That Was The Year That Was

Well, 2016 is nearly at a close and for me it feels like a year of loss, disappointment and sadness, but also much love and laughter experienced through the year – and I must remember there is always hope.

It seems hard to know where to begin with 2016, so much has happened, but for me it has to be with the loss of my father on Easter Sunday. You may have read my two previous blogs about this, how he went into hospital for a major operation but died a few days later.

I am sad to reflect on his passing but none of us lives forever and what happened was perhaps better than, for example, my father facing many years of deteriorating and poor health which was, I think, another possible outcome.

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My father Clive Brown (left) in the cab of the Flying Scotsman steam locomotive at the Nene Valley Railway (image: Spalding Guardian/Lincs Free Press)

My wife, Kathie Touin, and I have happy memories of time spent with my father (though he could be frustrating as well), funny stories to look back on, and some of my parents’ loveliest possessions – ornaments, paintings, two railway locomotives – scattered about the house.

And, yes, hope – among those at my father’s funeral was my cousin with her baby, the newest member of our family and a useful reminder of the circle of life.

Shortly before my father died my wife Kathie lost one of her friends, Keith Emerson, who was also a huge inspiration for her music. He committed suicide which made it seem worse. She wrote a moving blog about her friend.

Others who have left us this year include Austin Hunter, a Northern Ireland journalist and communications professional, who I had the honour to know at the BBC. He was intelligent, funny, engaging and generous with his time. The day he took me and some colleagues around the sights of Belfast and explained Northern Ireland will live on in my memory.

Some of my friends have also lost parents this year, and some of you reading this will have lost loved ones.

And, of course, 2016 was the year in which so many famous people died. Not just that, it was the year in which so many talented and well-respected famous people died, some before their time, others who seem to have been ever present in our lives.

We all have our favourites whose passing we mourn. For me, this year, they include – from the world of music – Sir George Martin, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Scotty Moore, George Michael, Prince, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Merle Haggard, Greg Lake, Glenn Frey, Rick Parfitt and the above-mentioned Keith Emerson. Other notable losses include Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Jimmy Perry (how many hours of laughter has his creation Dad’s Army sparked?), Caroline Aherne, Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown (pioneering test pilot), Alan Rickman, Paul Daniels, Jo Cox MP, Robert Vaughn, Bert Kwouk, Cliff Michelmore, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Graham Lay (Antiques Roadshow) and a selection of radio presenters I grew up with: Terry Wogan, Ed Stewart, Dave Cash and Jimmy Young.

This year’s Christmas Day morning was not quite the same without Ed Stewart on Junior Choice on BBC Radio 2 playing childhood favourites such as Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West),  Captain Beaky And His Band, Right Said Fred and My Brother.

There were anniversaries, as well, this year. I was particularly moved by the events, and TV and radio programmes, marking 50 years since the disaster at Aberfan, when a village school in Wales was engulfed by a colliery spoil tip resulting in the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults. I remember as a child, with my mother’s help, sending books and toys to an appeal for the surviving children.

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The Green Hollow by Owen Sheers was a moving BBC Wales TV drama (image: BBC)

I was especially struck by a BBC Wales TV dramatisation, The Green Hollow, by Owen Sheers, which depicted parents waving their children off to school shortly before the disaster: “And that’s how they went. Out a hundred doors for their last days. And that’s how we said our last goodbyes. With all the luxury of easy time.”

The luxury of easy time, what an apt phrase, and it is a luxury we do not appreciate until it has gone.

But, wait, there are some positives aspects to all this. I gain strength from the simple dignity and bravery of ordinary people faced with unspeakable life-and-death situations, such as the Aberfan families and rescue workers. I think of the chance to celebrate the lives of respected musicians, and enjoy their music.

Sometimes, admittedly, it would be good to celebrate good folk while they are still alive and, on that note, I am gratified that the recent release of Kate Bush’s live album has led to a renewal of interest in her music which I seem to be hearing more often on the radio.

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The cactus given to me many years ago by my late mother now produces yellow flowers (image: Graham Brown)

And on the subject of celebrating people, a few words about my dear mother who died in August 2001. I have a small cactus plant which she gave to me, perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, I cannot remember. In the last two years, sat in the lounge of our Orkney home, it has started flowering – this year it had five yellow flowers at once. The cactus is a super way to remember my mother.

Curiously, when Kathie and I got married in 2003 the celebrant placed a yellow rose on the altar to represent my late mother. And now I have the yellow-flowering cactus.

