Caroline Wilkins
June 1960 - December 2012

Photo taken at Fab Alan Field's 60th birthday party, 4th August, 2012, Harwich.

Shortly before Christmas, Chris and I received a call from Cari's brother Steve and were deeply shocked to learn of her sudden and extremely untimely death of an aneurism, at the age of 52.

We only really got to know Cari well in 2007, but she was soon to become a close friend. Our first encounter was at the 2004 Pirate BBC Essex broadcast, then next at the Radio Academy Celebration of Offshore Radio in August 2007. (Cari found herself sitting next to Richard Curtis and Emma Freud.) We met again in Harwich soon afterwards, during that summer's Pirate BBC Essex.

(Right) Ray Clark autographs Cari's copy of 'Pop Went the Pirates' at the Electric Palace theatre, Harwich

Cari was proud to be an Anorak and attended every offshore event possible. She was an enthusiast from an early age. As she explained:

My anoraxia's all down to my brother Steve. He started it by getting me to listen to Caroline - and 390 for their daily 'Playtime' songs and stories.

Cari had many friends and will be remembered with affection by the numerous 'offshore regulars' that she met over the years. I believe the best tribute we can make is this gallery of photos of her enjoying herself at various events (often sporting pirate paraphernalia) which I have enhanced with a collection of quotes from some of the wonderful and frequently hilarious kneemail exchanges that we enjoyed.

A montage of photos from Pirate BBC Essex 2009 taken by John Sales & Mary Payne
John Sales and Cari were delighted to get aboard the LV18
for the finale of the broadcast

A kind and extremely generous lady, Cari loved our favourite superstar Cousin Moosie and spoilt him rotten, often buying him little gifts. The extracts from her kneemails in this tribute (she was a keen Knees Club follower and we always exchanged kneemail) illustrate her great personality, her brilliant sense of humour and her sadness at what was happening to her beloved BBC World Service.

(Left) The Cousin Moosie Band. Aaarrrnold the pirate and two of the guitars were gifts from Cari.

Cari thoroughly enjoyed her job as a WS Studio Manager, although like most people, she had difficulty coping with working nights. Shortly after the Pirate BBC Essex Easter weekend, she wrote:

I'm still not sure what day it is, but that's not unusual after nights. I'm usually around three days behind the rest of the world after a run of nights - like being jet-lagged, I guess. As a friend said to me, 'Nights are for kids. Not us. They're inhuman!'.

Cari featured in a TV documentary dedicated to the work of World Service and a fleeting glimpse of her was seen in a short feature about the Turkish Service. (Between 4'45"-4'55" into this piece.)

Cari on the subject of... her severe peanut allergy

I'm now banned from going on BBC duty trips to East or South Asia and Africa - I could end up not being able to eat anything - and have to think twice and seek advice before going anywhere else. This is fine by me as I don't like hot, humid climes - I always ask to be sent somewhere North and cold.

Cari on... Challenging the new Desktop Jukebox system to find Fab Forty tracks

Now that the Bush [Bush House, the home of BBC World Service in London] gram library has gone the way of our wonderful 'normal' (i.e. book) library, we have the wonders of the Desktop Jukebox [DJ, of course] system to extract music from. I've just challenged the system by searching for 'Craise', nowt else - and, bless it, it offered me the Johnnie Young version, and one by the Young Fresh Fellows (Who?). I didn't really expect to find the song at all, let alone at the first attempt, as last week, we needed the 'Songs of Leonard Cohen' album for the Russians, and DJ denied all knowledge of it. I challenged it again with 'May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose' and it's even found that for me - in the system, no need to order!

(The Young Fresh Fellows turned out to be a US Eighties band who had recorded 'Craise Finton Kirk' on their Bee Gees tribute album.)

Cari on... The Knees Club

In the BBC staff paper Ariel this week there's a mention of a BBC Wales presenter, Chris Kneebone. Now there's a man who should join the Knees Club...

