ScrapBook Item                            scrapbook index

The Radio Tower Project - Part 1

Issue : 4 Updated : 6th February 2019

Much has been said, a little written and heard, but almost nothing seen

The full and true story of the ill fated Offshore project to launch a Pirate Television Channel and Radio station from the Sunk Head Fort

For the 1st time the full true unabridged story of the ill fated offshore project to launch a Pirate Television Channel and Radio Station from the Sunk Head Fort 9.75 nautical miles (11.21 miles) off the Essex coast

Produced from Transcripts of interviews with the people involved, newspaper cuttings, personal pictures, diary entries, office notes and letters

Pictures are from contact prints, personal pictures, and photographs from the Martin Stevens Collection

Part 1 of 6 : 'From Radio Pamela to Radio Tower'

Bow of the Pamela

George Shorts 18ft motor boat 'Pamela' named after his wife

Reg Torr MD of TD Television in Clacton came up with the idea to use his Service Manager, Electronics Engineer, George Shorts boat, the 18 ft Pamela

George had built and assembled the makeshift gear for a small low power Local Radio Station for North East Essex

East Essex Gazette Newspaper Head

The East Essex Gazette (Friday 14th May 1965)

East Essex Gazette Newspaper Front Page Headline

The East Essex Gazette, Banner Headline (Friday May 14th 1965)

Maurice Tarling & Reg Torr take gear to the Pamela

Maurice Tarling & Reg Torr walking down the hard at Brightlingsea prepare for the 1st broadcast, a Vortexion Amplifier and old fishing rod improvised as a whip Antenna taken down the ramp to the Pamela

Tests were carried out on land around Colchester on Thursday 13th May on 1395 kHz at 250 watts, with a full service promised commencing on 16th May 1965 on or around 234 mww 11.00 - 15.00 on Sundays, with predicted coverage for Clacton, Harwich, Mersea Island and Colchester

East Essex Gazzette Radio Pamela story

East Essex Gazette front page (Friday May 14th 1965)

Maurice Tarling and Ken Harper pictured both worked for Reg Torr at TD Television, Colechester

25th October 1013 - I just received confirmation from one of his daughters that the Ken Harper in the article is indeed our Ken Harper. Thank you so much for sharing the story. It's exciting to see what a relative has accomplished or was involved in. He died in 1975 so I didn't get to know him and his children from his 2nd and 3rd marriages so knew him little. My gran' and Ken were divorced when my mum was young, and his children from his 3rd marriage were quite young when he passed on. Again, thank you for posting the article - Jules Bono

The Pamela would anchor each week 3.5 miles off the Essex coast close to the Gunfleet Lighthouse for each weekends broadcasts

See Fort Fax for the Gunfleet Lighthouse

The station failed to appear on 16th, but an 8 hour transmission on 1343kHz, 223 metres materialised on Wednesday 19th May from Pamela, with a single wire antenna held aloft from the whip by a Helium Balloon

The Pamela is launched Ken Harper & Maurice tarling prepare to go live

Reg Torr launching 'Pamela'

Ken Harper and Maurice Tarling aboard 'Pamela'

A simple day boat with an outboard motor, the tiny 'Pamela' was cramped & hardly ideal as a broadcast platform

Adjusting the power amplifier Ken Harper makes the opening announcement

Vortexion Amplifier & Ferograph Tape Recorder

Ken Harper makes an announcement

No picture exists of the transmitter which we're told was a Polish RCA, it was stated some programmes would be 'live'

What's unclear is how sufficient power was derived to run the pre-recorded tape programmes on the Ferrograph, the Vortexion amplifier, and a transmitter?

Maurice Tarling takes the microphone on deck

Maurice Tarling aboard 'Pamela'

An A/C converter from the outboard motor might have coped, but because of noise 'live links' would have been difficult to impossible

Daily mail 15th May 1965

National News - The Daily Mail (15th May 1965)

Radio Pamela was a great publicity stunt, realising the problems and costs involved in just transmitting once weekly programmes, not wanting to pursue the venture further Reg Torr pulled out

George Short wanted to continue bringing in Local Businessman Eric Sullivan

Eric Sullivan

Eric Sullivan

Having acquired an former Canadian Army Wireless set #52 transmitter that used just one single 813 output valve

The Radio Pamela team then supposedly contacted Reg Calvert who'd declined involvment, by then he was advanced with his own plans for Radio Sutch

Daily Mail 20th May 1965

National News - The Daily Mail (20th May 1965)

Having spoken to Reg, Radio Pamela decided to find a Fort, their 1st thought was to use Knock John at that time unoccupied, but instead chose the closer Roughs Fort

Eric Sullivan, John Waters with one of John's friends made a trip out in a hired boat owned by Skipper Tubby Bennett, but in choppy seas were unable to get aboard

With plans to return a week later word reached Percy Scaddon, Radio Caroline's Shipping Agent, who dispatched a caretaker crew to take over the Fort

Sunk Head from the Girl Betty

Sunk Head from the 'Girl Betty'

That left the Sunk Head, but word from local pilots was that Radio Caroline also held that Fort

Following a severe storm the Radio Caroline custodians were taken off, John Waters made a return trip confirming the Fort was deserted

Hiring Ron Pipe's Burnham-on-Crouch based 'Girl Betty' Sunk Head Tower was boarded and taken over by the would be radio/television team on 13th October 1965

Fort Guards John Boulter and Terry Lambeth both in their mid-20's were already aboard, whilst it was fitted out for broadcasting and work as maintenance men

In a terrible condition, the Fort's legs were flooded below the water line rising and falling on each tide

Sitting low in the deep rough water, tendering particularly in the winter was to prove a hazardous challenge