This was also the year when democracy, to many of us, seemed to go wrong. We had terrorist attacks, inaction over Syria, Brexit – ie the UK voting to leaving the European Union – and the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.

I did not vote for Brexit which has ushered in a period of great uncertainty, particularly financially. However, if we keep calm and apply ourselves as a nation I think it can be made to work.

Will Trump be a successful President of the USA? I doubt that, and to find someone who ridicules the disabled, abuses women and stereotypes minorities in such a powerful elected position is deeply depressing. He feels like a dangerous choice for the world. We shall see.

Gretchen Peters, a brilliant songwriter who I much admire, and who is dismayed by what is happening to her country, the USA, has I understand been singing Paul Simon’s American Tune in concert since the election. She is absolutely right to do so, the words could have been written last week. I have not heard Gretchen’s version, but the weathered voice and guitar of Willie Nelson suit the song well:

But on a personal level for me in 2016, there were small triumphs, good days and fun times.

Some examples: a week spent in January with my father, seeing friends and relatives; Rich Hall’s gig in Orkney (very funny); a fun weekend in Edinburgh when Kathie and I saw  Gretchen Peters in concert (see my previous blogs); a relaxing weekend with Kathie and Roscoe, our Border collie, on the Orkney island of Sanday (see my previous blogs); favourite annual events in Orkney such as the West Mainland Show in nearby Dounby and the Vintage Rally; seeing (on BBC Television) Andy Murray win Wimbledon and Heather Watson win the Mixed Doubles; a fortnight Kathie and I spent in Shropshire and North Wales (see my previous blogs), which included our friends’ wonderfully funny and touching wedding; and many outings with Roscoe to our local beaches.

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Roscoe digging the beach at Bay of Skaill, after the Christmas 2016 storms, with the Atlantic waves rolling in (image: Graham Brown)

More good news – Kathie’s music featured for the third time on Steve Conway’s A-Z Of Great Tracks on 8Radio.com. This time he played her song Home from the Dark Moons & Nightingales album; previously he featured Kathie’s songs Clarity and Does It Really Matter. He told 8Radio.com listeners: “The music is just so simple, it speaks to you directly.” Here is Home:

Kathie and I continue to volunteer for the RSPB and, in my case, work part-time in the office. This year I had to cover a five-week period at one go, the longest stretch I have spent in an office since leaving the BBC at the beginning of 2010. It was hard work!

We were both asked early in 2016 to join another voluntary group and become managers (committee members) of Quoyloo Old School, our village community centre. It was an honour to be asked and the events we help run are great fun.

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HMS Hampshire memorial wall, Marwick Head, Orkney (image: Graham Brown)

But my biggest honour this year was being on the Orkney Heritage Society committee which arranged the restoration of Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head and the creation of a new commemorative wall alongside for all the 737 men who died when HMS Hampshire sank on 5 June 1916.

The work culminated on the day of the centenary when events took place in Birsay Community Hall and I was one of the volunteers presented to HRH The Princess Royal (my late mother would have been so proud). In the evening there was an outdoor service of remembrance at the memorials, looking out to sea on a glorious sunny evening, coinciding with the time of the sinking.

You can read much more about this commemorative work on the project blog and on the HMS Hampshire website. Please see the links at the bottom of this blog entry.

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That’s me (far side of cherry picker platform) going to the top of the Kitchener Memorial (image: Kathie Touin)

Incidentally, the day after the centenary some of us involved in the project had our photographs taken on the top of the 48-feet high Kitchener Memorial. There is no internal staircase so we were whisked to the top on a builder’s cherry picker. As someone who is afraid of heights I was not sure I could do it, but I made myself.

This year’s weather in Orkney? Contrary to what some folk believe, we do not get much in the way of snow, ice and below-zero temperatures. It was a pretty good summer and an exceptionally mild autumn. But we do get strong winds, such as the storms at Christmas – fortunately our power stayed on and we were able to enjoy our Christmas dinner and celebrations. Tomorrow night Kathie and I will see in the New Year at the Quoyloo Old School (which reminds me, I need to make sandwiches).

So that’s been 2016, and now I look forward to 2017. With hope. And remembering that sometimes we find we can do things that we do not think we are capable of.

