The Amazing Radio London Adventure
The London Phoenix Rises From the Ashes
Around the first part of 1984, I received an unexpected phone call from a John England. He had been in contact with Don Pierson and had picked Don's brain about how to set up a company to restart Radio London. Don showed John an old railway boxcar located in back of his house in Eastland, Texas, and told him that all the tons of paperwork for starting the original station were contained within. Don told him to take what he needed.
John had no venture capital, nor did I. He was likely thinking that if I fronted the company, investors would come forward, knowing that I had set up the programming for the original Radio London. However, there were a few things he had not thought out. First of all, I was not widely known in America. Secondly, people investing in a project want to know that you have your own money invested. Thirdly, if you have capital invested, the investor wants to have a controlling interest.
John England had set up a corporation which included himself, his fiancée and another party. He wanted me to be the president, but he never came up with anything in writing that gave me a share of the profits. As a result, I did not have a wholehearted interest in the undertaking. I was not going to risk ending up with no guarantees, as I had at Radio London.
John was struggling to keep his head above water. He had contracted Chris Elliot (right) and his partner Barry Charnley to put together some programs in England using the the old Radio London jingles. He was getting deep in debt to these fellows and had established no commercial use for the programs.
I stayed with this farce for far too long. The game plan changed almost daily. One day, John would be thinking that he wanted to establish a syndicated show with the tapes being sent over from England. The next, he thought it would be good to contact religious organisations and sell parts of the new Radio London programming for their use. (Kenny Everett would have loved that.) Then, he wanted to put the tapes from England on the air to attract investors.
At John's insistence, we finally bought time on XERF Radio in Mexico and played the tapes for a month, and I might add, without sponsorship. I tried to tell John that this was a senseless venture and a waste of money, but he had his mind set on this idea and would not back off. This would have been a good time for me to have bailed out of this nonsensical gamesmanship, and shortly thereafter, I did.
XERF had at one time been a viable force in broadcasting when it operated on 250,000 Watts. However, TV came along and ate their lunch and they were forced to reduce their power to 50,000 Watts. They were on low power when we contracted them to play the English tapes. On that power and on a good night, they were probably heard only as far away as San Antonio – a distance of approximately 150 miles. Nothing constructive came from my association with John England except for the fact that I obtained a number of tapes of Radio London, which included the station shutdown. When I left Radio London, I did not have even one tape of the programming.
Another plus from my days and months with John, was being introduced to Chris Elliot. He did a great job with the London tapes, and if he had been around at the time of the original Radio London, he most certainly would have been offered a job. Of course at that time, he was likely still in knee pants!
Sadly, my mother was rapidly slipping into Alzheimer's disease and in February 1993, I retired at the age of 62 to take care of her. It was around then that I received a visit from Brian Long of England, who was in the process of gathering materials for a book called 'The London Sound'. I am sure that I gave Brian a lot of information, but he was very astute in putting his facts into the proper time frame, and he often gave me times and dates for events that I had long since forgotten. Brian finally completed his book of five volumes and about 1000 pages. He sent me a manuscript for which I was very thankful. It brought back a lot of memories that had passed me by over the years.
(Left) Brian Long. Photo: Martin van der Ven
In October of 1996, I received two other English visitors. Ray Anderson and his then fiancée Maxine Mitchell came to interview me for a CD that was being produced and a book that was being written by my friend Chris Elliot. Both the book and the CD bore the title, 'The Wonderful Radio London Story'.
Early the following year, Ray wrote to tell me that he was planning a big celebration leading up to August 14, 1997 to commemorate the final broadcast of Radio London in 1967. The theme of this special event was to be 'The Summer of Love '97'. Ray insisted that I had to be a part of the festivities and he assured me that I would not be disappointed. This event worked out perfectly with my own plans. It had been some time since I had seen my daughter Raquel, and I now had a two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Maya whom I had never seen. Therefore, I could combine my visit with my family and also be a part of The Summer of Love '97.
This was the most exciting summer of my later life. I not only got to visit with my original Big L deejays Dave Cash, Duncan Johnson, John Edward, and last but not least, Mark Roman, but I was totally surprised to see my old friend Tom Danaher. Several of these friends I had not seen in over 30 years. Another big surprise was meeting my pal Roger Day from the Radio England days.
(Left) Ben's delightful new granddaughter Maya
Ray had gone all out to recreate the Radio London of yesteryear. He leased a ship, the Yeoman Rose, and placed a small radio studio onboard. He had a mixture of original Radio London deejays and a group of very talented deejays from more recent times. Among the newer deejays were Ray and Chris Elliot. Chris and I had communicated with each other for years by phone and the post, but we finally met each other at Walton-on-the-Naze during this festive occasion. What a great book Chris wrote – 'The Wonderful Radio London Story'!
I must also mention Keith Skues and the outstanding job he did narrating the 'Wonderful Radio London Story' CD. Keith did not remember, but I'd met him on a number of occasions when he worked for Radio Caroline in the Sixties. He and I used to take the same supply boat going back and forth from Caroline and London to Harwich. Who could ever forget someone with a name like Cardboard Shoes? Kudos, Keith for a job well done.
Another unexpected pleasure was meeting Mary Payne. Mary was a Radio London fan in the Sixties and ran her own unofficial organisation called the Knees Club, which was formed in support of Big L. I may have met her at one time when I was at Radio London, but if I did, it was a very casual meeting that I don't recall. Nonetheless, Mary in recent years has done more than her share in keeping Radio London alive, both through the internet and through the reunions she and her husband Chris have organised.
