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volume 6
december 2003

"It was decided over a cup of coffee and a joke"


  The great Tim Thomason interview (part 2)
by Jelle Knot
  Tim Thomason was the man behind the short-lived offshore radio station Capital Radio, airing its programs from the MV "King David" from May 1 till November 10, 1970. On September 1, 1970 regular programming started, but the ship somehow proved accident-prone. Already ten days later it had to sail to Zaandam and next to IJmuiden harbour for repairs. Recently Jelle Knot interviewed Thomason. In this second part of his report, Thomason tells us more about the departure of the ship from IJmuiden harbour, the whereabouts of the Liechtenstein flag of the ship, the accidents and the close-down of the station after the ship had ran ashore on the Dutch coast near Noordwijk.
1 Right: Timmy Thomasson (2002) (photo: Rob Olthof)

Jelle Knot: Next to man, you said, there was an equal number of women forming the crew. Many people were sceptical about that innovation. Did it prove to be a good idea afterwards? I know the crew members had to sign a contract prohibiting sexual excesses, and so on ... but was it pleasant to have three men and three women on board instead of six males? Did these women perform typical gender-specific tasks, like making breakfast in the morning, washing the dishes, doing the laundry ...

Tim Thomason: Oh no, not at all. It was not gendered at all. Man and women were all doing the same things. All what the boys did was also done by the girls and vice versa.

Jelle Knot: In other words, a woman could as well be seen deck swabbing?

Tim Thomason: Oh yes, and they did! I have pictures of the girls working. There's even more to say about this topic. Have you ever noticed, in movies or TV, when there's a panic scene, that the men are always acting brave while the women go screaming? In reality, you will see nothing of the sort! If you ever have to live a disaster, take women with you! They stay cool, they know exactly what they have to do ... as in our case they did. We've noticed that on several occasions on the high seas. One time a man had a severe accident on the ship and the women took care of him. Meanwhile, one of my male officers ran downstairs, screaming, because he couldn't take it, he couldn't face the sight of blood, he couldn't handle the disaster, while we were busy talking in a helicopter above the foredeck in order to lower a man from the Sea King helicopter and to take the injured man from the ship. The women gave coffee, made soup and helped everyone, while the others were broadcasting. The women stayed cool. That's only one example, but they were always cool. When the ship was lying on the beach, the panic level also stayed low.

2 Jelle Knot: Each ship has to carry a flag of a particular country. By all means, how did you end up in Liechtenstein? That country is totally surrounded land: Switzerland, Germany and Austria. At its borders, there are neiher seas nor waterways at all. The MV "King David" was the first vessel ever to fly the country's flag. What was the reason for that and did it gave way to any comic situations?
  Tim Thomason: It has created enormously comic situations ... Mister de Groot who was our financial backer and we ourselves, we have always been a little bit pioneers. Now he's dead, but he knew the former Prince of Liechtenstein, and he asked him: "What do you think of putting a ship under the Liechtenstein flag?" and he said: "I have no objection, if you comply with all the laws of the other countries." These laws concern ship's safety, insurance; there are two large insurance companies: Lloyd's and the Scandinavian circuit. With that we had no problems as our ship was insured. So we got the permission to fly the Liechtenstein flag. It was decided over a cup of coffee and a joke.
  Jelle Knot: At one stage, the ship sails out and there's no Liechtenstein flag. Then at once the Swiss flag is raised. Why did this happen?
  Tim Thomason: That was because we couldn't find a Liechtenstein flag. That was an emergency situation for two or three days.

Jelle Knot: Were all crewmembers on board by definition also members of the Liechtenstein Navy?

Tim Thomason: We made it that way, because there is no Liechtenstein Navy. Everybody believed it, so it was OK.

Jelle Knot: There still is a picture of you as a Commander of the Liechtenstein Navy. It seems that Paul Harris, the author of the book When pirates ruled the waves also had a rank ...

