Obituaries: Tony Parker

Article excerpt

Thanks to the tape-recorder the post-war decades have witnessed a boom in oral history, gathering the experiences of people whose voices seldom reach the written record.

Most of us are not neutral observers and arrange the evidence to support a point of view. In America S and plenty of them became friends for years after they met.

He was born in 1923 in Stockport, the son of a bookseller. In the 1940s he was a conscientious objector to military service and was sent to work in a coal-mine, developing an intense sympathy for the isolated colliery villages of the North-East. Forty years later this early background served him well when he compiled his book Red Hill: a mining community (1986) about the experience of the 1984-85 miners' strike. His discovery of his unique vocation came almost by chance. After the war he had a job with Odhams Press, publishers of the Daily Herald, and in the evenings became a prison visitor, a task which stretched his capacity as a good listener and a non-judgemental observer. A chance meeting with a BBC radio producer, and an inevitable battle with the Home Office, led to a broadcast interview with one particular hard case, which was subsequently printed in the Listener. This resulted in a publisher's commissioning the book by Tony Parker and Robert Allerton The Courage of His Convictions (1962), which was followed by The Unknown Citizen (1963), Five Women (1965) and The Twister Lane: some sex offenders (1969). The last two of these provided powerful material for television drama documentaries, and led to two further books, for one of which he lived in Grendon Underwood Prison for three months patiently gathering 200 hours of taped conversations. In all these books he carefully kept his own opinions out of the story, while being ever-willing to express them in the alternative press, from Anarchy to Peace News. By this time, Parker had developed his techniques of transcribing and editing tapes, meticulously preparing a text without comment or interpretation, and talked to street people in People of the Streets (1968), to unmarried mothers with In No Man's Land (1972). Lighthouse (1975) was the result of six months of recording the recollections of lighthouse keepers from all over Britain. …