Graham Webb

19th April 1936 - 26th April 2024

Tommy Vance, Dave Lee Travis, Graham Webb

Left to right: Graham Webb, Dave Lee Travis and Tommy Vance. Photo courtesy of Carl Thomson.

When offshore radio first came to the UK there were very few Brits with any experience of being a disc-jockey. Where could the pirate stations find their staff? Fortunately there were other English-speaking countries where commercial radio was more established and the various stations were only too happy to take on broadcasters from New Zealand, Canada, America and, in particular, Australia. One of Australia's finest DJs, Graham Webb, already had ten years of experience down under and, when he arrived in the UK, he rapidly made a name for himself on Radio Caroline South.

Pete Townshend and Graham Webb

Pete Townshend of The Who, left, with Graham Webb. Photo Graham's own.

Graham was born in Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia, on 19th April 1936, the son of a barber. Legend has it that he got into broadcasting via a career as a telegram delivery boy. Movie star Rod Taylor asked Graham's help in playing a practical joke on a colleague and was so impressed by his performance that he persuaded him to give up delivering telegrams and start training to become an actor. Apparently he decided to give radio a try after he appeared on a broadcast talent show, Australia's Amateur Hour on Sydney station 2UW, playing the harmonica.
Graham began his radio career at 2TM, Tamworth, in 1954. The following year he moved north to Brisbane to become a junior announcer on 4BH, later switching to 4GY Gympie. After doing his National Service, it was 2CH in 1957. Later that year he joined 2UE where he hosted the first Top 40 radio show on Sydney radio. This was followed by a brief move to 4KQ in Brisbane in 1960, then back to Sydney to host the 2GB breakfast show.
In 1964 Graham embarked on a trip to Europe. He was heard on Radio Monte Carlo, Radio Norway and Deutsche Welle, the Voice of Germany. While he was in Spain he interviewed The Beatles (audio available on YouTube). Arriving in London in 1965, he arranged to meet up with Allan Crawford, a man he knew from Australia. Crawford was now joint Managing Director of Radio Caroline. Graham wanted a job, Caroline had a vacancy. Within days Graham “Spider” Webb was “spinning the tops” on Caroline South. He used Echo, Echo, Echo by Don Lee & his Orchestra as his theme tune. There is an interview with Graham, in which he remembers his first impressions of the ship here.

click to hear audio Graham Webb on Radio Caroline South, just after 1pm on 12th December 1965. This recording kindly provided by Hans Knot (duration 3 minutes 30 seconds)

Graham was on board the South ship, the mv Mi Amigo, when in January 1966 it lost its anchor and was washed up on Frinton beach. Fortunately no one was hurt. The station was soon back on the air from a borrowed vessel, mv Cheeta II, while the Mi Amigo was being repaired. During his time working on the Cheeta, Graham had to be taken off by lifeboat after falling ill and ended up in hospital.

Mick Luvzit's wedding

Mick Luvzit's wedding. Left to right: Graham holding the microphone, the bride, the groom, best man Jerry Leighton and Captain Martin Gips.

click to hear audio Graham Webb, with interruptions from Dave Lee Travis, on Radio Caroline South from the mv Cheeta II on Easter Sunday 10th April 1966. This clip is taken from a longer recording available on Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 3 minutes 3 seconds)

For a time he was Programme Controller of Caroline South and, after suggesting to station boss Ronan O'Rahilly that Caroline should have a proper news service, found himself appointed News Director for both ships. It was Graham who devised the format for Caroline Newsbeat (see here) and was responsible for finding the news readers, usually two on each vessel. This meant that he wasn't heard much on air because he was busy supervising the news service.
Graham had plans to return to Australia but, before he left, he made one last memorable broadcast from international waters. Caroline North DJ Mick Luvzit was getting married and it was decided that the event should take place on board the ship and be broadcast live on air. The wedding ceremony was performed by the ship's Captain Martin Gips with Graham providing a commentary for the listeners at home. After this final stint on Caroline North, Graham headed back to Australia. But Britain hadn't heard the last of him.

click to hear audio Graham Webb presenting the Caroline Countdown of Sound on Radio Caroline North, 17th September 1966. Tape courtesy of Ray Andrews (duration 4 minutes 26 seconds)
click to hear audio Captain Martin Gips and Graham Webb at the wedding of Mick Luvzit and Janet Terrett on Radio Caroline North, 20th September 1966. Our thanks to Ray Robinson of (duration 3 minutes 33 seconds)

Radio Times cutting

Graham listed in the Radio Times for 1st October 1967. Cutting courtesy of Paul Rowley.