Perhaps it is appropriate to end with quotes from two US citizens of the past I admire…

Amelia Earhart: “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Graham Brown

To find out more…

That Was The Week That Was, a BBC TV programme which inspired the title of this blog – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/That_Was_the_Week_That_Was

Kathie Touin blog – https://kathietouin.wordpress.com/

Junior Choice favourites – http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/playlists/zzzzwx

The Aberfan disaster – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan_disaster

Aberfan: The Green Hollow – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07zk9fl

8radio – http://8radio.com/

Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project blog – https://kitchenerhampshire.wordpress.com/

HMS Hampshire history website – http://hmshampshire.org/

Life

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A sunny February morning view from our Orkney home (image: Graham Brown)

Life is sad, depressing, hopeless.

Life is happy, joyous, full of hope.

Which of these statements is correct? Or is it something in between?

I think it is all three, depending on life experiences, the day’s events, illness, state of mind, luck, money (sometimes), expectations, and so on.

The first weeks of 2016 for me have felt a bit like a roller coaster at times.

We lost David Bowie from the world stage, surely one of the most talented people thrown up by modern music, and from the British and Irish stage we lost much-loved radio and TV presenter Terry Wogan.

Both were big personalities who seemed as if they had always been with us, and always would be, and their passing leaves a gap.

Another of my personal favourites, though less well known, also died suddenly – the DJ Ed Stewart, whose programmes were such a big part of my life. Next Christmas Day morning will not be the same without his BBC Radio 2 programme.

And, here in Orkney, a flu outbreak over Christmas and New Year took lives, including two folk local to us who will be sadly missed from our village events.

Meanwhile events in Syria, and Iraq, have become so depressing that it seems easier now to watch the TV news at all. What can the people trapped in the fighting imagine for their future?

But living where I do here in Orkney allows me to raise my head, look out the window, or take our Roscoe for a walk, and see a wonderful landscape. The days are noticeably lengthening, the birds are singing again, the oyster catchers and lapwings have reappeared in the surrounding fields. It is inspiring.

I was also inspired by a wonderful, and deserved, event in the life of friend and former RSPB work colleague Amy Liptrot. In January her book, The Outrun, was published to great acclaim and was also serialised as the BBC Radio 4 Book Of The Week.

Amy is attending many launches and readings for her book. I was at the Orkney launch, in the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, and was so thrilled for her. She has faced many difficulties in her life, as the book describes, and to feel the warmth and support for Amy in the crowded room was special.

I would recommend The Outrun to anyone. And if you have an interest in addiction, London, Orkney, or life-affirming stories, it is a must-read.

My wife Kathie Touin also had some good news in January – and so, by extension, did I. We have not said or written much about it but Kathie was not well for most of last year, making work and leisure difficult for both of us. One day Kathie will perhaps write about her experiences but suffice to say, for now, we have had a breakthrough and she is getting treatment which is transforming her life, giving her back the energy she craved.

Of course, not all medical and health news is good. A neighbour had a nasty fall in January and has spent a month in hospital already – though she seems to keep cheerful.

And a close relative of mine has had “disappointing” news from the doctors which means I will be away from Orkney from early March for a month acting as a driver, cook and bottle-washer.

While I am away I will physically miss committee meetings for the Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project (see our blog) and for the RSPB Local Group.

Emotionally, I will miss Kathie, our dog Roscoe and Orkney itself which is a wonderful place to live, on a human scale with human people.

But I’m sure my time away will, in some way, be good for me. I don’t know how much computer access I will have but I will make notes in my journal which, at some point, in some form, will probably appear here.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Orkney.com

Canongate: Amy Liptrot

The Day I Met An Avenger – or – Happy Birthday Patrick Macnee

Parental advisory: contains strong language (but not until near the end).

In a few weeks’ time it will be five years since my wife Kathie Touin and I moved to Orkney – it hardly seems possible, the time has flown by.

Some of you will know that before Orkney I worked at the BBC – in fact, I spent nearly 24 years working in the BBC Press Office.

Frequently people who I met outside work – hairdressers, for example – would say, “Oh, you must meet lots of famous people.” They were always a bit disappointed in my answer that no, not really, I work in the corporate Press Office so we deal with press questions about BBC policy. At evenings and weekends as the duty press office we field press enquiries about everything from EastEnders to Radio 1 but that does not involve meeting the stars.

By this time the hairdresser would be losing interest. Saying that I saw famous people about the place was not quite what they wanted to hear. Frankly, it might have been easier to say yes, I meet lots of famous people but I can’t talk about it.

Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee in The Avengers (image: BFI)
Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee in The Avengers (image: BFI)

Recently I have been watching old black-and-white episodes of the TV fantasy crime adventure series The Avengers, on the True Entertainment channel, and this got me thinking about famous people I have met. More of that later but – spoiler alert – I can tell you it was sadly not Diana Rigg.

Most of the famous people I met I interviewed when I was working in English local newspapers in West Norfolk (Lynn News & Advertiser) and Peterborough (Evening Telegraph). My time in Rugby and Corby did not throw up much excitement.

My interviews included a clutch of DJs: Ed Stewart (post-Junior Choice, “there is life after the BBC,” he told me – and I discovered he was right), Mark Wesley (anyone remember Radio Luxembourg?), Mike Read and Anne Nightingale. Somewhere I have a photograph of Annie and me, I must find that to show you.

I also spoke to stunt motorcyclist Eddie Kidd – I remember seeing how frightened his partner looked just before his display – and Richard Noble who, at the time, held the land-speed record of 633.468 mph.

Once I interviewed the then BBC Director-General, Alasdair Milne, on a train as part of the launch of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

I also spoke to a few music stars, including the soul band Odyssey (my main memory is that they were really pleasant people) and the band Rich Kids which included Midge Ure and, recently ex-Sex Pistols, Glen Matlock. Looking back, Midge Ure was the particularly helpful one with the PR focus – in the same way that Paul McCartney was in The Beatles (sorry, I didn’t meet any of the Fab Four).

And I interviewed a famous Sixties soul singer who was a favourite of my News Editor (boss) at King’s Lynn – the singer’s name is lurking in the back of my mind and I’ll probably remember it after I have posted this blog.

But I do recall that at the North Norfolk Roman Catholic shrine of Walsingham I shook hands with the then Archbishop of Westminster, the highly respected Basil Hume.

And, chillingly in retrospect, I spoke on the phone to Jimmy Savile. I was visiting Stoke Mandeville Hospital to report on the progress of a local man who was a patient and, while I was in the hospital office, he happened to ring up. I was put on the phone to him and, knowing I was from the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, his opening gambit was “How is the Peterborough Effect?”, an advertising slogan of the time.

Once on a film set in West Norfolk I interviewed a most gracious older actress. This is awful – I am not sure of her name either. Not sure? Let’s be honest, I have forgotten. But I can picture her still, walking elegantly through the French doors of a country house during filming on a summer’s day.

But let’s move quickly on to a memorable day when I was sent to the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough. It is a steam heritage railway which was, and probably still is, used frequently by film crews because of its relative proximity to London. Remember the James Bond film Octopussy, when he drives along railway tracks? That sequence was filmed at the Nene Valley Railway.

Anyway, on the day of my visit, sometime around 1985, a pilot episode was being filmed for an American TV series called Lime Street, about two insurance investigators played by Robert Wagner and John Standing.

And, yes, I got to meet both of these gentlemen though, of course, the photographer and I had to wait some time before we were admitted to Mr Wagner’s caravan.

But what made the day really special for me was the guest star in this episode – Patrick Macnee, who I loved as John Steed in The Avengers when I was a child.

I still enjoy his performances today and I’m heartened to read on Wikipedia that today, 6 February, as I write, Patrick is celebrating his 93rd birthday. Happy Birthday, Sir.

I also liked his character John Steed’s Bentley car, of late Twenties vintage I would say – ancient now but only about 35 years old when the programmes were being made.

This car was similar to the Bentleys which won the Le Mans 24-hour race five times from 1924 to 1930. I was fascinated by them – I’m not sure if I had my interest in the cars as a result of The Avengers, or whether it was because of a book I read as a child about someone entering a vintage Bentley in the Le Mans 24-hour race years after their heyday.

Inevitably the day’s filming at the Nene Valley Railway was slow and interrupted and, after I had formally interviewed Patrick Macnee, I found myself standing on a platform chatting to him while he waited for the rain to stop so he could continue work.

His persona was polite and helpful, and not a million miles from his on-screen role in The Avengers. I should emphasise that I do not mean he could not act – I saw him in The Avengers recently playing a double with a very different personality. He was, I think, simply a polite and gracious man.

Two stories stick in my mind. He spoke about a recent media report about his friend Angela Lansbury in which they had disclosed her age. He was outraged they could do such a thing to “a lady”.

