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“The Public Health Call”
  1. Gabriel Scally
  1. Correspondence to:
 Gabriel Scally
 Government Office for the South West, 2 Rivergate, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6ED, UK; gabriel.scally{at}

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The new ballad “The Public Health Call” urges public health personnel to work together and take inspiration from some of the great figures of the past

The role of popular ballads in recording, preserving and communicating history is long established and predates the development of widespread literacy, let alone the internet. Ballads also play a role in establishing or challenging social norms. However, singing in an informal setting has declined substantially in the face of more formalised modes of entertainment, notably television.

The key themes of ballads reflect the central themes of life and death. They deal with war, love and daring deeds. They can be serious, humorous, congratulatory or insulting. There are, however, very few ballads that deal with public health, either in general or specifically. Illness and death are referred to regularly in ballads and songs, and individual diseases sometimes can be identified, most famously in the children’s song “Ring a Ring a Roses” which is associated with pneumonic plague.1

Most traditional ballads are anonymous, but there is a strong contemporary tradition of composing folk ballads. Song writers and performers such as Pete Seeger (USA) and Tommy Sands (Ireland) see …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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