Arrival at Sunk Head

Arrival at Sunk Head with the solid fixed 9" personnel ladder hooked onto the fort at the South end with 3.7" Gun embellished JOHN

John Waters living in Clacton with wife Julie, worked as a painter and decorator, he had a knowledge of local music and with a friend that lived across the road from Eric Sullivan, made recordings of local bands

Advertising for adventurous staff Eric Sullivan persuaded John Waters join to stay with the Tower project

John Waters

John Waters

John was followed by American Country Music fan and competent DJ Dave Simser, who'd tracked down the operation having seen a Radio Tower news item on television

Later Derek Massen a TV Service Engineer was brought in as Transmitter Engineer, along with Junior Electrician Bill Rollins

Radio Caroline's Norman St John is said to have shown an interest in joining the project but this might be speculation

Graffiti on the fort

South end of Sunk Head looking West, difficult to read graffiti which read HMS SHAKELTON

Well outside the then territorial limit off Walton-on-Naze, Sunk Head was immune to prosecution, but was in deeper water than the other three Naval Forts

In strong currents and years of big seas breaking over the Fort and flooded legs, getting aboard was often difficult and dangerous


Weak test transmission with George Short November 1965

This Radio Tower test transmission was made from the Sunk Head Fort on 1261kHz, 216 Metres Medium Wave during the first week of November 1965

Towerad early compliment slip

The Tower Radio office was initially at Robin Garton's Families Holiday Camp and Studio base in Walton-on-Naze

After some work the Fort was almost habitable, installing primitive broadcast and studio equipment which comprised old Collaro record decks, a home built mixer, and amplifiers

Tower Radio announced with weak tests commencing on the 22nd October 1965 using a Helium filled Barrage Balloon, this broke free never to be seen again, a Kite was tried, but again lost

Inside the fort at deck level Bill Rollins does a test

Left: Inside Sunk Head, the only usable part of the Fort, the main deck with doors to W/C's, wash and bathrooms on left

Commanding officers office, 3 man officers cabin, with galley on right, plan view below

Right: Young Bill Rollins came to Tower with Dave Simser in the background in December 1965, above on a tedious never ending test transmission

The radio signal was just audible ashore, so the task began to build an antenna array on top of the Fort's teak radar house

Testing continued with George Short often behind the microphone, family greetings to his wife Pam and daughters Julie, Linda and Diane

Undaunted Eric Sullivan announced that a television and radio station would open in November with a coverage of around 40 miles inland

The television station would be on air after BBC and ITV closed down for around 3 hours each night covering a 25 mile radius, with an output of old films, cartoons, local news and commercials

Channel 5 was selected even though then reserved for space research

The Venus rolls in the swell

'Venus' tendering rolls in the swell

On the 28th October a distress call was heard, with sea choppy seas the stations own boat was unable to sail, another vessel mistakenly made for Roughs, yet another ship sighted a distress signal hoisted from Sunk Head

The Walton Lifeboat was dispatched to take off George Short suffering prostrate pain as he'd forgotten to take out his medication

Venus alongside

'Venus' begins transfer of supplies: Scaffold poles for the antenna with Chris Gosling, Bill Rollins holding a mug of tea, Dave Simser and John Boulter looking on

The 'Venus' was to be the vessel used to take out a new Oman Generator in the closing chapter of the stations life

Testing continued at just 250 watts on 1350kHz 222 metres, 1341kHz 224 metres,

1293kHz 232 metres, 1258kHz 238 metres, 1280kHz 234 metres & 1265kHz 237 metres

Top of fort antennas

Sunk Head teak radar hose it's with assorted array of antennas

In tandem with work on the Fort, new offices opened in Trinity Street Colchester, as George Short pulled out through illness new backers were sought

Irish Millionaire Steve O'Flaherty was a background investor and Tommy Shields who was to launch Radio Scotland showed interest but never invested

Peter Jeeves came onboard as Co-Director and Dave Simser put his life savings of £2000 into the project

Peter Jeeves

Peter Jeeves Co-Director/MD of Towerad, Peter had previously been in sales and marketing at Conde Nast Publications and Southern Television, he invested £10,000 on the understanding of joint managing directorship

With offices locally at 15 Trinity Street Colchester Peter Jeeves opened desks in Dublin and in London's Mayfair at Park Lane

New Companies were formed and registered in Ireland: Vision Projects, Radio Hayward's Heath and Sullivan Jeeves Holdings

Deck level under fort wing

Aboard Sunk Head under the West wing, clearly showing water pooling in the heavily pitted bitumen covering over steel deck plates

With a planned very local format for the catchment area of East Anglia, Tower promised to be the 1st true local Radio Pirate offering something very different to the mainline Offshore Stations

With a rumored television channel Towers plans were ambitious

Radio Tower shop window sticker

Radio Tower Shop Window Sticker

3.7" gun

The Southern 3.7" Gun one of Sunk Head's two big guns

Sunk Head Fort

Sunk Head Fort

Meanwhile onshore word reached the offices of Tower that any Television Broadcast would be looked on most unfavorably by the British Government

Sunk Head Fort

Sunk Head Fort

The next installment will cover the much hyped Tower Television the saga continues in Radio Tower - Part 2

Web Site Message from: Cally Cass Hi, Please hurry with parts 2, 3 & 4 of the Tower Radio history. It's so very interesting and I am so very impatient! ;-) C. Cass

For the features on the Radio Forts navigate from the ScrapBook Index

See a brief history on all the Thames Estuary Forts navigate from Fort Fax

For a range of documentary CD's, the Sealand VCD, books, and a video on the Navy Forts go to Offshore Shop

[HOME] (c)Bob Le-Roi 2006