Radio 270: Vince 'Rusty' Allen

Andy Milne:
Although I listened to Radio London I was primarily a Radio 270 fan up in the north. I edit a trade magazine – 'RailStaff' – which goes to 50K people working in railways. To mark August 14th I penned the feature below. It's really a piece berating the government for failing to invest adequately in new railways. Forgive my poetic license and conjecture. Rusty Allen, for me, remains the best DJ – ever.

Rusty Rides Again
From August 2007 edition of Railstaff:
Disappointed by the White Paper, Andy Milne takes heart from an unlikely chapter in the history of rock and roll

August 14th 1967 was a bad day for railway historian, Vincent Allen. Tired out after nearly a month at sea and battered by a force eight gale, he lost his job at midnight. Amidst heavy seas he came ashore at Scarborough harbour early the following morning. Vince had seen Beeching’s axe peak the year before – closing 750 miles of railway. Now out of a job Vince Allen, 29, slipped down to Scarborough station. The line from Whitby closed two years before. At this rate, he pondered, there wouldn’t be much left for him to photograph. Vince was no ordinary rail enthusiast. From a Dutch lugger, Oceaan 7, anchored three miles off shore ex-US serviceman, Vince ‘Rusty’ Allen, broadcast rock and roll on Radio 270. The ship was much smaller than its sister pirates but local people loved it. The swingin’ sixties started on the rolling deeps of the north sea. Stations like 270 rolled up audiences numbering millions, broaching a whole new market. The government failed to understand the excitement of the pirates and closed them down on 14th August 1967. It couldn’t stop rock and roll. Teenagers rioted in London, schoolboys rigged up illegal transmitters on rooftops and rock stars like Lulu recorded tearful goodbyes broadcast on the ships.

The establishment, rather rattled by all this, leaned on the BBC to start up Radio One and local radio among the first -  Radio Leicester. Eventually a Conservative government legislated for independent radio. Capital Radio started in 1973 with the wonderfully appropriate, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters.’ Commercial radio is now a  multi-million pound industry. Every town sports radio stations. Hundreds eventually took to the air, where before the pirates there were three, that’s right three.

Vince Allen went on to work as a professional photographer deep in the heart of Wessex, having helped create a whole new industry. Modern radio may lack the magic of the pirates, in the same way modern rail has little of the charisma of steam. The lesson is the pirates won in the end. Rock and roll beat its capacity restraints. The new rail industry – also attracting millions to its market - is equally misunderstood by an establishment  similarly unnerved by our success. Detractors argue that rail arithmetic can never stack up the way commercial radio does. Think carbon trading, green imperatives and gridlock - our maths make more sense than ever. High time they too were given a stable future on dry land.

Rusty Allen may never have returned to the airwaves but the justice of his cause prevailed. Rail staff who believe that right triumphs over expediency should take heart. The establishment has yet to grasp the excitement and energy of new railways. Britain needs Crossrail, High Speed Two and Three, electrification, light rail and new freight lines. Lets ride out the force eight White Paper as we did Beeching.  The rail industry will win whether under this government or the next. Misleading headline? Just another example of RailStaff’s eternal optimism first heard articulated on the ‘Rusty Allen Radio Programme’ forty years ago on Radio 270. Wherever you are out there in the wide and wonderful, this August, Vince, many thanks and best wishes.

Photo from 'Offshore Radio' by Gerry Bishop

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