Roy Sheeran worked aboard the mv Galaxy as an electrical engineer soon after the ship's arrival off the Essex coast, late in 1964.
After a few weeks, the Galaxy was in good shipshape as they say, so after all the hours we had worked, we now had some time to relax, and here are some of the things we did in our spare time.
(Left) John Lait (on guitar ), Roy (in patterned sweater) in the mess with Kenny & Cash, various others and a lot of empty bottles
At first, the chef on the ship was a Scotsman, Jock. He ordered food from the mainland that you would not have at home, four courses every night and Jock wanted you to enjoy eating it. Wonderful! Some days the sea was rough and whilst eating on the Ward Room table you had to wet the tablecloth so the plates and cups didn't slide off the table. Soup bowls had to be tipped from side to side while you were eating, so that the soup did not leave the dish. Then there were four free bottles of beer a day, so what a party! However, one day, Chef disappeared. When he reemerged, he was really stoned, having locked himself in where he had stored the beer and drunk much more than his allowance. He did cook that day, but not till the evening. Kenny Everett was clever at mimicking other people and he loved to mimic Jock. Well that day, Jock was not in a mood to have people copying his voice and he had a go at Kenny and we had to keep him away. The next morning the Captain put the chef on the supply boat and they took him back to the mainland for good.
We were given a free packet of Camel American cigarettes every day. I didn't like them, but I smoked the menthol fags, and if you wanted extra, you had to pay one shilling a packet. Once we got on land that's when we started coughing and trying to keep our feet steady after being on the sea for two weeks.
The television was in the Ward Room and we had to take turns in the evening at going and repositioning the aerial, because it kept turning the wrong way with the tides and we would lose the picture. This required three people, one in the Ward Room, one on the upper deck and the other on the Wheel House, then everyone had to shout from one to the others so the aerial could be turned in the right direction. Later it would be the turn of another three people to fix it. One of the dates when we had to do this was January 30th, 1965, when we were trying to watch Sir Winston Churchill's state funeral.
In the evenings when some of the DJs returned to the ship after shore leave, they brought a load of 45s that wannabe singers had given them, hoping they would play them on the air. What a load of rubbish! The people who came out on boat trips from the mainland to see the DJs, etc., kept asking for a 45 for a souvenir. We enjoyed it, skimming the discs to the boats and if they did catch one and play it when they got home, they would find it was the same rubbish we had heard while playing through them the previous nights.
Some nights we would have a bit of a gamble. If the sea was rough, we got an empty beer bottle, laid it in the middle of the Ward Room table and bet which end the bottle would roll off, port or starboard. Not much money gambled, but it was fun. Another game was who could drink a whole small beer bottle the fastest, but we arranged that one DJ, who did not drink much, was going to win. Halfway through, he was getting excited because he was still in the competition, but of course everybody was drinking slow so that he could win and he did! He had a job to walk afterwards and we thought he was going up on deck to lean over the side. After about half an hour, we went to see if he was OK, but we could not find him. Then he was not in his cabin and we all had to search because we were afraid he went over the side. At last we found him in someone else's bunk one deck down, asleep.
(Right) Plenty of empy beer bottles for a game of 'port' or 'starboard'
I asked one of the DJs, "Please can you not keep playing 'Down Town' by Petula Clark?" After that, every day on air, the DJ announced that, "Roy the Electrician loves this record, so we are playing it for him several times a day." I still do not like that record today, but it does remind me of the great time I had on Radio London.
A highlight for me was with Kenny Everett and Dave Cash. They recorded their promos for their Kenny/Cash Radio Show in the evenings after the station closedown at 9.00pm and they asked me to join them.
After closedown, we recorded all the tapes for the show and I was given the name 'Often Travel' – the Roving Reporter who interviewed them. It was all funny of course, made up of Kenny's creative ad-libs with Dave and myself adding our bits. Sometimes I appeared on the show live, so I had to be careful at what I said.
One evening, Ken and Dave asked said what type of work I did in Electrical Contracting. I told them about different jobs I'd done, one of which was when I was an apprentice. I worked for a year for the son of one of the owners, who carried out installing, and repairing lifts and remote generators. On his weekends off, he played rugby. When we were travelling in his van, this chap kept singing rugby songs, which I learnt. Ken and Dave said, "Sing some now, Roy!" and when I did, they laughed and I couldn't stop. Paul Kaye came running down to the studio and said, "STOP! All those songs are being transmitted to everyone on shore!" Dave uttered one word – and I whispered, "Be quiet!". I thought I'd be sent off the next day. Then the controller in the transmitter room came in, he was laughing, and said we only had the ship speakers on, to entertain the crew. The rugby songs were not being heard on 266 metres. What a relief! I went to the Ward Room where they were all laughing except Walter the 1st Engineer, who said, "I didn't know all those children's songs sounded like that!"
The previously-mentioned boss's son had spent 2 years in the Navy, but only ashore in Portsmouth. He said he would like to have a couple of nights on the Galaxy. The first evening on the ship, he ate and had a drink then asked if we could go up to the wheel house. The sea was a bit rough and the clinometer showed a 30 degree list, port to starboard. Our guest spent a lot of time leaning over the edge, then he went home the next day.
During my stay on the Galaxy, I was shown how to fish with a hand line and mostly we caught rock eels, kept them for a day in a large tank, then threw them back. We had to laugh about young Mitch, the Steward. He was frightened of the eels because he thought they were sharks!
