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Radio Pamela, Tower TV, Radio Tower - Part 6

Issue : 2 Updated : 6th February 2019

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

Part 6 of the 6 part feature : Memories from Maurice Tarling

Maurice Tarling

Maurice Tarling in 1954 (Maurice Tarling Archive)

Maurice served in the Merchant Navy as an Able Bodied Seaman and Captains 'Tiger' (Bridge Dogs body) with the Orient Line his 1st ship the 'Orion' & 2nd 'Orsova' sailing from Tilbury to Sydney Australia & ports in between

Sunk Head Fort #2 in construction

Sunk Head Fort #2 in construction in Berth 2 at Red Lion Wharf Gravesend 16th December 1941

Wartime Britain as the Maunsell Sea Forts are conceived, designed and constructed in record time

Maurice. The original pirate thing didn’t come to anything. Roy Bates & I went out in his fishing boat to Fort Knock John, I’d previously gone to Johnson’s the local grocers and bought a tea chest full of supplies with the purpose of taking over the Fort

Sunk Head Fort #2 fencing

Sunk Head Fort #2 en' route to grounding site on 1st June 1941 (note Thames Sailing Barges on Horizon)

Note the wooden fencing placed round the pontoon, this was hastily fitted to slow the grounding process following the quicker than anticipated grounding of Fort #1 Roughs

Did you not go to Roughs first, I believe that was the first thought?

Maurice. No we went to Knock John, Roy got some Irish Labourer's from Southend where he lived, Leigh-on-Sea I believe and put them out to hold it. Then they took over the Sunk Head off Harwich

Sunk Head Fort #2 towing to grounding site

Sunk Head Fort #2 underway to grounding site

I don’t understand what happened then, let’s go back a bit

Maurice. I don’t either, there was myself and Reg Torr and one of our engineers, what was his name ah George Short, it was his boat the Radio Pamela boat

Anyway we went up to near London Airport and bought the first transmitters from a Polish Company, cheekily called RCA not of course the real RCA. They reconditioned ex WDD (War Department) stuff

28/12/14 - The ex-WD dealer near Heathrow was PCA Radio, not RCA. They had a depot on the A40 next door to United Dairies which is probably the place referred-to. They also had a retail store on Goldhawk Road, Shepherds Bush and several other sites including a former prisoner-of-war camp just north of Bedford

PCA stood for Polish Comrades Association and their business was to buy and refurbish government surplus electronic equipment and re-sell it(sometimes back to the British army that it came from!) or to cannibalise it for spares. The company was formed by Polish servicemen who stayed here after the war and the boss was a Mr Kazarski. Another part of the company that specialised in valves was called Colomor Electronics

The transmitter they bought was probably an RCA ET4336. PCA/Colomor had bought large numbers of these which were available in the UK as surplus from the US army after the war. Around 150 of them were bought by the BBC for use as emergency backup transmitters and relays and held at sites around the country - Andy Jackson

Funny thing we brought them back to the TD Television Shop at St Osyth, near Church Square, where we did test transmissions from. All illegal of course, the way we got the aerial up was with helium filled balloon, all of a sudden the balloon got out of control and the local Bobby (Policeman) came and told us it had flown off and to come and get it

He obviously had no idea what we were doing!

Sunk Head Fort #2 concrete buffer

Sunk Head Fort #2 dock worker keeps a watchful eye on the concrete cylinder, added to absorb impact when grounding

The site comprised hard sandy gravel and sea fern at the maximum safe grounding depth of 43'

You were working for Reg Torr at the time?

Maurice. Yes I was manager of his big Clacton TV shop

Who’s idea was it to put the radio station together?

Maurice. Well it was like an egg it just hatched, we talked about it, George had the boat we got that idea underway. Then Roy Bates contacted us

He’d heard about what you were doing?

Maurice. Oh yes, we went up to Brentwood and met him, it then took off

So you guys sowed the seed for Roy Bates and Radio Essex?

Maurice. Exactly

Sunk Head Fort #2 almost at grounding site

Sunk Head Fort #2, almost there

Grounding had been planned for 24th May but delayed by bad weather

Sunk Head Fort

Sunk Head Fort #2

Abandoned by the MoD in 1958 the Fort attracted attention again in 1965 ultimately with the Tower Radio TV taking over the partially flooded Tower

For Chain of events see Fort Fax


Tower Radio transmission on 222mmw with George Short talking about planned TV broadcasts from 1st November 1965

What gave you the idea, was it Caroline and Radio City?

Maurice. Oh yes that definitely gave us the idea, we thought it would be fun, we were all very young, eager and thought it was a brilliant idea

One of my best mates Roy Williams was a drummer he recorded a song with Robin Garton at the caravan camp at Walton-on-the-Naze on the Martello Label. Roy & Robin appeared together on a TV talent Show the equivalent of today's Britain's Got Talent

The Garton’s helped behind the scenes facilitating the servicing of Caroline, with their crews using the caravan site at times. Alan Stanley from Point Clear, he and I went to lunch with Tony Elphick the brother of the actor Michael Elphick, Tony was a musician and manager who wanted us to take on some of his acts

TD Television Leaflat side A TD Television Leaflat side B

T.D Television Advertising Leaflet (Front)
T.D Television Advertising Leaflet (Rear)

(Maurice Tarling Archive)

Did you use the small Army transmitters or something else?

