Walton and Frinton Lifeboats – the pirates' lifeline

Walton and Frinton has celebrated over 120 years as a lifeboat station and its crews have been presented with 75 awards for gallantry. The lifeboat E.M.E.D. was one of 19 that helped to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.

Of course, the most famous and unforgettable offshore broadcasting - related rescue was when the Mi Amigo ran aground in January 1966 and there were fears during the rescue operation that the lifeboat might capsize. The lifeboat crewmen who saved the DJs and crew, Frank Bloom (coxswain), Dennis Finch (2nd coxswain), Roger Kemp (bowman), Ron Wyatt (assistant mechanic), Ken Haggis (signalman), Tony Warnock (travelling mechanic), Arthur Cole, Jack Barratt, Brian Oxley and Keith Richardson, all received RNLI bravery commendations.

(Left) Caroline Director Barry Ainley presented a replica of the Mi Amigo bell to Eric Brett, auxiliary coastguard and numer 1 of the Walton-on-the Naze LSA Company in recognition of the part they played in the rescue.

The weathered plaque on the left was formerly sited outside the Walton and Frinton Lifeboat station. It reveals some of the other rescue missions that three lifeboats and their crews made to assist the offshore broadcasters between 1964 and 66.

Mostly, the SOS calls concerned personnel aboard the stations requiring medical attention. However, an article from the Sunday Express of May 1st 1966 featured on the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame (third item down) indicates that the stations' relationship with the emergency service could be fraught. Mr Robert Oxley, the Lifeboats' Secretary at the time, was of the opinion that a number of the emergencies that had resulted in SOS call-outs could have been prevented.

Mr Oxley is quoted in Keith Skues's 'Pop Went the Pirates' as saying, "This is not an easy matter. Should we fail to answer a call from one of the pirate ships, we might find ourselves attending an inquest. If we do answer one, we might be responding to a frivilous call. It is a Catch-22 situation."

in March 1967, Radio London showed its thanks to the lifeboat service for answering its distress calls by promoting the RNLI Flag Day, donating over £500's worth of free advertising of the event.


Rescues 1964 - 66

This map of the area s based on one included in Brian Long's privately-published book, The London Sound, with many thanks. It covers the Thames Estuary sea-based broadcast locations from ships and forts during the period 1964 - 67, rather than the stations that were aboard them. Not all of them were there simultaneously. The Laissez Faire, for instance, did not arrive till May 1966 and the Caroline ship Fredericia was only briefly in the estuary, setting sail for the Isle of Man to become Caroline North in July 1964.
Less than a month after the merger of Radios Caroline and Atlanta, on July 27th 1964, the Edian Courtauld lifeboat went out to the Mi Amigo to take ailing DJ Bryan Vaughan ashore for treatment. (Ironically, prior to that she had gone to the aid of a yacht named Galaxy.)

On February 24th 1965, Edian Courtauld took a doctor out to the Galaxy, where Earl Richmond was suffering from gastic flu.
On April 23rd,the Elizabeth Elson took Chief Engineer Jim Rastenhoff off the Galaxy, suffering from a back injury.

The Edian Courtauld made a trip to the Galaxy on August 20th and took Captain Buninga to hospital in Colchester, suffering with suspected appendicitus. He apparently discharged himself without treatment and returned to the ship, no doubt feeling that his responsiblilities lay there. Unfortunately, the lifeboat was obliged to return on September 9th for the same reason and this time the Captain's condition had become more serious. The two rescues of Captain Buninga are cited by Robert Oxley in the newspaper article linked above, as an instance where a second emergency call-out would appear to have been avoidable, had the Captain accepted treatment on his first visit to the hospital.

On October 28th, the Edian Courtauld headed for Tower Radio, on Sunk Head Tower, which was a WWll Maunsell fort sited seven miles further out from the radio ships. A sick man was taken ashore. Mr Oxley sites Tower Radio as a perpetrator of seemingly preventable SOS calls and Sunk Head was blown up in 1967 to prevent any further occupation by pirate broadcasters.

On February 13th 1966, the Charles Cooper Henderson was called to the Caroline South's temporary replacement ship, Cheeta II, to rescue Graham Webb, who was suffering severely from 'flu.


DLT, Tony Blackburn and others who were involved in the January 1966 grounding of the Mi Amigo, talk to Ray Clark about their memories of the occasion

Many thanks to Keith Skues for the photo and info from Pop Went the Pirates ll