(Right) On the Ha'penny Pier with Knees Club Official Pauline Miller, Cousin Moosie, Peter Herring, Dave Miller and John Sales

Cari was fascinated by astrology and the supernatural. She observed:

For the astrologically-minded (like me), it's interesting to note how many Geminis (and almost on-the-cusp Geminis) there are in radio. Quite a proportion of my studio manager colleagues at World Service are also Geminis, so I guess it proves we made the right career choice - communication/broadcasting/journalism etc. Mercury rules!

On the BBC's internal Intranet, I remember a whole department of engineers in BBC Cardiff once put their birthday details on a webpage. It was fascinating to see that they were almost all Capricorns - methodical, patient, thorough, organised.

Many years ago our management thought it would be useful for us to learn simple massage. We were taught by a Portuguese journo who was also a massage expert, and a group of studio managers and broadcast engineers were gathered together for her demo.  She found that all the SMs - without exception - had neck and shoulder muscles like concrete, whereas the engineers were loose and flexible (and so were their shoulder muscles!). We were all driven-by-adrenalin type A personalities, while the engineers were all more laid-back type Bs. This was in the days of tape, too, when computers weren't part of our workload."

In October 2009, Cari enjoyed a holiday in Scotland which included a ghostly encounter in the Real Mary King Close in Edinburgh.

'Around Scotland with a Psychic' may seem like an unlikely title for a book (more entertaining than 'Around Ireland with a Fridge' maybe), but that's how my holiday could be best described. The psychic in question is Carolyn, a writer friend from Canada, and this was her first trip across the Atlantic. We had a few accidental encounters with the paranormal, and even have some photographic evidence to prove it... and the Highlands in autumn - sorry, fall - are just stunning."

(Left) Cari sent an infrared version of a photo of herself and Carolyn in the Real Mary King Close, enhanced by mysterious orbs of light, one of which appears like a badge on Carolyn's left shoulder.

Cari also wrote about Bush House spectres and other spooks.

Three of us were in the BBC bar and the conversation turned to paranormal matters. One of my friends is in a band who use Bush studios for rehearsals, and a fellow band member has had odd experiences in our studios - not related to any chemical or alcoholic intake, honest! It's usually about feeling that there's someone else in the studio when the others have gone - he's often the last to pack up his kit - but he's also has odd experiences elsewhere.

Regarding the woman I told you about who's said to haunt the basement studio - another friend (too rational to believe in ghosties, he says!) has felt a strong presence in the studio above that one on a night shift. He definitely felt unnerved and that he was Not Alone. Yet another friend saw a woman in 19th century dress drifting down a corridor in a different wing of Bush House, again on a night shift. He tried to follow her but she evaporated! He was really shaken by the experience. 
The basement studio's called S6, so our ghost must be an S6-girl... [sorry]
We were thinking that we should compile a list or journal of these things for when we leave the building for our new, soul-less abode in the future. Though maybe it's not so soul-less, as things will have happened on that site long before the BBC was thought of, so maybe restless spirits will have been stirred (or shaken?).

The Langham Hotel opposite Broadcasting House used to be the BBC's training centre in London, and was notorious for strange apparitions and noises-off. It's been a hotel for some years, and apparently there are rooms where you really don't stay if you want a quiet night!

We used to have a free hostel - or doss-house - for staff who were starting shifts early, or closing down a network for the night and starting it up in the morning (at the time when we did such things) in New Cavendish St near Portland Place. It was officially called Bentinck House, though it was more usually known as Beatnik House. Nice, basic rooms though - it was sold off some time in the '90s. There were supposed to be strange presences there too, though I spent a few nights there once and didn't feel anything.