And – this is where we get to the bad language – the subject of This Is Your Life came up. I should explain, for younger readers, this was a TV show in which the presenter, carrying a large red book, would surprise a famous person and whisk them off to a studio to relive their life, complete with guests and reunions.

I established Patrick Macnee had been the subject of This Is Your Life and said something like: “That must really throw you, when they jump out with the big red book.” 

I will never forget his reply.

“Dear boy, fucked up my whole day, I was just going for lunch at the time.”

Postscript

Re-discovered! Bruce Carter's book Speed Six!
Re-discovered! Bruce Carter’s book Speed Six!

Since writing this blog I have finally re-discovered my childhood book about the Bentley going to Le Mans. It is Speed Six by Bruce Carter, and seems to have been published in 1953 which would make the storyline a little more credible, if still fanciful. I must have read a 1960s paperback edition. But – here is the exciting news – I’ve found a 1970s edition on eBay which should be on its way to me in Orkney.

To find out more

True Entertainment channel is available in the UK on Freeview channel 61 (except Wales), Freesat channel 142, Sky channel 184 (+1 on channel 261) and Virgin Media (channel 189). The Avengers is being shown at 11.00am and 8.00pm on weekdays. 

Patrick Macnee website: http://www.patrickmacnee.com/

Wikipedia on Patrick Macnee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Macnee

Wikipedia on The Avengers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Avengers_(TV_series)

Wikipedia on Lime Street: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lime_Street_(TV_series)

Nene Valley Railway website: http://www.nvr.org.uk/

Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out

Great mug for coffee and radio listening
Great mug for coffee and radio listening

The BBC’s recent celebration of 90 years of radio broadcasting has got me thinking – I reckon I’ve been a listener for around half of those years, which is a bit scary.

I’m not sure exactly when I started listening to the radio. I would love to say I can remember the so-called pirate stations of the Sixties – such as Radio Caroline or Radio London – which broadcast from ships, or disused military forts, outside UK territorial waters.

Frustratingly my late mother once told me that she was a Radio Caroline listener in the Sixties and, therefore, so was I. Since you’re asking, I was born in December 1957. But I don’t remember this.

I do know that I have a huge jukebox of Sixties hits in my head, records that I can recall inside out, and I can’t have got all that into my brain from the weekly TV show Top Of The Pops so, probably, I was listening to Caroline with mother but just thought of it as music coming out of the radio.

I can also vaguely recall being excited about a news item, in 1967, that the BBC was launching its own pop service, Radio 1, and I can recall my father being less than excited.

But my first clear recollections of listening to pop radio are from about 1970. As I started to get out and explore beyond my own home I met a couple of likely lads who told me how you could hear pop music all evening, every evening, on Radio Luxembourg.

It is hard to imagine now but in those days Radio 1 closed down at 7pm, just as Radio Luxembourg – known affectionately as Luxy – was starting its English broadcasts beamed from the Grand Duchy.

I can even recall the Luxy DJ line-up when I first started listening: Bob Stewart, Kid (later David) Jensen, Tony Prince (“Your Royal Ruler”), Dave Christian and Paul Burnett, shortly afterwards joined by Mark Wesley.

Someone who is even more of an anorak than me will now write to tell me that this line-up is incorrect! That’s fine – bring on the comments, criticisms and omissions.

I was also listening to Radio 1 around this time, although my recollection of exact dates is hazy. But I remember the breakfast show with Tony Blackburn; Top Gear – yes, it was called that – which was a progressive music show presented by John Peel; the brilliant Kenny Everett – until he was sacked; Junior Choice with Ed Stewart; and the Tuesday lunchtime chart rundown with Johnnie Walker.

And at some point – perhaps around 1973 – I loved the Saturday line-up of Stuart Henry, who for some reason started at the odd time of 9.55am, with his exciting theme tune of The Bar-Kays’ Soul Finger and his wonderful Scottish delivery: “It’s Stu-art Henry ma friends”. He was followed at noon by the American DJ Emperor Rosko who was unlike anything else on UK radio. If you’ve seen the film The Boat That Rocked (called Pirate Radio in North America), the character The Count is loosely based on Rosko.

Anyone who listened to Radio 1 in the early days as the 7pm closedown approached cannot forget, on a dark evening, that it was almost impossible to hear the music because the station’s AM frequency – or medium wavelength as we said in those days – was also used by Radio Tirana from Albania. They broadcast a recording of a short trumpet solo repeated over and over though, presumably, they eventually got around to some programmes. I can still hear it in my head: “Da, da, da-da, da, da, daa.”

