Errol Bruce

27th October 1942 - 11th August 2016

Errol Bruce

Errol “Bosscat” Bruce on Swinging Radio England in 1966. Photo by Peter Ward kindly provided by Jonathan Shirley.

Errol Bruce Knapp was born in Egypt. His father was a Canadian serving in the British army. His mother was a member of a Greek family living in Benha near Alexandria who taught French at a local school. The couple had met in Egypt during the Second World War, after the British had captured the country from the Germans. As a child Errol was fascinated with audio, playing around with tape recorders, and got his first experience of broadcasting at a young age. The army base where he grew up had a forces radio station. The Station Manager wanted to launch a weekly kids' request show and thought a youngster should present it. Errol became the regular host. He was educated at the British Army Apprentice School in Harrogate where he was a drum major and later joined the Royal Signal Corps. While in the army he continued to work in forces broadcasting, as well as forming a skiffle group.
 
Discharged in 1963, Errol moved to London where he worked for the Automobile Association. One day in 1964 he was listening to Radio Caroline when he heard Simon Dee advertising a vacancy for a DJ. That night Errol put a demo together on his home tape recorder but, rather than posting it, decided to drop it into Caroline House himself. The next morning he went round to Chesterfield Gardens. He was invited to come in while someone listened to his tape. As he was sitting in the office, the telephone rang. There was an emergency out on the ship. The only person who knew how to operate the studio panel was being rushed ashore with suspected appendicitis. (Could it be the incident mentioned in this article?) Caroline South desperately needed a replacement panel operator. Errol was asked if he knew how to run a Gates desk. He lied and said he did and, before he knew it, he was on his way to the mv Mi Amigo. In this interview he says he was taken out to the ship by helicopter. If that was the case, it truly was an emergency. The Caroline staff were normally transported by boat.

Errol Bruce, Mike Allen and Paul Noble

Left to right: Errol Bruce, Mike Allen and Paul Noble on board Radio Caroline South. Photo kindly provided by Paul.

At that time the DJs on Caroline did not operate their own equipment. Someone else sat the other side of the window, spinning the records, playing-in the commercials and keeping an eye on the levels. Initially this was Errol's job but he soon began to present shows too, using a shortened version of his name. He dropped the Knapp and became Errol Bruce. In November 1964 the station went “self-op”. Most of the DJs now drove the studio desk themselves - something Errol was familiar with from his time in forces broadcasting.

click to hear audio click to hear audio Errol Bruce and Garry Kemp putting on some fake Irish accents for an edition of The Sound Of Music on Radio Caroline South. Recording kindly provided by Hans Knot (duration 2 minutes 12 seconds)

Errol was heard on both Caroline ships, staying with the station for about a year.
 
In 1966 he returned to sea with Swinging Radio England. This high-powered US-backed Top 40 station was very different from the early days of Caroline. It was fast moving high octane stuff. The relaxed Errol Bruce now became the manic “Bosscat” Bruce.

click to hear audio click to hear audio Bosscat Bruce on Swinging Radio England in November 1966. The announcement in Dutch relates to the new service, aimed at The Netherlands, which was shortly to replace it. Tape kindly provided by Martyn Webster (duration 2 minutes 28 seconds)

Sadly Radio England was not to last long and in November 1966 it closed down to be replaced by a Dutch language station. Errol reverted to his more laidback style and continued on the middle-of-the-road sister station, Britain Radio, for a few months.
 
After leaving Britain Radio, Errol worked as a disco and ballroom DJ, as well as becoming a partner in a club of his own. Rikki Farr was relaunching his Birdcage Club in Southsea as ‘Brave New World’, promoting some of the more progressive bands then emerging. Errol joined him in the venture. At the same time he was keen to continue in broadcasting and was applying for jobs with the BBC. Unfortunately the Corporation did not seem very interested in employing him. Errol decided that, if he wanted to stay on the radio, he would have to leave the country. In 1968 he sold his share in ‘Brave New World’ and bought an airline ticket. It was time to join his family, now living back in Canada.
 
