Adventures on Radio Essex

Paul Freeman spent only a few weeks aboard Fort Knock John, but never lost his interest in radio

Back in November 1965 at the age of 16, I read about Roy Bates and his war with Radio City. I phoned him and asked for a job. Be in Southend nice and early tomorrow and the job is yours, I was told.

I was taken out the Knock John by a small fishing boat, from Paglesham, a tiny fishing village in the Essex marshes. On arriving, I was told to jump and grab this rusty ladder that was about 10 - 12 feet above me. As the boat went up on the swell, the fisherman said to grab the ladder. I did as I was told and slowly climbed to the top, some 30 feet or so. Finally arriving safely on Radio Essex. I was asked my name..."It's Terry Palfrey," I said..."Well that's no good," I was told. So it was changed to 'Paul Freeman'. On leaving Radio Essex I changed it again to 'Paul Peters' which I've used for any radio work ever since.

When I went out to Radio Essex, the station had only been on the air about 10 days or so. The guys out there then were Vince Allen, Richard Palmer, Mark West. I got on well with them and there were two or three others whose names I just can't remember, I'm sorry to say!

Sadly, I did not stay at Radio Essex for longer than a few weeks. Late one night just before Christmas, just as the boat was about to leave, I decided I had to go. I was worried about my mum and dad, as I didn't think they really knew where I was. I told them that I was going to work for a Radio Station in Southend. But, I don't think that they really understood that it was based on a rusty WWII fort some 22 miles out to sea.

About a year later I met up again with Richard (Dick) Palmer, and we became very close friends for the next 5 - 6 years. Richard and I made several visits back to Knock John in the late 60s even managing to climb aboard on our last trip! It was great to be back. I should never have left, but although my part was very small, compared to most, at least I did get there and I did broadcast on Radio Essex as Paul Freeman. My shows were around midnight, just before or just after, I can't remember now... it's over 40 years ago!

Left: Paul on his return visit to Knock John

After leaving Radio Essex, I tried to get a job on Swinging Radio England and called at their office in Curzon Street. I remember, they were laying the posh carpets and the girl behind the desk said, "Oh, I don't think we need any DJs - just write in and see!"

By the early 70s I was doing a weekly show for Radio Mercury, a land-based pirate and in 1972, I was doing a show for Radio Nelson, another land-based pirate broadcasting from somewhere in west London.

During 1971/2 I did some 'freelance' broadcasting for the new BBC Radio Medway (now Radio Kent) I was paid £4.50 per show for the early ones and the last, £6.00! At this point, I walked into the PDSA gift shop, in Victoria with some African spears for them to sell to help their work for sick animals. I was offered a job as their Regional Appeals Secretary for London and the South-East and stayed there for the next fourteen years.

In August 2006, I got back in contact with Richard Palmer. I hadn't seen him for over 20-odd years. We spoke on the phone for several hours on the first call, and we have been on the phone several more times. We shall be meeting very soon!

Back in the 60s another of my closest friends (Richard's too) was Paul Kramer, Radio City, Radio 270 and Radio Caroline North. We were all very close friends, together with Tony Hasemer, who worked for BBC TV as an engineer. Paul, Tony and I all went out to Radio Caroline on Christmas Eve, 1967 to take out gifts and cards to the Mi Amigo with a message I had recorded of Johnnie Walker's mum and family. We hoped to get arrested, but not a thing happened! We had told the police and coastguardwe were going, too!!

Dear Paul Kramer, was killed in a car crash on Putney Bridge, on the night 5-6 December, 1968. He had been at my flat at Kensal Rise and was giving a young lad a lift back to Wimbledon, I believe, and that was the last we saw of him. His dad phoned at about 6 in the morning asking why he had not come home... we did not know... he left us at about 9.30. The funeral was at Golders Green and Tom Edwards did it. Paul's mum was Russian Orthodox and his dad was Jewish. Poor Paul... I have never forgotten you. Thank you for everything you taught me.

I have very few photos from those days, as over the years I have moved so many times and lost so much. I used to have two Garrard 401 turntables that I bought from a guy who came into The Magnegraph Recording Co, where I worked. He was wanting to sell them and he said they came from Radio City. I always believed this, but all the pictures that I have seen of the City Studio always have Garrard 301s.

I used to have a few of the Radio Essex Transmitter Valves, picked up on my final visit to the fort with Dick Palmer, but they have gone now, along with all my newspaper cuttings of the pirates and the letters I received when I wrote to all the stations asking for a job. I would send off a tape and pray that they would like it (I'm sure that they were dreadful). I would rush home from work each day looking for a reply, but when it came it was always the same bad news, sorry we don't need anyone at the moment, but we will keep your name on our files. Nothing has changed! It's still the same old story after 40-odd years!

Just one more little story. On the 14th August 1967 I walked up Downing Street with a coffin, because it was the day that Harold Wilson had killed off the pirates. I was with three or four friends. Tony from the BBC was one, Paul Kramer may have been another. I can't quite remember now. When we got to No. 10, we banged the coffin down on the step. "You can't leave that there!" said the policeman on the door. "SHIFT IT!". We picked it up and walked slowly back down Downing Street, along Whitehall, and back to the car parked down near Trafalgar Square. Can you imagine being able to get anywhere near No. 10 these days, or being able to park near Trafalgar Square?

You can listen to more about my short Radio Essex career via the BBC website. I was interviewed by David Stafford for a spot on John Peel's old show on Radio 4, 'Home Truths', broadcast on May 27th 2006.

Paul Peters at BBC Radio Medway
Paul Freeman Radio Essex
Real Name, Terry Palfrey

Many thanks to Paul for sending his story. He is hoping to be able to find some photographsfor us to add to it in the near future.

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