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THE BOAT AND THE BOYS THAT ROCKED

May 26, 2014

Ray Clarks bookTHE trouble with living life in the fast lane is you keep trying to overtake yourself, until that is, a traffic light appears on the motorway.
In my case it was a book called Radio Caroline The Boat That Rocked by BBC Essex presenter, Ray Clark. (pictured below)
I left school in the late 1950s and was apprenticed to a west end publishing house, training as a photographer. Since then I have been very fortunate in doing what I can only describe as the best job in the world, taking photographs and writing for newspapers.
I just missed the southern explosion in music but caught up with it on my return from a year or so in Liverpool where the ‘Mersey Sound’ was the centre of the world.
Ray’s book really did stop me in my tracks and the memories of the happiest time of my life came flooding back.
Ray ClarkHis book features when he was a DJ on the floating pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, in 1970s, but tells the story from the beginning in the 1960s, and Ray has similar memories:
‘If you, like me, were a child of the sixties then you struck gold – a carefree time and all you had to worry about was what today’s adventure would be …. and listening to pop music, and the music was supplied by pirate radio stations, Radio Caroline was the most famous, and the most enduring of them.
Whilst I was too young to join the first wave of Caroline disc jockeys I was lucky enough to visit the ship in the seventies, and following the sinking of this ship, the Mi Amigo, I was lucky enough to work aboard the most recent Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge .
Working for Caroline was probably the last real adventure left; a group of like-minded ‘radio’ people all, literally, in the same boat eighteen miles off the coast – we lived, eat and slept radio, it was the best possible way to learn the trade of radio presenter.
Turn a radio on in the UK, prior to Easter 1964, searching for pop music and chances are you’d have been disappointed. There were three radio choices, all provided by the BBC: The Home service, The Third Programme and the Light Programme, unless you were tuning in to the weekly Pick of the Pops programme, it was unlikely that you’d hear any song that was in the charts – unless you wanted a BBC house orchestra’s rendition of the latest Beatles hit.
Mi_AmigoDJ Robbie Dale was filmed aboard Radio Caroline in 1967 with(Left and above:  Mi Amigo and above DJ Robbie Dale in 1967) The number of recorded songs played by the BBC was strictly limited, by agreement with the Musicians Union and until the arrival of a radio ship moored off the East coast, this situation looked unlikely to change. The BBC itself was also unlikely to be challenged; a recent Government enquiry had found no need or desire for commercial radio. The establishment had radio sewn up.’
And this was what I found, and why I recommend Ray’s book as it really is a window of the past. It does not matter if you were there or not, it tells the story of how innocent teenage years were met by the tsunami of freedom. (pictured right, a young Kirk and hobby, target shooting at Bisley and below at 22 minus hair and winkle pickers)Teenager Kirk at Bisley
The explosion, for that was what it felt like, came with a number of things, in the forefront for me was radio Caroline.
Television maybe, and for we ‘not well off council estate’ families it was down to sneaking over the fence and watching the neighbours set when they left the window open, but radio was for all.
Radio originally came in a huge brown Bakelite box that needed a table of its own, would whistle and moan when the dinner plate size dial was moved.
It was totally unbearable when searching for Radio Luxemburg as the high pitched Doppler effect sped on a sine wave as the set tried to nail the station on one level of tuning, and was really not worth the effort.
It took pirate radio to prove that pop groups did not really sing to a swinging microphone when recording and a constant sound was worth splashing out on a 45 vinyl record. Mind you with Pirate Radio there were moments before they fixed gimbals to the turntables.
Me early 20s after returning from LiverpoolsHowever, the radio opened up the imagination in the world of entertainment as everything stopped including bed time, as my dad loved the Goon Show, Journey into Space, Paul Temple and the Navy Lark. There were of course many more radio shows, and as well as stopping broadcasting mid evening, the music was limited to safe and assured stuff that prohibited any young form of dancing.
The advent of Rock, Elvis, Buddy Holly and all the risqué jive music, considered by the Controller of the BBC to be, a disturbing organic infiltration into young minds. As they controlled the air waves, we were stuck with the wobbly Radio Luxemburg, and vinyl 45s.
Caroline was the first pirate radio station, broadcasting from a rusty bucket of a boat outside the three mile limit of the shore, hit the airwaves with both barrels pop, rock, jive and the Top Ten and with catchphrase: ‘Radio Caroline on 199 your all day music station’. Pictured left – a young Tony Blackburn)
