After a few trips back and forth from the ship on the Lady Gwen,
I ended up back at the pier with her, awaiting the arrival of the expected television
crew. There were to be no sight-seeing boat-trips to the station today unless
people still expressed an interest to go out after 3.00pm, so until the CNN
crew turned up, the tender would stay put. I decided I needed some things from
my car, so I trekked off down the long and winding planks.
"Morning, Anoraks!" I called to the fans assembled adjacent to the Radio London shop.
"Morning, Mary!" came a joyful chorus.
Geoff Cook and Mandie King had assembled their deckchair camp beside the shop as soon as the pier opened at around 6.30am. This was despite the fact that they confessed to having spent half the night flashing beside the aforementioned planked structure, accompanied by the third member of the team, pal Colin Lees. I was disappointed to hear from them that my frantic arm-waving the previous night had not been visible after all.
When I arrived at the shop, Abbie asked anxiously how I had got on during my overnight stay on the ship. I told her solemnly that she had no need to worry - I was still a virgin.
"I'm sorry, Mary, I don't believe you!" she replied, equally solemnly.
It's nice to know people have such confidence in me!
While I was talking to someone (Colin, if I remember correctly), Trevor Sturgess from the Kent Messenger Newspaper Group came up and introduced himself. Trevor is actually the Business Manager for the group, but being a fully-paid-up Radio London Anorak and having managed to unearth several important Big L '97 Kent connections, he had switched to reporter mode for the occasion. Trevor was writing a review of The Wonderful Radio London Story, and (recognising me as a person of influence) asked what were the chances of him getting out to the ship. He wanted to photograph Chris Elliot with his book, using the Yeoman Rose as the backdrop. Knowing very well that what Chris and his 'offspring' needed most right now was some good publicity, Superknees Payne sprang into action. I appreciated that with the head count already standing at twelve, we would have to contend with the stand-down problem, but reasoned that there must surely be one person who would be willing to come aboard the Lady Gwen for ten minutes or so while Trevor snapped his shutter on the ship. Trevor's other (very thoughtful) reason for wanting to visit the Yeoman Rose was to bring a large bottle of champagne to congratulate everyone on a successful broadcast, and to cheer us all up. Lil's family of fans comprises a host of incredibly generous individuals.
With the CNN film crew now looking to be a lost cause, Chris Harvey, the tender's owner was getting pretty bored with hanging about and was quite amenable to taking us out to the Yeoman Rose. En route, intrepid newshound Trevor took the photo exclusive of the year. He lay down on the deck of the Lady Gwen in order to achieve the definitive shot of my knees in all their glory.
Trevor's pictures resulting from the on-ship session proved a resounding success. A terrific shot of Chris holding his book and standing on the deck of the Yeoman Rose, was to grace the pages of Kent Today later in the month. Unfortunately, the only connection linking my patellas with the county of Kent was that, for many years, during childhood holidays, they had graced the beach at Margate. Trevor's photo of the mid-leg joints in question was very flattering, and he had also conducted an excellent in-depth interview with them (he's fluent in Chi-KNEES). However, the Margate beach link was too tenuous for a Kentish newspaper to allow them a Page 3 glamour-spot appearance. Maybe Trevor should have tried a different tack, such as comparing the contents of Knees Monthly with those of another publication with the initials KM, the Kent Messenger?
Right: Trevor's masterpiece: "Love knees tender"
Suddenly, the morning had gone. I'd been awake for hours, yet
it seemed minutes since I'd clawed my way up the ladder from the hold like some
primeval creature emerging from the swamp. Yes, I admit, I looked like one too.
The final hour was approaching all too swiftly, and I was on the Lady Gwen moored
alongside the pier. We awaited the arrival of Roger Day, who was to do a Radio
Caroline tribute show beginning after a respectful gap when Big Lil vacated
the airwaves for the second time, at 3.00pm. Ray was, quite rightly, giving
himself the privilege of being the last person allowed to play with his 'ultimate
train set' up to the expiry of the 28-day licence at midnight.
Some of the team members had chosen not to remain aboard the Yeoman Rose for the final sixty minutes, when we were to retransmit the original Radio London final hour. Paul Graham had left the ship a couple of days before, and Mark had already disembarked, telling everyone there was no way he was going to be hung twice for the same crime.
Roger Day arrived to catch the tender in the company of the now-infamous Dave Windsor. Needless to say, nobody was in the best of spirits.