(Right) Chris Elliot, Ben and Tom Danaher aboard the Yeoman Rose
I was disappointed that I didn't get to visit with Ed Stewart and Pete Brady. I talked to Ed on the phone, but I would have liked to have seen him after all those years.
My daughter Raquel was born two months after Radio London went off the air in 1967. She had heard a lot about Big L throughout her life, but she had never met any of the deejays and had no idea what the operation of a radio station onboard a ship was like. On the day I went out to the Yeoman Rose, Raquel accompanied me. She met several of the deejays and had the pleasure of watching Ray Anderson do his show.
(Left) Mary and Raquel on Walton Pier
When we returned to the pier at Walton on the Naze, we ran into Mary Payne and Tom Danaher at the merchandise shop. As Mary and Raquel chatted, Tom and I autographed copies of 'The Wonderful Radio London Story'. The atmosphere around the shop was electric, with a great amount of talk about Radio London and what it had meant to the listeners. Raquel was greatly impressed by the high level of enthusiasm over Big L.
There were two very touching events that occurred on my visit to the Yeoman Rose that I shall never forget. The first was when a young deejay approached me with tears in his eyes and thanked me for being such an inspiration to him in his career. He said that had it not been for Radio London, he might have never had the desire to become a deejay, since there were so few openings at the BBC. He said that he thought that Radio London had opened up a number of avenues for deejays that never existed before, and he thanked me from the bottom of his heart.
The second was at the gift shop, where I was autographing a copy of Chris Elliot's book for a couple who told me that they had listened to Big L as teenagers. They were convinced that the station had not only brought than an exciting new sound, but that it had changed the whole culture of Britain. Their view was that Britain had broken free of the tight control that the government had over the people. This was mainly because of the challenge that Radio London presented to the BBC. As I heard these stories and stories from others on the pier, I wondered how many others of the millions of Radio London listeners shared their views. It humbled me greatly to know that I had played such a major role in the lives of so many people.
The night of the reunion dinner at Clacton-on-Sea on August 16th, two days after the end of the month-long broadcast, was perfect. Raquel and her then fiancé Richard, accompanied me. The food was delicious, the company was superb and the after-dinner speech by Mark Roman was a high compliment to his great talent.
(Right) Superb company, Dave Cash, Keith Skues et al
Once the meal and speeches were finished, the large group of diners adjourned (rather late) to Prince's Theatre, where another big crowd awaited us. All the deejays from the broadcast appeared on stage along with Tom Danaher and myself. We addressed the crowd with a word or two, then the bands took over for a full evening's entertainment. What a night!
Once the party ended at the theatre, we continued at the hotel where several of the deejays were staying. This gave me a chance to have a private word with my old friends in a more reserved setting.
My young granddaughter Maya had been staying with her other grandparents Ray and Helen Smith in Colchester while all the celebrating was going on. However, when the party was over, much attention was give to Maya. One of the highlights of my 1997 trip to England was a farewell barbecue that Ray and Helen held for me at their home. The meal was delicious and the interaction with my family was beyond compare.
(Left) With Raquel
Since the death of my mother in 1999, little has happened in my life, except for a trip I made to London to see Raquel and Maya in 2001. Most of my time has been spent fighting the ravages of old age, and keeping one foot ahead of the other. I have found a group of wonderful friends in an association called Downtown Singles in Fort Worth. We listen to each other's sad stories about our aches and pains, and then fall asleep in sheer boredom.
Raquel has moved on to a new relationship and is now engaged to Marcos. They have two beautiful daughters, Quela and Kerensa.
My memories often reflect back to my Radio London days, and my best recollections tell me that London the exotic city and London the wonderful radio station joined together and culminated into my amazing London adventure.
Ben Toney, Springtown, Texas 2007
The above memoirs were completed in 2007, when Ben had never expected to return to England. I spoke to him on the phone when I was in Fort Worth in 2008. We talked about the memoirs and it was then that I asked permission to post extracts on the website and Ben agreed. Unfortunately, though, we did not get the opportunity to meet. However, in November 2009, my husband Chris decided to arrange a surprise 60th birthday shipbound party for me around the theme of Radio London and the Fab Forty. Amazingly, he managed to persude Ben to come. It was also a perfect opportunity for Ben to meet his two new granddaughters and to catch up with friends such as Dave Cash, who was unable to attend the party because he was busy presenting his show on BBC Kent.
Many thanks to the guests who have supplied these memorable photos. A million thanks to Chris for organising an unforgettable event – and also for being my proofreader.
|Chris introduces some of the guests: l to r, Howie Castle, Ian Damon, Ben, Mary, Knees Club Official Jenny Royal, Ron Buninga (son of the Galaxy Captain), Michel Philistin, Galaxy Steward. Photo: Alan Hardy|
Raquel's fiancé Marcos chats to fellow guest Mary Hannaway
Ben and Raquel wonder why Mary's
glass is empty. Photos: Martin van der Ven
Ben was delighted to meet Mich again.
Photo: Martin van der Ven
Sadly, Duncan Johnson was unable to stay for long, due to ill health, but we were all so pleased to see him.
l to r, Marcos, Ben, Ron, Raquel, Mich. Photo: Martin van der Ven
Ben, with his 'Amazing Radio London Adventure' Editor.
Photo: Martin van der Ven