Maurice. No a bigger one, it was an aircraft type on the Pamela, there were several bits of kit including two turntables. I always felt quite ashamed because I did the first DJ tapes. I came up with the corny line “A beautiful day today and what can I see a sandy shore, then played a Sandy Shaw song!”

TD Television Van in dealers showroom

T.D Television Van in the Vauxhall  in dealers showroom window (Maurice Tarling Archive)

Peter Witchelow owner of Pavilion Garage (Clacton) Limited at 3 (actually 2-4) Colne Road, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, CO15 1PY (Company dissolved)

Where did you sail the boat, just out from Brightlingsea?

Maurice. Yes down to Point Clear and that area

Well within the limit?

Maurice. Supposed after all these years it won’t hurt to say, but yes certainly not 3miles offshore! I was in the shop and this chap came in from the GPO casing us up, he told us he was listening to our test broadcast, but couldn’t triangulate it, you were either out at sea or inland. I’m trying to help here so if you say inland you’re breaking the law!

My reply was “No we were well outside the limit at sea”. He was convinced and off he went. Not two hours later a Mr Robinson appeared from HMG Customs who wanted to know why we hadn’t cleared Customs

Truth be known we were broadcasting from the back of the shops van on St Osyth Marshes, we were running close to the wind

Frankie Vaughan signs autographs at TD Television

Frankie Vaughan signs autographs for fans at the T.D Televison Shop in Clacton (Maurice Tarling Archive)

So the boat was a bit of a front?

Maurice. From time to time, if it was rough it wasn’t the best place to broadcast from!

A 15’ motor cruisers hardly up to it!

Maurice. It was all down to being a whole load of fun

15 Trinity Street 2013

Street perspective of 15 Trinity Street, Colchester Essex, (7th February 2014)

What did you do when the Roy Bates relationship went wrong?

Maurice. Reg Torrs brother in law went and opened up an office in Colchester. They tried to get a TV transmitter but never managed it, Eric Sullivan was behind that part, did you know he was a Karate Black Belt. Reg’s wife Maurine's sister Rita O'Dell married Eric Sullivan

He and Reg used to live at Dagenham before they came to Clacton

15 Trinity Street 2013

Full view 15 Trinity Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1JN (7th February 2014)

T.H.E Estate Agents occupied the building in the 1960's Radio Tower had a small office at the back of the small shop


Radio Tower on 236mmw Bill Rollins plug for T.H.E Estate Agents December 1965

I came out of it in rather a hurry, we’d built up the TD Television Group: Clacton, Frinton, Cambridge, we even had recording studios in Victoria Street, London & Southampton, Reg had bought a recording business so we became Recording Machines and T.D Television Limited all financed by the Equitable Industrial Group in Scotland, their chairman Andrew Murray was a member of the Scottish Liberal Party

Display 2013

Radio Caroline Pennant (7th February 2014)

Pirates remembered part of the interesting display in the Gentlemen's toilet in central Colchester!

Maurice. The people behind it were the Jackson Brothers they were dodgy people

Reg Torr attended a board meeting as MD of the TD Group the subject of Radio Pamela was raised, Reg lost his cool throwing a chair across the boardroom table, he was dismissed from the TD Board and told not to return to the shops

Tin Pan Alley Music Bar Colchester

Tin-Pan-Alley,  Colchester Music Bar, 7 Queen Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 2PJ (7th February 2014)

Pays tribute to the hay day of 60's pop 'Tin Pan Alley'


Pre-Recorded 'Sounds Good' Show produced by Robin Garton at Mortello Studios Caravan Park, Walton-on-the-Naze

You sold records at the shops too?

Maurice. Yes loads, I used to order 100’s usually filling orders at the weekend beating all the other local shops, I captured the market all the kids came in. It’s worth saying that Boogie Maynard and myself ran the Jazz Club at the Station Hotel, so I made sure we had the latest Jazz tracks

Balti House, St Osyth

Balti House, Indian Restaurant (17th March 2014)

Formerly the T.D Television Shop at 23 Spring Road, St Osyth, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, CO16 8RP (01255 822 224)

Maurice. After the TD TV job I went for an interview at Scotch Boy Tapes, you know 3M’s, when they heard about my involvement in Pirate Radio they didn’t want to know

I’m just glad to have paddled in the waters a little bit and had a hell of a lot of fun

With grateful thanks to Maurice Tarling for sharing his photographs & memories of Radio Pamela & Tower

Additional information from Bill Rollins

8/1/15 - I have an addition to your story of Tower TV although it concerns a different station. In April 1967 'About Anglia' had an item about "Britain's first Pirate TV station" which planned to broadcast from Sunk Head, but was having problems arranging supplies. The last entry for Tower TV is when the idea was abandoned in January 1966.The About Anglia story was over a year after this so it looks as if the Anglia station was one of the many offshore radio and TV projects which faded away into history. I've never seen any other reference to this station, could it have been connected with reports of an American religious offshore TV station around the same time? Any ideas anyone, Chris King

For the complete Tower Radio TV/Radio Tower story navigate from Radio Tower Part 1

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