DEATH OF A PIRATE: BRITISH RADIO AND THE MAKING OF THE INFORMATION AGE
by ADRIAN JOHNS

Published 9th November 2010.


 

From the publisher:

DEATH OF A PIRATE: BRITISH RADIO AND THE MAKING OF THE INFORMATION AGE
 
ADRIAN JOHNS

When the pirate operator Oliver Smedley shoots and kills his rival Reg Calvert in Smedley's country cottage on 21 June 1966, it is a turning point in the careening career of the outlaw radio stations dotting the coastal waters of Britain. Situated on ships and offshore forts like Shivering Sands, these stations blasted away at the high-minded BBC's broadcast monopoly with the new beats of the Stones and the Who and DJs like Screaming Lord Sutch. For free-market idealogues like Smedley, the pirate stations were entrepreneurial efforts to undermine the growing British welfare state as embodied by the BBC.
 
In Death of a Pirate, the worlds of high table and underground collide in a riveting story littered with memorable characters such as the Bondian Kitty Black (an intellectual femme fatale who became co-conspirator), and the murderous Kray twins, as well as some of the famous stations made even greater by nostalgia: Radio Caroline, Radio Atlanta, Radio Sutch.
 
In one sense, Death of a Pirate is about the importance of a moment. It tells a story of how ideology, pop music and demimonde entrepreneurship led to tragedy, and through that tragedy to the transformation of a medium. Johns dedicates much of the book to exploring the deeper historical currents that gave rise to that tragic shooting in 1966, causes which stretch back as far as the invention of broadcasting in the 1920s. He discusses the processes in history that made pirate radio a possibility, and made it a challenge to the established order of public service in the name of free speech.
 
Today, our highly networked society comes face to face with its own difficulties and challenges from pirates targeting the music and film industries, and others. They too proclaim the virtues of liberty, freedom of speech and engaged citizenship. None of us can really escape engagement with those issues. Johns, by reflecting on the events leading up to and during 1966, sets our own situation in an historical context and aims to help us come to terms with our current predicament.
 
With sixteen pages of black-and-white photographs, Death of a Pirate is a gripping journey back to the hey-day of the sixties - pacy and evocative, with a razor-sharp intellectual edge.
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adrian Johns is a professor of history at the University of Chicago. Educated at Cambridge University, Johns is a specialist on intellectual property and piracy.
 
ISBN: 9780393068603


 

The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame reviews ‘Death of a Pirate’:

Although Death of a Pirate covers the events surrounding the boarding of Radio City and the shooting of station boss Reg Calvert in great detail, there is much more to the book than that story. Those incidents which took place during a week in June 1966 provide the dramatic focus but the author also relates the history of different aspects of radio piracy, spanning the years from before the launch of the British Broadcasting Company (as it then was) in 1922 to Roy Bates declaring independence on a rusting anti-aircraft fort in the North Sea in 1967.
 
Unlike most of the authors of previous books on offshore radio, Adrian Johns did not come to the subject as a fan. In fact, born in 1965, he can not have knowingly heard the stations he is writing about. Instead, as a professor of history and a specialist in intellectual property, he brings a very welcome academic rigour to the subject and frequently sheds new light on what some readers may have previously thought to be a familiar story.
 
Writing about these events so long after they have taken place could have been problematic. Sadly too many of the protagonists are no longer around to be interviewed. But the author was fortunate in being able to spend time with Reg's widow Dorothy Calvert before her death in February 2010 and he also interviewed Mandy Fairman Dick, the widow of Mike Raven. He also had the advantage over previous authors that he had access to all the official papers of the era, previously locked away but now available at the National Archive in Kew. He has made extensive use of these documents as well as many other works of reference to good effect.
 
If you are looking for a book to tell you the general history of British offshore radio, this probably isn't the one (there are others that do that job) but, if you already know the story and are interested in digging a little deeper, then Death of a Pirate is highly recommended. It is a serious study of a subject which is of interest to all visitors to this website. Readers will undoubtedly discover things they never knew before about a fascinating era, including the importance of Gef, an invisible poltergeist mongoose, in the development of British broadcasting!



 

For more about Rado Sutch and Radio City, see here.
 
Other reviews of Death of a Pirate:
Record Collector, The Economist, Newcity Lit,
Airchecker, The Book Bag, Kirkus Reviews and Drowned City.
 
There is an interview with Adrian Johns, the author of this book, on the Rorotoko website.


 
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