Then at 10pm on weeknights – goodness, this was exciting – Radio 1 was allowed to use the Radio 2 FM frequencies for two hours! I should say FM was known as VHF in those days. The late night broadcasts were Sounds Of The Seventies, introduced by the groovy Theme One music written by George Martin. The music was progressive, the presenters included John Peel, Alan Black, Pete Drummond and Bob Harris.

I might not recall listening to music from the Sixties radio ships but the Seventies were very different. Soon after discovering Radio Luxembourg I came across – I think by playing around with my parents’ Grundig radio – RNI, which was broadcast from a ship anchored off Holland.

RNI was Radio North Sea International, broadcasting in English and Dutch. At first I was puzzled why it was not RNSI until I discovered that in Dutch the station was Radio Noordzee International.

RNI had a checkered history – see the links at the foot of this blog – but the importance for me was this was the first time I had directly experienced the excitement of offshore broadcasting, hearing about the storms, never being sure if the broadcast would be there tomorrow, wondering what had happened if there was dead air, hearing a break in the news because the newsreader’s chair had slid across the studio… it all added to the bond between presenters and listeners, and to the spirit and energy of the station.

Soon after discovering RNI I also found Radio Veronica, a Dutch station which unbeknown to me had been broadcasting since 1960.

Radio Caroline mug, itself about 35 years old
Radio Caroline mug, itself about 35 years old

Then in 1972 came my first remembered experience of Radio Caroline when the station returned to the airwaves after a four-year break. The ship, Mi Amigo, was in poor condition but one way or another the station continued, sometimes intermittently, until the boat sank to the bottom of the Thames Estuary in 1980. I loved Radio Caroline, particularly with its Seventies format of album tracks and more grown-up music.

In 1983 Radio Caroline returned – this time broadcasting from the rather more sturdy Ross Revenge, a former North Sea trawler which had featured in the 1970s Cod Wars with Iceland.

Once again, I loved the station, and the airwaves became even more exciting when Caroline was joined in 1984 by another ship anchored nearby, the MV Communicator, home of the radio station Laser 558. For those who know the smart besuited US Republican pundit Charlie Wolf through his appearances on UK news programmes – well, he was a DJ on Laser 558. Another of my favourites was Tommy “What A Guy” Rivers.

I mustn’t go on and on, you can read the history on the Caroline website (see below). Or go and buy Steve Conway’s excellent book Shiprocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline to see what it was really like to be there.

Eventually, after adventures, raids and shipwrecks, the days of broadcasting from the high seas came to an end. But Radio Caroline continues today: the volunteer team of presenters play a great selection of music and it is easy to hear them. They broadcast online and there are even apps available for those of you with smart phones.

Over the years there have been numerous Caroline presenters but just some of the names I remember from the Seventies and Eighties include Johnny Reece, Steve Masters, Randall Lee Rose, Dave Asher, Caroline Martin, Dave Richards, Peter Philips, Johnny Lewis, Tom Anderson, Graham Gill, Tony Allan, Johnny Jason, Andy Archer, Peter Chicago and Jay Jackson.

And today’s Caroline line-up includes Peter Antony (who played tracks from my wife Kathie Touin’s album Dark Moons & Nightingales one memorable Saturday morning), Pat Edison, Steve Conway (author of Shiprocked), Nick Jackson, Johnny Lewis, Bob Lawrence, Del Richardson (presenter of Tuesday rock ‘n’ roll show Good Rockin’ Tonight), Barry James – well, I could go on, do give them a listen…

http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Tuned into Radio Caroline via an internet radio
Tuned into Radio Caroline via an internet radio

But back to my childhood, I wasn’t just listening to music radio and pirate stations. I can remember at breakfast the family listened to a regional magazine programme on BBC Radio 4 – no local stations in those days – called Roundabout East Anglia.

I can remember at lunchtime the family listening to BBC comedies such as The Clitheroe Kid and The Navy Lark. I remember The World At One with William Hardcastle.

And I remember Two-Way Family Favourites, broadcast every Sunday lunchtime for years on first the BBC Light Programme and then BBC Radio 2. Even now its theme music With A Song in My Heart makes me think of Mum’s roast lunches. The programme consisted of requests for members of the UK forces overseas, and there were presenters overseas as well as a London-based host. In those days international link-ups with foreign places was a big deal.

