Fond memories of
A personal tribute by Mary Payne (All links are at the bottom of Page 3)
I feel as if Duncan has been my lifelong friend, as I've been hearing his distinctively deep voice, with its soft Canadian accent, since 1965 when I was still at school. However, it was not until many years later, during the Big L 97 recreation broadcast, that I finally met Duncan.
One of the first DJs hired by Ben Toney at the launch of Radio London, Duncan was also one of the few who possessed commercial radio experience. He penned a column for Disc in 1966, explaining how his life aboard the ship involved standing in for various DJs, reading the news and running the record library. Kenny and Cash enjoyed winding him up and nicknamed him 'Drunken Johnson'.
A friendship developed, aboard the mv Galaxy, between Duncan and Haitian steward Mitch that was to last a lifetime. It was Duncan and Tommy Vance who assisted Mitch in obtaining his British citizenship. Mitch is immensely proud of his association with Radio London and has remained loyal to those he befriended on the ship.
Duncan would never forget his time on Big L, even if he'd wanted to, as he always blamed an ongoing back problem on an injury he'd sustained when jumping between the Galaxy and the tender. However, this did not prevent him from returning to the perils of ship-bound broadcasting when he joined Radio Northsea International. Here, he suffered further discomfort, because the bunks aboard the Mebo II were a standard 6ft long, while Duncan was 6ft 4in tall.
In 1968, Duncan released a single, 'The Big Architect', which Kenny Everett delighted in unearthing from the archives in 1977, when they both worked for London's Capital Radio, to include in his 'World's Worst Wireless Show'. After several rounds of listener votes to find the worst single, 'The Big Architect' received the dubious accolade of being placed well up in Kenny's 'Bottom 30'.
When BBC Essex staged their first Pirate BBC Essex broadcast at Easter 2004, from the light vessel LV18 in Harwich harbour, Duncan appeared as guest on Dave Cash's show. They both returned to the town on November 26th, 2004, when they appeared at the historic Electric Palace cinema for the launch of the DVD of the Easter event, called 'Pirates Waive the Rules'.
In October 2005, Duncan was invited to be a participant on the RNI panel at the Dutch Radio Day. Pirate Radio Hall of Fame Webmaster Jon Myer and I accompanied him to Amsterdam. Gerry Clements was the first person I had encountered with a passport that bore both their real name and professional name. I'll always remember the passport that read, "known professionally as Duncan Johnson". I wonder how many people even remembered that it was not his real name.
In 2008, Duncan celebrated his 70th birthday and became the cover star of the Winter edition of 'The Parkinson', the quarterly colour magazine of the Parkinson's Disease Society. Inside, he was the subject of a two-page colour spread.
As his Parkinson's symptoms became severe, Duncan was unable to remain in his own house and he moved into the show business retirement home, Brinsworth House.
In 2009, Duncan, assisted by his close friend Liza Donoghue, made the supreme effort to attend my 60th birthday party in London. (Left: Chris greets them at the door) I felt very honoured that he would go to so much trouble on my behalf.
Sadly, Duncan was becoming quite ill by the time he celebrated his 75th birthday with a party organised by Liza. He enjoyed gardening, so his many friends clubbed together to buy him a raised flowerbed (i.e. a windowbox on legs for easy reach). He was also given a small model of the mv Galaxy.
Duncan enjoyed social events and was determined not to miss Radio London's 50th Birthday Party in December 2014. He was by then seriously impaired by his Parkinson's and it was with great difficulty that Ed Stewart and Mitch got him to the Tattershall Castle in London. A number of guests then assisted him aboard for a final shipmates' reunion. Everyone was saddened to see the deterioration in health of the man they had known and admired.
The news of Duncan's demise was not unexpected, but all of us are relieved to know that he is finally at peace. We mourn the man he was before that terrible disease struck, but Duncan's wonderful voice lives on in recordings.
Photo credits: Some of the photos, Duncan sent from his personal collection.
Other photographers are Hans Knot, Mitch Philistin, Martin van der Ven, Chris Payne and Mary Payne.