Being a pirate
By Jo Pattison
Radio legend Dave Cash talks about life on a pirate radio ship, working with Kenny Everett and being mobbed by hundreds of screaming girls.
How it started
The basis for pirate radio was quite simple. In 1964 there were only two or three pop programmes on the radio, Pick of the Pops with Alan Freeman, Saturday Club hosted by Brian Matthew and Radio Luxembourg. “With Radio Luxembourg,” says Dave, “all the records were paid for by the various record companies and so it was just a marketing device, not a free-form radio programme. Luxembourg gave you what the record companies wanted you to hear.”
Bizarrely the disc jockeys were only allowed to play half the disc, as the record companies believed if the whole record was played people wouldn’t go out and buy it. “If they had thought about iPod back then – can you imagine? Dave laughs. “You were just getting into the record and it would fade. The disc jockey would come on and say ‘that’s on the Decca record label - a brand new one and here’s another one!’ And there were no oldies because they didn’t want to promote oldies - it was pretty garbagy but it was all there was.”
There was a chap called Ronan O’Rahilly, an Irishman whose family owned part of a port in Northern Ireland. O’Rahilly got into the music business and handled an artist called Georgie Fame. After taking his client’s records to the broadcasters and hearing all kinds of excuses as to why they wouldn’t play the songs, O’Rahilly decided to start his own radio station. “He got a ship and fitted it with a radio mast, all kinds of transmitters and a studio and that was Radio Caroline,” explains Dave. “It went on the air on Easter Sunday in 1964 and their first record was Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones. That was the beginning of the pirates.”
At the time, Dave was living in Canada. Although he was born in Bushey in Hertfordshire his father had decided take the family to live in Canada after the war. Dave had finished his schooling and was working as a runner at a radio station called CFUN as well as writing radio commercials. A close friend and fellow ex-pat, Billy Street had gone back to London. “Billy sent me a telegram - it was long before the days of emails!” laughs Dave. “It said ‘everything happening here, Beatles, Stones, The Marquee Club and pirate radio – they need you, get your butt over here!’”
Selling his car for the plane ticket Dave arrived in London on Christmas Eve with £17 in his pocket. He promptly blew it all staying at the Washington Hotel in Curzon Street. “Bill came over and we had champagne and I was out of money by the day after Boxing Day!”
Not surprisingly, Dave thought he had better get a job. “Billy and I were walking up the street, it was a terrible day, with wind and rain and I was going to go up to Radio Caroline, which was the only pirate I had heard of. I sheltered in this little doorway area at 17 Curzon Street and I heard this Texas voice boom out ‘Gawd damn disc jockeys - doesn’t anyone know anything about format radio!’ I was soaking wet, 21 and looking for a job so I just opened the door and said “I do!” The voice belonged to Ben Toney the boss of Radio London. Dave was out on a ship anchored 3.5 miles off of Frinton the very next day.
Working with Kenny
Within five months, Dave started working with Kenny Everett and soon the Kenny and Cash Show burst onto the airwaves. “It went out from 5-6pm and was a heavily produced comedy programme. We had to make shift everything because there were no sound effects, no library, only the top 40 and a few Beatles albums and that was it. To try and do an hour of comedy a day, in effect 15 minutes when you take the music out, is not that easy. You start running out of ideas real quick - so we had to make our own sound effects.”
In need of inspiration, one day Kenny and Cash struggled up to the ship’s galley with a ‘portable’ recorder, the size of a record player. “I got a washing basin full of water and plunged my hand into it and twiddled my fingers whilst Kenny recorded it,” explains Dave. We then recorded another one of my hand coming out of the water and landing on the galley work surface. We played a slowed it down version and it sounded amazingly like someone diving into the water and swimming away!”
And so was created a character – Cabin Boy. “He wasn’t the brightest stone on the beach,” laughs Dave. “And we would say: ‘Cabin boy there’s some flashing lights over there in Frinton would you go see what they want?’ Then we would play the sound effect of him diving overboard, play a record and then sound effect of him coming back – ‘Who was it Cabin Boy? They want a request, sir. Well, what did they want to hear? I didn’t ask them sir. Well, go back and find out!”
