Radio Sutch & City - Part 15
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Issue: 2 Updated: 29th September 2017
Along with more material from our comprehensive archive, we share some rare photographs from Jerry Pitcher's personal collection of the very first boarding of Knock John
In the midst of the 1960's Offshore Radio boom, negotiating the sale of use of the Shivering Sand Towers by Radio Caroline South (Project Atlanta) Reg Calvert planned to move Radio City four nautical miles N.E of Shivering Sands to the Knock John Fort
In the summer of 1965 a boarding party was organised by Eric K Martin from the local Office - The Record Centre, 20a Oxford Street, Whitstable and a team of six: Reg Calvert, Paul Elvey, Cliff Cuttelle, Jerry Pitcher, John Wileman & another were dispatched on the Harvester II skippered by Fred Downs to the Knock John Fort
Here's Jerry's story:
"I First met Eric Martin as a customer of the Record Centre and socially in the 'Wall Tavern'. Becoming friends he offered me a small room in the bowels of the shop as an artists studio. The room adjoining this, which was not much greater in size was being used as an electrical repair workshop by Don Witts (1 & 2) or Don de Witt as he fancifully preferred"
2. Jerry Pitcher artist illustrator
Jerry literally found himself in the wrong place at the right time!
Having a small back-door artists studio in the basement of the Record Centre, which Jerry describes as a 'shoe box' in another small room Radio City's first transmitter Engineer Don Witts maintained a workshop
"Don and I became friends spending perhaps a little too much time in 'The Wall'. Eric was approached by Reg Calvert who wanted the Record Centre to become the local office for Radio City, thus it was that Don became the first Radio Engineer"
"Don's workshop was suddenly transformed from Transistor Radios, Televisions, Toasters & Electric Blankets to large valve cabinets that to me were a mystery watching in awe as Don screwdriver in one hand soldering iron in the other with an ever present cigarette in his mouth, would work in a haze of smoke and impressive flashes"
3. Newspaper litho photograph - Download Whitstable Times Article 1966
"Miraculously things were achieved successfully, I say miraculously because Don had an arrangement with Harold Wood at 'The Wall' whereby he would slip into the back door at around 9am for two or three Worthington's, downed sediment and all, a ritual to be repeated at lunch time and in the evening. Alarmingly the alcohol intake had no visible effect on Don capability to achieve amazing results using the most basic of equipment"
"Contracted to the infant 'Tankerton Automatics' Don was contracted to maintain their fruit machines. I remember vividly his first trip back from the Shivering Sand Towers, when all and sundry descended on 'The Wall' for a few jars and more importantly payment in cash. Don flourished a pound note ceremoniously setting it alight to celebrate a return to terra firma, Don never really enjoyed the trips to the Forts"
"Don told me that he used to run the bar at the Duke of Cumberland around 1959, the year before the Olympics. Whitstable hosted the first ever World Sailing Championships with a large contingent from Russia and the Eastern Block, the ever inventive, Don had Whisky on one hand-pump and, believe it or not, hot Coffee on another! Brilliant. Only that man could have thought of that let alone actually make it work"
Jerry's recollections of spending time at the Wall Tavern remind me that this was the venue crews gathered to 'Fortify' themselves before making the arduous trip the Towers
The Wall's landlord was the amiable late Harold Wood, when retired remained active looking after the Masons Lodge Bar, Cromwell Road, Whitstable
Returning to shore we'd usually gather in 'Tom's Cabin' at the back of The Guinea 31 Island Wall, Whitstable. Landlord then was Lou Jaffa often at the 'Old Joanna' in the front bar & his wife Flo' who ran the pub until it closed after Lou passed had away - Ed
4. First view of Knock John
"Duly arranged our first trip out to the Knock John took place on a relatively calm day. As if the impact of standing on a small boat between the massive legs of the Naval Fort wasn't enough, we'd to contemplate how and who was going to be first to board this imposing structure"
5. Daunting prospect
6. The Fort hadn't been occupied since 1958
