quite different; a social history of Britain since the second world war told through pop singles and, crucially, the voices, memories and opinions of the people who bought, lived with, loved (or maybe even loathed) them. No experts, no critics. A People’s pop history which came to be called The People’s Songs.

King's Arms Salford King's Arms Salford

In the autumn of 2012, myself and producers Ian Callaghan and Lorna Skingley sat down in the Kings Arms in Salford (above - now run by Paul Heaton) and drew up a long list of the kinds of songs and topics we wanted to include. I was adamant that this shouldn’t be the same canonical list of revered classics that gets trotted out in every broadsheet and magazine listathon. I wanted this to be a series that would place equal value on Y Viva Espana (the British go on holiday to Spain) or My Boy Lollipop (the sound of the commonwealth coming to Britain post Windrush) or Goth or Northern Soul or Heavy Metal as any of the critically sanctioned sacred cows.


As soon as we began to tell people of our intentions, we struck a chord. Just short of 200 people were interviewed, from nuclear submarine commanders to Greenham Common protestors and the result is, I think, a brilliant mosaic of music, analysis, reportage and testimonies spanning 50 hours and as many years of British Life.


In that kitchen in North Cumbria, a year ago I heard the first show go out – Vera Lynn, We’ll Meet Again and the Second World War – and felt both elated and a little drained. I thought that we had done a brilliant job. But I also knew we had 49 more to go and the thought was as daunting as it was challenging and exhilarating.


And now we have. The People’s Songs is over. And I am as proud of it as it is possible to be, and grateful to everyone who made it happen.


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    Comment number 1.

    Fantastic series. I have to admit, I didn't deliberately go out to listen to everyone as I find some types of music not to my taste. But sometimes, I'd be soaking in the bath and a programme such as the Amy Winehouse one came on and it would enlighten me to what she meant to her supporters and the great talent she was. Whilst most of us remember the music of the times, what this series did, was recall the society around that music and how people felt about themselves, the economy etc. Stuart Maconie is like a modern day Eric Hobsbawm in his social awareness whilst he is the equivalent of Stephen Fry in his music knowledge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    A fabuluous series, both entertaining and informative. Refreshingly devoid of the well known names, the tales told instead by individuals on behalf of the masses. I thoroughly enjoyed every episode whether the genre was to my taste or not, it was the mix of music with the history of the time that made this so listenable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I have loved this series and listened to every single one - I normally catch up when I am at my Saturday job - but missed the last 2 episodes also due to bereavement. You can imagine my dismay when I sat down to catch up this morning and found they are no longer available. BBC you should have made it clear that the episodes were only available for a short space of time. I am horribly disappointed. Please, please make at least the last month or so available again for those of us who missed it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A wonderful series! I was surprised how some episodes that dealt with music I don't like too much (skiffle, heavy metal) were the most interesting. I really enjoyed every single episode - apart from the last two... How disappointing that I cannot catch up. Made a pot of tea, got the crochet work ready, opened the BBC page, and then this. Please, please, make all episodes available again! They are worth it to be listened to several times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Hi, have loved the whole series and listened mostly on iPlayer. It's been so interesting and really well done. However I agree with Martin; where is the final episode? It is the only one I have missed. Please make it available on iPlayer like all the rest! Thanks for a lovely series.


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Wednesday 4 December 2013, 14:29

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Featuring memories contributed by Radio 2 listeners, Stuart Maconie narrates the story of post-war Britain via 50 records that soundtracked this dramatic and kaleidoscopic period.

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