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volume 7
july 2004

Eighty pints of Birthday Beer


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (18)
by John Lewis
  Working on a pig farm was not the kind of work he was really enjoying and, as his interest in radio was huge, he decided to try his luck on international waters. Working for a whole range of offshore radio stations, including the Voice of Peace, which was transmitting special programs from a radio ship off the coast of Israel, our "Morning, lads" man hided himself behind a series of deejay names: Johnny Moss, Stephen Bishop and Johnny Lewis. Using the last name, he still is well-known to the radio audience of the County of Kent. Using that same name, the man who worked for Radio Caroline for no less than four decades, here shares some good and bad memories on the wet and wild history of Radio Caroline.
1 Right: Johnny Lewis in 1985 (Photo © Hans Knot)

It's good to see so many former Caroline Staff writing down their memories of their time on the "boats" over the years. As for me, it's really hard to pinpoint one out of so many I've got. I do remember going out to the MV Mi Amigo for the first time thinking what a great ship it was. It did not look too new, it has to be said, but once on board you always felt it was a very special home away from home. Out of all the radio ships I've been on, this certainly was the smallest, but what a great atmosphere. On my first trip out I was lucky to be working with the likes of Tony Allan and Peter Chicago, who taught me all the ropes in more ways than one. I remember the Mi Amigo in the late 1970's used to leak a wee bit. What sometimes happened was that sometimes, after a bad storm, we would spring leaks in the bottom of the ship, normally only one hole at a time, but they were about the size of a one-euro coin, so water did used to come in a bit fast at times, but nothing the ships pumps could not handle. Sometimes a little water did get into the English studios downstairs, and, if you still have tapes of the programmes, you might well be able to hear this on some of the links.

2 The way we used to repair the holes was to cut a bit of wood slightly over the size of the hole and next knock it in — sometimes making the hole even bigger. This would stop the water. Then we would pump the ships bilges dry and make a load of concrete to go around the hole. Wood and concrete was our instant ships puncher repair kit. As luck would have it, at that time in England they were building the Orwell Bridge just outside Ipswich and a mate of mine was working on it, so we got free bags of cement. Think: in all the time I spent on the Mi Amigo we must have repaired twenty plus holes, but I don't think anyone on the ship felt unsafe. We all had that feeling that the Old Lady would never let us down, as in fact "she" never did.
3 Left: The Dioptric Surveyor (Photo © Theo Dencker)

It was also strange to come aboard the MV Ross Revenge in 1984. I had been on the Mi Amigo and, compared to living on the Lady, the experience was totally different on the Ross Revenge. Now I think the one thing that was lacking on the Ross Revenge at that stage was the wear of time. The Ross Revenge was a very young ship as far as the radio station was concerned. The Mi Amigo had such a history when I did start to work there. Every where you went in, the ship showed its history. You went to the studios and two of the cart machines were from the Radio Nord days. The mixers were from the original Caroline South and North days. The bunks had things like "Tony Blackburn was here 1965" written all over them. Other inscriptions we kept on there since 1972, were written on a door; everybody put down their name when they came on board for their very first stint. So everywhere where you looked on the Mi Amigo there was some history.

4 Now while I'm indulging in these memories, some other images start coming to my mind. The reader may have heard of the Euro-Siege period in 1985, when the Dioptric Surveyor was sent out by the British authorities trying to intimidate us as much as possible. However, they had started that policy on an earlier date. Earlier on that year, early March, there was already a police boat hanging around us for a good part of the day. I think to remember they came with 'the Ian Jacob'. All of the time they came back and forward between the Communicator and the MV Ross Revenge. It was a lovely day and we all did enjoy our spells on the deck of the MV Ross Revenge. On deck of this police vessel were a few guys who had nothing else to do than making photographs. Also there was a bloke with a big video machine and another with a camera. As they had already enough photos in their archive from this lad, I thought they were allowed to take some other footage too. There were, next to the police men some officers from the Home Office on the ship. I recall these three didn't even got a simple smile on their face. I think maybe they weren't even allowed to smile at us. They had to behave themselves, which was silly, really, isn't it? Shocking, basically!
5 Right: Stuart Clark and Raffles

