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The Radio Tower Project - Part 4

Issue : 9 Updated : 26th May 2017

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

Part 4 of our 5 part feature on Radio Tower TV : The End, not quite

Evening News report 29th November 1965

Evening News - 29th November 1965

Tower crew looking up landing ladder

Visitors disembark the dreadful personnel ladder as Tower Team bid them goodbye unaware that the end of their radio exploits are close

Pictured Chris Gossling, Dave Simser, Bill Rollins & John Boulter

Customs refusing to allow Radio Tower to use Burnham-on-Crouch, tendering by tug was transferred to Harwich

Tower reception report

Considering the very low power reception reports were received from far & wide, this one dated 19th April 1966, better late than never

Tug Agama deck below Sunk Head Fort

Below the Tug Agama prepares to leave the Sunk Head Fort with local Press aboard

The Motor tug Agama was built in 1937 for Gaslee & Sons, registered in London Gaslee & Sons amalgamated & became Gaslee & Knight hence the link with JP Knight, she was then sold to Alexander Towing of Felixstowe,

The Agama was used to tow Radio Caroline's, by then redundant temporary radio ship the Cheeta II owned by Britt Wadner of Radio Syd to anchor mid river between Shotley & Parkstone Quay, Harwich

She'd broken her anchor in storm force winds mid July 1966 you can see the Agama alongside the Radio London ship the Galaxy

It's thought the 1st Agama was scrapped & broken in the mid-1970's as she'd become uneconomical to continue operating

Bennett's who named all their fleet after Gaslee Tugs & had an Agama which had been Crescent shipping's Lugette

There's also a later vessel the tug Agama built in 1969

Big T crew wave goodbye to tender

The last view of the Big T

Supplying the fort particularly during the winter months was an endurance, there are many stories of near misses & drama's during supply runs

Agama leaves Sunk Head Fort

Tug Agama leaves Sunk Head Fort

During the mid 1950's there are stories that Sunk Head had been hit by a ship & as a result was unsafe

Sunsets behind Sunk Head Fort

With the sun sets behind the Sunk Head Fort

With a pending act to outlaw the Offshore Pirates & with Radio Towers finances exhausted, & with no sign of future investment the station was in dire straights

Tug Kent on the River Medway in July 2006

Also a supply tender to Tower on Sunk Head the Tug TD Kent pictured on the River Medway outside #1 basin of the Chatham Historic Dockyard, now Chatham Marina - Medway Maritime on 5th July 2006

For more pictures of the Kent navigate from Whitstable Harbour Dayz

Bill Rollins Diary Page 1

Diary notes by Bill Rollins made whilst on Sunk Head Monday 14 - Wednesday 16 March 1966

Bill Rollins Diary Page 2

Diary Pages Sunday 20 - Saturday 26 March 1966

The situation had become critical, in a few days the last of the water & essential food supplies were all but depleted


Audio Break

Radio Tower S.O.S calls from Sunk Head Fort on 236 mmw from John Waters in the closing days of the station March 1966

Bill Rollins Diary Page 3

Sunday 27 - Saturday 2 April 1966

After weeks without a tender, all that remained on the Fort was a supply of beer, spirits, cigarettes & a catering tin of coffee

Bill Rollins Diary Page 4

Sunday March 3 - Saturday 9 April 1966

Bill Rollins Diary Page 5

Sunday 10 - Saturday 16 April 1966

With water down to the last couple of gallons, it was with regret that yet again SOS messages were relayed from Sunk Head Fort

Bill Rollins Diary Page 6

Sunday 17- Saturday 23 April 1966

On Thursday 28th April 1966 Billy Bennett was summoned to rescue those on the Fort, he obliged on the promise of payment in kind, & so gained the Outside Broadcast Van

Bill Rollins Diary Page 7

Sunday 24 - Saturday 30 April 1966 reveals the sorry state of affairs

Arriving at the Fort the crew aboard were told to come off leaving everything behind, they hurriedly packed their belongings, & grabbed a few remaining bottles of spirits & duty free cigarettes, which had come from Holland destined for the office

