No.10: Ray Clark in conversation with Alan Turner, continued

There is a break in the recording at this point but it appears that Ray has asked Alan if he remembers any funny incidents.
ALAN TURNER: This was in the early days when there was only Simon, Doug and myself on board. Doug couldn't handle the panel at all so I used to produce the shows for him. He used to do the Caroline requests. Now the requests that we used to get were enormous and I think, if I remember rightly, the biggest requested artist used to be Jim Reeves, followed by Roy Orbison and then some of the other very popular songs and people at the time. Doug used to have this big pile of requests for each record, all piled up ready to read out, and if there were any pertinent items he was going to mention he would circle them in red on the letters. You have to bear in mind that the only communication we had was through the mail so going through the letters, sorting out the requests from just general correspondence, was quite a job. Anyway on this particular day we were well into the request programme and the next one up was Roy Orbison's It's Over which was then a big hit. He was reading out letter after letter after letter and I had the record cued up on the turntable, slipping the disc, and he went on to the next request and on to the next request and I was getting rather bored (laughs) so I turned the turntable off, waited for a few more minutes while the next request was read out, followed by the next request and I thought “he must be coming to the end of this by now” so I started the turntable and re-cued the record. I'm still slipping the disc and it went on and on for ages. It seemed to me like ages and it was a considerable length of time. The letters were coming off one pile and being transferred to the next pile as he was reading through them. I thought to myself “I'll get him for this” so at the end of that Roy Orbison record the singing comes to a momentary stop and then he sings the title after a brief pause: “it's over” boobooboobooboom and the record finishes. So I re-cued the record right to the very end so it just said “it's over” (laughs) and of course he's got this great pile and as soon as he says “ladies and gentlemen, Roy Orbison, It's Over” I let the record go and that's all it was - just that one phrase “it's over” and of course he was nowhere near ready and the red light came on (laughs). But that was the sort of thing we used to do.
RAY CLARK: That was down south wasn't it? Doug Kerr never went north did he?
AT: No, never ever. I think in retrospect - it's very easy to say this in hindsight - but I think Ronan made a mistake sending the Caroline up north. I think it would have benefitted in the long term by staying where it started.
RC: In what way?
AT: Because it became very much a north/south divide. Of course, generally speaking, if it doesn't happen in southern England, it doesn't happen, does it, and this annoys people in the north of England immensely. And of course a lot of people in the north, when Caroline turned up at the Isle of Man, said “ah we've got our own ship now”. You know, they viewed it like that. The reason why Caroline, the original ship, went up to the Isle of Man was she was much stronger. She was built as an icebreaker so she was a very, very strong ship. I don't think that storm that we had in the winter of '64-'65, that I mentioned earlier, I don't think the Mi Amigo would have survived that because it was violent in the extreme. It really was violent. The original Caroline ship was more than twice the size of the Mi Amigo. No, I don't think the Mi Amigo would have survived that.
RC: You were telling me about the anchors that they put down.
AT: Yes, that was in early '65 because of the fact that we'd dragged our anchor so far Wijsmuller (the Dutch company that crewed and serviced the ship) sent a tug out from Holland and they put down three anchors in a star shape with a swivel in the centre and attached the anchor chain to the swivel. And those anchors are still down there because when the ships were repossessed and towed back to Holland for their fate, they just cut the anchor cable and the whole lot went down onto the seabed.
RC: Did you ever see the ship again after you came off it for the last time?
AT: No - and it wasn't until we went to the exhibition in the Isle of Man that I'd seen any photographs of her being broken up. I found that quite sad. She was still a useful ship, you know, she would have carried on for years because she was so strongly built.
RC: Did she have the name painted only on one side - or was that after your time?
AT: After my time.
RC: What about the flag? Did she ever fly the flag?
AT: Panamanian flag.

The Caroline ship

The name on the side of the Caroline ship, showing where the original name has only been partially chiselled off. Photo courtesy of Alan. See here for more.

