Easter 2009: A visit to Harwich to experience Pirate BBC Essex (PBBCE)

Steve Szmidt reporting

I picked up Barry Crompton from the Strobe Park, nursing home, Herne at around 09.15 on Saturday (11th) morning and drove us to Harwich. This was Barry’s first radio event since he had his accident returning from the Ross Revenge a couple of years ago, so I knew this was going to be special for him and the people who have not been able to see him for such a long time. During our journey we listened to PBBCE on AM, 1530 to start with, because despite its lower output it was the clearest signal in Kent. Later we moved to 765 and finally when in Harwich 729 was the best frequency. We heard Mike Ahern and the first half of Dave Cash’s show.

LV18 moored to the Ha’Penny Pier Harwich

When we arrived shortly after midday we went straight to the pier, because I had arranged for Barry to meet Dave Cash after his programme ended at 13.00 hours, and I knew that he would be in a hurry to get back to Kent for his evening programme. Dave mentioned that tonight it would be a battle between Radio Caroline and Radio London, because Johnnie Walker was on PBBCE/Radio 2 at the same time as hw would be on BBC Local Radio in the South! I wonder who won the ratings war in the end.

The LV18 looked splendid moored alongside the

Ha’Penny Pier, even more so because the sun was shining and it did so for most of the weekend, contrary to the weather forecast. It did rain a bit tonight which must have been Rosko’s fault, as he was on air at the time and it did so again during his Sunday evening show!

Whilst we were waiting for Dave Cash, Barry and I had a picnic lunch on the pier. I spotted Norman Saint John on the deck of the LV18 and it wasn’t long before joker Tony Blackburn arrived with his long lost friend Arnold the dog, who caused a bit of a stir with the real dogs on the pier. Tony stopped to have a chat with Barry, before he signed photos for waiting fans.

Attentive fans listen to Keith Skues

We also saw Keith Skues for the first of many times over the weekend. If there was a prize for the DJ who spent the most time talking to pirate radio fans and his or her listeners it would have been awarded to Cardboard Shoes. What a great and genuine guy. Dave Cash came off the LV18 at around 13.15 and as promised had a brief chat with Barry.

For the first of many times I took Barry across the road to the Pier Hotel, so that he could use their disabled toilet. Unfortunately there was a car preventing wheel chair access to the ramp at the rear of the hotel, so I had to ask the receptionist if she could find out whom the owner was and ask him/her to move it over slightly. And guess who came out to do so? It was none other than Johnnie Walker, who was having his lunch in the hotel. He has a nice Lexus, which I know were once claimed to be as good as a Rolls Royce, but when he started up the engine and moved backwards and forwards it was silent. Wow what a great piece of Japanese engineering! I told Johnnie that if he had come on his bike (Harley Davidson) then we wouldn’t have had a problem with him blocking the access!

We went back to my car and what a small world it is, because parked next to me was a guy who said he was in charge of the docks at Tilbury. He spoke to me after noticing my Radio Caroline T-shirt and he told me how progress was being made to make the Ross Revenge accessible to the general public, so hopefully this will be possible for one of the forthcoming UK Bank Holidays.

Next Barry and I went to find the Tower Hotel, which should have been about ten minutes drive from the pier. Unfortunately my Satellite Navigation didn’t quite work using the post code, but the first people we asked soon put us right and we were only a few hundred metres from our destination. When I was booking in at the reception I had a slightly tricky situation to deal with, but luckily there was a paramedic in the area and not long afterwards Barry’s brother Andy arrived as pre arranged, and he was able to give further support. The incidence was probably caused by the Barry’s excitement over the preceding hours. Fortunately, everything was back to normal quicker than when these rare situations have occurred in the past, so Barry, Andy and I were able to go back down to the pier to see Tony Blackburn’s in action for his last hour and 30 minutes.

Johnnie Walker and Tony Blackburn

During this time Tony interviewed live on air Kimberly Peters who is doing a University Thesis on Radio Caroline, Albert Hood, from the Radio Caroline Society Sales (more about him later) and Johnnie Walker, who arrived with his wife Tiggy to do a joint Radio 2/PBBCE Pirate Johnnie Walker show from 18.00 to 20.00 hours.

After being interviewed by Tony Blackburn, Albert Hood had a chat with us and told us that he and his wife Georgina were running a Radio Caroline merchandise stall in the Alma Inn located in a road opposite the entrance to the pier. They had wanted to have one on the pier, but Tony O’Neil (LV18 Trust) would not allow this, because he did not want any competition for his LV18 exhibition, which was also selling merchandise. The pub let Radio Caroline use their front room for a donation to the RNLI, so well done and thanks to them. Barry, Andy and I later paid them a visit and Georgina was so pleased to see Barry. It was really great that despite having lost some of his memory after his accident, Barry remembered both Albert and Georgina. I purchased the new 45th Anniversary T-Shirt and Steve Conway’s “Shiprocked” book, so I got these items early and saved myself the postal charges.

