Russell Percival Tollerfield
Big L Engineer
1944 – 2017

"Russ rigged up a Tank Aerial in the garden and was transmitting over the Radio Luxembourg frequency... He used to call it Radio Ullswater, broadcasting from a rowing boat in the middle of the lake. He was obviously destined to join a pirate radio station!"
Alan Bateman

We are deeply sorry to see the departure of another member of the Radio London family. We never got to meet Russ, but were able to put old friends in touch with him who have kindly supplied photos and memories. All the photos are courtesy of Alan Bateman.

Mary and Chris Payne

Tributes Received by Radio London

Alan Bateman, friend from BBC days

I first met Russ at the BBC in Penrith, Cumberland, in late 1963. I used to live in digs and Russ was sharing a house near one of the lakes. I remember that he had rigged up a Tank Aerial in the garden of this house (he was a licensed Radio Ham) and was transmitting over the Radio Luxembourg frequency using a 150 watt KW Vanguard transmitter with the video amplifier out of the TV set they used to rent. Russ used to call it Radio Ullswater, broadcasting from a rowing boat in the middle of the lake. He was obviously destined to join a pirate radio station! I remember when the man from the TV rental company came to collect the TV because they hadn't paid the rent. He nearly fainted when he saw it lying there in pieces! In no time at all Russ had reassembled it and gave it back to him in full working order – much to our amazement.

Russ and I both had the honour of getting the sack from that venerable institution the BBC at the same time, for having a bad attitude. According to official records we failed our exams, but the truth was that we didn't have the right attitude. I was caught reading all about President Kennedy's assassination when I should have been studying for the exam and Russ was caught asleep on the workbench when he was meant to be doing some practical work. I remember Russ was pretty quiet and lacked confidence in his abilities. He was a very good radio engineer and I think it hurt him when he got the sack from the BBC.

(Right) September 2004, Henley-on-Thames

After that we headed to London and I took a job with an oil exploration company whilst Russ had various jobs. We used to go out with a couple of sisters who lived in Barnet which was the other end of the Piccadilly line from Uxbridge where I lived. In January 1965 I went to Libya for one year and returned to London in early 1966. I think Russ was working for Radio London by then. I had a flat in South Wimbledon with a couple of blokes I worked with in Libya. We used to have these raging parties and play the tapes Russ would come back with after his 'shift' on Radio London. They were a compilation of all the latest hits interspersed with wry comments from Kenny Everett .... they were absolutely priceless. We were all religious Radio London listeners (of course). I must admit London in those days was a bit of a blur. We used to go to the Chelsea Potter on the Kings Road every Saturday morning to check out all the talent and the Six Bells on Friday night to do the same. The Cafe des Artistes got a pasting occasionally.

I emigrated to Australia in October 1966 and lost touch with Russ and all the others.

Much to my surprise, in September 2004, Russ turned up at a reunion of old friends from the sixties that I had organised at a house I was renting in Henley-on-Thames. He never replied to any of my emails inviting him to the reunion. On the day of the reunion he called me and said he was coming. No one else knew it and it was a great surprise to all when he showed up. He was in good form and we had a great day catching up.

Aldona Satterthwaite, friend and former flat-mate

Russ and I were very close – we could almost read each other's minds. He was very smart but a dreamer, and he wasn't tough or particularly practical. He seemed oblivious to the day-to-day domesticity that most of us thrive on. In 1966 we flat-shared in Ealing. That was Russ's home when he wasn't on board Radio London and the flat became the scene of many parties. My then-boyfriend Jim was producing live radio shows for Curry's, so we often had a jukebox in the flat with all the latest hits. We were turfed out of the flat when the landlady found out it wasn't just a nice young couple who'd taken it, but a whole slew of people. Russ arranged for me to stay for a few weeks in Kenny's apartment somewhere along the Bayswater Road while Kenny was away.

Jim and I once went aboard Radio London. The weather was rough and the North Sea was yellow. I've always had good sea legs, yet felt violently sick; the chef served pea soup!

Russ followed Jim and me to Canada after Radio London's demise and once again, Jim and Russ shared a place. Russ worked for CHFI radio and moved back to England in 1968 after Jim and I got married.