The BBC had a long-running radio series called Family Favourites on which listeners in the UK could send requests and messages to family-members and friends overseas. The programme was broadcast every Sunday lunchtime and had an enormous audience. It had run on the BBC Light Programme for many years but in 1967, with the launch of Radios 1 and 2, it was now to be carried on both these new stations. Michael Aspel was the host in London with various co-presenters around the world. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which was responsible for producing one segment of the show, very sensibly chose a DJ who was well-known in Britain to look after their part of the proceedings: Graham Webb. He made his debut on 1st October 1967, day two of the new stations. He wasn't the only ex-pirate appearing that day. Stuart Henry was taking care of the Scottish segment.
For a while Graham's career moved more into television. He hosted the Australian versions of Blind Date and Jeopardy then, in 1974 began a pioneering Saturday morning music video series called Sounds Unlimited. This is thought to have been the world's first programme to feature pop video clips and is seen as a forerunner to MTV.

Graham Webb with Dave Lee Travis and Johnnie Walker

Graham with Dave Lee Travis, left, and Johnnie Walker, right, at the ‘Offshore 50’ event in London in 2017.

He still found time to do radio, working at several stations including 2GB, 2SM and 2UW in Sydney. In the nineties, following the death of his wife, Graham and his two sons moved to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. In 1999 he co-founded Sunshine FM, a radio station aimed at an older age group. He hosted its breakfast programme until 2009.
He had a syndicated programme, heard on a number of community stations around Australia, and presented shows on some of them including Vintage FM, Bay FM and Harmony FM.
Graham was proud of his pirate past and flew back to the UK, and on one occasion to Canada, to attend offshore reunions, even when his eyesight began to fail him. We have photos of him at the July 2004 reunion in Vancouver, the August 2007 Radio Academy Celebration of Offshore Radio and the Offshore 50 event in August 2017, both in London. That last one was Graham's final visit to the UK.
He died at the Gold Coast University Hospital on 26 April 2024 after a short battle with pneumonia. He was 88. He had been on the radio for almost 70 years. What an amazing career.

Other obituaries: Radio London, West Observer, TV Tonight, Radio Info, Television.Au.

From a former colleague of Graham's:

Nick Bailey: “I owe a lot to Graham Webb as it was he who gave me my first job in radio in September 1966, at the age of 19, when he employed me to be a newsreader on Radio Caroline - first on the South Ship and then Caroline North. But my career may never have got off the ground because I failed my first audition miserably. It was only through Graham's kindness that he allowed me to audition again several weeks later, and this time I got in. Following Caroline I emigrated to Australia where Graham was my guardian angel and he invited me to be a guest on his popular TV programme Blind Date. I eventually got my first presenting job in the outback in New South Wales, and before leaving Australia I was hosting a late night programme in Brisbane. None of this would have happened without Graham's support and encouragement, and now 57 years later, I'm still broadcasting. Unfortunately I couldn't make the pirate reunion in 2017 but I have fond memories of reminiscing with him at the 2002 get together, and we were on the same panel in 2007 at an event organised by the Radio Academy. Despite being a big star in Australia he always looked upon his pirate days with Radio Caroline as a career highlight. He was famous for holding raucous parties at his home in Sydney where he would proudly play a recording of his commentary for the wedding of Mick Luvzit and Jan Terrett, which included this Freudian slip ‘The ring has now been placed on Janet Terret's finger and Janet in turn places the finger on Mick Luvzit’. As a consummate professional he just carried on with aplomb! RIP Graham.”

With thanks to Pop Went The Pirates by Keith Skues, an article in the Australian Daily Telegraph, and Wikipedia for assistance with this page.

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