I was having trouble getting a high
enough grade average to get accepted into university, which is what my parents
wanted for me to do. So, I enrolled in night school to repeat my courses and
hopefully get my French mark up. (What a foul language!!) Meanwhile, I applied
at the local employment office in Calgary for a day job. Upon perusal of my
scant resumé, the placement officer noticed that I was singing in a rock
band and asked if I would be interested in an opening at the local Radio/TV
station as an apprentice cameraman. Right on!!!
After having screwed up many a live telecast and somehow ingratiating myself to the on-air staff, they moved me into radio full-time as the operator of the All-Night Show on the weekends. Soon, the fellow doing the voice track tired of it and after a month or two, let me do the show on my own. That was my first on-air experience. I was working at CFCN Radio and Television in Calgary, Alberta. During the week, I was a lowly button-pusher for the big-time on-air staff. A friend of mine in the newsroom told me about Radio Caroline; it seemed half a world away, yet vaguely exciting.
Take Me Back To England
I Want To Be A Pirate!
When I came to England in the Spring of 1966, it was more to get away from things at home than coming to something. My friend Lawrie and I toured around England, Scotland and Wales in an old left-hand-drive Morris Minor that we discovered in the rear of a garage in my Grandfather's home town, Taunton, Somerset. He, by the way, was on the Somerset County Council for many years. He never did really approve of the Caroline thing, but he tried never to miss one of my programmes.
When our adventure tour was over, we settled in with my Aunt and Uncle in Epsom Downs, Surrey and proceeded to try to find gainful employment. Lawrie managed to wangle a job through a family friend in the wine cellar at the SkyLine Hotel at Heathrow, while I decided to give the pirate ships a go. My aunt used to listen all the time and I found the style and patter contagious as well as very exciting. I wanted to play too. Every day or so, I would go up to London and harass anyone who would listen. I went to Radio London, Radio England and of course, Radio Caroline. Mike Lennox, Duncan Johnson and Ed Stewart took me around the corner for a pint, but I guess they weren't hiring at that time. Neither was Radio England because all their jocks had been imported, I guess. One day, Tom Lodge was in Caroline House at the same time as I was, and happened upon my resumé. It ambiguously stated that I had worked at the station in Calgary for almost 2 years and that I was a proficient cameraman/announcer-operator. Luckily, Tom had heard of the station and knew it wasn't a rinky-dink operation. He took me downstairs in Caroline House to meet Dick Morecraft and Freddy Ryder and to make some sort of audition tape. I guess it was good enough because he hired me on the spot. Because I had been singing in the band and working at the radio station in Calgary, I had a fairly good knowledge of the British Pop Scene. Our band Keith and The Variations, specialized in obscure British hits. (We had changed our name from the very British-sounding 'Bristols' after we learned of the word's derogatory connotation!) My second album, Variations, was named after them.
New kid in town: "You talk about exciting radio. That wasn't excitement, that was sheer terror!"
The New Kid On Board
The following Monday, I arrived on board the Mi Amigo not knowing what to expect. Tom was there to introduce me and show me around. Everyone was more than friendly and I felt right at home until I saw the studio!! I had been spoiled from working at a fairly modern, up-to-date facility and certainly wasn't prepared for the equipment in that antiquated control room. There was so much to learn and so little time to learn it. Meanwhile all the other jocks are talking me up on the air. "Hey, there's a new kid on board and he'll be on the air tomorrow afternoon at three, so be sure to tune in to the Keith Hampshire Show. It's going to be great!!" Needless to say, I was terrified. I never left the control room, still trying to figure out how to work that infernal board.
The next day, everyone was very
supportive. "Go get 'em!", "Break a leg!", You'll be great!", "Knock 'em dead",
etc. Then Tom Lodge said something that made this poor, innocent young man from
Calgary, Alberta, Canada (who had a few hours' experience with perhaps 8,000
listeners) tremble. "Keith, there are 8 million people out there and they are
going to love ya!!" People who actually recollect hearing my first show on Caroline
say that they have never heard anyone speak English so fast! All I wanted to
do was shut the mike off so I could
figure out what to do next. You talk about exciting radio. That wasn't excitement,
that was sheer terror!
Once the initial shock wore off and I became more comfortable in the studio, life at sea was kind of fun. Seasickness was not really an issue, because we were fairly protected by a small reef and the waves weren't usually too choppy. Once or twice though, we had to put pennies on the turntable arms, play only 45s (they had much deeper grooves than the albums) and leave the window open. Oh, and we had to have a reel-to-reel tape of music cued up just in case the seas got too rough to play records any more. Most of the time, King Neptune and Mother Nature were co-operative. I think they liked our music.
Nicknames and Theme Tunes
I got my 'Keefers' nickname when Caroline listeners wrote to me after my first few shows asking if I was the same Keith Hamshere who had performed in numerous theatrical productions in the British Isles. Apparently, he was appearing in a high profile something with Hayley Mills. I wish!! So I decided to avoid any further confusion, I would assume my old nickname given to me by an ex-girlfriend in Canada.
