While researching for his book Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked (reviewed here), author Ray Clark interviewed dozens of people who were involved
with the station.
This conversation is with Caroline's sales executive in the sixties, Terry Bate.
Terry was later involved with the introduction of commercial radio in Britain. Although his time with Radio Caroline ended in the sixties, he remained in contact with station founder Ronan O'Rahilly as we hear in his first story.
TERRY BATE: In the early 1970s I had an office in the Evening Standard building. I had half of a company called Beaverbrook Commercial Broadcasting and I was putting radio stations together up and down the country.
Ronan dropped in one day, looking for some money to keep his boat afloat. He was looking for about £3,000. I'd already given him a lot of money to help keep the boat over the years so I said “no, Ronan, that's it.”
So he said “OK.” So we took a ride into town. We were walking up St James. Who's walking down St James but George Harrison. So we said hello, etc., etc. and George looked at me and said “what's he want?” I
said “he's looking for money.” George said “I know that - but how much does he want?” And Ronan said, without hesitation “Six thousand pounds.” I said “No you don't. You said you wanted three
thousand pounds” and Ronan laughed. “OK”. So George pulled out his chequebook, wrote out a cheque for £3,000 and handed it to Ronan. And that is a real gentleman, I've got to tell you.
RAY CLARK: Any other memories come to mind?
TB: Oh, all kinds of them.
RC: How did you first meet Ronan?
|Terry Bate. Photo kindly provided by Robbie Dale.
TB: I'll tell you the story. I had a radio operation in Toronto and, amongst the things I owned, was a radio promotion thing called Radio Bingo where grocery stores gave out the Radio Bingo cards and on the air we announced a number,
on the hour every hour, and eventually somebody phoned in and said “bingo”, and they won a few hundred dollars or whatever. So my dad in those days, over here in England, he used to do the football pools. Every week he
did the football pools and I used to see these coupons come in. I had this idea so I went to see Littlewoods (Pools) in Liverpool. I said “now here's the thing. You send out millions of coupons every week - you advertise by
mailing millions of coupons” and they said “yes”, and I said “and the only thing in there is a football coupon for the man of the house?” and they said “yes”. I said “here's the
thing. You put a bingo card in too and there's something for the lady of the house, and we get the newspapers to print the numbers, you get free publicity, etc., etc..” So Littlewoods said “brilliant. We'll do it.”
Called me back the next day and said “sorry about that.” What I didn't realise at the time - and it may or may not be true - was that the football pools business was a bit of a cartel. They all had their piece and
they were very happy with it, and that was that, sort of thing - so they cancelled the deal. He said “by the way, I've got a question for you. You're in the radio business?” I said “yes.” He said “we advertise
on radio.” I said “where?” He said “well they have this pirate ship called Radio Caroline and we buy a programme on it.” And I said “what do you mean you buy a programme?” He said
“well we have a half-hour show at like 10 o'clock on a Monday night.” I said “why would you do that?” He said “what's wrong with it?” I said “Let's put it
this way. A radio station is like a bus and at six o'clock in the morning it takes off and people get on and off the bus all day long.” I said “you're talking to one very small bus load of people at 10 o'clock at
night.” I said “how about the other 99%?” He said “I never thought about that.” I said “what do you have to sell?” He said “what do you mean?” I said “you've only got one thing
to sell and that's the large sum of money that you have given away that week. That's the only thing you've got to sell.” He said “yes.” So in two minutes I wrote him five 10 second commercials - and that's all you needed,
10 seconds. With that I got on the plane and went back to Toronto. I'd been back in Toronto about four days and my phone rings one night. It's someone called Ronan O'Rahilly and he says “you went to see a client of mine.” And
I said “who are you?” Anyway he identified himself and he said “you totally screwed up my client” and I said “no - I taught him how to use radio correctly.” I said “you obviously have no idea what
the hell you are doing.” He said “well, I've got 8 million listeners a week so I must know something.” And I said “well they are there by accident because you sure as hell....” - and they were there by
accident. So next thing I know the phone rings. It's Ronan again and he says “I want you to come and visit. I'll send you a plane ticket.” So I said “OK.” So I went back over and there was this gang of
hangers-on at (Caroline House in) Chesterfield Gardens - just funny people as high as you can get on whatever was going in the 1960s, etc. and I said (laughs) “Sorry, I don't want to have anything to do with you lot.” The
next day another guy came in, a gentleman in a suit and a tie, who said “I'd like to buy you lunch.” So he bought me lunch at The Savoy Grill and that was Jocelyn Stevens. Now this was a different
kettle of fish. Jocelyn owned .... I don't know. Who knew in those days? Anywhere from 15% to 25% of what was Radio Caroline. Anyway he said “what do I have to do to get you to come over and take over?” I said “what
do you mean?” and he said “you come over, take over the boat and look after the sales.” I said “I'll take 30% of everything I bring in.” He said “done” and shook hands on the deal right there
at the Savoy Grill.