An exciting moment came when I had left the hand line over the stern, late in the evening. It had got dark, so I thought I'd pull in the line then go to bed. When I went to reel it in, I thought it was caught on something on the sea bed, so I asked John to give me a hand to get it up. "No," he said, "It's a fish". It took a long time to reel it in and when it came to the top I thought it was a sting ray, but it turned out to be a large skate. John had to hang over the stern while I grabbed his trousers with one hand and the line with the other, then he hooked the fish and brought it to the deck. The Captain said skate tasted nice and if I put it in the freezer cabinet, I could take it home when I went ashore.
(Right) The irrepressible Kenny and Cash
A new DJ came on board – Ed Stewart. He was very excited because he was the only one that had a fishing rod, and as soon he had put all his gear in his cabin he rushed up to the deck. We watched him get ready, then he cast his line. That was quite funny to see the line get caught in one of the mast cables. It twisted round and round, then it came round again and the weight hit Ed on his forehead. Luckily, it just left a mark and didn't cause him too much pain, but we all laughed.
(Left) Earl Richmond and Tony Windsor (in front) arriving on the tender looking like the Blues Brothers!
We worked on the Galaxy two weeks at a time, then went back on land. On one trip ashore, the Galaxy Captain decided he wanted to have a go at piloting the Dutch supply boat for a change.
The Captain said the tide should be all right, so he would do a short cut and not take the long route, around the fort. I was in the wheel house and when the screen showed we were near to a sand bank I told him there was not much room and we would have to turn back and go the long way. "No," he said, "It will be OK. I'll slow down and if we get stuck we will have to wait for a few hours until the tide rises again." The reading showed the bottom of the boat had no space and then there was a scraping noise. I thought, right that's it, but Captain just made it. "No problem!" he said.
On another trip, returning to the Galaxy, the crew of the supply boat, had to drop off a couple of crewmen and some stores for Radio Caroline. When they tied up alongside, their chef called the Dutch crew to go on their boat for a lunch, while we had to wait before we could get to the Galaxy for ours. I asked the chef, was there any hope that we could have a little something to eat while we were waiting. He handed me a large container of soup and I took it below and said to the others, "Right get stuck in, it tastes lovely!" There were three others with us but the sea was a bit rough, John and I thought the soup was good, but the others went up on deck with grey faces and didn't want anything. That was a shame for them but not for us!
John and I worked on board for two weeks a month, for approximately six months. Other electricians took over at various times, with most of the requirements being just maintenance and repairs. In the end, Christy Electrical withdrew because of fears of the station's closure by the Marine Offence Bill.
My family and friends would listen to the radio to find out if were things were OK. When the sea was a bit rough and John and I could not leave the Galaxy, the Captain would allow me to go on the air, so that I could give my wife the message that we would have to try and leave the next day.
The final trip on the tender for me was my return to land, as other people were taking over my job because I had new work lined-up. We had to stop at Caroline to take some of their staff back to land, including one of the DJs. I was being very helpful, passing over cases and bags from one to boat to the other. Just for a laugh I hid the DJ's case on the tender, and we were nearing the shore when he said, "Where is my case?" He began to get upset, so I said I would help him look for it. He was very pleased when I 'found' it and probably never did discover who hid it, but everybody else knew.
In 1997, the Big L '97 RSL commemorated the 30th Anniversary of the closedown of Radio London. A temporary ship, the Yeoman Rose, was anchored off Walton Pier, complete with transmitter, portable generator and studio. Many people who had worked on Radio London were invited to participate. I spent nearly an hour on the air, talking to the DJ about what it was like in the Sixties. I enjoyed that.
(Left) Dave Cash presenting 'The Rabbit Patch'
Some years later, Dave Cash was back in Harwich, again for an offshore recreation. I contacted Dave and he asked if I could come to Harwich to meet him after all those years. What a meeting we had! We sat outside the Pier Hotel with a drink and talked about the old days. While we were talking, someone came up and asked Dave for an autograph. Dave said, "Don't you know who this is with me? It's Often Travel the Roving Reporter!" The autograph hunter said, "Yes please" to my signature and I told him he was the only member of the public who had my autograph, and to keep it safe!
I will never forget those months I worked on a ship, which I never had done before. I liked the variety of people on board who were happy and friendly. There were others aboard, working for Christy Electrical and they carried out similar work on the ship, but this is my story. My nearest friend and colleague was my apprentice, John Lait and we worked well together. Once we found where we were and put things right, we made our work easy. When we had to leave the ship due to the impending 'Government Law' the Radio London management sent me a letter thanking me for all we had done whilst we worked on the Galaxy.
Most of all, all the things I've written about were when I was 26 years old and it was 52 years later when I remembered them! I hope most details have been correct, and anything that I could have missed or did not quite remember, I apologise. I am 78 years old now, and writing this has been a lovely memory.
In early 2023, the FOR group made contact with another ex Christy employee, Barry Jordan, who has a small connection with the early days of Radio London.
Barry was an 18-year-old electrical apprentice for Christy Electrical, when they were providing staff to work aboard the Galaxy His job was to drive two Christy employeesfrom Ipswich to Harwich where they caught a tender to take them out to the ship to work a two-week stint. Occasionally, he went out with them, had a meal on board, then brought back the other two men who had finished their two-week stint, to drive them back home. Barry said he could have chosen to work on the Galaxy himself, but as a youngster, he didn't fancy being confined to a ship for two weeks at a time. Sometimes the tender would call at both London and Caroline to drop off or pick up staff and Barry encountered several of the DJs, including Kenny Everett and Tony Blackburn, who at the time was still broadcasting on Caroline.
The Felixstowe and Offshore Radio Facebook group has created an album of photos of some of the Christy staff pictured on the Galaxy, most of which have previously been posted individually, but this album collects them together.