We kept in touch all through his Radio Victory days, but then some years later I lost contact.

(Webmaster's note: Alan Bateman got back in touch with Russ with assistance from Radio London, but Aldona never heard from him again)

Tony Brandon, Big L DJ

Russ was an excellent engineer and highly regarded by his colleagues. I vaguely remember that he was a very shy man and it comes as no surprise to hear that in later life he tended to retreat into his shell.

I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing and extend my sincere condolences to his family.

(Left) September 2004, Henley-on-Thames

Norm St John, Big L DJ


Russ was an excellent human being. So sad to learn that another of the Big L crew has gone. He was a genius with sound and engineering and helped us all on many occasions. No doubt he will get that big station in the sky putting out a better signal.
RIP Russ, you will be sadly missed.

Mark Roman, Big L DJ

Yet another one gone. I have a photo of Dave Hawkins and Russ in the TX room with Russ wearing a coil over his head.

I recall the day when we were all impatient for the tender to head for shore and a week's break, and Russ was missing. A search went out and he was found asleep sitting on a toilet after no doubt doing an all-nighter with Dave, boosting the power to zillions of Watts.

We were getting reports of reception on the east coast of the U.S.A. so I guess the atmospheric conditions must have been exceptional.

Dave and Russ did one hell of a job, 'cos what's the point of a great radio station like Big L, if nobody can hear it? Thanks to you, Russ!

David Hawkins, Big L engineer

I read of Russ T's passing with sorrow.
He had started with Radio London before me (from a BBC training) and we worked together for about eighteen months. Technically competent, mildly (and completely harmlessly) eccentric and cerebral, he was always  good company. Russ, Kenny Everett and I were good pals. It was Russ who finally drew the straw when we discussed who would 'pull the plug' on the RCA transmitter on the afternoon of the fateful day fifty years ago which we will be remembering this coming August.

(left) with Sixties friends
Russ went to Canada after the close-down. When he returned to the UK after several months he stayed briefly on the sofa of my tiny flat at Marble Arch before getting a place of his own. After working at Capital Radio, work took him back towards the West Country from where he had come originally. It is a matter of regret that he became somewhat reclusive as time went on and he withdrew from earlier company.

Willy Walker, Big L DJ

Sad to learn of another RL alumni leaving the studio. It's a shame that Russ never wanted to come to the reunions or keep in contact. Russ was the one who taught me "phasing", putting two of the same records on the turntables and releasing/playing at the same time. A great sound effect! RIP Russ.

Jon Myer, former Capital Radio colleague

Russ and I worked on the same shifts in the early days of Capital Radio so I spent quite a lot of time with him back then. We got on well although didn't socialise much outside work hours.
He was a great engineer and a good bloke but also quite reclusive. He was largely nocturnal. Unlike most of us, Russ preferred the night shifts when there were fewer people around to bother him. He would spend hours on his own working on some highly technical project - usually with a circuit diagram he'd scribbled on the back of a fag packet. Even if he was nominally supposed to be on a day-shift, he would often still be there in the early hours, beavering away. He was always happy to help others when required but seemed most content when working on his own projects.
He left Capital, along with a number of other people, when David Symonds invited them to join him in setting up Radio Victory in Portsmouth.
The last time I saw Russ was at Capital Radio's 30th birthday party. I was surprised to see him there. I don't know who persuaded him to attend. It was a huge event with hundreds of former members of staff attending. For a quiet man like Russ, it was probably a bit outside his comfort zone – especially as it was held in a West End disco to a background of constant blaring music. From what I saw, he spent most of the evening with a small gaggle of fellow engineers. We exchanged a few words but it wasn't the easiest place to hold a conversation. I wish we had spoken a bit longer.
It is a shame that he didn't keep in touch with his old offshore radio colleagues but, to those who knew him, probably not a great surprise. I enjoyed working with him for that short time and was very sad to hear of his passing.

Jack MacLaughlin, former Programme Controller, Radio Victory

I was Programme Controller at Radio Victory in Portsmouth and Russ Tollerfield and I were the only ex-Pirates to join the station at its launch. Russ had come down from London's Capital Radio, with Dave Symonds and Sarah Ward and he was great fun to work with. The Radio Victory family were saddened to hear of his death.