Former Radio Caroline DJ Keith Hampshire put in a good word and Errol soon found himself on the air at CKFH Toronto, broadcasting through the night (1-6am) with the latest R&B and soul. His experience of playing the hits on Swinging Radio England and in British clubs stood him in good stead. He knew his soul music. (There are some CKFH programme schedules on the Rock Radio Scrapbook website. Errol features in those from 1968 and 1969.)

Errol Bruce

The hirsute Errol Bruce. Photo kindly provided by Errol.

The unhappy end to a romance led to Errol leaving CKFH and working in the US for a time, but he returned to Canada when a Beatle got in touch. Back in his army days, Errol had been stationed for a time in Germany where he had met and befriended the pre-fame Beatles while they were playing in Hamburg. Now John Lennon wanted his help in setting up a radio station to spread his and Yoko Ono's message of peace to the world. Errol joined the project but unfortunately it never got off the ground and he soon returned to traditional radio stations, working at CHUM-FM, Q107 and the CBC.
 
Errol was part of the team that created the expression ‘Fast Forward’ for a high-tech TV programme and was involved with North America's first ‘All-Night Show’. This daily marathon television show ran through the night from sign-off until 6:00am. It included old films, TV shows, clips, guest appearances and comedy hosted by Chuck the Security Guard with his cameraman colleagues Ryerson Dupont and P.B. Leonard. The programme was based round the idea that Chuck and his friends had taken control of the TV station and put it back on the air after the official closedown, when management had gone home for the night. IMDB lists Errol as a writer and director, as well as playing the part of Ryerson Dupont. There is a clip from a Halloween edition of ‘The All-Night Show’ here.
 
Errol had been intrigued by UFOs for many years and got involved on a full-time basis in 1993 when he bought his first computer. He discovered an on-line community who shared his interest and he joined The Mutual UFO Network of Ontario. In 1997 he launched UFO UpDates, a central repository for all things UFO-related.

Virtually Strange logo

From the home page of Errol's Virtually Strange website. Screen-grab courtesy of The Internet Archive.

He also began a UFO radio show on Newstalk 1010 CFRB in Toronto, Strange Days ... Indeed. It took its name from the John Lennon song Nobody Told Me with the lyric “There's UFOs over New York ... strange days indeed, most peculiar mama.” The radio show ran every Saturday night from 9pm to midnight for some years. (There is an extract from the 10th May 2006 edition on Vimeo.) When it was cancelled Errol continued to offer the show as a podcast through his Virtually Strange website.
 
When The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame took its first tentative steps onto the internet in March 2000, Errol was the first former offshore DJ to get in touch. In fact he had managed to find the site before it had even been listed on the search engines! He was always helpful and supportive.
 
Errol's last home was in Peterborough, Ontario. He had to undergo some heart surgery, which was reportedly a success, but he experienced complications and ultimately succumbed to a lung infection. He died at 10pm on 11th August 2016, aged 73. We will miss him - and so will many others.


 


A number of Errol's former offshore radio colleagues have been in touch:
 
Paul Noble: “Errol was always full of fun and a great shipmate. He is in the memories of one of the happiest times of my life.”
 
Bob Walton: “Very sorry to hear of Errol Bruce's passing.”
 
The news of Errol's death broke in the UK on 14th August 2016 - a major anniversary as Keith Skues noted: “Thanks for your email which is indeed sad news - on this the 49th anniversary of the Marine Etc., Broadcasting (Offences) Bill becoming an act of parliament. I enjoyed working with Errol during the early days of Radio Caroline. He does appear in my 8mm 1965 cine film about Radio Caroline, part of which was shown on BBC1 recently.”
 
Roger Day noted the date too. Writing on Facebook he said: “August the 14th is sad enough without getting news like this. Just heard that former Caroline & SRE DJ Errol Bruce has died at 73. He was really one of the good guys and a great help to me early in my career.”
 
