These pages are devoted to special memories of Big L in the Sixties.
If you have a particular memory of something that happened while listening to Radio London, won a station competition, or have unearthed some rare memorabilia, please click on the mail button to the right and let us know!
Two weeks after my mother, my sister and I had been deported
from South Africa for opposing Apartheid, we found ourselves sailing up the
Solent in the ship Pretoria Castle.
It was mid-April 1965 and I was up on deck with my red plastic National (Panasonic) 7 transistor radio that my uncle had given me just before he and my father had been "detained" by the then South African government. I was 15 and the ship's crew were used to the sight of me and my radio appearing at 6.30 every morning in order to grab a deckchair as far from any sources of electrical interference as possible. As we sailed up the west coast of Africa from Cape Town, I had studiously logged all those exotic African stations and I'm sure that the edge tuning knob had worn a groove in my forefinger. And now here we were, nearly at journey's end.
Since the age of six I had been listening to the BBC World Service on short-wave and for my ninth birthday I got given a Blaupunkt multi-band mains radio and from then on I listened avidly to the World Service - Goon Shows, Round the Horne, Navy Lark and all. Sailing up the English Channel gave me the opportunity listen to domestic BBC programmes for the first time. I found out from one of the Radio Officers that the Light Programme was on 247 metres so I duly tuned to that frequency and listened. Wow! The music they were playing - all those artists banned on South African radio, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and of course black artists - amazing! The announcers sounded so young and so full of the joy of being able to play this great music. All the rumours reaching South Africa about the Swinging Sixties seemed to be true. The jingles and the adverts - I was surprised by these as the World Service had neither and the announcers were much more reserved but I supposed that was because the programming of the World Service was intended to be more serious - "This is London calling" intoned the very solemn sounding announcer between programmes.
I was very impressed by the Light Programme - so much so that I didn't go down for breakfast but stayed up on deck glued to my radio (radios didn't work well below deck level due to the metal hull). This "Radio London" (or Big L as they sometimes called it) was fabulous. I didn't realise that the BBC could let its hair down so much. I wondered what their other stations - the Home Service and the Third Programme - would sound like and intended to seek out the Radio Officer again to pester him for those frequencies too.
Just as I was getting up to go to the radio room, I heard something rather intriguing - the Radio London announcer was saying something about colleagues who were "alongside in a tender" and how that he was looking forward to "going ashore to catch up with the latest music acts". What the hell was going on - how could anyone go ashore from BBC Bush House, and what was a tender doing in the middle of London? The Radio Officer explained all - the small tuning scale on my radio wasn't that accurate and I was listening to "one of them pirate stations" on 266 metres and if I cared to tune around I would find others....
My aunt with whom we were staying whilst trying to find a house of our own was disturbed by my anti-social behaviour. All I wanted to do all day was to stay in my bedroom listening to the radio. All those stations! All that music! I did find the Light Programme in the end but the sombre presentation, the pregnant pauses and the attempts by the Northern Dance Orchestra to play "Little Red Rooster" made me ill. To be fair, I did listen to as many pirate stations as I could receive in north-east London but first impressions stuck - Radio London was indeed "fab"!
Thank you all concerned, but especially those I miss the most - Chuck Blair, Tony Windsor and Kenny Everett.
Thank you. Jef Robinson (formerly Geoffrey Bullen), Colchester.
Sadly this is the only photo I have of me on the wireless - I am usually taking photos of other people - blackmail can be so lucrative!
It was taken in the studio of Mellow 1557 during the "James Howes interrupted by Colin Lamb" show. Sadly nothing very "watery wireless" about it except that Paul McClaren assured me that the cart machines were ex-Caroline - "can't you tell by the rust marks?".
Note the white board full of don'ts and don'ts - not very "free" radio.
Ian very kindly scanned the1967 FRA psychedelic poster for us. He says:
If anyone can recall the name of the artist who designed the poster, or anything else about it, do please get in touch.
|Side One||Side Two|
|1 Hello Dolly from 'Hello Dolly'||1 The Last Time|
|2 Wouldn't It Be Luverly from 'My Fair Lady'||2 Ticket to Ride|
|3 Tonight from 'West Side Story||3 King of the Road|
|4 Do-Re-Mi from 'The Sound of Music'||4 Mr Tambourine Man|
|5 A Spoonful of Sugar from 'Mary Poppins'||5 One Two Three|
Several bingo companies sponsored shows on the offshore stations.
Caroline hosted 'The Ognib Show' on both North and South ships, the word 'Ognib' being 'Bingo' backwards. It was recorded ashore by comedian Charlie Drake and was an odd conglomeration of comedy, requests and that week's winning numbers. To participate in the game, listeners had to send in a 3/6 postal order.
Back on the Galaxy in 1965, Kenny Everett had produced a commercial for the Cema Radio Bingo Club, a Wednesday evening sponsored programme. For the backing music, he used the dramatic Dam Busters March, as recorded by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force.
(Kenny's promo is posted on The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame)
For some time, a 'Big L Bingo Bonanza' occupied a weekly half-hour slot on Radio London, although eventually, the show was reduced to 15 minutes. Radio London also promoted a 1967 Big L Bingo Bonanza, which was an onshore event held at Ramsgate's Pleasurama. In addition to regular bingo prizes, it offered the added attraction of a chance to win a new car - a Triumph Herald. Hans Knot has identified the backing music to the Chuck Blair promo for it as 'One Mint Julep' by Earl Palmer and King Curtis, from a 1961 album called Drumsville.
L-O, L-O, L-O! We 'ave reason to believe your ears are committing a crime....
Meanwhile, in Victoria, BC, Caroline's Steve Young found this Radio London poster in his memorabilia trunk! (What on earth were 'balloon prizes'? Did the winner get a balloon?) Thanks to both David and Steve for their contributions. The Wimbledon Palais is famous for another event, from before the days of Big L, remembered by Mary for The Bucks County Museum Millennium Exhibition.