(Left) The friends pose for a typical Sixties-style photo, at The Chelsea Potter

Russ had learned his trade on the Pirate Station Radio London, by far the best of the Pirates, and he had been responsible for switching off the station at the close-down on the 14th August 1967. Following the closure of Radio London by the Government, Russ went on to work as an engineer for London's new commercial station, Capital. It was here that he met Dave Symonds – who had just been appointed Programme Controller at Radio Victory the new ILR Station in Portsmouth. Dave invited Russ to join Victory as Head Engineer for its launch on October 14th 1975.  Dave Symonds had assembled an impressive team, including Dave Christian, the top DJ at Radio Luxembourg, Sarah Ward, Roger Scott and Kenny Everett from Capital, Eugene Fraser from Radio 2 and Andy Ferris from Radio 1. 
Russ was a creature of the night and I don't mean this disrespectfully! When I came into the studios every morning to set up the Breakfast Show, Russ was often in the building. He would be tinkering with the electronics in the engineering workshop or playing about with the technology in the studios. He was certainly a 'one off' but was liked by all of us, despite his occasional eccentricities.
Following the closure of Victory, Russ moved on to work for its replacement – Ocean Sound. He also worked on the Isle of Wight RSL set up for Cowes Week – Cowes Radio. He will be much missed by all of us now that he has gone to the great studio in the sky.
RIP Russ.

Tim Daniels, Ocean FM

Your tribute page contains much there of Russ's earlier career in radio that I only had hints of previously. I had known Russ since the beginning of Ocean FM, where I worked as assistant engineer until 1990 (although I met him briefly at Radio Victory just before it went off air). To this day I have him to thank for my much increased knowledge of all things audio technical - he was a great mentor and a gentleman. I have only good memories of many long days spent working with him.

I live in Southsea, Hants not 400 metres from the apartment Russ occupied since the eighties and consequently I bumped in to him very frequently (usually in Waitrose) and we would always stop and talk, in a highly anorak-like fashion, about some technical interest or other. Only three weeks ago I spotted him in the distance at the other end of the shop but because I was in a bit of a rush I didn't go over to say 'Hi'. Of course I was, like most of us, unaware of the cancer treatment he was enduring. That was sadly the last time I saw him.

David Lucas, MD Ocean Sound

I first met Russ at Capital Radio and was delighted when a few years later he agreed to work with Ocean Sound. In fact, he was Ocean's first full-time employee and started as Chief Engineer even before I was able to join full-time as managing director. I rapidly learnt not to fuss about his idiosyncratic working hours... he just got on with whatever needed doing.
His odd hours meant that he was the only staff member I saw during the evening of my final departure from Ocean Sound. That's a longer and more complicated story... but Russ was at his helpful, quiet kindest.

A very unusual and very lovely person. RIP Russ.

Tony Crake, ex-flatmate and friend

Russ shared my one-room flat in Penrith when he first arrived at Skelton, the BBC Short Wave TX Station in Cumbria. It was very small room and he brought all his Ham Radio gear with him!

His speciality was working US stations in the middle of the night, on Morse Code. To do this he needed a big aerial, so going right past the window was a great long wire – a telephone cable stretching to a distant house! Russ made up a short extension with a beefy 'croc clip' on one end to clip to the Post Office Wire! I thought 'This could be trouble', but Russ was undeterred. A quick experimental tune up and the KW Vanguard (as mentioned above by Alan Bateman) was ready to do business!

Russ had a rather special morse key, a 'Vibroplex'. If you moved the lever to the left, a stream of perfectly formed and spaced 'dots' emerged and to the right, 'dashes'. 
It was beyond me, as although I had actually taken and passed the Radio Amateur Exam I had not tackled the tricky subject of Morse Code.

I found out about his 'night owl' habits some time later  when he woke me at 0400, so excited that he had worked a string of USA stations, including 'Stu',W1BB a legendary US operator. My reply couldn't be printed here!

When Russ eventually moved over to the cottage mentioned by Alan Bateman I missed the strange rattle of his Vibroplex and his intense passion for whatever he
put his mind to!  RIP Russ. Sorry we never managed to meet up again.

Tony Crake (ex BBC of some 39 years!)

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