Tim Thomason: Yes, Paul Harris was a Lieutenant Commander. We were showing off, because we were very suspicious of the other offshore stations. Radio Veronica was no problem, but Radio Noordzee was a unknown factor. I knew both owners, but there was a shady thing, and I didn't know what it was. I know one thing of the sea: if you're outside land, and you need help, you've got to help yourself. That's why we were armed, not heavily ... we had a German machine gun, some stenguns, pistols ... but we made a lot of fuzz about it, so much that when we finally was towed into IJmuiden harbour, the marechaussee — the Dutch State police — were awaiting us with a whole string of trucks. They thought that we had guns and cannons on board. We wanted to frighten our pirate colleagues. Now, I'm not talking about Bull Verweij and Radio Veronica, I mean Radio Noordzee and the others, who would gladly take over something if it was there for the taking. On sea, there's not much you can do against it. So, we took care to have some arms and more so to make some fuzz about it to make sure they would think twice before taking any action.

  Jelle Knot: If I'm well informed, there were two stenguns, two machine rifles, a Browning machine gun and a number of nerve- gas bombs. The arms were taken on board when the ship was in IJmuiden harbour in September 1970 for repairs. The arms were mainly provided to deter others in case they had plans to take-over?
  Tim Thomason: Absolutely, and the uniforms too.
4 Jelle Knot: Once, when the tender was in Scarborough, four Landrovers came on board. What was the joke behind those four Landrovers, or wasn't it a joke?
  Tim Thomason: No, it was serious matters. We bought a double- deck bus in Aberdeen and we bought four Landrovers. We even had been negotiating with the British authorities, a British government institution that had gone bankrupt, to buy a fleet of trawlers. The reason was that we wanted to establish a program of developmental aid by means of radio in Colombia, off the coast of South America. We knew someone in Colombia, who wanted to make use of the radio for distant learning. I believed in the concept; I knew the man for many years and he knew me — we could cooperate very well. For a start, we had to show that we were serious about it. It never materialized, however. The project was enormous and the financial means were rather scarce. I bought four Landrovers; they were put on the deck of the tender "Kangaroo" ... to show the outside world that we were busy buying material so we could get some more funding.
  Jelle Knot: To show that there was more to Capital Radio than an offshore radio station near Noordwijk?
  Tim Thomason: Yes, that's right.
5 Jelle Knot: Capital Radio cultivated its own club of listeners, the "Vrienden Van Vrije Radio" — Friends of Free Radio. In his book Paul Harris wrote, that within one month the association already counted 5,000 members. Is that a fairy tale? And, is there more to say about the association?
  Tim Thomason: I know it only from memories ... if Paul Harris says there were 5,000 members, OK, then it's true. However, I don't think there were that many of them, but not much less either. The response of the Dutch listening public was enormous; if I remember well one had to pay five guilders to become member. There was no program magazine, no nonsense. There was just that one goal, to prove that we had as much support as possible so the Dutch government would not take any action against us. That was our greatest wish. We have had bad luck on the high seas, but the aim was to establish the kind of following Radio Veronica had.
6 Jelle Knot: Paul Harris played an important role in the events around the King David and Capital Radio ...
  Tim Thomason: Yes, Paul Harris still was a young man; I didn't know him before we started, but I knew his book When pirates ruled the waves. I found it, I read it and I phoned him. It clicked almost instantly because his knowledge of the so-called piracy was huge, and my knowledge was nearly nil. I wasn't interested in "pirate radio," I was interested in radio, free radio ... it's a matter of interpretation, of words. Paul Harris had the knowledge and he has given me a tremendous amount of tips and advice, but in the end I was the one who acquired the necessary equipment like the transmitter and I was the one who made the necessary supporting contacts all over Europe.
