Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

24 Apr

First of all let me introduce my family to you. I have referred variously in these ramblings to “the wife” in connection with my dear spouse and to “Elder” and “Younger” with regard to my two daughters and I now feel I should do a bit more than that as they will crop up from time to time in forthcoming articles.

It may surprise you to know that they have names!

However, in the interests of avoiding embarrassment and possible identity theft I shall introduce them to you using false names but which happen to coincide with their real initials – clever, no?

Rather brilliantly it works out that Faith is my wife, while Hope and Charity are Elder and Younger respectively. That’s handy – and easy to remember.

Anyway, let’s get down to today’s musings.

In April 1964 (when I was but a child of 11 years) my father pointed out to me an article in The Times which he thought would interest me. He also, incidentally, pointed out that we only had The Times because he needed it for the Law Reports and his company paid for it – NOT because we were posh!

The article in question concerned test transmissions taking place from a ship moored in the North Sea, off Frinton-on-Sea, with the intention of this becoming an offshore pop music radio station.

Dad thought I would be interested because I had been given a Benkson “transistor radio” (as they were then known) the previous Christmas and had spent a lot of time since then moaning about a) the lack of pop music on the BBC and b) the crappy signal at night from Radio Luxembourg, which was the only non-BBC alternative.

The famous Radio Luxembourg signal fade was not really too surprising! Its transmitter power was limited by International Law (because the British Government didn’t want us listening to something they couldn’t control) and it was, as the crow flies, over 300 miles away! The new Radio Caroline (for it was she!) was only about 30 miles away over flat ground and open sea so my expectations were high.

The story of the multiplicity of such ships that appeared after that is well documented as were the efforts of the Government of the day to stamp them out despite audience figures representing over 50% of the country! But public opinion didn’t matter to politicians in those days? They always knew best!

I had been listening on Radio Caroline’s first day of transmission and I was listening on what was supposed to be its last. On the night of August 14th 1967, with the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act coming into force at midnight, I was listening to my little radio in a large Boys Brigade bell tent in a field near Hadleigh, Suffolk. Everyone was whispering about whether they would defy the law or whether they were leaving shutting down to the last possible moment.

At the stroke of midnight Johnnie Walker played “We shall overcome”, gave a little speech and carried on broadcasting. We all cheered!

Fast forward forty-two years.

Last night, Faith (that’s my wife in case you’ve forgotten what I said earlier) and I went to the cinema to watch the latest Richard Curtis offering “The Boat that Rocked!”

In case you hadn’t heard it’s about a Pirate Radio ship and it is never going to win critical acclaim from the intellectual type of film critic. It is also riven with historical inaccuracies in the sound track (David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” in 1967? – I don’t think so!) and probably in many other ways.

Nevertheless it is a bloody good laugh from start to finish, the music track (not too surprisingly given the subject) is fantastic and both Faith and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

And THAT, rather than what any professional critic may say, is what matters to ME! Oh, and the government minister’s hatchet man (played by Jack Davenport of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Coupling!”) is named Twatt! You can’t ask for more than that!

In amongst the closing titles of the film are a number of little pop-up fact cards, one of which states that there are currently well over 200 pop music radio stations in the UK! Presumably that goes into thousands if you count stuff available worldwide on the Internet and thinking about THAT brought something important home to me!

However much people of my age hark back to the “glory days” of Pirate Radio – it isn’t EVER coming back!! Those guys did their jobs and achieved what they set out to do – free UK music broadcasting from the fetters of the BBC! We should just be grateful to them.

And move on.



Posted by on April 24, 2009 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

  1. theworldaccordingtomorpheus

    September 24, 2010 at 8:45 am

    I still HAVE that Caroline “closedown” moment on a record!

    And I recall a story concerning “Admiral” Robbie Dale.

    When the “Marine Offences Act” came into force (little old lady: “I understand by listening to pirate radio, I’ll be contravening the Marine Offences Act – GOOD! It’s been YEARS since I committed an offence with a Marine!”) Robbie figured it was OVER. And having no intention of trying to re-live past glories – he began a cleaning company.

    Over the next seven years, the company prospered and as its BOSS, he used to visit every new site, to see how big the contract was – and estimate how many cleaners it would take to fulfill it.

    Thus early one morning, he arrived at Capital Radio’s HQ in the Euston Road – and bumped into Grayham Dene – their early morning DJ. Grayham RECOGNISED the great man and asked him eagerly if he was JOINING the station where all the BEST of the pirate DJs were now working.

    Robbie said no – he was just there to clean the carpets, empty out the ashtrays, etc.

    “Oh no – what a come-down!” said Grayham – his face falling to his knees.

    Robbie laughed and told him the FULL story. He OWNED the large, successful cleaning company and was there to do an ESTIMATE – not the actual cleaning itself!

    A cute story. My pleasure.

  2. Cy Quick

    September 29, 2010 at 5:24 am

    I threw my radio compact audio cassettes away, or gave them to that guy Paul, in Hull. I got rid of the Caroline and Big-L 45rpm souvenir discs too. Johnny Walker, bless his heart, said “Remember: we love you, and a station that loves you, can never be defeated… Caroline continues.” I thought Robbie Dale went on Veronica. Roger Day did time on Luxy.

  3. Cy Quick

    January 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Lovely to read this again!


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