When I was editing Ben Toney's memoirs for the Radio London site, I had to scan-in Ben's original typed documents and use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to turn them into computer files. It was hard going, but there were many instances where the bizarre results gave us a giggle. Some of the mistranslated names it came up with were

The Ro1lj.¬§' Stances (fronted by Mica Jagua), Billy J. Karma, Paddy, Klaus, and Gibbon, Gerry Marooned (of Gerry and the Pacemakers), Lung John Baldly and that famous royal, Prince Gnarls. Cari said

Can't imagine who Paddy, Klaus, and Gibbon were. An Irish/German/Simian beat combo maybe ?
Mica Jagua - now why didn't he think of that - sounds much more rock'n'roll than plain old Mick Jagger.
Billy J Karma could have been his Summer of Love incarnation.
I'm sure you're getting to love OCR - it's never dull!

The subtitles on BBC News 24 are almost as much fun. They are no longer created by real humans with ultra-fast typing speeds, but are computer-generated with an alarmingly high margin of error. Yesterday there was a severe weather warning about 'widespread patches of rice on roads in Scotland, but it would become sweet before dawn'. 

We both enjoyed radio and TV comedies. 'Taking the Flak' was about overseas correspondents posted to a small country under threat of a coup - and the woman reporting for World Service usually came off the worst of them.

I treated myself to the Taking The Flak DVD. Glad you liked the series - most of my non-radio friends didn't get it at all! We (at WS) felt it was an amalgam of every duty trip we'd ever been on - you could almost tick the situations off on a checklist.

Cari on... the Princes Risborough B & B where she stayed the night after attending our Ruby Wedding celebration on a steam train at Chinnor Railway in 2010.

Interestingly, it's the only B & B I've stayed in where the usual 'AA Guide to British Towns/Countrysides/Birds', etc, shared the bookshelf with the Karma Sutra. Illustrated!

With fellow guest Cardboard Shoes
"I'm on the train." Photos: John Sales

Cari on... Bargain hunting

A former colleague, who - way before there were such things as eBay - used to post lists of things for sale at work. Don't-miss bargains included "guest room mattress, hardly used" and "slightly soiled bathmat, £5", amongst other items of used household tat. Another colleague once added "last week's Radio Times, £3" to the list on the board. It was a few days before it was noticed, but the poster was not amused.
Another former colleague found the woman of his dreams on eBay...long story!

Cari on... Making emergency videos

We're making an 'evacuation in case of emergency' video here.
Part of the brief is that we mustn't mention the word BOMB (it'd only frighten people). We can't even say BEUMB.
So we're pondering the scenario where a suspect bum is driven up to Bush House and parked outside. Where's Terry Gilliam when you need him??

By May 2010, black clouds were gathering over Bush House.

Sadly, Bush is becoming a shadow of its former self... the loss of most of our European language services in 2005 ripped its heart out, and what remains is being absorbed into Global News. And we move to Broadcasting House in 2012, by which time World Service will be just a name...

I miss the artists-in-exile atmosphere that this place used to have when it was full of creative eccentrics.

Cari sent the photo on the right of her 50th Birthday celebration, June 9th 2010

I spent a wonderfully indulgent birthday afternoon taking afternoon tea with my friend Ivana at Claridges.

Cari on... 'Rubbishspeak'

From an e-mail received today:
The refreshed BBC News website was successfully relaunched today... 
...It's easier to share – making it more social. And we've aimed to increase engagement – to help build reach. [can anyone explain this last bit in English?]

Cari on... her Archers nightmare

I fell asleep listening to Radio 4 between nights this week, and dreamt that I was in The Archers as it was seeping into my subconsciousness. Scary! It was quite a relief to wake up and find that I wasn't condemned to spend the rest of my days in Ambridge.

Oct 2010

A Telegraph feature reported

"It looks as if whole services will close, not just one or two jobs going from here and one or two from there," said a source, "And the potential for redeployment of staff is lower within the World Service than at the rest of the BBC - you can't transfer a Polish speaker to the Urdu service."