Left: Roger 'Twiggy' Day, Dave 'Li-lo' Windsor and star author, Chris Elliot
As it transpired, I was never again to shin up the Jacob's ladder to the Yeoman
Rose . There were too many bodies aboard, and I had to ask for all the gear
I'd left behind to be passed down to me. Meanwhile, I mentioned to Allan that
we ought to be wearing black armbands. Shortly before closedown, he passed me
down a beer with black camera tape wrapped around the bottle so that I could
manufacture a sticky armband. He was already looking the height of funereal
fashion in his.
During the last few minutes of Big L '97, I was alone with Chris Harvey aboard the Lady Gwen. We were moored beside the Yeoman Rose, listening via the tender's radio to the recording that, over all these years, had never failed to bring tears to my eyes. Chris saw that I was crying and asked if I was all right.
"Not really," I replied.
Then came 'A Day In the Life,' followed by Paul Kaye's closing announcement, and Big Lil; then Radio London was gone.
Soon, Chris E, Chris B, and Allan descended the rope ladder to leave the ship, the two Chrises, for the last time. Compared to me, they seemed to have managed to remain relatively unaffected by the repeat of the closedown. Admittedly, it wasn't as bad as the first time around, because the RSL had been so successful that we all held high hopes of Lil reappearing. The guys had also had the advantage of sharing each other's company, and the distraction of plenty of things happening on the ship during the closedown.
Chris E told Chris Harvey (there were now three Chrises on board - very confusing) we wanted to sail a nice, slow lap of honour around the Yeoman Rose before returning to the pier. It lifted our hearts tremendously to see crowds of people waiting there to welcome us. Ray, Dave Windsor and the others remaining on board the ship, came out to wave us goodbye. Then everyone aboard the tender was overcome by a spontaneous outbreak of hugging.
Photos: (left) They were shooting us...Allan, Mary, Chris Elliot, Tom and Chris Baird on the tender and (right) we were shooting them... unidentified photographer, Donut Di, Maxine, Paul Graham and the Roman Emperor
As we pulled into the pier, on the steps leading to the landing stage, were Paul Graham, Vivien Barnard and Diana, poised with their stills cameras, and Maxine with her video camera. The good old Roman Emperor was there at the bottom to catch the mooring rope and to lead us in singing an edited version of London My Hometown; I was disappointed to note that he hadn't changed into his toga for this momentous occasion.
At the top of the steps there was much milling about. The first person I encountered and embraced there was Hugo, and Ben had come down to the end of that very long pier to meet us too.
The object now was to control the milling about and herd everyone and their belongings onto the waiting Big Lil express to carry them back to the shop where more fans awaited and additional autographs were to be signed.
Always welcoming: Tom, Ben and Mark
Raquel was amazed to discover that she was now a celebrity. People asked for her autograph because she appeared in Chris's book, although she pointed out that she had only got her mention in there via the act of having been born! Raquel and I had some photos taken together as the 'Page 118' girls, both of our names being featured on that very page. The other thing we had in common was that we are both half-American. No doubt Raquel gets asked the same question as me when she mentions this fact: "Which half?"
Mary and Rachel
the 'Page 118' girls
A highly amusing moment occurred when someone advanced towards
myself and Mr Roman with outstretched autograph album. Mark made to take the
book, but the person concerned swept past him and asked for my signature! Serves
the Roman right for being such a cocky devil!
Eventually, the crowds (all queuing for my autograph, naturally) thinned and it was time to go back to my comfortable accommodation for a refreshing shower. (By this time I looked and felt like the Wreck of the Hesperus.) It was arranged that I would meet Mark, Chris E and Ben later at the Chinese Garden.
Listening to Ray's show during my drive from Wix to the restaurant, it was clear that our loyal listeners had not switched off after 3.00pm. Ray had once again broadcast the numbers of a couple of mobile phones on board, and was in the process of being swamped with calls for dedications. As darkness fell, he also had the company of the loyal on-shore presence of representatives from the Walton and Frinton Flashers' Society to keep him company.
I'd only stayed aboard the Yeoman Rose for one night, and yet that short spell on the North Sea was causing me to experience the weird sensation that the restaurant was moving. (Chris did assure me that it was moving, but then he'd not only been at sea for much longer than me but was also consuming alcohol.)
It was a memorably entertaining evening, with both Ben and Mark relating some incredible tales from Big L days in the 'Sixties. Many were so scandalous that Chris had, unfortunately, been obliged to omit them from The Wonderful Radio London Story. All I can say is, I'm positive that Kenny Everett would have gained tremendous satisfaction from learning of the come-uppance of the sanctimonious Garner Ted Armstrong.