Sunk Head Fort July 1967

The Sunk Head Fort in July 1967

Bill Rollins Diary Notes

Office Notes from Bill Rollins diary

Consuming a good quantity of the haul & squirreling away more, the Radio Tower team arrived at Trinity Pier Harwich much the worst for wear

Searched by HMG Customs John Waters bags were searched & some 400 Continental Cigarette found, he was duly fined £12

Soon after HMG Customs confiscated & impounded the Maarje

Bill Rollins Wage Slip

Paid up until the end unusual to say the least in Offshore Radio

Radio Tower never went beyond the testing, & whilst there are reports that the Tower was heard on 29th April on 1282kHz 234 metres up until 4th May, & with output said to have been logged on 12th May 1966 the reality was that the project folded long before

Sunk Head in July 1967

July 1967 the Sunk Head Fort abandoned awaiting its fate

In June Peter Jeeves made a statement that the station had been plagued by technical problems, with poor signals no advertising had been secured

With a high profile drive in Colchester & Clacton, flyers & stickers had been placed in shop windows for free spots on the station, but it had been too late to save the project

Abandoned the fort lay empty amidst stories of the Fort being by another kind of pirate - smugglers

On 9th November Walton-on-Naze Lifeboat removed two men who had run out of food & drink, saying they had no involvement in radio broadcasting

Banner undated August 1967

Report undated August 1967

Unknown - undated August 1967

With the Sunk Head Fort well outside the territorial limit & with concerns over smuggling, the possibility that the radio pirates might return, or use it as a supply dump, plans were afoot to demolish the Tower

Naval tug Collie off Sunk Head Fort

The Naval Tug Collie stands off Sunk Head as Royal Engineers set the charges

Naval Tug Collie off the southern leg

Naval Tug Collie under the southern leg, note part of the platform has been cut away along with the 3.7" gun

Report Friday 18th August 67

Press photo Friday 18th August 67

Unknown - Friday 18th August 1967

On Friday 18th August 1967 a team of 20 Royal Engineers under Major D T Ives of 24 Field Squadron boarded the Fort from the Naval Tug Collie

Parts of the superstructure were weakened by cutting with oxyacetylene torch & charges set

Sunk Head fuses burning

Fuses ignite & take hold

At 4pm on 21st August Captain Alan Cowie set the timed fuses for the explosives

26/01/10 - As the last man to leave the Fort before its planned demolition & lighting the fuze before I did so I was most interested to read your account. We had little idea of what you were all trying to achieve for us it was a great engineering challenge. I seem to remember we blew out a lot of windows in Felixstowe as well and cleared off back to base as soon as we could! Somewhere I have some cuttings from the newspapers of the day but can't put my hands on them immediately; when I come across them I'll get back to you. interesting that so many of your group have kept in touch must have been a good club. I've lost touch with my military colleagues, the other young officer died 5 years ago and I'm pretty sure his SNCO went a couple of years later. Major David Ives is no longer in our regimental lists so I presume he too is no longer of this world. All good wishes - Alan Cowie

Aerial shot of explosion

Aerial shot of the explosion

Sunk Head Fort blown to pieces

The Tower saying get a fix on 236 was spectacular

18 minutes later a vivid crimson flash, a cloud of smoke was seen

Concrete sections splashed into the water over half mile away with the noise & heat of the blast felt 14 miles away as Big T finally goes with a bang as the Sunk Head Fort was demolished by explosive charges

The end of Sunk Head Fort was supervised by Australian Commander Kenneth Young & overseen by Collie Skipper Captain Bill Penney, who was in the party that sank the Fort in position on 1st June 1942

RAF Helicopter surveys the remains

Airforce helicopter surveys the remains

Holland & Netherland Report

The Tower made news in Holland & The Netherlands

10/02/16 - It's been sometime. I've been looking at your website, and a very good site it is too, and I put PENNEY in the search area and it mentioned Captain Bill Penney. I had an uncle Bill Penney the Harbourmaster at Sheernes is he the same person?

