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Radio Essex on 2 double 2

Reel One

Issue: 7 Updated : 14th February 2017

This two part feature begins with historic pictures of the first boarding of Knock John by Radio City personnel in the summer of 1965

Knock John Fort South West

1. Knock John 1965

The Knock John Fort some 8.75 nautical miles from the nearest Essex coastline (Foulness Island)

Knock John Fort South West

2. View between the West & East legs showing part of the Dolphin & ladder remains

The first trip out was organised by Eric K Martin Station Manager & owner of the Record Centre, 20a Oxford Street, Whitstable the Radio City South Thames Office

Knock John Fort leg & Paul Elvey North West

3. Viewed looking East Paul Elvey makes the first climb of the West leg ladder

Note: Chris Stewart of Radio Essex was to make the last, scramble up in heavy seas before the line 'made-off' to the Tender tore the ladder away

Knock John Fort South West

4. Underside of platforms South Wing

Radar Top House

5. John Wileman on the Top-House Observation & Radar/Aerial mounting

The Observation room gave a 360 degree view & was made of solid teak

Paul Elvey on 3.7 Gun

6. Paul Elvey & John Wileman on board with the landing party at the breach of one of the 3.7" guns

Radar Top House

7. John Wileman on the Observation & Radar Top-House

A substantial wooden structure the crew of Radio Essex were to demolish this under Roy's instruction & an engineer in the belief that it would improve the signal

It made a spectacular splash as it hit the sea but made no discernable difference to the quality of their signal

Reg Calvert, Jerry & Cliff Coutell

8. Reg Calvert talks to Jerry Pitcher, and Cliff Coutelle with someone introduced as being from the PLA (Port of London Authority) about his plans for Radio City from Knock John

Cliff & Jerry stayed for two weeks cleaning up the Fort & proclaiming ownership by painting a big sign on the side of one of the guns

Merger talks between Caroline South had begun in September 1965 a joint sales house opened & Caroline provided News recorded 'off-air' & a number shows

Caroline South (Project Atlanta) were in fanatical difficulty, audiences were disappearing & advertisers with them to Radio London, so they wanted to use the less expensive Shivering Sands Fort instead of the Mi-Amigo

Around this time Reg Calvert was publicising Radio City West & a T/V channel from the mouth of the Bristol Channel onboard a 400-ton Schooner, a rumour based on proposals to move the Mi-Amigo to the West Country

By December 1965 Project Atlanta folded & the Mi-Amigo was bought by Planet Productions (Radio Caroline)

Then by May 1966 Reg Calvert had completed negotiations with Radio London for plans to jointly launch a 'sweet music' station UKGM (United Kingdom Good Music) from Shivering Sands

But following a damning report by a delegation from Radio London who'd visit the Fort in June 1966, a row developed over a transmitter provided by Caroline South (Project Atlanta) & subsequently the Forts were raided by Project Atlanta, Philip Birch MD wanted to distance Big L from Radio City so the deal faltered

Then the fateful events of the 21st June unfolded resulting in Reg Calvert's death

Radio City was never cash rich, he did though plan to start another station on Knock John once he's made some money from the sale of Shivering Sands

The Sun 12th October 1965

9. The Sun 12th October 1965

By November 1965 Roy Bates had 'amicable' control of the Knock John Fort for his Radio Essex

Radio Essex Logo

10. Radio Essex logo used on QSL Card

At first Roy wanted to have scripted 1 hour shows to underline the local station he envisaged

DJ's would read extracts from local newspapers, periodicals & old publications, but keeping the station on-air, programmes going, personal hygiene, meals & sleep it proved an impossible undertaking with a crew of three

Kestrel approaches Knock John

11. Radio Essex tender the Kestrel approaches the Fort from the West (February 1966)

At the instance of Dick Palmer using the famous 'diplomatic bag' to communicate his thoughts & finding Vince Allen in the studio slumped over the mixer fast asleep, the idea was abandoned in favour of 3-4 hour strip shows

Hastily Dick came up with a rota of named shows which remained through the BBMS phase as listed below

Knock John from North West

12. Knock John later in 1966 from the North West

Notice that the teak radar & its top house had by then been removed

'This is the Voice of Essex Radio Essex on 2 double 2'

Was to become a familiar call sign from Radio Essex on Knock John Fort some 18 miles from their base in Southend

Bent Scaffold Poles & Broken Dolphin

13. The bent scaffold pole the Radio Essex antenna mast

Tender off Dolphin

14. Tender approaches the Dolphin

Note the dilapidated & partially collapsed dolphin, & the scored leg this is where a steel hawser had rubbed away over the years

Tender off Dolphin

15. In readiness to off load supplies & crew

Knock John Dolphin from Fort Deck

16. The dolphin viewed from the Fort deck (February 1966)

Amongst the first to join Radio Essex were Mark Wesley aka Mark West & Dick (Richard) Palmer

Dick had sent a demo to Radio City & been refused. He'd taught girlfriend Sue Baker to drive, she in turn was desperate to become a journalist & did so after an article she'd written on Dick was published. Sue went on to work on Top Gear & also the Telegraph

Getting out to the Knock John Dick managed to get two of the old wartime Gardner LW Generators running. Son of a 1930's Ships Chief Engineer & eldest at 22 his reward was to be made Fort Captain

Asked to instill some sort discipline in the 17 year old crew, he encouraged them to be clean & tidy, eat at the right time & go to bed at a sensible hour - right!