Garry Kemp was a colleague of Errol's on both Radio Caroline and Swinging Radio England/Britain Radio: “So sorry to hear of the death of Errol Bruce. He was already on Caroline when I got there in 1964 and we did a number of silly things together, involving broken glass, Mick Jagger and Pink Pussycats (well, that last was his when on SRE). We're all going, little by little.”
 
Keith Martin worked with Errol both on Radio Caroline and later in Canada: “I am saddened to receive the news about Errol. I would like to add my memories of him. For a start, I was part of the original Radio Atlanta party that went on board the Mi Amigo on the day before the on-air announcement of the merger with Radio Caroline. During the next few weeks there was alot of ‘churning’ of on-air DJs. I can still recall some names. There was one in particular that stood the test of time: Errol Bruce. I taught him all I knew about the duties of being a ‘Panel Operator’. That lasted about a minute! At that time Terry Saunders must have been on shore leave. We both enjoyed a good laugh, Errol and I, no doubt mostly about others on board who believed they were instant stars as soon as they opened their lips! Those were the Errol early days, folks. Some five years later I morphed into a ‘Landed Immigrant’ in Canada. After a few weeks, I got a job as an ‘engineer’ (a panel operator) with CFRB/CKFM so, my activities on-board the Mi Amigo proved very useful indeed! A few months later I joined the staff of CHOO Radio as an ‘on-air announcer’ (that is what DJs were titled in Canada). After a few weeks, who should be applying for job at CHOO? Errol Bruce! In spite of what I'd said at the time to Program Management he got the job! His show ran six evening a week between seven and midnight. Errol played psychedelic music, unlike the lush sounds of Mantovani and Percy Faith that was on my playlist. Yours truly, after my four hour show, used to read the ‘news on the hour, every hour, on CHOO Radio’ for his programme. Just as like a couple of folk I remember who were stars on the Mi Amigo, Errol enjoyed a spliff or two, or three or four or more .... during his show! Then, at the midnight hour, my job was to read all the news of the day from scraps of ‘rip and read’ paper. A number of times he would come into the news booth and blow his intoxicating fumes all over me and, in addition, picking up the big fire extinguisher, plonking it on my desk and then pointed the nozzle at me. Too often I would smile and sometimes I would giggle like a little schoolgirl (remember, folks, I was very butch underneath my facade!). One dark and very cold night, the actual owner (an ex-ATV Birmingham, England man) yes, OWNER of CHOO Radio stalked the corridors of power. Through the triple-glazed window he spied Errol and I ‘fooling about’. All eyes met. We decided that this would be instant dismissal! After I had wished the listener ‘a long and peaceful night’, followed by The National Anthem, fireworks were set to begin! I'm not going to pretend what words were actually spoken BUT I believe that we, all three of us were English and Landed Immigrants plus, without any doubt, Errol had a way with words. Eventually we were the last to leave the building. We then jumped into my Beetle - something we did every night - and I gave Errol a midnight lift to his home and to his family in North Toronto. It was not difficult for me to remember Errol. Goodnight.”
 
Following the publication of this page Ron O'Quinn commented on Facebook: “Nice tribute to Errol. Here is an interesting story related to me a few years ago by Errol. When I left Radio England/Britain Radio and returned to the U.S. many of my personal belongings that had been put on the ship in Miami were not shipped back to me as I had been promised. In these belonging was a duffel bag of my Army fatigues. Errol said he took a couple of my Army shirts and John Lennon wound up with one of them. Errol said there are many pictures of John wearing my old Army fatigue shirts.”

With thanks to the Spectrum Radio Network's interview: “Errol Bruce-Knapp: Pirate Radio the Real Story”
and to this biography by Errol's brother Wesley.
 
Other obits: Coast To Coast AM, Northern Ontario UFO Research & Study.


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