So I went back to Toronto. I owned a fair chunk of the radio business so I put it on hold, sold out bits and pieces, etc., etc.. Literally two weeks later I'm on a plane back to London, rented an apartment on Hertford Street,
around the corner (from Caroline House) and a friend of mine called Al Sleight - I told him about this gig. He was Programme Director of a station called CHUM in Toronto which was a big station, and I told him what I was doing and he
said “can I come?” and I said “absolutely”. So he resigned. The headline in Broadcast magazine in Canada was ‘Bate and Sleight leave for England.’ (laughs) So we set up and away we went. Allan
looked after the programming. Got rid of all the payola and all the nonsense. Set up a proper hitlist of what was being sold and what was being played, etc., etc., and we got the place organised. They had a sales force that did nothing
so I fired everybody. I brought in three guys from Canada and within three months we more than quadrupled the sales, etc., etc.. I was making a fortune. A fortune. You've no idea. I won't embarrass myself by telling you (how much). That
was the beginning of it actually. It was Jocelyn Stevens basically. I wouldn't have come over for the rest of them. They were a bunch of pirates - they really were pirates. There were some real hangers-on. Ah well. That's the story
RC: When did your days with Caroline finish?
TB: Oh I was there at the very end (of the sixties era). Legislation was coming down - I mean I had more dinners at the House of Commons, hosted by MPs, etc., etc., wanted to know about radio ... I used to tell all of them that radio
is not meant to be this (large). It's meant to be local. As a big man in your locality, you should be a big shareholder in your local radio station. And suddenly these socialist MPs ain't so socialist any more, sensing a little piece of
the action going, etc.. And so I would have dinner and I'd be preaching the gospel, etc., etc.. But the time was coming and they all told me “we can't stop you broadcasting but we can make it illegal for people to spend
money with you.” I said “fair enough.” So when this started coming down in June (1967), I opened an office in Amsterdam at Singel 160. I opened the office there and come the night of the 15th August
1967 I hosted a dinner at The Savoy - black tie - and eight of us had a black tie dinner at the Savoy to celebrate (Radio Caroline) and the next morning the eight of us climbed into my plane and I took off for Amsterdam and opened the
office the next day. Funny bit - the night before - there at the next table was a minister in Harold Wilson's government, George Brown. So he's at the next table having dinner. So I invited him to come over at about ten to twelve, so we
celebrated the end of pirate radio in England with a minister of the government (laughs) and a glass of champagne. Then we opened the office in Amsterdam the next day and away we went.
RC: Was there any hope of Caroline continuing really, after the 15th, and bringing in money?
TB: Well we got money for a while. A lot of it came from the States. I mean, I was doing somewhere between 1.2 and 1.6 million dollars a year in religious advertising - in the middle of the night - that did not dry up. That went on
forever. And that was very nice thank you. I couldn't see my future as a straight radio broadcaster, you know, hustling religious broadcasting out of New York - I mean there was one agency which did all
the gig, right - I mean how many versions of God do you have these days? - you know. So I told Ronan “the end is coming. I am going to leave you. Cut the ties. The new stations are coming and I think I'll apply for some of
them.” So I stopped. Jocelyn and I .... I used to get along with a guy Max Aitken who used to run Beaverbrook Newspapers. He had a Canadian passport and used to fly planes, just like I did. So
Jocelyn said “you two, you're all the bloody same” (laughs) so I got along very well with Max so we opened a thing called Beaverbrook Commercial Broadcasting which I owned half and they owned half, and we applied for
stations. That was the beginning of the thing, yeah.
|Folder from a 1972 Beaverbrook Commercial Broadcasting event. Photo kindly provided by David Addis.
RC: What about Jocelyn? Was he the boss (of Caroline)? Was Ronan just the figurehead and the guy who went along ....
TB: (interrupting) No, no. How can I explain? Jocelyn owned Queen magazine which was, you know, the establishment toy in those days. Everyone who was anyone belonged to Queen magazine and Jocelyn enjoyed being ‘the
man’ ... and pirate radio, for him, was a bit of glamour, you know, the opposite - about as far away from Queen magazine as you can get. And that was kind of what it was. It was the yin and the yang in his set, sort
RC: And what about (Philip) Solomon - when he came in? You've pulled a face there!
TB: (laughing) You've spoiled my entire morning! No, to be fair ... Solomon owned Major Minor Records and he bought a chunk of Caroline, put some money in ... he bought it from whoever - I don't know. Oh, who was the guy? It was an
English businessman who owned a chunk. He had a big house in Surrey and a Rolls Royce....
RC: Ross? Charles Ross? Jimmy Ross?
TB: Ross rings a bell.
RC: Ian Ross was the younger guy .....
TB: Yes. I know. He, he ... Before I moved into Caroline he picked me up at the airport, took me to the country, fed me lunch and courted me to come on over, sort of thing. What was his name? Anyway, when all that happened, I sort of
said “OK, that's the end of it.” Stations were happening and I moved off into Beaverbrook Commercial Broadcasting and got proper stations, you know, land-based stations, going..