  Jelle Knot: In those days, when one phoned Capital Radio in Bussum, it was very often Paul Harris who answered the call. What were his tasks in the Capital organisation?
  Tim Thomason: At one stage the Capital Radio Project started employing people, girls for instance for the studio's here downstairs. When everything started running, Paul Harris joined my group at the service of the International Broadcasters Society; his salary wasn't high, mine wasn't high either, that's not the point, we worked together officially.
7 Jelle Knot: When you talk about the accident, then you are referring to Noordwijk, where the ship ran ashore. However, there were some other serious problems or incidents. When the ship sailed out for the first time, on April 25, 1970, there was a force eight gale. The ship had to return within a few hours with the aerial all twisted. On September 10, 1970, the ship again had to seek refuge, first in Zaandam and then in IJmuiden harbour for repairs for almost a whole month. There were also some personal accidents ...
  Tim Thomason: Oh yes, several ones. Two incidents concerned our third officer, Arie van der Bent; one time he felt out of the mast, when he was retuning the antenna; because of his weight the whole thing collapsed, but there was also a more serious incident ...
  Jelle Knot: That's the accident you referred to earlier when talking about the women keeping and cool and the men panicking ...
  Tim Thomason: Yes, in fact Van de Bent was a fisherman, that was his profession. The man knew the sea, he could do welding work, he was very good at it. He was one of the few guys who could go in such a saddle to do the job. I had long forgotten the story, because there were no real consequences. Yes, indeed, he slipped and fell ... The other time was far more serious. We went to sea with a very heavy anchor, our ship was 350 tons and we had bought an anchor with a chain for, let's say, a 10,000 tons ship. The thing was hanging on cables from the side of the ship; it was so heavy that the ship went over to one side. When we arrived at the spot where we intended to anchor the ship, we had to cut those cables to let the chain go down. Unfortunately one of the crew members, Van der Bent hadn't made his position clear to the others. They didn't know were he was on the deck. That chain ran back and forth and he had to stay out of that area. But he stood there and when the chain went down into the water, it hit his left foot and the foot was almost torn off. He wasn't dead, but it was extremely painful. That was the serious accident.
  Jelle Knot: He was then taken off the ship by a navy helicopter to a hospital?
  Tim Thomason: Yes. His foot was amputated there.
8 Jelle Knot: An important side to a commercial offshore radio station are the advertisers. Did you have many advertisers at the start?
  Tim Thomason: Promises, yes ... but not very much real advertisers. We didn't need much, though, initially. Four advertisers for one hour would yield a lot of money and our salaries were low. Fuel in those days was very cheap ... believe it or not: one litre of diesel in those days only amounted to ten cents for us, on the high seas. So you can understand ... we only needed a small income. We hoped to establish something good by taking little steps at the time.
  Jelle Knot: Each day, over a period of twelve months, I read that advertising at prime time amounted to a prize of only fl. 1,000 ... that is not a prohibitive sum at all.
  Tim Thomason: Oh no, compared to our colleagues of Veronica ... we were nothing; we were asking throw-away prices. Again, idealism was the main driving force behind the whole project. Sure, we were out there to make money, but we were not that poised to have it all at once.
9 Right: The MV "King David" on the beach of Noordwijk in 1970 (photo: Rob Olthof)

