Big L '97 – The Walton Time-warp

A knee-jerking account by Mary Payne

Part 6 – It's August 14th - Lil's final day aboard the Yeoman Rose. VIP guests arrive from Texas, tears are shed at 3.00pm
and a DJ Lap of Honour prompts cheers on the pier

Thursday, August 14th

Shortly after midnight, I descended the vertical ladder to the ship's hold, convinced that it was growing longer every time I used it. Bidding Mark and Chris B goodnight, I retired to my Guest Suite in the caravan. I lay down on my bunk bed and shut my eyes for the remaining hours of darkness, but I couldn't really say I slept. I was up again at one of those hours in the morning that are rumoured to exist, but are never as much as glimpsed in ordinary life.

Already in the galley was Allan, attempting to cook breakfast whilst compiling a news bulletin from the TV at the same time. He decided to hand the news job over to me. The object of the exercise was to select several of the most important stories currently displayed on Teletext and rewrite them. The following is Mary's recipe for a pretty naff bulletin.

1. Take one woman who has some broadcasting experience, but has never produced news bulletins.

2. Choose an ungodly hour in the morning.

3. Ensure the woman hasn't really slept all night, or much at all lately for that matter.

4. Provide her with a TV set that has very slow Teletext response, accessed by a remote control device with an operation system totally unfamiliar to her .

5. Give her a naff portable manual typewriter.

6. Make sure the woman selected for the task has poor eyesight and isn't a typist. She will then find she can't read the Teletext at the same time as the words she's attempting to type without having to swap between two pairs of specs, as the TV screen is too far away.

7. Give her a minimum amount of time in which to produce the finished product.

If all this resulted in the world's worst-ever news bulletin, all I can say is, "I did my best."

In fact, my typing was so appalling that John was hastily rewriting the stories in capital letters on scrappy bits of paper, just so that there might be a slim chance of their being legible. And was it my fault that somebody in the news had a Greek surname? Poor Chris had to struggle to read all this.

After this fiasco, Mark came in to take over and ensure that the next edition of the news would be a great improvement. He dictated the stories and I typed them. Even so, the typewriter ribbon was so worn that the finished stories were still not really sufficiently legible for on-air reading. It was at this stage that I think Mark came to realise exactly what John and I had been up against.

A little later, Chris played Knees from the Anorax Trax CD, so I decided this had to be the most appropriate moment to present him with his Knees Club card. I must confess I bent the club rules here, as I had not yet inspected Mr. Elliot's patellas. He had assured me he had nothing to hide, but I sensed he was using delaying tactics. Was he afflicted with something worse than cardboard knees syndrome? I was becoming a little suspicious of our new member 378...

One of Chris's final Bulova time-checks was something of a departure from the norm. It went: "B-U-L-O-V-A. When you know what makes a watch tick you'll buy - a TIMEX!" Our Programme Director felt somewhat piqued that the Bulova Watch company had declined Ray's terrific offer of paying 1967 prices to sponsor the Big L '97 time-checks. The firm had still benefited from 28 days' worth of free commercials, because the Bulova name remained inextricably linked to the original Radio London sound. Due to the Big L '97 quest for authenticity in recreating the old station output, time-checks were performed in the same format as thirty years ago. Hopefully, Bulova company officials would now feel they had received just compensation in the form of this unexpected additional advertising. After all, in 1966 Bulova had contracted five years worth of sponsored time-checks, so the Government actions at the time which caused Radio London's subsequent closure, must have left the clock and watch firm feeling considerably short-changed by the deal.

From then onwards on that Anniversary Day, the events that occurred are a little blurred in my memory. In 1967 Hippietalk it was 'all happenin', man,' or to translate into Kenny Everett speak, there was 'much more stuff going on'. If I have placed any of the occurrences slightly out of sequence, perhaps it doesn't matter overmuch.

We were all delighted when it was announced that the Lady Gwen had pulled alongside, bearing Ray and our first Texan guest, Tom Danaher.

Right: Roman on the Yeoman, meeting Tom Danaher

Left: Ben Toney stands tall in the galley

A TV crew from CNN was also expected at any time and the head count problem was clearly going to cause more headaches, but first priority was to welcome our guest.

After I had met the truly endearing Tom, and taken some photos of him, including shots where he is holding the original jingle cartridge containing the London Song,I went back with the tender to the pier to collect Ben Toney and his daughter Raquel.

Left: It really IS The London Song

Ben proved to be the original long, tall Texan, complete with Lone Star drawl and boot-lace tie. I can safely say that Ben and Tom were as thrilled to be on the ship as we were to see them.

Right - Knees to see you, to see you, knees! Reunited: Ben Toney and Chris Elliot

Raquel had, of course, heard all about her father's involvement with Radio London, but had never expected to be able to see and hear a facsimile of the station for herself.

I made drinks for the guests, took photos, made more drinks, took more photos. Alas, some journalists had now arrived and if they came aboard, they would cause the head-count to reach critical.

Chris Baird, Allan and myself went to stand down in the tender. It was a scorching day, with the now perfectly placid sea shimmering like quicksilver in the Walton heatwave. From the Lady Gwen's radio we could hear Ben and Tom on Ray's programme, talking about how they had created Big Lil back in the 'Sixties.


Chris concluded then, that this would be a perfect moment to stop the world. We would be happy to remain in that permanently sunny 1967 time capsule with Big L broadcasting eternally.


Left: Chris Baird says, "Stop the World! I want to sunbathe!"

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