The starting point of this investigation took place on Tuesday, June 21, 1966, and that is now a long time ago.
On that day Mervyn Hagger read an account in the 'Daily Telegraph' about the boarding of a complex of marine towers which had previously become the home to an unauthorized, and therefore unlicensed, British offshore commercial station called 'Radio City'. While its studio and transmitter were offshore, its office was located quite legally in heart of London's version of 'Tin Pan Alley'. But it was that boarding which resulted in a killing and the circumstances surrounding the unlawful taking of a human life that resulted in the death of the so called 'pirate' offshore radio stations.
There were about ten of these stations operating from various locations around the coastline of the United Kingdom on that date. Some were on anchored ships, and some were on fixed structures off the UK coastline of south-east England. The last category was based upon ex-WWII UK military defence towers. One of them was a single unit and two others were multiple towers linked together. 'Radio City' was in the latter group.
At the time of the boarding and killing, Hagger was employed at a research facility operated a major international automobile manufacturer. Hagger's job was to reorganise their library, but no sooner had he begun this project when the parent company shut down their remote location and combined it with their major plant in another part of England. Mervyn then moved on to become both a technical writer about products made by a group of companies in Birmingham, England, and the editor of their employee newspaper.
In his leisure time he was more than just a listener to the offshore commercial radio stations, because he had a specific interest in their non-music programming. His career interest in advertising, journalism and broadcasting began as a young boy when his father took him on a sort of media tour holiday in London. This included an overnight visit to the 'Daily Telegraph' building on Fleet Street. There they witnessed the start-to-finish of one of its editions during the late night and early hours of a single day. The tour began in editorial observing the type-written paperwork of journalists being turned into hot lead by Linotype operators. Their output was then passed on to be cast into half-circular forms which were then attached to the drums of rotary presses that when cranked-up and running at speed, spat out an avalanche of complete newspapers. Once bundled, they were then loaded into delivery vans and immediately dispatched for distribution and sale.
On that same holiday, Mervyn's father took him to Bush House, the former London office-studios of J. Walter Thompson. They had made many of the pre-WWII transcription radio broadcasts that were aired over stations such as 'Radio Normandie'. They were now, at the time of this holiday, the offices and studios of the BBC World Service.
It was a curious operation intentionally separated from BBC domestic operations due of its obfuscated linkage with the UK Foreign Office, and also to its murky relationship with the British Crown governance of the United Kingdom. It was not uncommon for 'officially scripted' bits of government polemic to be inserted, supposedly surreptitiously, into domestic broadcasts, while a heavier hand often directly guided the theme of any message that came of of Bush House. George Orwell (Eric Blair) had once worked for the BBC, and his first-hand knowledge of its mind manipulation is thought to be one of his sources of inspiration for one of the Ministries of 'Big Brother' in his novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'.
When Mervyn and his father arrived at Bush House, an 'uncle' ushered them into a studio. With both of them sitting at a table facing each other, but separated by a huge BBC microphone, Mervyn' father 'interviewed' him about their holiday. About ten minutes later, Mervyn's 'uncle' reappeared. Although Mervyn was never sure who he was, he accepted him at face value. In his hand was a large and coated-metal transcription disc, upon which, written in ink on the white label at its center, were details that it was to be played at sixteen revolutions per minute, and that its grooves would render a story called: 'Everywhere we wander'.
About this time Mervyn took note of advertising messages and commercial product jingles. So at home as a hobby, he began writing his own unsolicited copy, and this effort soon resulted in boxes of candy, gift coupons and an invitation to visit a local Walls' Ice Cream factory, all finding their way to his parents' front door. From Walls', he also received a toy version of one of their cream vans and a gift voucher. Naturally this inspired more of the same sort of activity, and all of this became a part of the starting point for his interest in advertising, journalism and broadcasting.
A few years later Mervyn was drawn to the voice of Alan Freed broadcasting from Radio Luxembourg via transcription disc. His New York show originated from WINS in New York City. Freed was promoted by Maurice Levy as "The Father of Rock 'n' Roll", and soon Freed began hosting a bevy of movies that were shown in the UK.
These films were supposedly 'inspired' by the U.S. release of that violent teen school movie called 'Blackboard Jungle' which also hit British cinema screens and sound systems with 'Rock Around the Clock', performed by Bill Haley and his Comets providing musical accompaniment to its closing credits. According to Freed that movie presented teens in a bad light, and so decades before the arrival of MTV, Levy-Freed decided that they needed to show another side of the majority of youths.
With that idea in mind, a collection of movies following the same sort of simple storyline depicting kids as harmless individuals dancing to a new kind of musical fare, began to appear on cinema screens. These early rock and roll films all followed the same sort of formula that showcased recording artists such as Bill Haley, the Platters and Little Richard.
