Fifty years ago, on Monday, August 14th 1967, at 3.00pm, Paul Kaye made the last on-air announcement to say that Radio London was closing down and then we heard the Sonowaltz, aka Big Lil, for the last time and the transmitter went silent. Caroline South and Caroline North were alone on the seas, with a few brave souls aboard battling on to defy the government.

In August 1967, the Galaxy had a new coat of green paint, as she was intended to be sailing for a new location and a post-MOA broadcasting career, but sadly, it was never to be.

Radlon management had investigated a number of potential investors and survival strategies, but none proved viable. Taking the small 10kw transmitter to Luxembourg and operating from there was one rescue plan they explored. The Isle of Man was considered and Administrator Richard Swainson said the company even attempted to buy the Channel Island of Sark!

When it became obvious that there was no alternative but to close, the remaining part of the Galaxy's paint job was abandoned and Radlon's MD Philip Birch told shocked staff, who had fully expected a solution to be found, that the end was in sight for Big L. They should feel free to go ahead and take any jobs on offer. Most of the DJs had mixed feelings about the closure. They had enjoyed working for Big L, the broadcasting experience and the camaraderie. However, they would not miss being at sea for long stretches, or worst of all, suffering the horrors of mal de mer.

On July 28th when he made public the decision to close Big L in just over two weeks' time, Philip Birch said, "We understand that the new government programme, which is to be called Radio 1, is largely modelled on Radio London and will employ many Radio London Deejays. We receive hundreds of thousands of letters from listeners, but possibly this government imitation is the greatest tribute of all."

The MD continued to reveal that Radlon wanted to be able to tender for a licence for a land-based station, but one application had already been turned down.

A secret visit to the Galaxy to examine the Big L studio operation and programming was made by BBC Producer (and subsequent Controller of Radio One) Johnny Beerling.

In September, half of the twenty-two DJs pictured on the steps of Broadcasting House in the famous Radio One pre-launch publicity photo of September 1967, had come ashore from Big L, namely: Tony Blackburn, Pete Brady, Dave Cash, Chris Denning, Pete Drummond, Kenny Everett, Duncan Johnson, Mike Lennox, John Peel, Keith Skues and Ed Stewart. Other former pirates joining the initial R1 line-up were Mike Ahern, Mike Raven and Emperor Rosko. Three more Big L jocks, Mark Roman, Tony Brandon and Tommy Vance, were subsequently recruited to the Beeb's 'pirate replacement' station where they were joined by numerous other watery wireless favourites.

Photo credit: the late Andy Wright (courtesy of Charles Wright and the Felixstowe and Offshore Radio Facebook Page)

Philip Birch quote and information from 'The London Sound' a privately-published book by Brian Long.


Photo sent by John in the Attic

"A memory from the last Fab 40 as the 50th approaches"

Colin Wilkins, Leeds

On the 14th August 67, I could hear Radio London quite well up here in Leeds on my little transistor radio, but we also had a big radio, a Sobel, which was my father's and Big L could be heard loud and clear on that set. When they announced that Radio London was to close it was like a death sentence. Why would they close a Radio Station doing no harm to anyone just playing damn good music that the BBC didn't? It was like losing a good friend when the station closed down at 3.00pm. I then re-tuned my radio to 259 and Radio Caroline North, who vowed to stay on air. At midnight, I was tuned into Radio 270 which also came in loud and clear and I recorded the closedown. Once again, I was very sad to lose another friend on the airwaves, but Caroline North carried on and I listened to the station until it was towed away in March 1968.

I never wanted to listen to Radio One and I never did. I listened to the recordings which I had made and to Luxembourg at night time. Radio has never been the same since.

Paul Rowley

As a 12-year-old, I cried my eyes out when Big L closed at 3 o'clock, listening in my bedroom in Wigan, and then hearing JW at midnight say, "For no man will ever forget Monday August the 14th, nineteen hundred and sixty seven."

John Abbott

I remember August 14th 1967 so well and with great sadness. I had just turned 15 years old and August 14th was the same day as I started work as an apprentice. I remember all the people where I was now working huddled around the radio at 3pm, but as it was my first day I was to  afraid to join them. I did, however, get the last hour on reel-to-reel tape which I still have to this day.
I was and still am quite obsessed with the pirate days. I went on the pleasure cruises to see London, Caroline and England and in more recent years visited the forts. What a time to have had my teenage years! I could never quite understand the government's determination to close them down.

