Mary Payne reports on a wonderful week of offshore fun
Auntie Beeb failed to recapture the spirit of offshore radio when she launched Radio One. Now many years older and (hopefully) wiser, could she possibly recreate that dearly-loved sound by broadcasting from a ship in Harwich?

Happily, Tim Gillett, Steve Scruton and the whole 'pirate' team pleasantly surprised everyone by surpassing all expectations (including their own) with their week-long sojourn aboard the LV18. The fact that they had the greatest fun ever while they were doing it, must have been a bonus for them!

'Fun' was the key word. DJs having fun on the radio and including their listener as if he or she was with them aboard the ship - that's what people remembered so fondly from the Sixties. It made compulsive listening. Time and again I heard the comment, "I'm having trouble concentrating on work, because I keep stopping to listen to what they're saying!" Many people on the dry side of the radio were getting as little sleep as the pirates, because of staying up to enjoy what was happening on the watery side. Knee-mails from New Zealand revealed addicted listeners propping their eyelids open with matchsticks.

Originally, Chris and I had planned to be in Harwich for just the Easter weekend, with the BBC's plan being for me to surprise Dave Cash as his guest on Easter Monday. But after we went home on Tuesday, we found ourselves glued to the radio -occasionally rushing to reboot the net-feed when it dropped out. Chris had work to do. So did I, but he very generously encouraged me to ignore the company accounts and head back for Harwich early on Friday morning. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!

How do I encapsulate the experiences of my five days in Harwich, without this report running into twenty pages? I'll do my best!

On Easter Saturday, Chris and I met up with many friends, and made some new ones. Jonathan Myer from the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame drove down for the day with ex-Wets Greg Bance and Mark West. Mike Ahern, Roger Day, Tom Edwards and Paul Burnett put in appearances before and after their shows on the LV18 and Harwich's Pier Hotel sold a lot of beer!

The following morning, we wrapped up in our Sunday-best anoraks to enjoy sitting on the pier to listen to Twiggy Day's show. We bought him a drink before his departure for the Caroline reunion in Southend. In the afternoon, we met the Wombat family, Ian, Janice, son Bruce and fiancée Caz, and heard all about the fun Ian and Bruce had during Ian's Pirate BBC Essex Show.

Early on Monday, we met Dave Cash on his way to the ship, but little did he know that we would be coming out ourselves on the next tender! While waiting on the pier with BBC cameraman Gareth George, he decided to film us. Having seen the shots of me singing (to use the term very loosely) along to 'Craise Frinton Kirk' on BBC Look East, I am anticipating a solicitor's letter from the remaining Bee Gees for ruining their lovely song!

My appearance on Dave's show was a perfect surprise. Tim and Steve presented him with a CD which he didn't know contained his recording of 'Knees' and he was asked to play a particular track next. Of course, when that track turned out to be Knees, Chris and I came up the stairs and appeared in the studio! It was very enjoyable reminding Dave of the tracks he had played on the Kenny and Cash Show in 1965! It was also lovely to meet Pete Brady for the first time.

(Right: Three Big L originals, Cashman, Cardboard and Duncan. Photo courtesy of Duncan.)

In true offshore tradition, there was no room for me on the tender when Pete, Dave and Chris left, so I was stuck with all those guys aboard the LV18. What a hardship! Chris went off to meet Fab Alan Field, Pauline and Dave Miller and John Sales as arranged, and they all went along to see Keith Skues at the Electric Palace theatre. By the time the kindly Tony Haggis gave me and various others a lift ashore in his own boat, the Cardboard Shoes show had finished!

Ray Reynolds, whom we had not seen since 1999, had brought with him a wonderful original cinema poster for Dateline Diamonds, plus a collection of foyer photographs, all of which were of great interest to those running the Electric Palace a lovely little cinema, first opened in 1911.

Late in the afternoon, a crisis over interference marring the output of the Pirate BBC Essex transmission was averted and we were able to enjoy a few enjoyable hours with our friends before they had to depart for home.

On Friday 16th, I arrived back at the Halfpenny Pier on my own at around 9.45 and met Duncan Johnson and his friend Liza, who were awaiting the arrival of the tender, which was having a damaged rudder replaced. The postman handed me a letter, addressed to 'Radio Caroline' at 'The Big Red Light Ship, Harwich' and asked where he should deliver it. I said I would see that it got out to the ship!

