The Anomalies of the Radio London Fab Forty
Brian Long, author of 'The London Sound', explains

Brian Long kindly granted permission for the Fab Forty charts that originally appeared in his privately-published book (many of them subsequently updated) to appear on the Radio London website. This mega-work of a book took Brian ten years to compile, and not only reveals an amazing mass of facts about the life and times of Big Lil and her personnel, but includes a wealth of information regarding other offshore stations. Sadly, there are no longer any remaining copies. This is what Brian has to say on the subject of the charts:

Allow me to explain some of the mysteries surrounding the Fab Forties. The charts from 'The London Sound' are derived from the ones that were officially issued by the station. I managed to locate a large number of charts, together with climbers, Ballad Box, etc., which had been typed in the Radio London Curzon Street offices and issued to various sources, principally journalists.

Unfortunately, once a chart was compiled, things could change. Therefore, it does not surprise me that people with recordings of the chart shows find discrepancies between what was compiled and what was broadcast. Differences usually occurred because the station managed to get hold of a new release at the last minute. In this situation, the greatest impact would normally be on expanded climber lists, but, dependent upon the record and artist, a new disc might bypass being a climber and go straight into the chart.

The new Stones' single, We Love You, was played in the final Fab Forty Show presented on August 6th 1967, by Tommy Vance. This really was 'last-minute' stuff, as the single was only available as an acetate* and didn't arrive on the ship until shortly before the show. It received its first airing from the acetate as there was no time to transfer it to cart. We Love You did not appear in the climber list or the Fab Forty, but if it had been received a few days previously, it would probably have been placed in the Top Ten, if not at number one. This would have made THREE recordings tying for the number one spot instead of two - The Beach Boys' Heroes and Villains and The Tremeloes' Even the Bad Times Are Good. A treble number one! What a way to go out!

Another problem arises when taking chart information from what should be the definitive source – the actual broadcast. Deejays might make mistakes when announcing chart positions, miss playing a particular position on the Fab Forty; they could play 'unofficial' climbers, change previously-allocated climbers and practically ignore an official climber! Therefore, I attempt to gain as much information as possible from broadcast and document sources to compile a comprehensive playlist. Charts compiled by Ben Toney appear far more volatile, and this may have something to do with TW and
[alleged] payola.

Any charts that were published in magazines of the time, i.e. Record Retailer, Music Echo, Juke Box, etc.) were prone to all sorts of printers' errors and might also be incorrect. I have come across examples of typesetting errors – such as setting the positions incorrectly, also wrong dates allocated to charts, and even the publication of the same chart two weeks running.

All this leads me to never take anything at face value, but attempt to triangulate information, which has brought me some interesting results. In one case, I have been able to prove, through records kept by people in Germany and Sweden, that the Disc of the Week changed in between the chart being published and the Fab Forty being broadcast. In this case it was a further example of a last-minute acquisition of a new release by a major artist.

Brian Long

Additional note about the origins of the Fab Forty, by the first DJ to be heard on Big L – Pete Brady:

"When Radio London – or Big L – first went on air, we had very few current records. The record companies were not very interested in us. I went round most of them in London with little luck, but Tony Hall at Decca was helpful and gave a couple of dozen singles – literally a shoe box full. In the first few weeks of 1965, these and a few others were continuously recycled and among them was It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones. The BBC had refused to play it, but the continuous exposure on Big L got it, eventually, to No 1. The rest, as they say is history! Needless to say after the first few weeks, the record companies woke up and more records came, but it still was some time before we could operate a proper top 40 format."

It's Not Unusual was released on 22nd January 1965 and first appeared in the Fab Forty on February 2nd, but was very likely to have aired on Radio London many times before its FF entry.

Tony Hall supported Big L throughout the station's existence. In April 1967, it was Tony asking Alan Keen if he would ('as a favour') play A Whiter Shade of Pale, that sparked-off Procol Harum enjoying their international mega-hit.

*An acetate is a pressing made for the recording artist's promotional use only. A small number of records would be pressed, using an inferior-quality and less durable material to the vinyl that was normally used in bulk production. This meant that the record could only be played a limited number of times. If anyone who was aboard the Galaxy on August 7th has kept that Stones' acetate, it will be worth a tidy sum.

We would be very interested to hear from anyone who has kept their own detailed information about charts, climbers and discs of the week.
You can email us or Brian Long here:

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