In addition to the Saturday night show by Alan Freed, and the artists he promoted on film, as well as the shows packaged for airplay by record companies on the night time service of Radio Luxembourg, its '208' metres that broadcast to West Germany by day, and the British Isles at night, also featured a lot U.S. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network programming. Some of their shows were produced in London by 'Towers of London' and 'Hector Ross Radio Productions' and then exported on transcription discs. Both of these companies would later play an important part in the development of British commercial television and radio station.
The WWII generation, of which Mervyn was a part, began copying everything American. This stretched from cowboys to pop groups playing with improvised instruments, and all of that got mixed together to produce an ersatz British culture that gave rise to 'Teddy Boys' and 'skiffle groups'. As the world of pop music now knows, during the Nineteen Fifties many in the Liverpool area joined the craze of do-it-yourself instrument creation to play in 'skiffle' groups. It was the age of trying to copy and imitate everything American that was not readily available at home. One exception a little later on were motor scooters and those noisy Italian coffee machines.
Some like Mervyn tried out various forms of do-it-yourself broadcasting, but he was not interested in the transmission side, but in programing, and so, imitating the British wired broadcasting operators before WWII, he wired-up his parents' house to a series of loudspeaker connection points that reached into into the bathroom and up to the top of the garden. Unfortunately a nosey neighbor got involved with his life and decided that the drawings and paintings he did for amusement while listening to 'Radio Luxembourg', meant that he should have his creativity redirected into commercial art.
So like John Lennon who was approximately three years older, Mervyn also ended up in an art college and then he was signed-up to work in the prestigious world of Arthur Sanderson & Sons in London. At that time, Sanderson's were just completing the construction of a modernistic multi-story 'temple' of interior design built around a Japanese garden on Berners Street in the West End of London. At one end was the main shopping strip of Oxford Street, while on the opposite end it opened into a hospital district.
However, Berners Street was also the of home of Phonographic Performances Limited, and that company had an interesting legacy which helped to explain why commercial broadcasting was limited to BBC radio broadcasting in the daytime, and then joined at night by the fading ionospheric sounds of Radio Luxembourg at night. It stemmed from a handshake agreement that went back in time to the Nineteen Thirties, and an agreement in 1933 with Mussolini's fascist Italy to create IFPI, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. It is the usage of the word 'phonograph' that gives the game way.
While in England the word used for discs was gramophone and for cylinder recordings it was phonograph, in the USA, the words were reversed in meaning. The reason why IFPI gained its name is because General Electric Company of the USA which had knocked-out British-owned American Marconi by gobbling it up into the Radio Corporation of America, which in turn had created NBC, or the National Broadcasting Company, and then it had then done the same thing with the British record industry. That was also gobbled up into in 1934 in form a new umbrella company called Electric and Musical Industries (EMI).
Because of the free hand that broadcasting stations had in the USA due to the limitations placed upon the government, the American record industry and the American musicians took a pounding. The musicians fought back and stopped the U.S. stations from using their recordings without limitation, so the U.S. stations struck back and formed their own rival licensing body. All of this had an impact upon American artists licensed to work in the U.K., and upon U.K. artists being allowed to work in the USA.
All of this had an impact on British electrical manufacturers who were also interested in both British television and radio broadcasting, not-so-much from the programming side but from the manufacturing side, because without competition in all forms of broadcasting, British manufacturers were limited on what they could make, because they were limited on what they could sell. That was the hidden story behind what happened in 1960 when a secret plan was hatched to create British commercial broadcasting stations from offshore, outside British legal jurisdiction.
When 1960 rolled around, there were only hints that commercial radio stations might be on their way to the ears of British listeners, and some of those hints involved the possibility of broadcasting from ships anchored offshore. This possibility became a reality after March 27, 1964 when a radio ship called 'Caroline' began test transmissions.
It was those tests by 'Radio Caroline' that eventually begat imitators, one of which was called 'Radio City'. The boarding and killing involving that station, and the resulting misreporting of the facts that appeared in the 'Daily Telegraph' article, was the key factor that intrigued Mervyn Hagger. After tracking down the reporter behind that story, and then learning from him that after he had been assigned this story by his editor, he had gone down the road to a pub Fleet Street, and then, over a pint, he asked his friend who worked for an ITA franchise, what the 'Radio City' saga was all about.
With this background information, Mervyn then wrote a freelance article called 'Birth or Death of a Broadcasting Era' which explained the British offshore broadcasting phenomenon from its beginning up until the 'Radio City' killing. He sold that story as a freelance journalist to the 'Wolverhampton Express and Star' regional daily newspaper, and on June 27, 1966, it was published as a half-page feature which began Mervyn's long journey into investigating this story.
Unknown to Mervyn at the time, of all the stories that no one knew then, and very few know now, is the true story about who created 'Radio Caroline' and why they created it.
That story, the true story about the origins of 'Radio Caroline', is the one still being researched by the 'Trio' today. It really has little to do with radio broadcasting, while it has everything to do with geopolitics and the control of oil and gas. But that discovery was to come much later.
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