"The seabed all around the Towers is littered with debris and rusty iron protruding dangerously from the water that had mostly fallen from the partly collapsed Dolphin. The personnel access ladder on the Southern leg had been eaten away by time and tide, so someone had to get their timing right before leaping from the 'Harvester' to its remains with a rope attached to a rope ladder"
"Paul Elvey drew the short straw see Essex 2 double 2 With a strong swell running his jump had to timed to perfection when the 'Harvester' rose to the highest position"
7. Paul Elvey with Sylvia at breakfast at a restaurant near their home in Spain & my brother-in-law Martin (November 2012)
See the Paul Elvey Pages
8. Northern leg from top of Southern leg ladder
9. Jerry Pitcher looks down at the tender
"The rope ladder secured the rest of us made the leap of faith across the void. Not being a swimmer when my turn came I clung onto the ladder, still attached to the 'Harvester' as the swell rose and fell, dangling mid-air, sometimes the 'Harvester' was away from the leg, at others perilously close. With a combination of fear, sheer panic and questionable sanity. Perhaps my timing was useless, but I jumped! Drenched I inched my way the legs to the top of the 4000 ton monster, how I ever made it up that ladder I'll never know. All in all being a sea pirate was not the most sensible decision of my life!"
10. Cliff comes aboard
11. Reg Calvert, Jerry Pitcher, Cliff Cuttelle & a gentleman introduced by Reg as a representative of the PLA (Port of London Authority)
12. Jerry with John Wileman
"Reg said John was a member of the Fortunes & stage manager for Little Eva"
Reg formed groups from individuals at his Clifton House, Rock School, many appearing in line-ups of any number of groups. The Fortunes had formed in Birmingham as the Cliftones playing instrumentals, their early history is a little misty so it's possible John might have been involved with the group in the early days - Ed
13. Roger Scarrat, Roy Young with Glenn Dale behind the lawnmower in 1962
14. Pathe News filming at Clifton House in 1962
N.B #13 background in deck chairs left to right Reg & Dorothy then unknown with an unknown three piece group in practice/rehearsal/audition
05/01/14 John Wileman came from the Birmingham area. He played guitar with Danny Storm & the Strollers, he lived at Clifton Hall. He might have played with the Fortunes at the start. He actaully married Jill, who was my father's secretary & became his right hand man & would have been with him the night he died had he not been away. He & Jill left for South Africa shortly after dad's death and are still there. He was a keen photographer and I beleiev that's his current work - Candy Calvert
Once aboard with essentials transferred, Reg, Paul and the other fellow returned to Whitstable leaving a caretaker crew of two Cliff Cuttelle & Jerry Pitcher onboard with some redundant Radio City equipment
15. Cliff delegated cook cleans a saucepan on deck
"One of my abiding memories of Knock John Fort, is when after everyone else had sailed away Cliff & I decided to explore the somewhat 'spooky' Fort. Torches in hand we gradually made our way down almost vertical ladders, past the generators, men's accommodation, store rooms and magazines until we reached the very bottom. This area was inside the pontoon that had floated the Fort out to position. Once flooded the Tower grounded & once established pumped dry"
16. Jerry poses on Knock John
"What we found was quite shocking, the floor was deep with the carcasses of dead birds that had landed to rest having spent days on the wing. Most likely they'd made their way to the bottom through the lift shaft. Exhausted they'd become disorientated and unable to escape. Interestingly there were a number of Budgies & Canaries amongst them"
17. Cliff tries to make contact with shore
There were a couple of link options under the call sign 'Pigeon-Blackbird': Tony Pine had a very well hidden rig in 'Pines General Stores' in Island Wall, the transceiver was in the chimney & the aerial cemented into the chimney breast. The GPO raided the premises but weren't able to discover the equipment!
The second option was normally for Eric to cruise Marine Parade in his Jaguar & make contact from Tankerton Slopes with a hand held. In practice the Engineers normally Tony and Ian, put out chatty messages out on the main frequency at midnight when Radio City had ceased daily programmes
18. Jerry has a bad hair day on deck