Ray Clark has interviewed numerous people involved with Radio Caroline for his documentaries and his book, Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked (reviewed here).
One of them was Caroline South's “Admiral” Robbie Dale. At the time of Caroline's thirtieth anniversary in 1994 Robbie booked a studio in Lanzarote, where he lives, to record a piece for Ray.
Unfortunately only a small part of that audio has survived. It is the short paragraph below.
Ray later had an email conversation with Robbie and we have included some of that correspondence too. We are grateful to Ray for sharing them with us.
The only remaining part of the recorded interview is about visitors to the ship:
ROBBIE DALE: One of the great pleasures of being on the ship was, of course - during the summer especially - people used to come out in boats from the mainland, from Frinton and Walton, and they used to bring us
all sorts of goodies. You just had to mention you needed something and it would arrive. One character who was a close friend of the station would come out and deliver nice fresh fillet steaks and things like that (laughs)
because that was something we use to run out of ocasionally. We had a lot of visitors coming out to the ship. It was a great pleasure.
Robbie Dale addressing a free radio rally in 1967.
This is from an email correspondence regarding staying with Caroline after the introduction of the Marine Offences Act in 1967:
ROBBIE DALE: August 1967. At the time advice would not have mattered too much. I believe both Johnnie (Walker) and I thought we had opportunity issues at stake. The Wilson government
gave us a reason to reject, rebel, play some records and make a bigger name for ourselves in the process. Johnnie and I had been teamed up on the same shift for some time, gigging and partying around the night club scene in London.
For me, I may have fallen in love with the fantasy of being exiled. It did not bother me at all. Another adventure. The last thing that I expected was to be greeted by a united front of DJ staff wanting to get off the boat that day
(14th August). I expected some would jump ship but not all of the them. Strange. I found it hard to understand. They were giving up this great opportunity to participate in something very special. By leaving they could be seen instantly
as cowards in the eyes of some listeners, rats leaving a sinking ship. How could they know that the BBC beckoned?
You ask about those final weeks/months on the ship before the bill. A time when everyone concerned still believed that Ronan (O'Rahilly) remained the boss, me included. A time when I had taken on a lot of new
responsibility regarding the day-to-day running of the south ship. It was Ronan who gave me the job of senior DJ. A time when Phil Solomon and Ronan where at loggerheads over
programming and money. Both Ronan and Phil knew that some of the team would back down and out the door when faced with exile or a spell in jail should they return to the UK. In his final analysis Ronan, the shrewder of the two,
recognised his severe shortage of funds would get the Caroline organisation and himself nowhere. He knew Phil had money in the bank (the way with all) and that Phil would want to call the shots in the immediate future. “Money bags
verses Ronan Radio”. Phil's failure to pay the Wijsmuller brothers was what some would call a “business tactic” that went badly wrong. At the time I felt that I had Phil Solomon's ear
but no influence with his cheque book. Solomon was his own man and had acquired an ego even bigger than that of DLT! The difference was Soli had time on his side and a high level of self control. He would listen to what his wife Dorothy
had to say. He could be cool under pressure, as sweet as pie, then in his next breath would calmly fire everyone including me or shout “get out of here and never come back”. In hindsight, the usually tough guys at Wijsmullers
were somewhat sympathetic in their understanding of the plight of the Caroline ships and demonstrated by extending credit way beyond a few months. I suppose they also considered the feelings and stomachs of the Dutch crew, many of whom
had given service on other company ships and tugs in the Wijsmuller group.
In '67 and '68 whilst in Holland I met the Wijsmullers passing on Phil's promise of payment. I pleaded with Phil several times to pay something to the brothers. More than once Phil gave me his assurances that he would pay within days,
a week at most. (In hindsight it is important to remember it was Phil Solomon who stepped up and put up the entire cost for the Mi Amigo refit a year earlier.) Phil had big bucks invested in this so-called pirate radio business. He
wanted to see the return of his money as quickly as possible. He knew time was running out fast. Setting up Major Minor records was his touch of genius. I was also lucky to have an insider with Major Minor, a regular girl friend who
Soli liked and employed, Joan Thirkettle. Joan later became a reporter with LBC and ITV News. At the time Joan worked for Phil in the London office putting together playlists and writing threatening memos
to go out to the ship via our good friend George (Hare) in the Dublin office. It took some time and circumstance but I finally convinced Soli that giving Johnnie Walker some responsibility would have him realise Caroline needed not
only star jocks but team leaders. I think we finally convinced him that pay for plays was the only way to survive and put food on the table at the time. When the bothers ordered the tow in of the ships the “outstanding
monies”, as Phil would call it, was what the brothers had lost - plus the only chance of earning it back in the future. The money was in his bank. The logistics of taking the ships out again was beyond reason, especially that of
Phil Solomon. According to him the brothers Wijsmuller were in his words “impetuous”. Solomon know he would go on to make more millions in the music business.
Robbie Dale on Radio Caroline International from Sunday morning 7th January 1968. This clip is taken from a recording available from www.azanorak.com. Our thanks to Ray
Robinson (duration 3 minutes 36 seconds)
Robbie Dale in a kaftan. Both this and the previous photo were kindly provided by the man himself.
Philip Solomon invested in Radio Caroline and, as he explains in this interview with Ray, took control of the station from founder Ronan O'Rahilly.
The Wijsmuller organisation was a Dutch tug and salvage company. It had the contract to crew and service the two Caroline ships. When Caroline fell behind with its payments the radio ships were
seized in March 1968.
Joan Tirkettle died in May 1996, aged 48. See Wikipedia.
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Ray's conversation with Nick Bailey is over the page.