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Leon Rosselson (born 22 June 1934, Harrow, Middlesex) is an English songwriter and writer of children's books. After his early involvement in the folk music revival in Britain, he came to prominence, singing his own satirical songs, in the BBC's topical TV programme of the early 1960s, That Was The Week That Was. He toured Britain and abroad, singing mainly his own songs and accompanying himself with acoustic guitar.
In later years, he has published 17 children's books, the first of which, Rosa's Singing Grandfather, was shortlisted in 1991 for the Carnegie Medal.
He continues to write and perform his own songs, and to collaborate with other musicians and performers. Most of his material includes some sort of satirical content or elements of radical politics.
Leon Rosselson was born and brought up in North London, lived in Tufnell Park and attended school in Highgate Road, adjacent to Parliament Hill Fields. His Jewish parents came to England as refugees from the Russian Empire.
At the end of that decade, two Scotsmen, Robin Hall (1936-1998) and Jimmie Macgregor (b. 1930), came to London and teamed up with Shirley Bland (Jimmie's wife) and Leon Rosselson to form a quartet called The Galliards. Rosselson played 5 string banjo and guitar and did most of the arrangements. Their repertoire consisted of folk songs. They made an EP and two LPs for Decca ('Scottish Choice' and 'A-Roving') and one LP for the American label, Monitor. They also made a single for Topic of the Dave Arkin/Earl Robinson song 'The Ink Is Black'. The group broke up in 1963.
In 1964 Rosselson joined Marian Mackenzie, Ralph Trainer and Martin Carthy (later replaced by Roy Bailey) in a group called The Three City Four. They concentrated on contemporary songs, including some of Rosselson's own, and made two LPs for Decca and for CBS.
Britain's satire boom began on 24 November 1962 with the debut of a late-night Saturday television series called That Was The Week That Was, hosted by David Frost. It featured some of Rosselson's early satirical songs. The programme ran until 1963.
His song 'Tim McGuire' (who loved to play with fire), written during this period, was the subject of a complaint from the Chairman of Staffordshire Fire Brigades when it was played a number of times on BBC radio. The BBC, however, refused to ban the song, despite the protests, because (they said) the pyromaniac does get caught in the end. An earlier recording, though, the Topic EP 'Songs for City Squares', was banned (or rather labelled 'for restricted listening only') by the BBC.
'Hugga Mugga' was released on the Leader label in 1971. Roy Bailey and Rosselson recorded 'That's Not The Way It's Got To Be' in 1975. Two other collaborations followed, 'Love, Loneliness and Laundry' (1977) and 'If I Knew Who the Enemy Was' (1979). Rosselson also scripted two shows for performance with Roy Bailey and Frankie Armstrong: the anti-nuclear 'No Cause for Alarm' and 'Love Loneliness and Laundry', about personal politics.
Billy Bragg took "The World Turned Upside Down" into the charts in 1985. Dick Gaughan has also covered Rosselson's music ("The World Turned Upside Down" and "Stand Up for Judas"). The Dubliners covered Don't Get Married in 1987.
The original Big Red Songbook, a collection of socialist songs, came out in 1977. Rosselson produced a new collection The New Big Red Songbook in 2003.
In 1987 three Law Lords declared that Peter Wright's book 'Spycatcher' could not be published in Britain nor could any of it be quoted in the media. Rosselson set out to break the law. He spent two days reading it, then encapsulated it and quoted from it in a specially written song, Ballad of a Spycatcher which was published in the British weekly New Statesman. A single of it, with backing from Billy Bragg and the Oyster Band, was released and started to get radio play, including by Simon Bates on the BBC pop music channel Radio 1. He appeared to expect a police raid or court order. In the event, nothing happened. In Rosselson's words: "So much for subversive intentions." It reached number 7 in the NME indie singles charts.
In his most recent novel, Home is a Place Called Nowhere (OUP), Rosselson writes about the experience of being a refugee.