RC: Wijsmuller. The story goes that they pulled the ships in - but did they own the ships in the end?
TB: They owned the ships because they hadn't been paid the bills. The Wijsmullers were good folk. I got along very well with them all and, you know, the reason they stopped supplying the ship was Ronan wasn't paying the bills. It wasn't
complicated. I'll tell you a funny story about the Wijsmullers. This was '67, '68. In 1998 we are in Sicily. We went over from Malta on our boat. It was a Sunday. We moored up and I said to the guy on top (of the quay) “is there
anywhere round here where I can watch the Superbowl?” which was on that night.
Janet Bate, Terry's wife: Not the Superbowl, the World Cup.
TB: Yes - the World Cup final on Sunday night. So the guy said “no. Nowhere around here.” Anyway half-an-hour later a black BMW 7 Series pulled up on the dock above us. A guy got out and in immaculate English - we were in
Sicily - said “I understand one of you gentlemen wishes to see the World Cup.” There were four of us on the boat - three guys and Janet - and he said “come to my house. I will host you. I will send a car for you at
7 o'clock.” So this car arrived. We got in there. Taken to this fantastic penthouse up on top of the town. This guy's a lawyer and he hosted us very nicely. We watched the game and at half-time one of the ladies, one of the wives,
came up to me and said “you don't remember me, do you?” (laughs) Whoops!
RC: That's frightening, isn't it? (laughs)
TB: So I said “no.” She said “you used to run pirate radio.” I said “yes.” She said “I was Wijsmuller's secretary.” Wijsmuller used to supply us and she was his secretary. She'd seen
me in and out of the office. She said “I've met you a million times but you didn't know who I was” - and this was like a million years later... (laughs)
RC: I wrote to Wijsmullers when I was researching for the book. I got in touch with a lovely lady there and I said “I don't suppose there's any records....” and she said “oh no, we got rid of
all those records.” (laughs)
TB: There was someone called Rose ... can't remember her name.
|Ronan O'Rahilly (left) and Terry Bate in 1968. Photo kindly provided by Terry.
RC: How about Caroline TV? How close did that get to coming on?
TB: Not at all, is the truth of the matter. The concept was there; we had the technology. The technology came from the Americans. The Americans used to run flying TV stations in the eastern Mediterranean, broadcasting behind the
Iron Curtain - which is not something anyone would ever admit - but we got in touch with the people that supplied the technology for these guys - cameras, transmitters, the whole thing - we had it all figured. We had a Super Con
(Super Constellation aircraft) which could stay up for 30 hours ... the pattern was a figure of 8 out over the North Sea about eight miles out at 24 or 25,000 feet, and you'd cover probably 80% of the UK with a good signal. And the
landing rights were in the south of France. So plane, equipment, everything was there, had the money - the money was all over the bloody place.
RC: Was Drummond involved?
TB: Yes, George. Georgie Drummond was - and George was loaded. The other guy who was involved, that I didn't like... George had a partner out of Barbados - they lived in Barbados. I did not like this guy and I didn't know why I didn't
like him. It turned out, I discovered a couple of years later, he was a multi, multi-million dollar arms dealer. That's what he did for a living. I mean he was selling rockets to the Saudis, you name it, and they were putting up all
the money - but we couldn't get landing rights. We couldn't take off and land anywhere in Europe.
RC: When was the last time you saw Ronan?
TB: Walking along the Kings Road.
JB: Long time ago.
TB: Bumped into him about three years ago.
JB: Oh longer ago than that.
TB: Four years maybe - and he was not quite normal then, I would have said, you know. But when I met them all in the sixties they were on every drug known to man so it's not surprising.
RC: Payback time really.
TB: Yes. I think that's exactly what happened.
RC: Did you meet up with him in the eighties, at the time the new ship was acquired - the Ross Revenge? Were you involved or did you meet him then?
TB: No. One - I was too busy anyway and, number two, I couldn't afford to jeopardise what I had going legally, you know. The government wouldn't have liked that, for sure.
Terry must be using this as an example. We have no recollection of a Littlewoods Pools programme scheduled at 10 o'clock on a Monday night.
He probably means 14th August. The Marine Offences Act came into effect at midnight that day.
Paul Harris's book When Pirates Ruled the Waves confirms that religious programmes were broadcast on Caroline after the Marine Offences Act. It says “Among Caroline's new,
genuine advertisers were American religious broadcasters who had bought two hours of time per day and were widely regarded as having saved the station from extinction.” However we don't remember hearing them. Do you?
The Conservative Government elected in 1970 introduced Independent Local Radio in the UK with the first stations going on air in 1973.
Ronan O'Rahilly suffered from vascular dementia for some years before his death in 2020. There is a tribute to him here.
Our thanks to Ray Clark for providing the interview.
Some of Terry's photographs and items of memorabilia from his time with Caroline are here.
Back to Ray's correspondence with Gord Cruse.
Ray's interview with DJ Keith Skues is over the page.