Just a little background to my Uncle Bill. He started life as a cabin Boy on the tugs he was a drinker saved by the Salvation Army one night in a pub, he stopped drinking and worked his way up to the Queens Harbour Master. His son Cyril also started as a cabin boy and with his father's help also worked his way up to the Harbour Master of Singapore, Portsmouth etc (I think that the places are correct) He was in charge of the Torrey Canyon tanker that nearly covered the South Coast with oil and also in command of the Cod War with his tugs keeping the enemy at bay etc. He was awarded the B.E.M. for these. Bill's other son Norman was a test pilot for the R.A.F. He also had two daughters Elsie and Ninnie (aka Dinks) When the Truculent was sunk uncle Bill was in charge of the operation from Sheerness Dockyard, he took me out to see the submarine shortly after it had been raised; Regards Colin Penney

The Bill Penney was Skipper of the Naval Tug 'Collie' so guess it's possible - Ed

The remaining leg stumps all that's left of Sunk Head Fort

Just 6 meters (20 feet) of leg stumps remained, these were to be an obstacle to a ship when in the 1990's a liquid gas carrier fouled the leg remains severely damaging the ship, damages were submitted but the out come of the claim is unknown

4/7/08 - The ship was the ''Lord Kelvin', an LPG carrier bound for the Coryton oil refinery. I don't recall the year but think it was 1994-1997, hope this of some use - Stuart Dymond

29/01/10 - I note you say a ship hit Sunk Head some years later. We deliberately left the tower stubs standing several metres proud of sea level so that they would give a good radar reflection. Either someone's radar calculations were inaccurate or a radar operator blinked. All the other Forts were left alone I presume because of the costs of demolition and because the government could see the 'writing on the wall ' for increased media coverage beyond their control. Once blown, we heard absolutely nothing more of any plans for similar jobs at least that's how I remember it after some 40 odd years - Alan Cowie

Letter to Bill Rollins from Peter Jeeves

Letter to Bill Rollins from Peter Jeeves after the project had collapsed

Sunk Head Master Key

Relic all that remains the 'key of the door' the Master Key that fitted all the main doors on Sunk Head Fort

A-Z of the Radio Pamela, Tower Radio TV staff & where are they now at 19th March 2012

Billy Bennett - Owner of the Harwich Fishing Boat 'Venus' HH90 which was the later tender for the Fort No longer alive but date of death unknown, Other tender tugs used Gaselee Tugs 'Agama'& 'Kent' from Harwich, see photograph of the 'Agama' cruising the Stour in Harwich

John Boulter - Security Fort Guard, General Maintenance Man: Lived in Weeley, at the time of publication living in Clacton & working as a BT Telecom Engineer in North Essex

Dave Cash, Robin Garton & Paul Barber in 2004

Dave Cash, Robin Garton with Paul Barber in 2004

Robin Garton - Martello Studio Owner & Advertising Manager, Local Band Promoter: Robin recorded the Radio Tower jingles & was to have produced recorded programme material for the station. In the late 1970’s went into partnership with Barry McGregor forming Video Anglia which operated from the EAP (East Anglia Productions) premises in Frinton on Sea. These days Robin lives in Colchester, is semi retired, & works as cameraman & makes video transfers & was responsible for some the filming on the LV18 during the Pirate BBC Essex broadcasts

N.B Robin's sons Scott & Juby carried on the tradition as cameramen & work for Sky TV producing News & Sport items

Chris Gosling (Chris G) - Announcer at the time of publication lives in Ipswich & works in Felixtowe where he runs an online & TV video presentations dealing with retired life, caravanning & leisure pursuits

Ken Harper - Made first broadcasts with Maurice Tarling from the ‘Pamela’ No futher details available, present whereabouts unknown

Peter Jeeves - Sales & Marketing Manager, later MD of Towerad Sales, present whereabouts unknown

Terry Lambeth - Fort Guard, lived in Basildon at the time he was on employed the Fort, present whereabouts unknown