We had some great Fish and Chips for our tea and ate them in a park looking out to the mouth of the harbour. After this we went back to the pier to see Rosko arrive to do his show at 20.00 hours, but first he was interviewed on air by Johnnie Walker.

When Johnnie and Tiggy were leaving the pier they took the opportunity to sell copies of the formers great autobiography, which he signed by request. Johnnie also stopped to say hello to Barry. I had sent in a request for tonight’s programme over a week ago, because normally these are only accepted by post, but it seems that the ones he did this evening were all via the PBBCE text message and email services. At this point Andy left us to go back home.

Barry and I went for a drink in the New Bell Inn. Well I say in, but we couldn’t actually go into the pub because the door was too narrow for Barry’s wheel chair, so we had to drink in the rear garden and whilst doing so it started to rain slightly! When getting our drinks I saw Roger Day was sat at the bar. We had a brief chat about pubs and beer and before I went back to Barry I bought him an Oscar Wilde, a superb Essex dark mild that I was also drinking. I had sent Roger an email recommending this pub the last time he was on PBBCE in 2007 and he had remembered it, plus it is the only pub in Harwich that is in the Campaign for Real Ale Beer Guide.

The Emperor Rosko

Before going back to the hotel Barry and I went over to the pier to hear the last 30 minutes or so of Rosko’s show which ended at 22.00 hours. I sent him a request by text and he read it out, so that was a good end to an almost perfect day. Barry had a couple of cigarettes in the beautiful gardens of the Tower Hotel, and then we retired for the evening. I didn’t have very good nights sleep, for various reasons, which I won’t go into here and I don’t think Barry did either as he found his mattress too hard and lumpy!

Sunday started well with a good full English breakfast in the hotel. Barry said it was much better than what he gets in Strobe Park, because they don’t have sausages with theirs! We checked out of the hotel by around 10.30 and thanked the staff for being so good.

It was then down to the pier for another really hot sunny day. This morning Johnnie and Tiggy went on board the LV18 and were both dressed more casually than yesterday evening. We heard Mike Ahern doing his show from 11.00 to 13.00 hours and Barry met him when he came off the ship. Tom Edwards followed Mike, so we got to meet him also. In fact we saw Tom sat outside the Pier Hotel and later arriving on the pier, and on both occasions he demonstrated what a friendly guy he is. Other DJ’s that were around again were Roger “Twiggy” Day, who did the early breakfast show and Keith Skues, who was probably up all night talking to Pirate Radio fans! We saw a Paul Freeman, but both Barry and I could not recall him and I had a brief chat with Tony O’Neil, the head of the LV Trust, who I remembered from PBBCE in 2007. Someone else who we bumped into a few times during the weekend was Mary Payne, who was lucky enough to get a pass to go onto the LV18 today, so we should see some photos on her and Chris’s www.radiolondon.co.uk website soon. Mary knew Barry, but he did not seem to remember her.

Norman St John and Ray Clark on deck

Before we left to get some lunch and set off home we were lucky to see Albert and Georgina Hood again. They told us that yesterday had been their best ever day in Harwich when they took around £725!

We left the pier at around 14.00 hours and had a traditional Sunday lunch in the Mayflower, a short distance from the town. After this I drove us back to Kent, listening to PBBCE all of the way. The highlight was hearing the Radio Atlantis one hour special presented by Steve England and Dave Owen (I used to love listening to the station in the mid 1970’s), but I was surprised that they got away with playing Judge Dread’s Big 6 or was it 7? As suggested afterwards, this was probably the first time the record had been played on the BBC. I wonder if any complaints have been received and if so this may have been the last time!

In summary, it can be hard work caring for someone who is disabled, but it is also very rewarding. Barry and I enjoyed the weekend. One of the highlights was meeting Georgina and Albert, because they are such lovely people, who still do a lot of hard work behind the scenes for Radio Caroline and the Ross Revenge and they were genuinely pleased to see Barry. It was also fantastic that he remembered them. We really enjoyed the two days of fabulous broadcasting by BBC Essex. Once again they did a great job of recreating the spirit and sound of the 60’s pirates, so well done to the organisers and all the DJ’s. I personally missed the pirates from that era (I became interested in the 70’s), although my Mum used to listen to Caroline then, probably the North ship as we were living in Blackburn, Lancashire at the time, but Barry was there from the start. Seeing and hearing his old heroes and listening to music that is rarely heard on radio today was not only great fun, but a good therapy for Barry. So would I do it again? Yes if the BBC let PBBCE broadcast again one Easter or around August the 14th we will be there. I now look forward to getting a MP3 recording of all four days for both of us, so that we can listen and enjoy the whole thing.

Steve Szmidt, Folkestone, Kent.

Click here for my detailed photo report with 82 pictures.