And how far would we go with our ships dog Raffles? Peter Chicago saved him out of the harbour of Santander from where he was taken aboard the Ross Revenge to international waters in 1983. At Eastern 1985 we, once again, had one of our famous brewing parties where our own beer had to be tasted at this special day. And like us, Raffles did enjoy himself when everybody had a good time. We didn't leave Raffles out of everything as he was a part of the Caroline family. We actually put home-brew in his water bowl. We thought he wouldn't drink it, but in one good gulp — "shlurpp!" — it was gone! We gave him another lot and it was gone again. He was staggering around as well. And the next day he was a bit subdued though — I think he had a bit of a hangover. I decided to take him out for a walk around the deck. People probably won't believe this, but we actually did take Raffles for a walk on a collar and a lead round the deck and he absolutely loved it. Old Raffles was a great dog. He was very shy, but often he did get in the mess room. When we were watching telly, he often got upon friendly. He was like an Alsatian. I called him "Riff Raff." When dinner was on table in the mess room and he was outside, he knew how to handle and open the door. On one occasion he got on the table, so from that point on when he was coming in, we threw him a few odds and ends to keep him off the table. He had an enormous appetite.

6 Loads of things came out for Easter 1985. We had champagne that listeners had sent in, and "the man himself' had sent us a few bottles of champagne as well, to celebrate. Then we had a few crates of beer and cans of coke and orange. And, of course, our home-brew, the "Birthday Beer," which went down rather well, I think! We only drank half of it. We had made eighty pints and there were eighteen people onboard. We expected it all to go down, because eighty pints into eighteen is not a lot when you think about it. But that stuff was evil. It actually tasted lovely, everybody said that. A truly stunning brew it was. One of the bottles, we thought, was going to explode. We took the top off and it went "Boom!" The cork flew off and hit the ceiling. Everybody enjoyed it, but it was just that it went to your head a bit because it was very, very strong. The "Campaign for Reel Ale" would have been proud of us. It's something I've got into since I've been out to the Ross, really. I've spent so long out there, I thought I'll have to get myself a little hobby. When I was out there, I just got into brewing beers and experimenting with them — not doing as they say on the packs! Like you're supposed to put one kilo of sugar to forty pints of water ... Well, I was putting two kilos of sugar and thirty pints of water just to see what it came out like. I even tried one lot with brown sugar, and it tasted OK. Fergie was also a long time onboard and we did the brewing together. It didn't cost a lot and it was a nice hobby in those days. When the Caroline office had to send out the kits, they came at about 2.99 Pounds each and add 60 pence for the sugar in those days. So, the usual costs for each kit of forty pints were very low. We got a perfect room to let it ferment away: the transmitter room. Down there was a constant temperature: nice and warm and perfect!
7 Left: Samantha (Photo © Rob Olthof)

Going back to my notes, I recall the contact we had with the Coast Guards. The same Sunday we did taste the new brew for the first time, the weather became suddenly very bad during the afternoon. On Easter Sunday morning we had Tony come aboard. He was a fisherman from Walton-on-the-Naze and he was putting some of his nets down to do some fishing around the top of the sandbanks when the weather started to blow up. He came alongside and for safety reasons said: "Can I come aboard?" Of course, we weren't going to say "No," because of safety and the weather really did get up. So actually we brought his boat aboard the Ross Revenge. It was only a small boat, although it had an engine and everything and, of course, with our winches we could bring massive things aboard. So we hitched it up and brought it inboard. We informed the Coastguards that he was inboard; they knew him as a local fisherman and he worked on the Walton life-boat as well. And they said: "No problems, thanks for letting us know." That's the thing you do because people got worried and phoned the Coastguard as he wasn't seen for say two days. Tony did enjoy himself a lot and I don't think he wanted to go when the weather came down again, but he had to go back to work. A nice guy, that old Tony, and one wonders, if we hadn't been out there, what would have happened to him.

8 I also remember vividly that we did play fools at each other. At one stage Radio Caroline got a sister station on board the MV Ross Revenge. It was solving the problem of tendering. The owners of the sister station, Radio Monique, got airtime and provided the ship with everything that was needed for both the running of Radio Caroline as well as Radio Monique. So we had to share our accommodation with the new people, mainly Dutch deejays. One night one of the Monique deejays, Walter Simons, was doing production work in their studio. Whilst he was there working to do his upper best, all the rest of us went down to his cabin and completely stripped it bare. We even took the wooden slates out of his bunk. Of course, when he went downstairs to his cabin he found nothing at all. I think he was searching around for about two days before he found everything back. I myself had my bed filled with foam another night and we tended to take doors of people's cabins of their hinges, so when people did open them they fell straight down. The typical thing on a radio station is lacing the carts. I was doing the top of the hour one day and they got me. I said: "Live from the North Sea on 963 and 576, this is Caroline, it's three o'clock." And instead of the usual "Ding, Ding," I suddenly got the Big Ben going "Boing, Boing" with a load of pig noises afterwards as well. So we did play practical jokes on each other, some funny things and some not so funny.
9 Right: Johnny "The Lad" Lewis in 2002 (Photo © Hans Knot)

