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SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS - Monday 20 March 21:00-22:00

The travelling showmen and women who run Britain's fairgrounds live within their own self-contained community, with their own seasons, rhythm of life, codes of behaviour and language. The fourth in the series of 2006 Radio Ballads, Swings and Roundabouts paints a musical and anecdotal portrait of the people who travel the country building and re-building their rides, always looking to attract customers to their machines.


"I love it. Once it's in your blood you never, ever get rid of it till the day you die."

"This was a fascinating programme to make as a picture built up of the close-knit showmen and women community," said producer John Leonard. "Traditional fairground families can trace their lineage back six centuries - in some cases, back to the wandering minstrels."

One of Britain’s oldest travelling showground families, the Gartons, inspired writer Julie Matthews' song Tradition Never Dies, while musical director John Tams – a 'local help' as a teenager on fairgrounds in Nottingham - wrote The Pulling Down Song about the regular build and re-build of rides.

Julie Matthews

"It's inspiring - you listen to these people talk and they have their own language ..."

One fascinating ritual of the fairgrounds inspired Edinburgh songwriter Karine Polwart to write the song Luck Money, which was commissioned by producer John Leonard on the spot after she sang the opening bars to him down the phone. The song tells how the first money taken on a new ride is then nailed or screwed to it, to bring luck, and that money stays on the ride throughout its life, being passed to a new owner if it is sold.

Purple devils ride

Detail of contemporary fairground ride, 2006


Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Read what others have said.

Steve.Pyle, PINNER
Thank you - these new Radio Ballads have all been good - the Living with Aids ballad was both moving and enlightening. I wouldn't have thought it possible to match the excellence of the original MaColl/Parker ballads but you seem to have pulled it off. When will they be released on CD?

Richard Fox, West Yorkshire
As a child and later a teenager growing up in Bradford one of the highlights of the year was the "fair" visiting. My local fair was known as Bowling Tide. I believe at one time the local mills used to close down for the annual holiday, "Bowling Tide Week." Even to this day the mention of "fairground" conjours up the sights and sounds of that particular spectacle. I particularly remember the dodgem rides and the loud music blasting out the hits of the day. With big speakers and amplifiers pop and rock music always sounded better at the fair.

spencer bowman, glasgow
great programme!, travelled in south of england, settled down 20 yrs ago. I miss sunny days in grassy parks, Marlow regatta, taking £3 on a cold night at woolwich, pulling down in the rain...and getting pulled out the mud..yep, i really do ! on a yard in glasgow, (chalet valley).

Brian Howes, Nottingham
This Radio Ballad needed much more input from the older generation of showmen and perhaps the views of a few fairground enthusiasts. It should have highlighted more of how the travelling fair has changed over recent decades and virtually abandoned tradition in favour of crass American style rides. The great British ride builders and fairground artists have long gone as has the traditional music. Fairground tradition lives on only in the world of preservation...hence the greatest fair in Britain has to be the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

David Hargrave - Wiltshire
So far so brilliant. We've listened to the first 3 live, but missed fairgrounds, so used listen again and then - treat of treats - listened to Ewan & co doing the travellers. Thank you BBC, John and everyone else involved.

Janie Gamble (Swallow) . Stirling, Scotl
I was born into a fairground family, that travelled around central Scotland. After I was married and had children we stoped traveling to enable the children to have a proper education. Although I still live in a house, my children after completing their education are now both back in the fairground business. I still have friends and family in the business, and will allways be a showmans daughter even though I have a "flaties" lifestyle. Yes it is in the blood!.

Chris Russell, Newton Abbot
I've had a deep fondness of the travelling fair ever since I was small. I've travelled around all parts of the country soaking up the atmosphere of many of fairs both in large cities and tiny village greens - the sights, the sounds, the smells - they all conjure up another world. Away from the mundane everyday routine, you can escape for a few hours. To witness the transformation of an ordinary piece of grass in a local park into a magical world of fun and excitement is something quite unique to the British travelling fairground.

Lee, Manchester
Amazing - amazing songs, amazing stories. Insightful radio at it's best. I want to go the fairground now!

jean lovett gardner
i come from one of the oldest family's of travellers on my mother's side we settled down when i was 6yrs old i regret that my grand children are missing out on a wonderful hard working but educational and exciting life

lisa and sam mayne, devon
we both originate from the fairground, but life is getting harder for the travelling showmen and they tend to settle down to give their children a better education and a chance. when we were children no matter where we travelled over the country from cornwall to nottingham you would always find a surrogate aunt or uncle that were in the same profession. lisa mayne, nee whitelegg travelled with her grandfathers fair the Whitelegg fair that has more recently been known as anderton and rowland. sam mayne travelled with his families Mayne fair. we both have fond memories of days on the ground.


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