Interesting comment. We haven't had a Polish service since 2005 and a large number of the Urdu service is now in Islamabad. Wonder what the Torygraph's 'source' is? Nonetheless, a big black cloud is sitting over Bush House while we await young Osbourne's worst. Of course if they start cutting language services [again], then that means less of us [again].

...It's an odd atmosphere here.
With the impending move to W1 - if there's anything left to move - we're undergoing a vast amount of restructuring, part of which is that we, the studio managers, will be part of one big pool again instead of being split into regional teams as we've been since 1995. This means that we have to watch dozens of TXs [transmissions] that we've not done since then, or have never done before. Today it was Focus on Africa all day - African current affairs in English - and tomorrow it's a day with South Asia. I've spent the last 15 years working with East Europeans, Latin Americans, Caribbeans and Russians, so it's a bit different to what I've been used to. When I started here in 1987 we were one big pool and I'm just surprised it's taken us so long to come full circle.

...It appears that circumstances have changed radically this afternoon - though not necessarily for the better, just different - inasmuch as the WS will no longer be funded by the Foreign Office, but by the licence fee. Bit of a shock, that. The news came after our management had gone home, so we've yet to hear the news (and its implications) from the mouths of the horses themselves. Presumably that means that we won't be part of the Chancellor's cuts tomorrow, so I can wait 'til Friday to find out more as that's my next day in.

Jan 26 2011

If I go now, I'll be able to pay most of my mortgage without incurring penalties - I only have four-and-a bit years left on it - and will not have to pay the nearly £400 monthly train fares. I'll be spared the disruption to my body that 24 years of night shifts entails, and not have to sleep fitfully through daylight. I love this place - and the job - but the future is looking so bleak, and so far removed from the WS and its ethos that I used to know.
But, if I go, what am I going to do? Not work in London, that's for sure. There are one or two directions I need to explore - nothing to do with radio, though it'd be good to keep up with it - but I'm open to offers from about August, I reckon.

Feb 25th

Today in Bush it's all a bit '14th August'. Two language sections are closing down completely (and there's more to come next week), and one's dropping radio in favour of online. Portuguese for Africa closes, as well as Serbian. A strange day, but sadly we've been here before a few times in the last decade.

This is what our world looks like today - it'll get smaller over the coming days and weeks...

March 31st 2011

I'm leaving the BBC on 1st August.
It's been a fun, 24-year rollercoaster ride and I love this place to bits, but the future is looking very different so I've decided to take the money and run. I know I've made the right decision, as the more I heard about The Future here, the less I could see myself in it. Which is very sad. Lately, the atmosphere here has been the worst I've ever known it, which is really not surprising in the circumstances. Witnessing the changes is like watching a noble beast having its limbs ripped off, being tortured and humiliated before its inevitable death. It's rumoured in the press (ok, it was the Daily Wail...) that the DG will appear before us in video on Thursday with the news that he's cutting unpredictability payments, and may be even considering reducing redundancy pay to the statutory minimum. Nothing would surprise us any more. Though for once in my life, something's worked out in my favour: I go on August 1st on redundancy terms which cannot be tampered with. Phew.

July 23 2011

Dear friends,
As all of you know, I'm taking redundancy from the BBC after 24 years.
As some of you know, I have a second life as an artist/calligrapher.
As a few of you know, I have been accepted into an artist's studio to work from 1st October!
I'm sharing studio space with glass artist Caroline Weidman at Barleylands Craft Village, Billericay, working as a calligrapher and hopefully finding time to learn some glass skills too
Barleylands is a huge farm complex which is open to the public Tues-Sun. It's also the venue for the annual Essex Country Show in September.
The BBC in its infinite wisdom gave a small leaving party a couple of weeks ago for the 20 of us who are going. My last day was to be August 1st. The following morning I had my final appraisal with my line manager, who told me how wonderful, invaluable and irreplaceable I was, and please, please would I like to stay another year. Please.
Er, no thanks. I said I'd possibly consider a month or two, but no longer. She told me it was highly unlikely that anything less than a year would be considered.
The following day, she hunted me down in a studio to tell me that the BBC would consider any length of time I was willing to offer... so I've offered them a month and thus will finish on 5th September. Nicely timed, as it'll be a month before I start at Barleylands, and I have plans for a break!
Much as I love being at WS, in my mind I've already moved on and it's been a long path to accepting that. Staying on would also have scuppered any plans or opportunities, so I think an extra month is the best compromise. Still, it's nice to be missed.

