The Man Who Brought Motown to the Mull of Kintyre

Ben Healy certainly qualifies as a forgotten hero of Watery Wireless – at least to Anoraks living south of the border. Originally to be heard on Radio City, Ben made his mark on UK radio after his move to Radio Scotland, where he experienced broadcasting at both ends of the day, with his shows 'Rooster Call' and 'Destination Midnight'. In Scotland and Ireland his greeting, "Hey there, you there, how in the world are you? My name's Ben Healy, what's yours?" was as familiar to Super S listeners as TW's 'Hello!' was to Big L's.

In 1967, having broadcast on Radio Scotland for only six months, Ben achieved the honour of coming 7th in the Disc and Music Echo Valentine Poll. Collecting more votes than the eighth-placed Tony Blackburn, Ben proved himself to be one of the UK's top pirate jocks. The only other watery DJ to beat him in the poll was Kenny Everett, at number 5.

Very little info about Ben is to be found in reference books. 'Tall, blond and twenty-two,' (as per the 1966 photo, below) was about the most I could dredge up from the seabed of offshore radio history. So Ben, who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, very kindly agreed to an 'Internet Interview' for the website. I have left the story in Ben's own words, and added other relevant information. In case you were wondering, there's also a Big L connection, as will be revealed.

I was born in Ballina, County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland 53 years ago, Ballina is noted for its beautiful scenery and the high rate of intelligence endowed on its offspring. My Mum and Dad still live in Ireland and are in the iron and steel business – my mum irons and my dad steals! They have now reached the age whereby they no longer feel responsible for their son's actions.

I lived in Manor Park in the East End of London from '58 to '66 and attended Bonaventure Grammar School in Forest Gate. I am very proud of the fact that I managed to pass all my school years without being brainwashed – and my mind remains in the same untutored state it was when I was six-and-a-half.

My inspiration for becoming a disc jockey started with listening to the great DJs on Radio Luxembourg (Alan Freeman, Ray Orchard, Barry Alldis, etc.) and then came the pirates – Rosko, Keith Skues, Pete Brady, Kenny Everett. Those are the ones that stood above the crowd and seemed to enjoy the music they were playing.

I was lucky enough, in '64, '65, and '66, to be voted London's top club DJ, this award was voted on by the people that came to the clubs, I was resident DJ at the Empire in Leicester Square and guest DJ at the Marquee Club in Soho, The Rainbow Room in Chelsea and clubs in Ilford, Leyton and Hammersmith.

In 1964, I appeared on 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' as a guest panellist. Brian Matthew treated me with great respect. He put me in touch with the powers that be at Radio Luxembourg and he gave me a lot of encouragement to go into radio. I spent a long afternoon at 38 Hertford Street (208's London Studios) being auditioned by producer Eggy Ley, but was turned down.

I sent an audition tape to Reg Calvert at Radio City and he phoned me and asked me to go out to the fort for a trial period. I remember arriving at the station and thinking, 'This is a mistake,' and then meeting Tom Edwards. Tom did not appear to fit the surroundings, as he seemed so nice and very refined. After being on the fort for about l5 minutes I said to myself, 'The people are very nice and this could be a stepping stone to where I want to end up, so I should make the best of it'. I was on Radio City for a short period of time and I got a call from Alan Keen of Radio London and he asked me if I would be interested in being a DJ on a Radio London-owned station, broadcasting from the Radio City Fort and called UKGM (United Kingdom Good Music). The other DJs that would be on the station would be Keith Skues, Duncan Johnson, Lorne King and I can't remember who else. Unfortunately, the project fell apart in June, soon after the Reg Calvert shooting. Alan Keen told me that Radio London wanted to distance itself from Radio City and all the bad publicity at that time.

I'd joined Radio Scotland by the end of June '66 and it was a luxury liner compared to Radio City! I felt it had great on-air staff and had they been in England, most of them would have been on Radio One at the time of its inception. The DJs on the ship were the late Stuart Henry (who subsequently joined the BBC and Radio Luxembourg), Richard Park (now Group Programme Controller, Capital Radio), the late Tony Allen (ex-Radio Caroline), Stevi Merike (who later joined Caroline), John Kerr (now retired after a lengthy radio career iin Sydney, Australia),the late Jimmy Mack, Jack McLaughlin (ex-Britain Radio, BBC 2 & Scottish TV), the late Allen Black (ex Radio England and BBC l). I firmly believe this would have been the 'A' Team on any Radio Station in the UK.

The listeners of Radio Scotland had responded to me in such a fashion that it validated my decision to move north instead of staying in London and trying to get on Radio London, etc. In retrospect, on Radio Scotland I was a big fish in a small pond and had I been on radio in England I may have been a small fish in a big pond, but who knows for sure? I was very happy living in Scotland, and I met some wonderful people who supported Radio Scotland with a passion that I have never seen before.