Then there's the nickname I acquired during my stay at Caroline. It was Wally (Simon Barrett) who baptized me with this new name. He had a list hanging on the studio door, telling what everyone had been doing during their stay on shore — that means in Wally's mind. The list allocated everyone to a part-time job. Barrett himself was into cricket and so he became the cricket inspector at the Kent Cricket Ground, Andy Johnson would never travel on public transport, so he had to be a ticket collector for London Transport and for me after working on farms in the 1970's, I was of course The Herdsman. That's how I got that name, but I won't tell you what they put down as Samantha's other job! Thinking back to the watery days, I also do recall the regular check-ups. We cleaned the decks a lot and checked the fire hoses and all the fire-hydrants around the ship to make sure they were still working properly. All the safety things had to be done regularly. I knew at one stage the fire extinguisher worked, because the engine in the rubber boat had been off to be repaired and came back onboard. I started it up and it caught fire. So I screamed for a fire extinguisher, got a huge great one down, and that put it out just like that. The engine started again, so it didn't do any damage, because we got it out so quickly.

10 By the way, let me assure you that we were very attentive with safety measures. For instance, we regularly did the lifeboat drills, so that everybody knew where their lifeboat stations and their fire stations were, just in case there was a fire. And everybody knew what to do, basically. So there never was any panic. We had bells on board, very loud alarms and what they did say was: "There's to come another drill." The crew and deejays were warned on forehand that a drill was coming and they were told where to go when the alarm would go off. Sometimes we had problems with people who didn't know how to put their life-jacket on. Every cabin got life-jackets and a hand-held fire extinguisher — the ones you pull off the wall and bang on the top and away they go. There were the foam ones too, the water ones, the CO2 ones, everything. The engine room was fitted with a fire system as well, which suffocated the engine room of air. But to turn the switch on you would have to open a box, and as soon as you opened that box, it sent an alarm off. So if you were in the engine room in case of an emergency, you would have to go out of it quickly, because else you literally would suffocate.
11 Left: Simon Barrett (Photo © Hans Knot)

So all of that was working fine. On the life-rings we had light-beacons, so as soon as a life-ring was in the sea it was all illuminated with lights. So if somebody did get over the side at night, they could see where he was. All the life-rings had about two hundred yards of rope. We did have three of the "dome" inflatable life-rafts that you see on most of the ships. What you do is to pull a lever and they literally go over the side. And they got what you do call a taper on them. There was about eighty foot of taper. And you pull that and they'll just inflate on their own. They hold ten people each so we could have thirty in them. They all got radios in them, just emergency distress radios, and they were all full of tins of water and food and things like that and not forgetting the torches. And then there was also the rubber boat, with an outboard and so if one went over the side, we could go after them. It was also used to go out in the night into the Communicator pub, when it was still there.

12 Finally, during our last drink session in February 2004, Hans Knot made me recall the famous trip we had in 1985, when one of the beautiful Greenpeace ships was out to visit us. I don't remember the full story of it, but the MV Sirius was going into Great Yarmouth, then sailing across to Amsterdam. CBS and Veronica Television were on board and they brought Dutch and American TV-crews out to do a programme on us. They actually came out to us, not for anything else. The MV Sirius anchored there all day. It was there for 24 hours and during an afternoon program they were sailing around us and blowing their horn. They also had their rubber boats "flying" around, giving a hell of a display. I think it there were four of five of these dinghies going around the Dioptric Surveyor which was still out in those days, a beautiful sight. The Veronica program went out on Saturday night and was fairly good. Actually short, but it was good. It was Frank van der Mast, an old Mi Amigo chap, who did the interview with me acting as the captain of the ship. He was very impressed, in fact all the people of the television crews were. I'm told there still exists a copy of the master tape of the particular interview; an unedited version on which interviewer Frank van der Mast is coming aboard at least six times, each time shaking the hand of the "captain," who's welcoming him aboard the Ross Revenge.
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