Graham London (Smith) - Announcer is another one of the team that has had an interesting life. After his time on the Fort he joined the Parachute Regiment followed by a spell it is believed in the French Foreign Legion! He's now involved in diving for the oil industry based in Aberdeen

Derek Massen - Joined after the George Short left through illness. Derek was TV Engineer & brought in as Radio Engineer, moved to Thetford in Norfolk in 1994, hasn't been heard of for over 15 years, present whereabouts unknown

Steve O'Flaherty - Early backer, present whereabouts unknown

Ron Pipe - Skipper Owner of Fishing vessel 'Girl Betty' from Burnham on Crouch, Essex the original tender operator before Billy Bennett & Gaselee Tugs, no more details available, present whereabouts unknown

Bob Record - Salesman at Towerad Sales, present whereabouts unknown

Kees Romas - Offshore Supply Company (Wijsmuller) No details available, present whereabouts unknown

Bill Rollins at Dream 100 Colchester

Early mornings with Bill Rollins at Dream 100 in Colchester

Bill Rollins - Announcer, joined Tower Radio aged 16 & continued an active involvement in Offshore Radio with East Anglian Productions (EAP) assisting Radio Caroline ashore & as the anchor voice of Viewpoint 963. In 1989 went on to work with Mellow 1557 in Frinton-on-Sea which became part of the Invicta Radio Group. Sold to the Tindle Group in 1998 it became Dream 100FM with whom he still freelances. Still working as a contract electrician at caravan parks in Clacton & can be heard on a weekly show on internet station Atlantic Oldies 2NG from Washington DC Every Sunday & Tuesday at 17.00 GMT

George Short - Senior Engineer had been Engineer for Reg Torr at TD Television & owner of the 18' cabin cruiser 'Pamela'. During the time of the operation from the Fort became ill & forced to call Walton Lifeboat. He died in 1966

Dave Simser in 2013

Dave Simser in 2013

Dave Simser - Announcer & Director has had a colourful life, came from Florida, joined Tower after being in the USAF & leaving the Air Force he settled in Newmarket where he opened a general store, then moved to Banbury, Oxfordshire. He toured Europe in a camper van, returning to the USA & worked in a cheese factory in Minnesota before upping sticks again for Spain in 1980. After 12 years he moved back to America living in Lake Ontario from April 1994, importing miniature ponies & highland cattle from Scotland, rabbits, donkeys, ducks, geese, turkeys, cats & llamas. He thereafter ran a business called the Tyre Garden selling tractor tyres, growing & selling; sunflowers, corn, garlic, tomatoes, peas, & rhubarb, these days lives near Pulaski, New York State aged 85 (2013)

Eric D Sullivan - Clacton Business Man, Co-Founder & Tower MD. With a painful fading memory having thrown all of his capital into the project, he borrowed money from his father to open the Edensor Guest House in Clacton, this later became a Rest Home. Eric passed away on 31st October 2012 aged 80

Eric Sullivan - Tribute

Maurice Tarling - Made first broadcasts with Ken Harper from the 'Pamela' (D.O.B.) 29th June 1932 retired still living in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex

Reg Torr - Aged 40+ years owner TD Television Clacton, came up with the idea for Tower, founder of the Tower TV Radio Project moved to South Africa

24/5/17 - After a long, colourful AV career in South Africa during which time he married Celia and raised a family, Reg passed away in January 2017 after a short illness just after his 87th birthday. He contacted me shortly before his death to proclaïm "famous at last"and referred me to your fascinating website.Regards Keith Darge

John Waters - Announcer a friend of Eric Sullivan persuaded to stay with the project. Worked as postman for the Royal Mail in Beaumont-Cum-Moze near Harwich, until his death from cancer in the late 1990's

With grateful thanks to Bill Rollins for sharing his personal archive material, Martin Stevens for his photographs

Continued full detail of the Transmission potential of Tower Radio/ Radio Tower & the Canadian Wireless Set no 52 in Part 5 - Sunk Head Reflections

Thanks for the really good read about Radio Tower, and all the other stations you feature on this website. Best regards - Bill Everatt

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

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