John Hutley, Orpington

I can't remember exactly where within my parents' house in Catford I first heard the announcement that Radio London was closing. Back in the Summer of 1967, I was 13-and-a-half years old and had just completed the second year of grammar school at Blackheath. In general, I had just two interests in life. One was playing football and watching my team Charlton Athletic. The other was listening to pop music via the fantastic radio station that was Big L. Like all of those listeners, I'd heard about the Marine Offences Bill being introduced by the Labour Government and had by then seen one or two of the smaller stations go by the wayside. However, I was waiting with great interest to hear from Radio London how they planned to continue broadcasting. At that time, there was never any doubt in my mind that Big L, just like Charlton, would be with me forever. I had inexplicably failed to recognise that football in the UK had been around for over 70 years, but Radio London barely two! It never dawned on me that one would not exist within a month. Perhaps I had become rather complacent. After all, I could have visited Ed Stewpot, Myrtle and the other celebrities that attended the Witchdoctor Club just a mile down the road from where I lived but decided I couldn't face the hassle of getting 'permission' from my parents to go. I had plenty of time to do that of my own accord in the years ahead. All those dreams were, of course, shattered by the closure announcement. Radio Caroline had committed to staying on air so how could it possibly be that Radio London was closing?
Shortly after the shocking news, it was time for me to go on the family two-week Summer holiday. Nowhere abroad in those days, of course. We were heading for Selsey Bill near Bognor on the Sussex coast. I wasn't happy. The previous year, by some massive fortuity, the location chosen by my parents was Westgate on the Kent coast. I was absolutely in my element there. Not only did I get a great signal from Big L, I  dabbled in the short-lived Radio England and also could clearly hear (and even see) Radio City! Sussex though, was an entirely different proposition. My tiny transistor radio did sterling service and I managed to pick up Radio London, albeit only just!
We returned from holiday on Saturday August 12th, by which time it was, of course, all coming to an end. My old reel-to-reel tape recorder was brought into action. I had periodically recorded excerpts of the station (and still have them!) but now it was time to record just about everything I could as, in a few days' time, the music would have died.

I have no happy memories of those last few days – just utter sadness as each DJ played their last show and bid farewell. Mark Roman on Sunday evening. Then, on the day itself with the weather matching the general mood, listening to Chuck Blair followed by Pete Drummond then Ed Stewart joined by Paul Kaye for 'Their Final Hour'. Finally, when 3 o'clock arrived 'A Day In The Life' was played. What an inspired choice it was too. A controversial recording we could all relate to. A track that even sixty years later is revered by music critics throughout the world but would always be remembered by us as the Big L closing song. Then, after Big Lil, the airwaves were silent. I don't remember actually shedding a tear, just total emptiness and the question of how the authorities/Government could act in this way.
Throughout the last few days, we were informed by the DJs that when they closed down they would be arriving at Liverpool Street Station in London to say farewell. This was an event I had to attend. I called one of my friends who I knew had been listening but he, unfortunately, wasn't able to join me so I decided to go it alone. I had no idea which part of London to head for. Ironic really, as four years later I embarked on a working career within a half-mile radius of Liverpool Street which only ended in March this year following my retirement! Anyway, I made it to the station safely and I immediately realised I wasn't alone. Hundreds of like-minded teenagers (or older) were mingling with what I can only imagine were rather annoyed commuters trying to make their way home. It was rather frustrating though, as I seem to recall that the train was delayed and the arrivals did not get there at the expected time. What I do remember was seeing a car entering the station which appeared to be occupied by Keith Skues, recently departed from the Big L. Anyway, I felt I had done my bit by attending and as I returned home, I had to face the fact that Radio London was no more.
Now fifty years later we can reflect on what an outstanding station we had the privilege of listening to. Many of the DJs carried on their successful careers with the adopted names given to them by Big L and the talented management team behind the scenes. They had created, in my opinion, the greatest music radio station there will ever be. I often wonder, if it had been allowed to continue, how it would all have ultimately ended. Quite possibly, if it had run its course, it would have closed and been almost forgotten by now. Instead, its loyal audience were deprived of many years of enjoyment by political bureaucracy.
Finally, despite all the despondency that accompanies this fifty-year anniversary, I must mention Mary and Chris, Alan Field and Oldies Project who, amongst others, have allowed us to relive our memories. Grateful thanks to all of you.  

Steve Burnham, Norfolk

Some memories for me, regarding August 14th 1967, it was a very sad day for me because it felt like a bereavement, losing Big L
I use to smuggle my 'Headquarter and General Supplies' transistor radio in to school and listen to it when ever I could. When it was announced that offshore radio was being closed  down by the Government, which meant that we would lose Big L I was a very angry teenager. I wanted to go down to Downing Street and sort Harold Wilson out, ram his pipe down his throat, because Big L was a big part of my life. I didn't want to lose it, and losing Big L radio was never the same, it had died for me without Big L.
I sometimes play the protest song 'We Love the Pirate Stations' on my radio show and the feeling is still the same today.

Francis Pullen, Cambridge

As a teenager, I had been an ardent listener of offshore stations since finding Radio Atlanta on my transistor radio in early 1964, then Radio Caroline, but when Big L started broadcasting, I knew I had found my station of choice. It seemed as though there was an explosion of new groups and amazing music every hour of the day.

