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volume 20
december 2017

Reginald Calvert: a life for pop music


  Review of:
  • Susan K. Moore (2017), Life and death of a pirate. (474 pages; richly illustrated; hard cover; ISBN 978-0-9515116-6-4.) Fillongley: Fillongley Publications
by Hans Knot
  Reginald Calvert (1928-1966) was the manager of pop groups like The Fortunes. In 1964, after hearing Radio Caroline, he decided to start his own pirate radio station, and made use of an old World War II fort in the Thames Estuary. Calvert was shot and killed in 1966 by Oliver Smedley, the former owner of a rival offshore station, Radio Atlanta. Now, half a century after his death, his daughter Susan Moore has finished his biography. Hans Knot here introduces her trilogy.

A life in three parts.It was in 2014 that the first part of the trilogy 'Life and death of a pirate' was published. Now, over three years later, the two following parts, bound together in a beautiful binding lay on my desk to be reviewed. It's a book about the personal life of Reginald Calvert and his family, the life in the music industry and also to mention his involvement in the offshore broadcasting world in the first half of the sixties of the last century. Susan Moore is the daughter of the late Reginald and Dorothy Calvert and has written the book as a novel with the true and sad story in it. Reginald was a person who had numerous professions, from candy shopkeeper, radio and television mechanic, running ballroom dances, managing many pop groups and running a radio station this until the moment he became the victim of competition.

Often, Reginald was bored quickly in his way of working and he picked up something new ideas to work out again, after which his wife was allowed to clear the chunks. Susan does not shy away from anything in the book. She talks about the rather dominant attitude of a man who actually didn't give his wife space. As an example, let me mention the fact that Dorothy was in the best position for the family and wanted a better home. There was no talk about it. In his married years Reginald appears to have had various relationships that he was able to protect very well until after a relationship of more than 3 years with the singer Carol, he had to expose himself with the buttocks as he could no longer conceal it against his wife Dorothy. It meant a separated life for a number of weeks, but he was taken in grace again.

2 A school for pop music. Calvert bought an enormous house, 'Cliffton Hall', partly for the family and partly for the boys of his band to be able to accommodate and not much later they heard that the old house was completely burnt down including the space where Dorothy was running her own business. She became more intensively involved with the management and more around the pop groups. The first part of the book — and thus the second part of the trilogy — is mainly about the time that Reginald and Dorothy were involved in managing the various beat groups and organizing ballroom dances at various locations in parts of southern and central England. Of course with lots of fun memories, problems with members of the groups, fireworks running out of control and attempts to score hits. Not forgetting that Reginald managed to partly accommodate his groups with contracts in Germany and he contracted new groups that would later make a big name and reputation, such as Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, the Fortunes and Pinkerton's Assorted Colours. All this was described in a wonderful and supple wise manner over the period up to and including 1963. Of course, the creation of King's Agency — based in 7 Denmark Street — along with Terry King is discussed.
3 Right: Shiverings Sands Fort (Photo: Hywel Williams)

A radio station in the Thames Estuary. The second part of the book — the final part of the trilogy — covers Calvert's involvement with offshore radio. Inevitable it seems, as during the youth quake of the sixties offshore radio and pop music seem to melt together to form a new media phenomenon. For example, on 21 March 1964, the day before Eastern, a private club was opened in Loughborough in a former cinema, and it seemed that the financial situation of the Calvert's could go in the right direction. In addition, a song by The Fortunes was suddenly played intensively by a new radio station, Radio Caroline. Reginald, who had always dreamed of being able to start his own radio station, was warned several times by Dorothy that they had no money for it, but Reginald went, as so often, his own way to have his wife and business partner clean up the mess later. He had found a buddy friend in one of his artists, David Sutch, with whom he spent many hours talking about the topic of Pirate Radio and, despite the warnings of Dorothy, continued his own will and devised a stunt together with David Sutch that led to a lot of publicity and, above all, a radio station with lots of music by David Sutch and The Savages.

  What followed were two boat trips from South end on Sea, with Reginald taking both daughters who returned home quite seasick a few hours later, on the first trip, and this all against Dorothy's will. Not much later, Reginald would once again go to sea for the inspection of Knock John Towers and Shivering Sands, the Maunsel Towers that were built and placed on behalf of the government in the Second World War. It should be an ideal accommodation for a radio station. A third boat trip from the centre of London via the Thames to international waters was with the MV Cornucopia to promote the future radio station Radio Sutch. From that moment on page 182 of Susan K. Moore's highly interesting and very readable book Life and death of a pirate, the radio adventure of Reginald Calvert begins, which would ultimately mean his death. In the following chapters you will be drawn through the history of Radio Sutch and Radio City and 300 pages and read the story as if it all happened yesterday. Without saying more, this book is worth purchasing and in my mind is the best book that has been published for years on the subject of offshore radio and more.
  The book can be ordered by way of the website of Moore or directly on the British website of Amazon.co.uk.
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