RC: Did she fly it or was it always kept locked up?
AT: She'd fly it occasionally. I remember them painting the board “Panama” and hanging it over the stern after it was re-registered in Panama because you have to display the country of registration. It was just painted on a plank (laughs) and hung over the stern. And, of course, for years you could see where when she was in Dundalk[1] they tried to chisel off the (old) name, the Fredericia, and they only got part of it chiselled off because it was welded into the ship's hull in rounded letters. If you look at photographs of the ship you can see where they chiselled off part of it and the rest was never removed. We had an amusing incident in Ramsey. We often had boozy nights out in the town, down in the casino and various places, and I remember one night we came back very late at night and annoyed everybody in the hotel making a noise as you do when you're young and drunk. In the morning, when we had breakfast, one of the other radio staff said to me “can you give me a hand with the sign?” and I said “what sign are you talking about?” He said “come up to my room.” So we go up to his room and there, laying along the skirting board, is a No Parking sign which has been removed from Parliament Square Ramsey in this night of drunkenness! So we took it on the tender, and took it out to the ship and subsequently it was set into some concrete in a 50 gallon oil drum, with some waste chain and anchor weights, and it floated about 100 yards off of Caroline's position for some time until it sank. So visitors to the ship were greeted, after sailing out three and a half miles from Ramsey, by this No Parking sign floating near the ship (laughs).
RC: When tenders came out, presumably they had new records, food, any instructions from the office as well.
AT: Yes. Records that people wanted promoted. Not much in the way of food. We used to get odd things come from the Isle of Man but of course by that time we were being supplied from Holland.
RC: You had a Dutch tender as well?
AT: Yes, Offshore I used to come out. That was a very unusual thing. That started when we were off Harwich. Offshore I used to come from Holland with all the supplies, additional fuel, water, masses of beer and Coke, food galore. For a merchant ship to re-provision at sea is almost unheard of. A very, very unusual situation. It happens all the time in the Royal Navy but not in the merchant navy, so that in itself was a very interesting episode, when the tender used to come.
RC: And they used Offshore I for the North ship, she'd come out from Holland?
AT: Yes. Dutch and German food sources, generally speaking.
RC: How often did they come out?
AT: I can't remember the frequency of it. Of course the Essex Girl from Ramsey used to bring out fresh water and diesel as well. I remember once when they got the hoses mixed up and of course when you had a shower you came out smelling of diesel (laughs). I remember once or twice trying to bring the Essex Girl alongside Caroline. It's not as easy as it looks, especially if there is a sea running. That was in the days before Health and Safety reared its head. I can't ever remember anybody falling off the tender. It would have been terminal, I think, if it happened. It became quite an acquired knack of judging, when the tender was rising up the side of the ship, to throw your case on board the Caroline and then, the next time it came up, jumping yourself. We did have one episode where we were delayed going back from Ramsey to the ship on changeover day because of a storm. The storm lasted for 2 or 3 days so we just kicked our heels in Ramsey until it started to die down a bit. We were pressing the skipper of the tender “can we go now? Can we go now?” and he said “it's too rough. It's too rough”. “We might get out there” he said “but we won't get alongside.” We waited for a good few more hours before he said “well if you folks are willing to try it, I'll have a go”. So we got on board the tender. I think there were about 4 or 5 of us. And we chugged out of the harbour entrance and, as we left the shelter of the harbour, this wave hit us and the Essex Girl, which I think weighed 60 tons, went up in the air - I don't know how far but it seemed an awful long way - and came down at right angles to the entrance to the harbour. The skipper just shouted to us “we're going back”. (laughs)
RC: Tell me about the mast.
AT: Well it was a big mast. It was just under 200 ft. I think the top of the mast was almost 200 ft. above sea level. It had a ladder which went all the way up the back of the mast, the aft side of the mast, and on the top of the mast was a huge red lamp installation warning aircraft of the height of the mast, a safety device. I think it had two or three, I think it was three 150 watt lightbulbs inside this big dome cover. What used to happen was the saturation of radio frequencies coming off the transmitter aerial used to burn the bulbs out quite frequently and from the back-end of the ship, or if you were approaching the ship in poor light, you could see that the red light wasn't shining properly. I nominated myself to be the chief bulb-changer. I used to stuff 2 or 3 lightbulbs into my shirt and just climb up the mast. No safety harness.
RC: How long did it take?
AT: About quarter of an hour. Of course it got slower as you got nearer the top. At the top I just used to hook my legs through the rungs of the ladder to hold on, undo the clamps.... Of course when you're up the top there, even in a relatively calm sea, the thing is swaying about 15 or 20 feet out of the vertical either side. In the early days when we were doing transmitter adjustments sometimes Ove, the chief radio engineer, and myself would be working on the aerial installation itself and I can remember one or two nights being up the mast, on the top of the mast - this is summertime - watching the sun go down right round in the north-west and, a few hours later, watching it come up in the north-east. A wonderful sight to see the sun rise at sea.

Captain Mackay and crew

Captain Mackay and his crew. Next to the captain is Doug Kerr, then Alan Turner, then the ship's mate and the Dutch crew. Photo courtesy of Alan. See here for more.

