Two huge steak and ale pies, with the station name spelled out
on the top in pastry, had been supplied by Ernie North's delicatessen in Frinton.
Being a vegetarian, I had no wish to sample them, but I joined Chris and Mark
on the bridge as they ate theirs, and they were most complimentary about Ernie's
cooking. Mark's later on-air description of his evening meal led to another
demonstration of the power of radio advertising. He obviously titillated the
listeners' taste buds, as we learned that Ernie's deli had subsequently enjoyed
a roaring trade.
Meanwhile on the ship, we relished the sight of a blazing sunset over the beach huts of Frinton.
Mark's final Roman Empire had already taken place that afternoon,
but he was also to be the man taking us up to midnight. Recalling the photo
that Hugo had found in the newspaper, Chris Baird was considering announcing
The Ronnie Biggs Show as the programme following his at 9.00pm. Then the ever-resourceful
John Cooper disappeared into his cabin for a few minutes and returned to inform
Chris that an anagram of Mark Roman was Norma Kram. So the man's final stint
on Big L '97 was christened the Norma Kram Show. 'Norma' had said his sad farewells
on the Empire and now his aim was to talk as little as possible, and let the
music take him out on a high note. This was not only to keep the station output
sounding cheerful, but to elevate the mood on the Yeoman Rose. Once he
hit 10.00pm, he cranked up the tempo and incited a little on-shore flashing.
"You keep flashin', we'll keep rockin'" was 'Norma's' motto of the moment.
Within minutes, lights began blinking both from Walton and Frinton. It was absolutely magical, standing on the bridge and watching people communicate with us from all along the shore. Our RSL covered only a modest reception area, but we counted twelve or more 'flashers' out there. Some were using their car headlights, (there must have been a lot of flat batteries in the area on August 14th), while others utilised powerful torches and lamps. The scene before us led the Big L '97 team to ask themselves exactly what could have been achieved had the station been allowed to use a more powerful transmitter.
It was tremendously exciting. John believed if we waved our hands in the air against the backdrop of the ship's lights, the people on the shore might possibly be able to see us. I was leaping up and down, waving for all I was worth. Meanwhile, Chris Baird was trying to videotape the goings on. Every so often, Mark left the studio to join us briefly on the bridge, before dashing back down the ladder to start the next track. One of the 'flashers', I'm delighted to report, had picked the perfect location for the signals to be visible through the studio porthole.
(Picture: 'Norma' incites some serious flashing during the final Roman Empire)
I'm sure all of us watching the lights were thinking the same thing: 'Those people out there really care about us'. Now we could easily imagine what it must have been like for the DJs on the original ships in the 'Sixties. Being miles further out to sea, they had been so much more isolated than us, yet still, they must have felt the warmth of their audience when they saw the whole of the shoreline ablaze with flashing signals of support.
Someone who got well into this flashing lark was Captain Pete. He switched the rigging lights on and off in time to the music until his fingers were sore.
It appeared some people were using Morse code. John fetched the ship's signalling lamp, and we attempted to decipher the messages coming to us and answer them with 'B-I-G-L'. None of us had attained our Brownie badges in Morse, so we had to attempt to follow an instruction book. Our ignorance unfortunately appeared to result in our transmitting misleading messages, because the Coast Guard helicopter suddenly swooped in out of the night, combing the beaches with its searchlights! Then we witnessed a further flurry of on-shore activity in the form of the twirling blue lights of police cars rushing along the coast roads. We guessed the authorities had seen all the signalling going on and thought they had discovered some sort of drug-running or smuggling operation. We were a bunch of adults having the time of our lives in a very childish manner, and consequently had not even conceived of anyone reading sinister connotations into our innocent fun. Had we been genuine criminals, we would surely have qualified as the world's dumbest, for attracting so much attention to ourselves.
Much of the station's record library and the presenters' personal collections had already been packed away and taken ashore, so Mark found himself left with a rather restricted selection of up-tempo stuff. Towards the end of the evening, John and I had to assist him in searching out sufficient suitable sounds for the show, and in the end, we barely managed to find enough material at the bottom of the barrel to take us up to midnight. Some of the vinyl we had to resort to using was in a somewhat scuffed condition, but would anybody notice scratchy records when they were being broadcast on an AM station with poor night-time reception?
(Picture: Chris and Mark: "I'd rather have my throat cut than hear you lot singing again!")
At the witching hour, Mark led John, Chris B and myself in singing
London My Hometown, the PAMS 'station song' which had also been recorded
in the Sixties as a 'B' side by the Chantelles. Chris E, who had to be up early
for his Breakfast Show had already retired to his cabin which was situated right
next to the studio. How he slept through the noise, I'll never know, but he
swears he was out like a light and never heard a thing. Even after we'd gone
off the air, there were still a couple of stalwart Anoraks flashing their lights
at us from Walton. In retrospect, I'd be very surprised if it wasn't World Flashing
Champions, Geoff Cook, Mandie King and Colin Lees, whose own story of that night
you can read elsewhere on the site.
So August 14th had arrived. It was
to be a day both of happy reunions and sad goodbyes.