Soon after they had departed for the LV18, I encountered Peter Herring, and John Sales who was staying at the same guest house as me. John queued for a trip to the LV18, while Peter and I went to the Electric Palace, where Duncan joined Cardboard Shoes and Ray Clark for the final 'Audience with...'. At the end of the talk, I was allowed to say thank you on behalf of all we listeners who had so much enjoyed the week's broadcast.

(Left, Ray interviews Colin Wilkins who had travelled all the way from Leeds, just for the day. The previous afternoon, Colin had won a prize in a Pirate BBC Essex competition. Photo courtesy of Colin.)

Friday evening, John Sales and I were out with the flashers. The police patrol drove past a couple of times, but decided it was not worth arresting a bunch of 50+ delinquents with big torches, loud trannies and noisy car radios! We went down to the pontoon where the foot ferry embarked (me, armed only with a rather pathetic torch) and flashed both the ship and the car-loads of other flashers over at Shotley.

We could just about make out the disco lights which had been placed in the LV18's lantern. A worker at the pier hotel (whom we met the next day) was flashing the room lights on and off! At midnight, we had to give up, because we were frozen to the bone.

Saturday was an emotional day from the second I arrived at the pier, when the final moments of 'Day in the Life' could be heard issuing from every car parked along the Harwich harbour wall. Big crowds were gathering in the sunshine, to give the pirate heroes a warm welcome back to land. Another TV cameraman was present – rumour had it he was from Anglia, but nobody has yet reported seeing a news item.

Ray Clark and Ian Wyatt were already on the pontoon beside the pier, continuing the final part of the broadcast with live links and interviews, while awaiting the arrival of the tender bringing the remaining pirates. When they arrived, they looked tired, dishevelled and extremely happy. Each pirate was individually applauded ashore, where many interviews were conducted, both with pirates and punters. The Cashman rubbed knees with me and declared it a great improvement on rubbing knees with Daphne!

Actor Paul Barber, who had been aboard the ship during the week with his guitar, was there to meet his friends and sign numerous autographs for the crowd. It was a perfect finish to a wonderful week. Who knows what it would have been like if it had continued for a month?

(Right, Mary explains to Paul how Jim Murphy's Caroline North website came to be anchored to the Radio London site. Photo courtesy of Paul Ewers)

The broadcast had its detractors, as these things always do - some of the negative comments coming from individuals who hadn't even tuned in! But these opinions amount to little other than sour grapes, from people who missed out on something great. It couldn't be expected to be perfect and it could never establish its full potential in such a short space of time. Yes, one or two tracks were heard rather too frequently, but those were the sounds that the audience was requesting. This was the best offshore recreation since Big L '97, with the added bonus of a playlist which encompassed the whole pirate era, rather than just summer 1967 and enhanced by the absence of commercials!

In 1967, listeners communicated with the offshore stations via letters, mailed to various onshore offices. Sacks of mail then went out to the ships via the tenders. With a bit of luck, your reaction to a DJ's comment might arrive after a week. When Radio London was recreated in 1997, the Internet was in its infancy, text messaging was unknown and mobile phones barely functioned aboard the ship, thanks to an excess of RF from the transmitter. The new element to this 2004 offshore radio exercise was, of course, the innovation of instant communication and the ability to include listeners world-wide. The reaction was mind-boggling. Messages flooded in – text and knee-mails – in their thousands. Then of course, there was the webcam, relaying its regular snapshots of the goings-on in the studio.

The Pirate BBC Essex team received a message of support from Johnnie Walker, saying how much he had enjoyed the week and how he would have loved to have been able to have participated. Tim's pirates could not have achieved a higher accolade - apart from the OBKnees which Radio London is awarding to each member of the team!

Thank You!

All-power to the technical staff who keep the net-feed going, the station on the air and the pics coming from the web-cam.

Knees to Meet You!

People I met on the pier include (in no particular order): Clive Smith, Elouise Etchells and her mum, Paul Ewers, Ron Prosser, Colin and Janet Wilkins, Ray Reynolds, Stephen Ches-knee and Keith Milborrow. Not forgetting Ian and the Radio Caroline sales team, who did amazingly well in the exhibition centre and sold out of much of their stock.

A warm welcome from Chris and Mary Payne to the hundreds of new visitors who have discovered the Radio London website thanks to the Pirate BBC Essex broadcast.
During the Easter week, the Radio London website saw an average of 3750 'page views' each day!

Pictures of pirate DJs attempting to look swashbuckling at Easter!
The following weekend sees shades of August '67 all over again!
Yours and the BBC's feedback and comments!

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