When the Comet was being towed to Northern Ireland, I flew to Belfast with some of the DJs and Tommy Shields. I loved Belfast. The people seemed to know their music and I interviewed their favourite son, Van Morrison.

On Radio Scotland I also had the pleasure of meeting The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Dusty Springfield, Peter & Gordon, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Gene Pitney, The Four Tops and many others. I loved The Spencer Davis Group, Manfred Mann, Chris Farlowe, The Animals, The Hollies, Van Morrison and Elvis. I felt I was partly responsible for bringing the Motown Sound to Scotland. I loved the Motown artists and on all my appearances at clubs and discos, people said I was the only one to play Motown.

The proudest moment in my life as a DJ was when I was voted Number 7 in the top DJs in the UK, in the l967 Disc & Music Echo Valentine Poll. Being in the same company as Alan Freeman, Pete Murray, etc. was like winning a lottery. I went back to see Eggy Ley at 208 and gave him a copy of the February l4th '67 edition of Disc & Music Echo and told him everyone makes a mistake! It was a great 208 moment for me!

OK pop-pickers, here's that Valentine Top Ten – DAME's first. Remember that the magazine would have polled its readers around December'66/January 1967. All right?
1 Jimmy Savile
2 Simon Dee (by then with the Beeb)
3 Alan Freeman
4 David Jacobs
5 Kenny Everett (Radio London)
6 Pete Murray
7 Ben Healy (Radio Scotland)
8 Tony Blackburn who had by then left Caroline and joined Radio London)
9 Alan Clark (Radio City)
10 Chris Denning (left Big L for the Beeb in Aug '66)

With typical journalistic accuracy, the London Weekly Advertiser of March 7th 1967 describes ALL the other DJs in that Top Ten except Ben, as 'middle-aged'. Numbers 2, 5, 8, 9, and 10 (i.e. HALF of them) definitely didn't fall into that category. The other fascinating fact about the poll is that all the DJs who hadn't made their initial claim to fame on the offshore stations had done so on Radio Luxembourg! Recent revelations concerning poll-rigging on behalf of the late DJ placed at #1 lead to speculation as to whether the others in the poll might actually have been placed higher.

Six months to the day after his DAME poll triumph, The Sun photographer, Jack Hamilton captured Ben, by then Radio Scotland's senior disc jockey, leading his team of jocks in ceremoniously flinging the Top Twenty singles over the side of the Comet, prior to abandoning ship. Ben told reporter, Gerry Brown:

"We have all enjoyed being a pirate team. Life at sea had some drawbacks, but was a great experience."

Later that day, the DJs joined 2,000 fans for a close-down ball at Glasgow's Locarno Ballroom. Many present wore black armbands as they listened to the taped close-down programme transmitted from the Comet, which ended, fittingly with a bagpipe lament.

Ben admitted to Gerry Brown that he couldn't face the prospect of returning to a 'normal' job. Immediately after the closedown, he began touring with the Super S 'Hit the Road Show', presenting 'Clan Ball' farewell functions for the numerous members of the Radio Scotland Clan fan club.

Ben's ambition when he won the high placing in the DAME poll had been to become Britain's number one DJ, and he could well have achieved it. He had already received an offer from the Beeb, and was also awaiting developments with a proposed Radio Andorra project, but decided in the end to head for Canada. Of the outlawing of the offshore stations, Ben told the Montreal Star, "I can't understand (the British Government's) reasoning. The public wants the stations, but what the BBC says goes."

Ben finishes:

I loved being part of the start of commercial Radio in the UK. Many of my friends said I should have stayed, and I often think 'What if...?' I married my first wife, Tommy Shields' secretary Alison, and moved to Canada in late '67. I worked for Polydor Records for a number of years and then distributed my own label for many years.

I have never had the same passion for Radio in Canada as I had in the UK. Thanks to you, Mary and Chris, I relive the past through your website and it makes my heart feel good. The passion surges back every time I read something about the people who were involved in the early days of the excitement we called Pirate Radio.

Best Wishes from Canada,

Ben Healy (pictured here with Kenny Tosh when in Belfast to participate in Kenny's Citybeat Offshore Radio Special, July 27, 2003. Photo courtesy of Kenny Tosh)

Many thanks to YOU, Ben. The Radio London site depends on contributions like yours.

Kenny Tosh kindly supplied the two photos above, taken on June 30th, 2004, during a visit by Ben to Ireland. Kenny (wearing the checked shirt) explains that the location is Ballywalter, on the Co. Down coast, where Radio Scotland's ship, Comet, dropped anchor at Easter '67. The photos show where the tender used to come ashore.

Kenny's Gift

On Ben's visit to Ireland in July 2005, he was bowled over when Kenny Tosh presented him with this beautiful painting of the Comet. Kenny had commissioned the painting from Ray Evans of Buckley, North Wales.

Click on the photo of the painting for an enlarged view.

(Many thanks to Kenny for the photo)

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