So, here I am without any structure to my life for the first time in 25 years. I chose my final TXs - Russian, French for Africa and Hausa - carefully, and the last two were especially poignant. Even if the French were in chaos. The Hausas were so sweet that I was struggling to hold back the tears. And Seva - a Russian presenter who's a bit of a superstar - gave me a bottle of red wine, saying that "work is the curse of the drinking classes" (Oscar Wilde?). I shall miss radio (and its eccentric people) so much.

Commemorating August 14th 2011 with some pretty eccentric people dressed as pirates

Oct 3rd
Sadly, Cari now only had limited computer access and we were unable to exchange as many kneemails as previously.

Just started life's next chapter at Barleylands, so I'm still feeling a bit like the new girl at school. But it's fun!

Jan 20th 2012

I do love it here and like WS it's full of slightly mad, eccentric, talented people. Home from home, really.

Cari on... Fab Alan Field's 60th birthday party, 4th August, Harwich. She was justifiably proud to have been elected to the Guild of Essex Craftsmen and exhibited at their show on Sunday 5th.

It was a fab day on Saturday - a Fab day, no less. The cake was amazing, both in appearance and taste! Thanks for inviting me - great to see you all again, and Harwich was a much better option than London at the moment - though apparently anywhere but Stratford is fairly dead this week. 
The Guild of Essex Craftsmen show was in Ingatestone Hall (nr Chelmsford) a stunning 16thC house and the family home to Lord Petre, Lord Lieutenant of Essex. Being in such prestigious surroundings for a few days made up for not selling anything! As a newly-elected member, it was my first show with them and I'll have more time to prepare things next time.

July 10th Cari on... the Olympics

Westfield was the nearest I could get to the Park - all passes sold out - but a friend had told me that the John Lewis store there had a free viewing gallery on its 2nd floor, and a £2 entry one on its third. So I thought I'd better go. Amazing view. Even met a former BBC colleague from the Uzbeks there with his wife and daughter, which was a nice surprise.
Lewis's has an Olympic shop either side of its £2 gallery with windows... and having seen the view from there too, it was hardly different from the 'official' free viewing area on the floor below. The queue for the £2 view was at least an hour long when I got there!
Hundreds of athletes - easily spotted as they were wearing ID passes and were much taller and fitter-looking than the average punter - in the Westfield shops, taking advantage of the reduced-price souvenirs as the Games only had one more day to run at that point.

Westfield is HUGE and best avoided, unless you're a serious shopaholic. No wish to go there again. Ever. 
It would've been good to have Quo doing 'Rockin' All Over The World' at some point, maybe right at the end!

Cari on... my photos of the Team GB Victory Parade, Sept 10th

Fab!! Wish I could've been there too. The Grauniad's front page on Tues was mostly an aerial photo of the Strand up to Trafalgar Square, so you would've been in that too. About one fuzzy pixel high, but you were there! It must have been such a wonderful day.

Sat, Sep 29, I told Cari:
"I've bought a pulse clock that came from WS in the online auction. It's going to be a surprise birthday prezzie for Chris and I bought it mainly as a historical artefact rather than anything that we need for the studio. There was a number of similar clocks in the auction and I had bid already on a couple of others, but the money got to well over £100 which made me think twice about it. In the end, I decided to keep trying for the next lot that was finishing and hope I could get one for a reasonable amount. £80 ain't cheap, but it's much better than £100+!"

Cari was delighted.