That one sound effect was the basis for the whole hour of the show that day. “You had to get creative or die,” says Dave. “That was the only thing you could do.” The Kenny and Cash partnership was so successful that it continued even after the pirates ended. So what was it like working for so many years with Kenny Everett? “Bizarre,” laughs Dave. “He was mad and so was I.”
“We worked together until my daughter Emma was about two years old. He came over one day and I was changing Emma’s nappy and it really freaked him out – he said ‘I can’t handle you doing that’ and I said ‘listen I love it and I’m just adoring every moment of this’. Ken couldn’t handle it and from that time on which was 1975 - and he’d come out of the closet by then - he said ‘listen lets have lunch once a fortnight and if you don’t bring your kids I won’t bring my boyfriend’. I said ‘ok, fair enough’ and we did that for 15 to 20 years, until he died really.”
Dave spent three years working and living on the Radio London ship just outside Frinton. The plan was to be aboard for two weeks then spend one week ashore and transportation was by a tender. However, if the weather was bad you had to stay onboard. “I was on there for six weeks one winter, as they just couldn’t get out to us,” says Dave. “Of course we started to run out of water and were very short on food, eventually they got a bigger tender out to us which couldn’t get along side, so they got a bosun’s chair and shipped over some water and food.”
With an all male crew everyone had to get on, it was too small an outfit for them not too. As well as playing their music, they played practical jokes and their lives aboard were broadcast across the airwaves. Subsequently pirate radio became reality radio. The authorities were constantly trying to stop them broadcasting and they endured police raids and accusations of being drug smugglers.
The end of the pirates?
The Marine Offences Bill was passed in 1967 and so ended the heyday of pirate radio - most of the stations closed shortly after the Bill was passed, although Radio Caroline continued to broadcast well into 1968, and has been broadcasting in various forms for much of the last 40 years.
The pirate radio dream may have been over - but not before it had managed to change the face of the British radio industry and made the boys celebrities.
However, on reflection Dave never considered himself to be a star. “I thought and still think that disc jockeys are the conduit for celebrities,” says Dave. “The real celebrities were the Beatles or the Stones. I never thought of myself as a celebrity – but we did get mobbed when we came off the ships - there’d be 300 girls waiting at Liverpool Street station!”
When not onboard the ship Dave and Kenny also used to appear at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street and at the Wimbledon Palais. Crowds would queue round the block to see them. “It was wonderful to have that kind of acceptance. And after the pirates, when Radio One happened, many of the guys went into the show business end of it and some of us didn’t.
“I always think of the first line of the David Bowie hit - Fame – Is it any wonder I reject you first,” says Dave. “My kids have never had a rough time at school or anything and we love the village life. Fame mustn’t take you over. If fame takes over you end up like Posh and Becks - no, no thanks! Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with being mobbed by a bunch of girls!"
Although most of the offshore stations had closed down by midnight on August 14th 1967, Radio Caroline was determined to 'beat the ban' with hopes of new income from international advertisers and continued to broadcast from its two ships based off Essex and the Isle of Man. But early one morning in March 1968 they were towed into a Dutch port for alleged non-payment of dues. That might have marked the end of offshore radio broadcasting to the UK. But within two years another era had begun.
Radio Nordsee International anchored off the Dutch coast in January 1970 with some familiar pirate voices, including one Roger 'Twiggy' Day. Radio Caroline returned from its ship 'Mi Amigo' in 1972. Others followed, prompting the Dutch government to pass its own legislation to outlaw pirate radio.
September 1974 and Caroline was defiant. The 'Mi Amigo' upped-anchor and sailed back towards the UK, broadcasting as she went. There she remained until March 1980 when the ship sank off the Essex coast. Even the most ardent supporters felt this had to be the end of offshore radio.
But in 1983 Radio Caroline made a surprise comeback, this time from a bigger, stronger ship 'Ross Revenge' and continued until 1990 when a combination of financial problems and the imminent passing of a new Broadcast Act finally brought her seafaring days to an end.
Radio Caroline operated intermittently in various forms in the 1990s until it established itself as a licensed broadcaster on satellite and Internet from studios in Kent and the occasional outside broadcast from its former offshore HQ 'Ross Revenge' now safely berthed in port.
last updated: 25/03/2009 at 09:36