Tom Edwards to join pirate radio celebrations

Tom Edwards will be revisiting his pirate radio days. EMN-170308-172726001
Tom Edwards will be revisiting his pirate radio days. EMN-170308-172726001

A pirate radio veteran from Heckington is set to relive those daring days of the sixties by co-hosting a special 50th anniversary event this weekend.

Tom Edwards, 72, will be among the broadcasting icons gathering on Saturday to commemorate 50 years since Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government rushed through The Marine Offences Bill of 1967.

The towers on the shifting sands off the coast of Whistable where Radio City was based. EMN-170308-172738001

The towers on the shifting sands off the coast of Whistable where Radio City was based. EMN-170308-172738001

The politician detested the pirate radio stations that were springing up and broadcasting far out at sea, avoiding taxes and licences and allegedly affecting shipping radio signals.

Many of the out-of-work DJs later found their way into the BBC, which is leading a commemorative event this weekend, chartering the former lightship LV18, which doubled as the Mi Amigo, aka Radio Caroline, in the film The Boat That Rocked.

Tom worked on Radio Caroline for seven months in 1967 up until the law came into force. He had for two years previously been a DJ on similarly successful Radio City, based in abandoned anti-aircraft towers off the coast at Whitstable until it too was shut down by the courts for illegal broadcasting.

He recalls: “I left the ship (Radio Caroline) to go on shore leave a mere 12 hours before the bill became actual law at midnight. Some DJs insisted they would carry on regardless but it would have meant instead of sailing out from Felistowe I would have to go via Holland to reach the ship.

“Also, had I stayed on board and then tried to re-enter the UK I would have been sent to prison - it seems ridiculous today. Instead I went home to mum in Norwich and within weeks was presenting Look East, their local TV news.”

Tom will be compering a show at the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe on Saturday with pop groups from the sixties. Then he will travel by ferry into Harwich to board the LV18, renamed Pirate BBC Essex and rigged up with studios.

Tom said: “On Monday from 9am-3pm we are doing live shows broadcast around the world with live webcam coverage. I’m doing from midday until 1.30pm. Lots of original DJs are flying in from all over the world for this.

“It is going to be a huge event. Already there is a Chinese TV camera crew interested and La Stampa the Italian newspaper.”

The event will be rounded off with a party down in London.

Tom added: “I’ve already recorded a Radio 2 special with my mate Johnnie Walker on the pirates and how they adapted to BBC life, which goes out as a two parter starting on Monday at 10pm.”

September 30 marks the 50th anniversary of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 which he will also be involved in as he quickly joined Radio 1 and 2 in January 1968.

Previously at Radio City he had made his home for two years in Whitstable, as a neighbour of legendary actor Peter Cushing. Tom believes the government’s attitude hardened against the pirates after his station was embroiled in scandal over a debt that led to it being temporarily shut down by a gang of armed thugs. His station’s owner, Reg Calvert, a pop group manager, argued with prospective business partner Maj Oliver Smedley and was shot dead by him, in a row over the £10,000 debt.

Looking back to those early days Tom recalls health and safety was not key, with him being hoisted by a rope 90ft up to the Radio City tower or leaping from ship to ship in stormy seas. Yet he had a great time on board Radio Caroline. “I met all my heroes,” he said.