Jelle Knot: Let's go back to September 1, 1970. At that date the station had just officially started. Then the ring antenna breaks again. On September, 11, it is clear that the ship has to return to harbour for repairs. Next, the ship sails to Zaandam and there you get an official visitor: Mr Neuteboom.

Tim Thomason: When we heard that name, we knew that something was wrong; he was the man of the Radio Controle Dienst, the Dutch Radio Detection Service.

Jelle Knot: He boarded the ship with his men, do you still remember that? What did he find there, and why did you leave the Zaandam harbour so secretly?

Tim Thomason: He found that some things weren't right at all and he said that he would make a report and that fitting measures would be taken. So we decided to leave in secret. The ship left Zaandam at 5 o'clock in the morning covertly, to use a German saying, "bei Nacht und Nebel." It's only an anecdote, but I remember us sailing in the middle of the night. On board we had a cameraman of the NTS — the Official Dutch Television — and we were aware of the fact that there was a very large navy ship, I believe it could have been a minesweeper, in IJmuiden harbour ... seemingly it was not there for us, but somehow we were suspicious of it ...

  I asked the crew of our tender, the "Kangaroo," to block out that navy ship when we should sail out ... that what I asked them, saying that everything must be done nicely, no arms, no threats ... You could hang a black ball halfway the mast, meaning that you were busy doing underwater activities. Other ships then wouldn't be allowed to come in your vicinity because there are people working under water. So I told the crew of the "Kangaroo" to go and lie in front of that minesweeper at the harbour entrance, to hang up the black ball and just sit there till we were back on the high seas. They sure weren't enthusiastic about it. They were all Dutchmen and they knew the laws. But they were prepared to do it. In IJmuiden, we repaired the damage, brought the weapons on board that we talked about and also the heavy-weight anchor and the chain that was to be the cause of the accident. Then we sailed out again ... in fact, it appeared to be a bona fide spot ... nobody associated us with Capital Radio. That's the whole story.
10 Left: One of the well-known pictures of the MV "King David" riding the North Sea waves

Jelle Knot: On October 10, Radio Capital was back on the air with its regular programmes. Only one month later, on November 10, 1970 things went wrong again. That's what you called Capital's bad day. What exactly did happen on that day?

Tim Thomason: Well, there was a powerful storm and the ship lost her anchor. There are some well-known pictures of the ship where you can see that ship had two anchor chains; in reality there was always one chain, because two chains twist and turn into each other, and that's not good. We had that very, very large chain of a very large freight ship and to my great surprise it broke during what I would call a hurricane, force-twelve if my memory serves me well. It was a heavy storm for two days, and during the storm that large chain with its bulgy links broke down. At that moment the ship was adrift, the engine was still in working order, but there was no rudder anymore. The rudder had gone and it wasn't our intention to sail as the ship was without any control. We could start the engine and go in circles, but we would have no control. They haven't done it, and here I return to the attitude of our crew ladies; the female crew stayed cool, you never know what could have happened. The ship easily could have capsized, you name it. The girls, however, stayed calm, made coffee and warned the men: "Stay calm, sit in the mess room and wait."

