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volume 6
january 2004

Running the Euro-siege blockade


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (8)
by Bob LeRoi
  In 1965 a 17-year-old Bob LeRoi started his radio career with a few stints for Radio City on the Shivering Sands Forts. Three years later, in 1968, he missed the chance of going to the MV Mi Amigo for Radio Caroline. In the late 1970's though, while working for the local BBC Radio, he became involved with supplying the new Radio Caroline ship, the MV Ross Revenge, on the tender Henrietta. Here he recalls some of his memories of those days for our Radio Caroline series.
1 Left: Bob LeRoi in the early 1970's in front of the Shivering Sands Forts

My first try at Caroline. My first introduction to Radio Caroline was at the suggestion of John Birch. Birch was at a later stage not only a taxi driver, but also an avid Caroline supporter who had is own informative magazine on the radio station. I'd been to visit John and his wife Anita in Greys in the county Essex on a couple of occasions and it was John who promised me to put my name forward to people within the Caroline organisation. It did have some effects, though not the ones I'd wished for. One day I suddenly had a call from a girl, called Jenny, from the office. However, she sent me a simple letter, proving she was more concerned about astrological birth signs than expertise! This was in early 1968 and I hoped to go out to the Caroline ship which was off the east coast of Britain. But I was to miss going out to the MV Mi Amigo, as both the Caroline ships were dragged away by the Wijsmuller Salvage Company tugs. This as the bills for tendering were not properly paid. So the ships disappeared into Amsterdam harbour for some years.

  I crossed paths again with the Caroline organisation through Robb Eden who I'd met at the Caroline Road-shows in the 1970's. In the early 1970's, Eden worked on the MEBO II for Radio Northsea International but soon after Radio Caroline came back on the air from the MV Mi Amigo, he crossed ships and was to be heard on Radio Caroline. Robb asked me if I would make some filler tapes. And so I did, which was in 1979. Andy Oldfield produced the shows that found their way out to the ship with one of the many tenders, to be used on an ad-hoc basis in their programming. In the late 1970's I'd got involved with local BBC Radio, working freelance at BBC Radio Medway and by 1983 I was under full contract to them. Nevertheless I became involved with supplying the new Radio Caroline ship, the MV Ross Revenge, with my friend Graham on the Henrietta. The bosses at the BBC didn't seam worried with numerous redundant bits of kit, records and carts being given to me to "pass" to the radio ship.
2 Right: The small tender Henrietta in the Thames Estuary

Hunted by the "Dioptric Surveyor". In 1985 we ran the Euro-siege blockade, which was the most memorable period. It was the period that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) put out a permanent watch on all activities in the Thames Estuary regarding the movements of ships in the neighbourhood of the MV Ross Revenge and the MV Communicator, which was at that stage the radio ship for Laser 558. Graham and I usually took precaution to weight the obvious radio related cartons with concrete to ditch overboard should we have been intercepted. Many times we found ourselves being chased all over the Thames Estuary. On one occasion we even were told to hold off or be rammed. We often chose periods when we knew anorak boats were around so that the efforts of the "Dioptric Surveyor" — which was the most important "spy ship" of the DTI — became diluted. They did soon recognise the Henrietta, though, making life difficult for both Graham and me on shore, when enquiries revealed I was at the BBC and Graham was a local port officer.

We thought the game was up when a guy called Cosmic arrived at 4.00 am one morning with a van loaded with supplies, records and deejay Tom Anderson. We loaded the Henrietta to the gunwales. Whilst Anderson made himself scarce below, we had an impromptu visit from the local authorities, who after a cursory inspection from the quayside wished us happy fishing! This was around the time that John Tyler suggested I try the Overdrive studio. Next it was John Dwyer to set things up for me to record a programme, which I understand was transmitted later that night on Radio Caroline after my BBC programme went out on another frequency!

3 Left: Bob LeRoi at the wheel of the Henrietta (photo: Archive Bob LeRoi)

A call out of the blue. The Henrietta was a lovely little boat and during the worst weathers, I recall clinging to the foredeck ankle deep in heavy swells as we tied up to the ship. I'd made provision for a three month break from shore. Mike Barrington, Kevin Turner, Johnny Lewis and others were keen for me to do a stint, but Peter Philips was uncomfortable for me to appear on air whilst under contract to the BBC. We operated from 1983 till 1987, taking in a just a couple South Falls Head excursions. Later following working many years in ILR and whilst running my own station, Peter Moore — the Caroline station manager since 1987 — called out of the blue to invite me to come aboard the radio station. So in 1999 I was heard regularly on satellite. I had many ideas and was keen to increase Radio Caroline's profile. I'd commissioned the first new sung jingle package since the 1960's, looked at ways the station might become profitable and at other transmission platforms.

By the new Millennium, having organised and hosted the Caroline Convention 2000, things came to a head. We'd got BBC 1 Television to cover the event. They even came out to the ship the following day and a substantial piece was produced much to the annoyance of factions within the highly political Caroline organisation. That wasn't the last of it: Sietse Brouwer of Radio Caroline Nederland asked me to start making programmes for the Dutch service. I'd worked in Holland during the 1970's, love the country and its people, so it seemed a nice way of giving something back. I'd met Brouwer and his pal Adrian Hondema on many occasions and soon warmed to their team, so working with them was a delight. Like so many of these things I found that producing regular programmes demanded time I simply didn't have, so with great regret my last programme was transmitted in March 2003.

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