young Tony Blackburn and still going strongRay continued. ‘ Radio Caroline turned radio upside down in Britain. Within days of her first broadcast, an audience of millions had tuned to this ‘pirate’ radio station – the press called them pirates, in truth, Caroline had just found a loophole in the law enabling broadcasts of pop records and commercials without the restrictions of ‘needle time’…and without a licence.
Within months an armada of ‘offshore’ radio stations were bombarding the nation with a constant diet of music presented by disc jockeys, many of them on the brink of becoming household names, and nearly all with something not heard on the BBC – accents.
The government was outraged; these radio stations and the disc jockeys that broadcast from them were becoming too popular, they had to be controlled, a belief enforced by the need to take action when a shooting resulted in the death of one radio station chief.
On August 14th 1967, the Marine Offences Broadcasting Act became law, restrictions planned at making it impossible for the stations to continue – all of the radio stations closed down, except for Radio Caroline. The future for Caroline was fraught with danger, drama and dedication by those involved with the organisation and the many that became a part of the ‘Caroline Family’ in the years that followed.’
I missed Caroline’s arrival in 1964, as I had got a job as a photographic assistant in the centre of the universe and the Mecca of what became known as the Mersey Sound, Liverpool.
I was thrown into photographing a fair portion of the 3,000 estimated musical groups that sprang from the Holy city of fun, laughter, and music, sampling the total freedom of life, love, boozing till 3am in the clubs and riding three up on my Rayleigh Moped. All on £5 a week which often ran into six and seven days without any mention of overtime. Actually I did not want money, I was totally immersed in the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemaker, The Blue Jeans and good old boy, Billy J Kramer whom I photographed in our studio as it was opposite Brian Epstein’s NEMS centre city office in Moorfields. Being a mere 17 and he being a super star, I forgot to turn on a studio light for his passport picture, and he had to go through the next 10 years with a massive shadow of his nose right across his face.
Beatles by Harry WatmoughThe Beatles photograph (pictured left) was taken by my boss Harry Watmough in our studio in Moorfields, just before Ringo replaced Pete Best as drummer.
Funnily enough a recent television programme on the Beatles, showed my first great love, Freda Kelly, though she did not know it. She was the Beatles Fan Club secretary and gave me tickets for some of their concerts.
But it was also a time of hangovers, and constant work that is now a massive swirling fog of wonderful, but mostly faded memories, but I grew up very quickly and though I still smile at the thought, the memories are getting less clear with age.
So when the bright lights of Fleet Street called, I returned to London and immediately fell into Radio Caroline. Ray also was an avid listener at that time and vowed to become a pirate DJ, which he did in 1970s. I had to cast aside my shoulder length hair, the clown size winkle picker shoes and get a suit that had a collar. The shirts with the massive cuffs and collar that held your head a few inches above eye level, and redeeming my southern accent from scouse.
No longer the boy, I had tasted life and wanted more. Carnaby Street was open but Fleet Street soon put a stop my progression to becoming a parrot coloured Sgt Pepper.
This was serious stuff.
Now Ray reflects on his time on his time waves.
‘Fifty years later, a radio station called Caroline, a direct descendant of the original can still be heard, it’s programme legal and now online. Many question if there’s a need or a future for the station, but 50 years on, Caroline continues.’
As for me, moving on after the long photographic training, I eventually turned to newspapers and added the other great interest of journalism to my qualifications. At first media colleagues could not imagine or always accept that a photographer could write, I became a photo-journalist within the strict terms of the title; recently finishing my professional working life as editor of an active and popular east London weekly newspaper, The Barking and Dagenham Post, and still carrying my camera.
That was the fast lane, and though it took me some time to realise how fast I was going, it has been difficult to slow down, such is the joy of having a vocation rather than a job.
Ray’s book is called ‘Radio Caroline: The True Story of The Boat That Rocked’ A great read for those not gifted with a birth date in the late 1940s
Publisher: The History Press (3 Feb 2014)
ISBN-10: 0752498878
ISBN-13: 978-0752498874

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One Comment
  1. Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.
    I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

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