  Jelle Knot: Were you still on the air at that time?
  Tim Thomason: Yes and no, we were on the air when we lost our anchor, but we stopped the transmissions as soon as we realized that they were within the borders of the three-mile zone.
  Jelle Knot: The stories in the press saying that the ship ran aground as a result of sabotage of the engines, are totally unfounded?
  Tim Thomason: Yes, that's pure nonsense! The rudder had gone and so the ship couldn't sail properly.
11 Jelle Knot: When the ship had ran ashore on the beach at Noordwijk, several attempts were made to pull her loose. How did she in the end come loose rather quickly?
  Tim Thomason: First of all, the MV "King David" was a small ship. Moreover, she was flat-bottomed and she was lying in the sand. You don't need a lot of power to pull a ship like that free under these conditions. There was no heavy damage ... Wijsmuller pulled us loose. One of the Wijsmuller brothers is an acquaintance of mine, and they pulled us loose quickly. In the end Wijsmuller impounded the ship. I was both shocked and amazed about this, because Wijsmuller had promised me personally not to impound the ship. The company's management, however, demanded that it was done. The world of ship salvaging is a hard world. Wijsmuller already had set an example by taking the ships of Radio Caroline in 1968, because Caroline hadn't paid them for tendering. Both Caroline ships then were impounded too by Wijsmuller. At the time, I didn't know that ... I was amazed, because I had made an agreement with one of the Wijsmullers. Later on, he told me there was nothing he could do about it. The decision had been made by the management. He wasn't up against me. He just needed his money, his claim wasn't unreasonable, and if I had been in the position at that moment to come up with the requested sum of fl. 10,000 or fl. 15,000, we would have been set free.
12 Jelle Knot: There has also been an inquiry about Capital Radio's activities by the Officier van Justitie — the Public prosecutor — in The Hague ... Did this have any consequences?
  Tim Thomason: I never heard of it. Indeed, there was an inquiry on the whereabouts of our weapons, but I haven't told them were they came from. The man of the Rijksrecherche — the Criminal Investigation Department — who was with me, here downstairs in the office, said: "You don't have to say nothing, and it's better to say nothing than to tell lies." He was curious about the weapons and how they came on board; he wanted to know if the weapons were boarded in the Netherlands, and I said: "No, they came from Belgium." They asked: "And how did it come on board?" "By ship," I said, "with another fishing trawler." He said "That's the way it's mostly done." And I said: "OK, that's good! I won't say anything anymore." I don't remember any details, it all happened a long time ago. I never told the police where the weapons really came from ... but I can tell you now ... there was a very well-known arms dealer in Amsterdam, nicknamed Pistolen Paultje — "Pistols Paul. I got the weapons from him. He was a very nice guy with a good sense of humour!
13 Jelle Knot: You couldn't acquire the necessary funds for Wijsmuller to let you have the ship again? A sum of fl. 15,000 is not that big for a fully equipped radio ship. Weren't there any financial backers left ready to pay such a relatively small sum?
  Tim Thomason: I just made an estimation of the amount we would have had to pay Wijsmuller to release the MV "King David." I guess that a sum somewhere between fl. 10,000 and fl. 15,000 would have been sufficient. I think that if we have had that sum at our disposal, Mr Wijsmuller could have said to his fellow managing directors: "I can free the ship." But we were totally broke. Those Liechtenstein companies, or the company that backed us, already had paid us twice; in both cases they hade come up with some ten thousands of guilders. From Mr de Groot's point of view, it was a just and well-considered decision to say: "No, we don't go on like this." Maybe he had lost confidence in the whole enterprise after we had run ashore. I don't know it for sure, but it might be so. I myself don't think so, because we are still good friends, and every two months I see him here when he is over from Switzerland. As a good businessman, at a certain stage he's inclined to say: "Thus far, and not any further." Probably we had reached that point, where he had to say: "OK, not a penny anymore, sorry!"
14 Jelle Knot: Do you have any idea what happened next to the ships of Radio Capital?
  Tim Thomason: The MV "King David" was towed into IJmuiden, then to Amsterdam Noord. There I've stayed on board as long as I could. Nothing has been paid, there was no money anymore. At a certain stage the people who stayed on board and myself left the ship and we lost sight of the ship. I have been told that she has been towed to the South of the Netherlands and was sold as scrap.
  Jelle Knot: Yes, the MV "King David" was towed to the Betuwe in the province of Gelderland. There it was used as a provisional warehouse for a steel company. In 1972 the ship was auctioned and sold to a ship yard in Heerwaarden. The ship was then towed to where the rivers Maas and Waal cross each other. In 1981 a new shed was built on the wharf, and the ship was moved to another mooring between the villages of Heerwaarden and Kerkdriel where the remainder of the hull was filled with concrete and used as the base for a floating pier. In 1984 the hull was sunk in seven metres of water and is used by a local diving club for practising under water swimming. Do you still have memorabilia of those days? We talked about uniforms?
  Tim Thomason: We're talking about things that happened many years ago ... and you ask for uniforms of the Napoleontic era ... I don't know, the flag has gone, one of my children has inherited it years ago ... but uniforms: thick jackets and so don't fit me. Why should I walk around in a captain's or commander's uniform? The caps are gone, I lost one cap in Thailand, I still have the other one, that's a relic ... it's a beret.
15 Right: The MV "King David" locked on chains

Jelle Knot: We are now living more than thirty years later and now you're in your late sixties. Have you been involved in radio since the Capital days?

Tim Thomason: No, it has cost me years to overcome the shock and the loss of the station. I put a considerable amount of love and energy in my career and later on in Capital Radio. It was an huge disillusion to see that it was all lost.

Jelle Knot: Do you have a message for all people who listened to free radio and who in the past also listened to your Capital Radio?

Tim Thomason: The only message I have for whoever it might be, is that if you strongly believe in something, for instance in free communication, in free radio: "Keep it up, carry on, because those people who are not in favour of free radio — and sadly enough that's about ninety percent of the population — those people are just too idle to fight for their rights, they won't do anything, so keep on!"

  Translated by Boudewijn Dom; look here for the first part of this interview.
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