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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

Knock John

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

Knock John Fort South West

View between the legs showing part of the Dolphin and 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

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

Underside of platforms South Wing

Radar Top House

John Wileman on the Observation and Predictive Radar Top-House

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

Paul Elvey on 3.7 Gun

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

Radar Top House

John Wileman again on the Observation Radar Top-House

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

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

Reg Calvert, Jerry & Cliff Coutell

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 and Jerry stayed for two weeks cleaning up the Fort, proclaiming Radio City's 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 with Caroline News recorded 'off-air' along with a number shows

Caroline South (Project Atlanta) were in fanatical difficulty, audiences were disappearing and 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 and 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

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

Fight for Fort

Fort Fight

News of the World (October 1965)

Fort Battle Pirates Ahoy Cutting

The People (10th October 1965)

Download large image


The Sun 12th October 1965

The Sun (12th October 1965)

View/Download Part 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 of above

Fort Truce

Uncredited (Undated)

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

Radio Essex Logo

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 and 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

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

At the insistance 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

Knock John from the North West (1966)

Notice that the teak radar 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

The bent scaffold pole the Radio Essex antenna mast

Tender off Dolphin

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 LO119

Lowestoft Tender Fishing Boat LO 119

Tender off Dolphin

In readiness to change crew and off load supplies

By December 1965 Project Atlanta folded and 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

Knock John Dolphin from Fort Deck

The dolphin viewed from the Fort deck (February 1966)

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

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

Michael Bates

Michael Bates aged 14 on a Tug at Knock John

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 and 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 and tidy, eat at the right time and go to bed at a sensible hour - right!

Mark West in Studio

Mark West behind the Reslo RBT ribbon microphone


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 as designed to operate vertically

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

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

Ray Fairbrass at a Reslo RBT Mic'

Ray Fairbrass of the 60's beat groups the 'Satans' and 'Ways & Means'

Designed as a singers microphone the Reslo RBT extensively used by many groups of the period

Ray incidentally recorded some Radio City jingles

Collapsed Dophin

The Dolphin

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

Equipment, stores and 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 and 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

The view from the Tender up the East leg

Breaking through and 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

The original Roger Scott

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

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

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

Radio Essex Programme Schedule

Radio Essex Programme Schedule

Fog Horn

The Fog Horn beneath the North 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'

Harry Putnam

Harry Putnam aka Johnny Dark on Britain Radi0 (1966)

Harry a high powered American radio salesman signed up deals for Radio Essex, voiced some commercials and presented the occasional programme. He went on to join Britain Radio in the same capacity before returning home. Harry died in January 2019 aged 82

Under South Wing

Looking up to the underside of the North West Wing

Under South Wing

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

Chris Stewart on air

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

Looking East along Bridge-Deck

The Guardian 29th September 1966

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

Roger Scott

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

Summons Report December 1966

Daily Mail (1st December 1966)

Downlaod large image

Essex Summons 1 Daily Telegraph 1st December 1966

Uncredited (Undated) and Daily Telegraph (1st December 1966)

Knock John in Blue

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

Daily Express (1st December 1966)

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

See Tongue Sands

Daily Telegraph 18th January 1967

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

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 with Jerry Pitcher 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 Pitcher. All the best - Cliff Cuttelle

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

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

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

For details on all the Thames Estuary Forts see Fort Fax

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