On 14th August 1967 I had that faithful transistor radio with me all day, with an earpiece plugged in. When the fateful hour approached with Paul Kay's sombre and ominous words, 'Big L time is 3 o'clock, and Radio London is now closing down', followed by the final playing of the Big Lil Sonovox theme, I was for the first time in my life, heart-broken, knowing it would never return. It felt like a part of my teenage youth had been suddenly stopped.

(Right) Francis in Harwich with the LV18 at sea behind him

I wasn't able to get to the quayside to meet the DJs, but I did manage to get to Liverpool Street station, only to be hemmed in and squeezed by hoards of people, all with the same idea of catching a glimpse of their favourite presenters, which in the end turned out to be virtually impossible, due to the size of the crowd.

As Pete Drummond lamented, 'We'll probably never see the like of it (Big L) again', and that really has turned out to be fairly accurate. There have been others since with their 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' approach, but in truth, there was, and ever has been, only one Radio London.

Such have been the memories of Big L and its closedown, that for every one of those 50 years since, I've always privately remembered 3 o'clock on Monday 14th August 1967.

Chris Goodwin, Guildford

I had left school a few weeks before August 14th and had a temporary job in a bakery whilst waiting to start an apprenticeship in September.
For the first couple of weeks I was cleaning floors but was then made temporary acting canteen manager to cover the real manageress's holiday and it was whilst doing that job that the closedown came.  
I had brought my Sanyo personal transistor radio in to work and managed to listen to most of the final hour standing on the fire escape of the canteen kitchen, if I'd been at home I would have recorded it on the big HMV reel-to-reel recorder we had, so having to work that day made it a double downer.
Having listened to Radio London for two-and-a-half years, I was very sad at its closure and angry at the then government for enforcing it.  Although Caroline carried on I rarely listened to it, as it wasn't easy to receive where I lived, so for many years after I hardly listened to any radio. Radio One didn't have the same atmosphere!
Now, apart from Roger Day on a Saturday, two Tony Blackburns at the weekend and Keith Skues on a Sunday, I only listen to Classic FM.

Keith Stock

I was just ten years old at the time, still in short trousers and still at primary school (although it was of course during the summer break)! Usually, my mum had the radio on and tuned to Radio Caroline South, but on this day, we retuned to 266 to hear the last hours of Big L. As the strains of BIG LIL faded away for the final time at 3pm, we retuned to Caroline South to hear The Admiral Robbie Dale pay his tribute to Big L. It was a sad occasion and we could barely believe it had happened.

Despite my young age at the time, I felt it was a total outrage that Harold Wilson (may he rot in hell!) and his Labour Government was introducing the MOA. Being so young, there was little I could do about it at the time as it would still be another 11 years before I could even vote! (The voting age at the time was still 21.) However, I vowed there and then that I would NEVER EVER vote Labour in any national or local election and it's a vow that I have kept to this day. Mind you, I've never voted Conservative either - not after how they treated RNI/Caroline in the 1970 General Election - but that's another story.

I'm delighted that Radio Caroline has continued through the years and now has finally been given a licence to broadcast legally on AM, and ironically, on a frequency once used by the BBC for some of their World Service broadcasts! I rediscovered Caroline in the mid-1970s and have remained a regular listener to this day. It would be brilliant, not to say highly appropriate, if August 14 was the date they started transmissions on 648 kHz.

Oeds Jan Koster, Netherlands

I recall the last day Big L was on air very well. I used to work during my holidays, I was studying Law in Groningen, Holland, in a chip shop on the wonderful isle of Schiermonnikoog. One thing I was carrying with me all the time was my Grundig transistor radio, always with 266 on the dial.
That particular afternoon I had to work all afternoon but in the meanwhile kept a close ear to my radio set. 
Thinking about it afterwards, I think Their Final Hour is one of the best produced radio shows I ever heard; way back then it was so emotional.
As Paul Kaye said his, famous last words: 'Big L time is now 3 o'clock and Radio London is now closing down', tears came to my eyes and I had to leave my work place, went to the toilet and locked myself up there for at least 15 minutes.
I have no recollection at all on the rest of that afternoon, I could not force myself to change the dial and go to 259 meters, to hear Johnnie Walker on Caroline. It did not feel good, like some kind of betrayal of your lover.

Anyway, I still think back to the Big L years with so much pleasure and have an extensive collection of Big L jingles on my personal playlist. So Big L is as close as possible to me each and every day.