Later I would listen to BBC Radio programmes of my own choosing. I was a regular listener to Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, with its original presenter Roy Plomley, and I started to listen to plays and documentaries.

I enjoyed current affairs presenter Jack de Manio, Letter From America with Alistair Cooke, and as an adult the original The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which still works best on the radio.

I also recall a Radio 2 show, perhaps in the early Seventies, which had a presenter, possibly called Don, I’m a bit hazy on this, playing instrumental music tracks. Listeners on the phone would try to name the piece of music while it played on in the background. Entertainment was simple and cheap in those days.

And I recall falling asleep one Saturday night listening to Radio 4 on FM. In those days there were no programmes overnight and, being FM, there was little interference so the radio was quiet. But when programmes re-started on a Sunday morning with a broadcast of church bells I woke up in confusion, wondering where I was and what was happening.

This is just a small selection of many great programmes and broadcasters on BBC Radio over the years, and I’ve not even mentioned Radio 3 (sorry 3 fans).

For a flavour of some of the BBC’s broadcasts over the years I’d recommend the excellent 90 By 90 collection put together by BBC Radio 4 Extra, which features a highlight from each year:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ntlvp/features/90-by-90-collections

The 1977 extract is a clip of the opening broadcast of BBC Radio Orkney, now my local radio station. To be strictly accurate it is an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland but it is great. The current Senior Producer, or Head Honcho, is Dave Gray and you can hear him comment on the 1977 clip and tell a marvellous story about a stuffed kangaroo – check it out.

Today I do most of my radio listening via my two internet radios. Not heard of internet radios? They look a bit like a conventional transistor radio, but with a modern design, and you can listen to pretty much any station you want from anywhere in the world. I’m not one for gadgets but an internet radio is a must – you can buy one for about £80.

The internet radios allow me to listen to Radio Caroline, to my in-laws’ favoured local station, KCLU in Thousand Oaks, California, or to my friend Alan Waring who presents his breakfast show on Biggles FM in Bedfordshire – and to so much more.

But I still listen to what you might call conventional radio and enjoy much of what is on offer from the BBC – especially Radio Orkney – although Radio 1 is, for me personally, off the dial, as it should be at my age.

So, there we are, some of my radio memories and habits.

There is so much more I have not included – internet radio favourites of today such as Radio Seagull, CatClassica, KAAM 770 AM Legends and, back again, Radio Northsea International. The early days of independent commercial radio in the UK, when stations – such as my local Hereward Radio in Peterborough – were not all soundalike jukeboxes like today. What about great radio sport commentaries, a whole area for exploration in itself?

There are many great DJs I have not mentioned, some no longer with us: Alan Freeman, fabulous on Pick Of The Pops, but whose Saturday rock show was also wonderful and had a fantastic rock and classical music intro (an example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hyvby25HWh0); the lovely Rob Leighton, who championed the music of my wife Kathie Touin and others on 21st century Radio Caroline before his untimely death; and Roger Scott, a dignified man who continued to present great music on Radio 1 through his illness until shortly before his death.

And there are many great DJs still with us: we’ve mentioned Rosko, Bob Harris, Tony Blackburn, Johnnie Walker and others, but don’t forget the elegant Brian Matthew, presenter of Radio 2’s Sound Of The Sixties; and former pirates Keith Skues and Roger Day, still plugging away out there.

I’d like to thank everyone who has presented, or contributed behind the scenes, to the many hours of radio I have listened to over these 45 years. Radio is a great source of music, information, inspiration, companionship and, frankly, sanity in a sometimes crazy world.

And as Kenny Everett once said: “Stay loose, keep cool, keep on trucking, and remember – telly may be too much, but wireless is wonderful.”

Graham Brown

To find out more

Radio Caroline: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Radio Caroline history: http://radiocaroline.co.uk/#history.html

More Radio Caroline history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Caroline

RNI: http://www.rni.vze.com/

RNI history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_North_Sea_International

Radio Veronica history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Veronica

The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame: http://www.offshoreradio.co.uk/

The BBC Celebrating 90 Years: http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/

KCLU: http://www.kclu.org/

Biggles FM: http://www.bigglesfm.com/

Letter From America programmes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00f6hbp

Roger Day’s new venture: http://rogerday.co.uk/

To discover the fate of Laser 558’s MV Communicator, see my previous blog, Where is the Super Station in Orkney?: https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/super-station/