There is another break in the recording at this point. Ray's question is missing but Alan's response is about one of his photographs, see right.
AT: That's the first publicity photograph ever taken - Captain Mackay.
RC: Is that all the crew?
AT: Yes, along the catwalk. That was the first ever photograph.
RC: Was that a press photograph?
AT: : I think... It was taken with my camera. One of the crew took it and I think actually it was... I'm not sure. One of the press people did take it. I can't remember who that was. Captain Mackay was the first skipper. He was one of the old school, an English captain. He was the only English captain we ever had I think, until later years. They were all predominantly Dutch. He always wore his uniform, night and day, if he was on the bridge. Always with his cap on. He was one of the old school, you know, and he couldn't really understand what was happening to his ship! You know DJs, we really didn't have allegiance to maritime law, or anything really. He was always quite amazed that these people would walk onto his bridge and switch on the radar set (laughs) and just stand there watching while he supervised the whole thing (continues laughing). It was him that agreed to us launching the lifeboat when we had that incident when we were ship-wrecked.
RC: Can you just remind me of that again because we weren't recording (when you told it before)?
AT: Well it was in the early days. We'd only been broadcasting for a few weeks and it was summertime. The weather was nice so we said to him “can we get one of the lifeboats out?” because the lifeboats had sails in them. They were the original ship's lifeboats - quite old but still sound and serviceable. He agreed to that so we roped in some of the crew to come with us and one of the ship's engineers. He said “I think we ought to take an out-board engine with us, just in case.” They had an out-board engine down in the engine room. I don't know where that came from but nevertheless it was there. So they rigged up this temporary bracket on the back-end. Both ends of the boat were pointed so they made a bracket to mount the outboard engine on. We launched the lifeboat - quite an event - the first time it had happened while we were on board, and pulled away from the ship. We mounted the mast and put the sail up. It was a very rudimentary sail, not sophisticated at all, and we started tacking backwards and forwards past the ship. The Captain was sort of overseeing it all, looking rather concerned. We got a bit more adventurous, going further afield and we moved further out from the shore. We got more wind and on one of the passes of the ship the mast snapped. The whole lot, canvas, mast, all came crashing down in the boat. So they started this little outboard engine, which could only have been 6 or 10 horsepower or something, very small, and it simply wasn't man enough to cope with the tide and the wind. So we slowly but slowly drifted shorewards and ran up on the beach on the Suffolk coast. Meanwhile our progress had been reported to all and sundry by whoever it was who was broadcasting, probably Tom. When we went ashore we weren't quite sure where we were or what we were going to do. We'd only been on the beach for ten minutes, quarter of an hour, when suddenly all these police turned up from all directions. Coastguard, everybody. We got arrested! Carted back to Harwich to the agent's office. By this time of course, because Tom or whoever it was had been broadcasting our adventures on the high sea, all the press and camera crews from television stations and everybody else started turning up. There were so many people outside and inside the office of Anglia Marine that you couldn't move. So we moved across the street into a pub which had got more room but that rapidly filled up with even more people. The radio and television crews went along and interviewed everybody, wanting to know what was happening, and eventually a senior police officer turned up. He analysed the situation and released us into the safe keeping of the agent (laughs).
The next question is missing but we assume it was about Alan's daily routine.
AT: I would be called by the Duty Watch. A Dutch crewman would wake me about 5, quarter past 5. I'd get up, have a shower, get dressed then I would go up into the library and select a few records that I wanted to play. Then I would go down into the aft hold where the generators were. Start whichever generator we were using - there were two of them - and check that the frequency that the generator was putting out was correct, 50 cycles. Then I would go up into the transmitter room, turn the transmitter on, go back down into the hold to check that the load was stabilised at 50 cycles. By that time it was quarter to, ten to 6. I'd go in, via the galley, make a cup of coffee, and take that into the studio. I would cue up the station theme 'Round Midnight, which lasted I think about six minutes. I can't remember the exact timing of the record but it was about six minutes so at 6 minutes to 6 I would start that running, sit down and think about what I was going to say - the usual good morning chat and all the rest of it - and away we would go. There'd be no one else around, no one about at all. Just whoever was on watch and they were usually one of the seamen. They'd be sat in the saloon, doing whatever they had to do.
RC: You mentioned some of the records wowing sometimes in in the early days.
AT: Yes, well if the generators were not putting out the exact frequency, the correct frequency of 50 cycles, it would upset the tapes and the record players. You'd get things out of sync. So it was quite important that it was done like that.
RC: Can you remember when the song Caroline came along - The Fortunes? 'Round Midnight was the theme at the start, wasn't it, but that was taken over by The Fortunes?
AT: Yes. I think The Fortunes' Caroline came out sometime during '64[2]. I don't think it was current when we started. It must have been late '64. Probably look at the record label to find out when it was released.
RC: I think it was '64 but I suppose later on. Somebody must have made that decision...
AT: And of course it became the theme didn't it.



Does he mean Greenore?


According to The Fortunes' Caroline was originally released in January 1964, some months before the launch of Radio Caroline. The single wasn't a hit at the time and we are guessing that the record company re-promoted it a few months later to cash in on the success of the radio station. We have a recording of it being played on the station on 7th June 1964 but at that time it hadn't yet replaced 'Round Midnight as the station theme.

With grateful thanks to Ray Clark.
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Ray's interview with Johnny Jason is over the page.

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