Congratulations  - how wonderful! So pleased that it's going to a loving home where it'll be appreciated. I guess as it weighs 15kg it must still be in its wooden panel with red on-air light and 'alert/evacuate' fire alarm lamps as in the photo. Well done - any clues as to which studio it came from?

Sadly, there were not. The man who handed the clock (pictured right) over in Bush House reception told me that some of the clocks had a sticker with the floor number on the back, which narrowed down the process of identifying the studio, but mine gave no clues as to its origin. Chris is attempting to obtain a pulse generator and get the clock working.

Cari on... the BBC4 Kenny Everett biopic

A friend rang me excitedly while it was on, to tell me that all the BBC studio scenes were shot in Bush - studios S15 and S5 (the desk currently on eBay). Haven't seen it yet, but apparently there was at least one DAT machine visible in shot!

As usual I'm writing this from the phone, which is just about functional for knee-mailing, but falls far short of ideal :-(

We have to give Cari the last word here. She is an irreplaceable friend and we'll never forget her. She's surely working now as Kenny Everett's producer at the Great Radio Station in the Sky – where nobody ever has to work nights.

I've just finished four nights so am really not compos mentis at all - apologies for lack of proper replies, but I can barely remember my own name right now.

I know it's the same as a radio station...
love, Veronica xx

With Chris Payne, 14th August, 2011, London

Links to archive photos of Bush House Teams; second link; third link.

From Keith Skues:

That is terribly sad.

Oh dear what tragic news to receive just before Christmas. Cari was a really keen radio enthusiast. On the occasions I met her she was great fun.

From Terry Bateman:

That is very nice tribute to Cari.
I first met her whilst looking around the Radio Caroline ship when she was moored at Tilbury about seven years ago. I didn't know who Cari was and Cari didn't know who I was, but I'd known her brother Steve since 1992, when I first met him at the NAD workshops in London when Rega was doing an 'OEM' vinyl turntable for NAD. I did know that Steve had sister but we hadn't met until we on the Ross Revenge!
The last time I saw Cari was at the Skues meet in Harwich last August. I have to say it was a great day seeing Keith and the guys and girls and the LV18. I suppose If I had to have a lasting memory of Cari, the Harwich meet would fit the bill perfectly.
Cari had the same knack as Steve with 'I remember when...' stories. Cari impressed my youngest son (18 years) with her story about the time when Roger Daltrey and herself were both playing with her building blocks and bricks on the floor. If I remember rightly, Cari said Steve was fixing Pete Townshend's guitar.

It would have been the late Sid Barrett's Birthday today, 6th January, and as Cari was a huge Pink Floyd fan, it seems an appropriate date to send my tribute to her.

Steve Wilkins responded:

I had forgotten that story! Earlier than that, probably around 1960 -62, Daltrey played acoustic guitar and sang with the early version of the Who.(Cari was aged just 2 then and would have been oblivious to this story). He asked if my father and I would electrify his new guitar so we agreed that Dad would do the mechanical bit and I the electronics.
Daltrey came around on a Sunday morning. He was terrified that his guitar would be damaged (it had cost him £6) when we took to drilling holes etc for the pickup and volume control. So much so, that he could not stay in the room whilst we operated on it! It turned out OK in spite of Daltrey's continuously changing his mind, all the way through the exercise.

At that time, the Who's amplification system was a 6-10W barebones amp purchased from Radio and TV Components, Acton!

In later years Stray were popular visitors with Cari to our home when they had tech problems.

Paul Peters

Thank you for kindly sending this on to me. I have just read your very nice piece about Cari on the Radio London website. We were on the LV18 together at the end of Pirate BBC Essex 2009. I just could not believe that she died so young.

Colin Wilkins (no relation)

So sad to hear the passing of Cari; not a good start to the new year. I had met her a couple of times in Harwich and as we share the same surname we had a lot to talk about – not just about our names but radio as well.

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