This year it will be a special anniversary – 50 years! As a good friend of Hans Knot I suggested to him that we should do something special. As a volunteer DJs on a local radio station we produced and recorded a Dutch translation of the complete Final Perfumed Garden, as broadcast 50 years ago by John Peel on Big L from 13/08 midnight until 14/08 05.30. We played all the songs completely, so it took 6 hours. It will be broadcast by quite a few (internet) radio stations all over 4 countries in Europe.

Beside that I have dedicated my weekly radio show on www.rtv.rso.nl in the months of July and August to the Summer Of Love, with music played on Big L in the Fab 40 shows from those months in 1967. I will play each track once.

I thank you for your efforts to keep Wonderful Radio London alive.

Roger Still

I think what you and Chris are doing is fantastic.  What a great website.
50 years  ago on Monday 14th, I was on holiday with my parents at Seasalter near Whitstable and heard the last hour of Radio London. It is one of those occasions in life which had a dramatic influence on me. When it ended I remember bursting into tears and running into my bedroom. I vowed there and then no matter whatever happened I would never vote for the Labour party. Harold Wilson and Tony Benn were the worst two people in the world.   That feeling never left me.
This Monday 14th August, my wife and I are going to sit on the beach at Seasalter once again and at two o'clock we will listen to "Their Finest Hour" and relive that golden period of pirate radio.

Keith Milborrow


I have often wondered what was being broadcast by the BBC Light Programme that fateful day while thousands of radios were tuned in to "266 metres".   Now, thanks to the BBC Genome Project we can find out.
Broadcasts commenced at 5.30am, the same time as Radio London normally switched on their transmitter on board the MV Galaxy. This was no coincidence but an intentional move by Radio London as they had previously adjusted their broadcasting hours so as to directly compete with the BBC alternative.  The first programme on the Light was Breakfast Special hosted by BBC stalwart John Dunn.  This was followed at 8.30am by Housewives' Choice presented by Kenneth Horne.  The programme would have been based on "gramophone records" but these would likely to have been "evergreens" or "standards" and not the type of contemporary music we had become accustomed to hearing on Big L and Caroline. Then came a short Thought For the Day feature at "Five to Ten" and a sequence of programmes during the morning where the titles gave an indication of their content - Music Box, Music While You Work, Morning Story, The Dales and Music Parade.
Things began to look up at 12.15pm when we would have heard Simon Dee present Midday Spin. He had joined the BBC some time previously, as had Dave Cash who took over at 1.00pm to introduce Monday, Monday, one of those awful "live shows" featuring The Ray McVay Sound, The Tremeloes and The Fortunes.  I wonder whether they performed "Caroline"?  Dave Cash must be the only DJ to have been heard that day (albeit recordings) on both The Light Programme and Radio London during their Final Hour.
John Benson had the unenviable task of being on the air on the Light whilst Radio London approached their 3pm closedown. I wonder if he had any listeners at all that day, not even at Broadcasting House where legend has it that the Final Hour was carried on the BBC ring main. "Swingalong" suggested a groovy record show but the programme had many guest artists and musicians. These varied from the likes of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich and the Alan Price Set to Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra and the Albert Delroy Quartet!

Webmaster's Notes

Perusing the programmes on offer, we are intrigued to read what was happening in the soap Mrs Dale's Diary. "Mrs. Freeman has been invited to a psychedelic ' happening ' by one of Mrs. Dale's student cleaners, and has accepted." You can be sure that no good came of that! We'd love to know how many people were tuned in to the Light Programme from 1400 onwards, while the dramatic events were taking place at sea. The Beeb was offering 'Swingalong', presented by John Benson. John had come close to being a Big L jock in 1965, when he recorded a pilot programme for Radio London that was never aired, called 'Swinging England'.
The listing covers 'Swingalong's' entire week, so it's impossible to know who was actually heard that day, but hidden among 14 or so jazz bands, orchestras and the like, were Fab Forty artists Dave Dee, Dozy Bfaky(sic), Mick and Tich, Tom Jones and the Squires, The Alan Price Set and Warm Sounds.


An iced fruitcake won 20 years ago by John Sales in a raffle at the 'Summer of Love Party', Princes' Theatre, Clacton, Saturday August 16th, 1997.

Dave Cash picks the winning ticket.
Also onstage are Mark Roman, Keith Skues, Ben Toney, Duncan Johnson, Tommy Vance, Maxine Mitchell, Dave Hawkins and Tom Danaher

John who kindly supplied the photo, kept the cake for some time, which is why the icing is not as pristine as it was when he won it!


Their Final Hour as it happened

Memories of the 14th from David Skeates and Geoff Killick

Ben Toney explains how Don Pierson tried to sell the Galaxy to King Constantine of Greece

George Saunders, Radio Caroline's former Chief Engineer, tried to buy Radio London's equipment from the mv Galaxy in Hamburg, 1970

Sad photos of the Galaxy as she deteriorated in Hamburg

Grateful thanks to everyone who contributed to this page of August 14th recollections

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