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volume 7
july 2004

The Ross Revenge revisited


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (20)
by Ad Roberts
  At Eastern, 2004, forty years had passed since Radio Caroline's first transmissions from the MV Fredericia. To celebrate the occasion, John Patrick of the Caroline Organisation had invited a lot of people for a festive party in the Club Riga in Southend on Sea. One of those invited was Ad Roberts. Roberts already had been working on the MV Mi Amigo in 1974 as a "starter of the tapes" for the Flemish Service of Radio Mi Amigo. In 1979 he could be heard for the first time as a deejay for Radio Caroline. In the 1980's he also could be heard on stations like Radio Monique and Radio 819. Roberts accepted the invitation and here tells about his trip to England.
1 Right: Pirate Radio Essex (Photo © Freddie Schorsch)

Sometime ago I received an invitation by e-mail to come to England during the special Easter celebrations for the 40th birthday of Radio Caroline. Together with my countrymen Martien Stappers, who send me the invitation, I took the ferry to Dover. Late Thursday evening I was able to lay my head to rest in the lovely B&B at Graystones in Rochester. The next morning, slightly overcast, I paid my respects and took the trip from the nearby docks to the Ross Revenge. I hadn't seen her since my last broadcasts on the North Sea during the Radio 819 outfit. It was busy at the pier to get to the "Lady" so we waited our turn. The support group, amongst others Peter Clayton, did a lot of work on the Ross and seeing her after so many years was a revelation. After checking the nuts and crannies I decided it was time for some R&R and some coffee in the mess-room. It was very crowded there, but I soon spotted Eric Wiltshire who was in a conversation with Mel Vondrau. I hadn't seen Wiltshire in years and I was pleased he was doing well. We had our "how are you doing, and what have you been doing lately" talk and then found the time for some practical jokes and fun — this is what always happens when Eric is around. Anyway, after a while I decided to get some coffee so I walked into the brand new galley.

2 Left: John Patrick (Photo © Freddie Schorsch)

It was a busy day with lots of visitors — with over eighty people present, I heard. So when Tony Allan arrived, lots of folk were asking his attention. I decided to wait for a bit, and let him be for a while until things got back to normal. So, when I padded him on the back, to get his attention, he was very surprised to see me. It was a real emotional moment for him and it took a couple of minutes for us to start talking. The last time I worked with Tony Allan was we both were still on the Mi Amigo. So we had some catching up to do — actually a lot! Many people have asked me what I thought about the Ross after seeing it and, I have to admit, it really looked great. But, still I was missing something: the dynamics of being a working offshore station. You see, at sea it had a total different atmosphere of people working, sorting out the news or preparing their programmes, cooking a meal or doing any of that ship stuff that normally goes on. To me it was like an old steam engine in a museum, nice to look at, great history, but a bit sad. I do hope the ship can come back to its former glory and be used as floating studios for Caroline, who by then will be broadcasting on AM nationwide — be it DRM or on DAB or via satellite — and getting the audience it deserves. Maybe then I will find the atmosphere more in tone with my expectations.

3 Right: Ad Roberts visiting the Ross Revenge (Photo © Frederick Torch)

After dinner I had a meeting with Busby, Richard Thompson, another colleague of mine during my Mi Amigo days. As he could not make it to the Party in Southend we met in a pub. It was lovely to see him again. Nowadays a lot of communications are handled by e-mail, but talking one to one is always better. As he had to get up early he did not stay until last orders, but he did explain to me why the pubs in the UK close this early — we cloggies don't have that, we can drink until very late. The next morning it was time to head to the Club Riga. On the way, in the car with Martien, we listened to an excellent programme by Roger Day on Pirate BBC Essex who was broadcasting from the Light Vessel 18. I enjoyed his show immensely.

4 Left: Tony Allan (Photo © Freddie Schorsch)

After arriving at the Club Riga I found that it was no so crowded as I had expected. Looking at fifty or so people and a video I shot during my time on the Ross, I wondered how it got there. The quality wasn't that great so it must have been a copy of a copy, but the raw footage was nice to look at. On stage Mark Dezzani and Dave Foster started explaining how the afternoon would evolve. First up were a couple of the good old boys from the beginning of Radio Caroline — both North and South — some even had come from as far as Canada. The stories they told were great, with humour and heroism. Tony Allan then arrived together with Elija van den Berg, who also worked for Caroline during the Mi Amigo days. Tony was asked on stage and he was his usual self, fun to see and hear. Naturally, he was interacting with the audience. Then time for Peter Moore who read out a prepared statement, dismissing a lot of the rumours floating around. He did mention the EPG on BSkyB and said Caroline will have one later this year and it will take a great amount of money to do it.

5 Right: Ad Roberts (Photo © Freddie Schorsch)

Now, Dave Foster introduced RTD who was having the stage for his self. Roger Day first went on to talk about the private Birthday party some weeks ago with some of the old deejays and Ronan O'Rahilly. Next he went on about the people who are no longer with us anymore. He tried to compose himself but it clearly was hard for him to talk about this subject. "Twiggy" also mentioned people who do not like Caroline and the rumours they are spreading, in particular Christopher England. After his great monologue, which took about 45 minutes, it was time for a nice oldies show with great music from the era. During this show people had some time to meet old friends amongst the audience. This is were I met up with Albert and Gergina Hood, who were responsible for keeping a lot of the ships' deejays happy during the offshore period. I also ran into other saltwater friends like Dave Asher, Martin Fisher, Paul Graham, Roger Mathews — Eamon Brooks — and Barry James and Jerry Wright. After the music from RTD it was time for dinner, next door. Because the music was not so loud, people could really talk and you could see groups with deejays and fans having dinner together. We had until 8.00 p.m. so there was a lot of time to talk with one and other.

6 Left: The Fortunes (Photo © Freddie Schorsch)

The Club Riga surprised us with an excellent performance by the Roosters, a local band playing some great music. During the set more oldies but goodies arrived, like Mike Watts and Peter Philips from the World Service, with whom I had a nice conversation in the pub next door. As we returned the Roosters were about ready with their set. The band was good, but everybody really wanted to see the Fortunes. They had a good show and what surprised me most, they sounded great. Their harmonies were fluent and the music they played would entertain any audience. They closed their performance with our National Anthem: "Her name is Caroline, Caroline, yah, yah, yah." In short, it was "Tops," or as they nowadays say "Cool." The audience in Steve's Club Riga could look back at a really great night.

7 Right: Mark Dezzani, Tony Allan and Dave Foster at the Club Riga (Photo © Ad Roberts)

My visit to the UK would not have been complete without a visit to the Maidstone Studios. So the next day, on Easter Monday, Martien Stappers and I headed for the Caroline studios. There, we met up with Dave Foster and Mark Dezzani who wanted to interview me on their programme, but time for me in the UK was coming to an end and they had to record it. During the interview Dezzani videotaped our conversations for a special DVD about Caroline. On this DVD there will also be some video's I shot on the Ross Revenge. I promised Dezzani and the Radio Caroline organization that they could use my raw footage for de DVD. After the taping, Stappers and I had to get back to Dover, to get to the ferry in time for our departure. On our way over we heard Busby playing us a song and thanking us for our visit. Well, we thank England for being so nice to us!

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  2004 © Soundscapes