Mark West in Studio

17. Mark West behind the Reslo RBt ribbon microphone


Audio Break

Mark West gets things moving on Essex Goes Pop

The Radio Essex Reslo Microphone was mounted horizontally then fed into a pre-amplifier therefore never worked as it should

You'd often hear an open mic' as the old lorry headlight dip switch on the floor was depressed & stuck

This switch was notoriously unreliable so went into the depths of 'Neptune's Cabin'

Ray Fairbrass at a Reslo RBT Mic'

18. Ray Fairbrass of the 60's beat groups the 'Satan's' & 'Ways & Means'

Designed as a singers microphone the Reslo RBT extensively used by many groups of the period, the RBT shown above vertically to work properly

Ray incidentally recorded some Radio City jingles

Collapsed Dophin

19. The Dolphin

Despite partial collapse the WWII Dolphin was used to climb part way up the South end of the Fort

Equipment, stores & personnel were then manually hauled up with the rope dangling from the top deck

In rougher weather the lower noose was also deployed

Dick had often frequented London's Flamingo Club later base for the Radio City Club. Inspired by the music he'd heard, mostly brought in by American servicemen he started the Essex Beat Club, exposing the likes of Muddy Waters, John Lee-Hooker & early R&B classics for the first time on radio in Europe

For Radio Essex pictures from Guy Hamilton's photo album see The Pirate Hall of Fame

Knock John below Dolphin

20. The view from the Tender up the East leg

Breaking through & enlarging the window in the second generator room at deck level 1 (A) just above the collapsed Dolphin gave easy access to the Fort, this was later sealed up to prevent unauthorised visitors

Roger Scott on air

21. The original Roger Scott

Behind Roger Scott (Greg Bance) note the Vortexion open reel tape machine & the message 'speak slowly' for the benefit of Mark West!

The studio output is through a home made passive 4 channel mixer section & monitored on the 50 Watt Vortexion Amplifier, this model was available in both 25 & 50 watt & used for PA (public address) purposes

In the corner is an old surplus V/U (volume meter) with the limit marked in red

Radio Essex Programme Schedule

22. Radio Essex Programme Schedule

Fog Horn

23. The Fog Horn beneath the East end of the Fort

Even though with a small team the early 1-2 hour Radio Essex high variety programmes proved to be impossible to maintain, Radio Essex broke all conventional format rules by continuing to present the widest possible variety of music programmes

In a typical day you'd hear Pop, (MoR) Easy Listening, Big Bands, R&B & even Jazz

Advertisements were tagged with the line 'That's in Essex of course'

Under South Wing

24. Looking up to the underside of the North Wing

Under South Wing

25. Close up to underside of North Wing that in commission held one of the Fort two lifeboats

Chris Stewart on air

26. John Hatt then Chris "Tea Set" Stewart * behind the 222 Mic' spinning promo & demo singles

Later another microphone was hung from the ceiling behind the on air DJ for reader of the bi-hourly Radio Essex News

* Chris suffered at the hands of Fort Captain Dick Palmer who discovered he was terribly ticklish would subject him to merciless tickling

On another occasion Chris had made his way onto the Dolphin in advance of the Tender pulling alongside, when all hell broke loose as he was pelted with milk bottles from above, Roy burst out laughing

Looking East along Deck

27. Looking East along Bridge-Deck

The Guardian 29th September 1966

28. The Guardian 29th September 1966

Radio Essex was the second Fort station issued a summons, Radio 390 had been fined a week previously for broadcasting within the Territorial Waters limit

Roger Scott

29. Roger Scott

In December 1966 former Radio Essex Engineer Keith Robinson encouraged Guy Hamilton, Roger Scott, David Sinclair & Mark West to join him on the Yorkshire Station Radio 270

Daily Telegraph 1st December 1966

30. Daily Telegraph 1st December 1966

Knock John in Blue

31. A blue rinse for Knock John (poor ol' girl)

Roy Bates decided to continue broadcasting changing his stations name from Radio Essex to Britain's Better Music Station (BBMS)

Daily Express 1st December 1966
32. Daily Express 1st December 1966

Despite being a ruin Roy Bates said he was considering Tongue Sands for a Radio Kent

See Tongue Sands

Daily Telegraph 18th January 1967

33. Daily Telegraph 18th January 1967

Never cash rich Radio Essex was able to fight the authorities, finally closing down on Christmas Day 1966

The small crew moved everything over to the Roughs Tower off Harwich. It's not known if Roy ever considered broadcasting from the new location the Sealand Saga taking priority

Tony Mandell

34. Tony Mandell

Tony Mandell was famous for his Nylon shorts, he had no shame exposing his dirty legs on the fan boats went out to the Fort

BBMS Schedule BBMS Schedule

35 & 36. BBMS Programme Schedule

Above from the London Weekly Advertiser Supplement Radio News dated 14th February 1967, even though the station had closed down & the Fort left two months earlier!

Just found your pictures of the Radio City Crew when we boarded Knock John for the first time organised through Eric Martin in Whitstable at the Record Centre. You have a picture of me there, I was on board for the first 2 weeks getting the place cleaned up. We made a big sign on the side of the gun, Powerful Advertising. As for me I'm in picture no 8, 3rd in from the left, the guy to my left, in the black jacket was Jerry also out for the 2 weeks. All the best - Cliff Cuttelle

Part 2 of this feature continues in Britain's Better Music Station

There's also more on Radio Essex in Essex 2002 : Knockings : Thames Air & after the move to Roughs Fort navigate from Sealand One

See our tribute to Tony Mandell

For details on all the Thames Estuary Forts see Fort Fax

For our book on Radio Essex 'Making Waves' & the documentary CD's 'The Radio Essex Story' visit the Offshore Shop

With grateful thanks to Francois Lhote for his help producing this feature


[HOME] (c)Bob Le-Roi 2003