Happy Birthday dear Caroline.
Back in March 1978, Stewart Payne had written a substantial article about Radio Caroline (see here) in the London Evening News. In December that year, with Caroline temporarily off the air, he was back with another piece to explain the silence, this time in John Blake's ‘Ad Lib’ column:
A few months later, on Easter Saturday 14th April 1979, the paper included another piece by Stewart spread across the centre pages. And this time he had something of a scoop. Caroline was “expected to
return ... over this Easter weekend”. And it did, after nearly six months. The following morning offshore legend Tony Allan was the first DJ to be heard as Caroline reopened for
STEWART PAYNE REMEMBERS....
I have documented (here) how I came to pay my first visit to the Mi Amigo in order to write a two-page feature on Radio Caroline for the London Evening News. This was published on March 14th 1978.
It was the start of what was to become a very close relationship with the Caroline “family” - both journalistic and as a friend - which has lasted over the ensuing decades.
Back in 1978 Robb Eden was largely running Radio Caroline on a day-to-day basis on shore alongside Ronan, and in the months that followed that first publication I spent a lot of time in the company of both and I kept a fairly full account of what was going on behind the scenes. It was agreed that I would spend some time on board the Mi Amigo to do first-hand research for future articles. I had also been asked to speak at the ‘Zeezenders 20’ offshore radio convention in Holland and a live-aboard experience would be useful.
At this time Caroline was broadcasting evenings-only, with frequent break-downs, and there was concern about the condition of the Mi Amigo with another winter approaching.
I was working on a freelance contract on the Evening News so opportunities were limited. To further complicate matters several attempts to get to the Mi Amigo, always late at night under the cover of darkness, were thwarted by bad weather, tenders failing to turn up or breaking down, and dock-side visits by the police.
Re-reading my notes after all these years recalls to mind just how farcical some of the police interceptions were. Robb Eden and often Rob Day, but rarely Ronan, were usually present on the quayside along with any returning deejays. On one occasion an officer asked why, if we were going fishing, did we have several car loads of food and drink with us? Rob said it was for his sister's 21st birthday party. The officer was far from convinced but had no evidence to the contrary.
On another occasion Tony Allan, Peter Moore (then helping out with mechanical parts) and I assembled in Ramsgate where we boarded Rusty's trawler for our clandestine journey. Robb Eden assumed we were soon to be on our way and departed back to London. But we failed to leave for the Mi Amigo as the trawler's transmission failed. Tony's initial response was “Let's hold hands and think LA”. When that failed to fix the transmission, we reverted to Plan B, which was to drink an astonishing amount of Guinness in the smelly hold of Rusty's boat. At dawn we headed for a greasy spoon breakfast and then onto a seafront hotel bar where we consumed a further legendary quantity of Guinness. “First in, last out”, as my notes recall.
When it became clear that the boat was not going to be repaired anytime soon, Tony and I took a train to London where we spent the evening in various pubs ... drinking yet more Guinness.
The following day, October 20th 1978, Caroline went off the air and remained so until the following April. However I did finally make it to the Mi Amigo shortly after our failed attempt, again in the company of Tony and also Richard “Buzby” Thompson. This time we sailed on a converted ship's lifeboat, erratically skippered by a dubious moonlighting Fleet Street printer. The tender took eight hours to reach the Mi Amigo where on board were Peter Chicago, Samantha, Mike Stevens, Tom Hardy and Brian Martin, together with Dutch deejays Marc Jacobs and Ferry Eden.
Mike and Samantha departed on the tender we had arrived on. Peter was trying to persuade Samantha to remain on board but she was having none of it. Turning to me, about to begin my first lengthy spell on the Mi Amigo, she said: “You must be f*cking mad! I am not staying on this f*cking boat taking in f*cking water a f*cking moment longer”. Hardly an auspicious start!
But stay I did. With the two MAN generators playing up and only the little Farymann generator for power, and no broadcasting to do, we led an almost twilight existence. Below decks, including the cabins and studios, the Mi Amigo remained in darkness and the only available power went to the ship's navigation lights, mess room, television and freezers. Fresh water was low and its use rationed. The heads (toilet) pump had packed up and a bucket over the side served most purposes.
Peter was working intermittently on one of the MANs and also on a Henschel generator which, if working, would have provided enough power to fire up the 10Kw transmitter. Having a rudimentary mechanical knowledge, I sometimes gave him a hand in the engine room, grudgingly accepted. He did succeed in getting the Henschel working. But it vibrated so much the that the whole ship shook.
Brian was the resident joker and also did most of the cooking, assisted by Tony. We all got on well, played games in the mess room, and smoked endless Belga cigarettes and drunk large quantities of Dutch Jenever gin. Even Peter sometimes overcame his suspicions of me as a journalist.
I left some three weeks later as I had to get back to work. We departed on the same tender as before. Arriving on it was Roger Mathews, and leaving with me were Peter, in search of vital spare parts, and Brian. Shortly into the voyage to Southend, the old converted lifeboat started to take on a significant amount of water in quite rough seas. The skipper handed us buckets and told us we would have to bail out all the way, which Brian and I did, although Peter declined. We finally made it to Southend pier, followed for some of the way by a Trinity House vessel, where we disembarked. By this time the lifeboat was in danger of sinking and, once we were safely off, its skipper beached it on nearby sands. Peter, Brian and I headed to a pub where we were met by Andy Archer before catching a train to London and a curry.
So ended my first stay on the Mi Amigo. Despite Caroline and the Dutch service being off the air throughout, I had enough background for an article on December 9th, followed by the main feature I had planned. This appeared in the Evening News across two pages on April 14th 1979 - just ahead of Caroline's 15th birthday.
It included an interview I did with Ronan and printed as a separate piece headed “I don't control her, she controls me”. In this he talked about Loving Awareness, the first newspaper article to cover his concept. He was delighted and it helped cement our lasting friendship.
Caroline finally made it back to the air the day after the article appeared, Easter Sunday. When still on board I had discussed with Tony the Chris Rea song Fool, If You Think It's Over, suggesting it would be an appropriate song for the reopening. I said I would write a small item in the Evening News music column ‘Ad Lib’ predicting it would be the first song that would be played. Back in the “office” Robb Eden agreed, and that is what happened, following the theme song Caroline by The Fortunes. I made a note that read: “Well done Tony for remembering”. I am pleased to have played a small part in a significant moment in Caroline's history and the song has since become something of an anthem to the station's followers.
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