My theme tune was Sidewinder by Wes Dakus and the Rebels from Edmonton, Alberta. Although I don't recall how that particular recording came into my possession while on Caroline. Wes and the Rebels were considered the premier rock band in Western Canada at the time. They recorded in Clovis, New Mexico at Norm Petty's Studio (the home of Buddy Holly and Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs).Whenever the band came to Calgary to perform, the attendance at all the other local gigs would drop off. They were great! I was visiting a girlfriend in Sylvan Lake, Alberta one summer and one night at a dance, she persuaded the band to let me sing a couple of numbers with them. Up until later, I regarded it as the thrill of a lifetime!!
The Greatest Radio the World
Will Ever Know
The three ships housing Caroline, London and England/Britain were in a straight line not too far from each other. We shared the tender with Radio London, but even though we were in transport together for over an hour, we didn't mix with each other very much. I do remember we all used to make fun of Tony Blackburn because he was always so concerned about his ratings. None of the rest of us cared a hoot. Radio England had obviously misjudged the tastes of the British people. The American style of slick, in-your-face radio was too big a jump from what the public was used to. Also, Caroline and London spoke to the listeners not at them. The only contact we had with the other lads on London was on board the tender and when the tender pulled alongside. We all on Caroline thought they were all a little left of centre.
I think the reason the pirates were held in such regard in those days is because we seemed to stand for an escape from the listener's everyday world. The music was about rebellion; the fashions were about rebellion; the Pirates were rebellion personified. Also, we didn't seem to be as accessible as even the big pop stars. Almost any night of the week you could go to see your favourite playing somewhere in the British Isles. We couldn't be easily reached. Every day we flaunted our rebellion in the faces of the powers-that-be and the general public loved us for it. Not only that, we were having fun!
"Pirates were rebellion personified...We couldn't easily be reached." Well, only by means of a long boat trip! Keefers serenades a boatload of visitors.
The style of radio was also like
no other the world (let alone the British Isles) had ever known. The influences
were from everywhere northern England, Australia, London, Canada, The
US, New Zealand, etc. No wonder it was so different. You, as the listener, never
knew what was going to happen next. There were no rules, no guidelines, no nothing!
I honestly believe it was the greatest radio the world will ever know. It is
what radio was meant to be all things to all people, but above all else,
The letters we received on board were not written by strangers, they were written by people who knew all about you. We had no secrets. If we were sad, you knew it. If we were happy, you knew it. We bared our souls and that too made it unique. If the MOA had not come into being, I probably would have stayed aboard quite a while longer. I thought if I got a Canadian passport, I would be out of reach, but it said, "A Canadian Citizen is a British Subject" right on the first page. There was talk of Ronan getting us Irish passports but it never came to fruition.
In the latter days, the joy was going out of it for me a bit, because we were no longer allowed to play what we wanted any more. There was a playlist of songs that we HAD to play because they were bought and paid for. Most of them were owned by Phil Solomon (Ronan's new partner) and most of them were CRAP! That wasn't free radio! I don't know how much longer I could have stood it. I never once considered staying on after the MOA because I knew what the new conditions would be like and I wasn't into martyrdom.
When I left Caroline in August '67, I went to Majorca for a month to wait for BBC Radio 1 to get on the air. When I returned to England, I heard its launch and thought possibly I could work within that framework. I quickly sent them off an audition tape and sat back and waited for the phone to ring. I was a dreamer! After a few weeks with no reply, I decided perhaps it was time to return to Canada where radio was still free and exciting.
I flew to Montreal and caught the last week of Expo '67. While there I had a chance to listen to the local radio stations. None of them really took my fancy so I came on to Toronto. At that time, there were 2 stations there playing the kind of music I liked, CHUM and CKFH, so I applied for work at both. CHUM wanted me to start swing shift in November, but CKFH would let me have my own show starting in October. I was dying to get back to work, so I took the earlier start. I worked there until November, 1969. In the meantime, my uncle in England had forwarded on a letter from the BBC accepting my audition and wanting to set up an interview!
(On the right is
that very letter! Click on the image to read an enlarged version)
By then, I was well and truly established in the Canadian radio community. On August 1, 1969, I married Cathy, a wonderful girl, and we have been happily married ever since. How many guys in the broadcasting business are still with their first wife? DLT is the only one I can think of. DLT and I were always on shore leave from the Mi Amigo together, and that is why we have always remained good friends. (I still send Christmas cards back and forth with his wonderful Mother).
The Hairy Monster worships Keefers' hairy knees
Nice ta see ya, ta see yer.. nice!
"Dave, who'd have thought, thirty years ago, that instead of being institutionalised, you'd BE an institution!"
Thirty-three years on:
'Mi amigo,' DLT
This Is Your Life!