Monday, 9 May 2011

The Ship That Rocked the World. The true story of Radio Caroline

Back in 1964 Ronan O'Rahilly, a young Irish businessman, decided to launch Radio Caroline, probably themost famous so-called offshore radio pirate of all kinds.

There have been several stories published about the early days of Radio Caroline by people who were in on the early days. Each one laying claim to be the person who was 'really' the one who was closest to the heart of things.

This book by Tom Lodge, on of the earliest DJs on the station, has a ring of authenticity about it. It tells how a young man who came from a family steeped in the history of the early days of radio (his grandfather, Sir Oliver Lodge was the actual inventor of radio, not the upstart pretender, Marconi!)  and who, after a public school education, spent an adventurous life and somewhat tragic life (he was forced to watch a friend die of starvation)  working as a fisherman and hunter in Canada before securing a job with CBC, and, after a chance encounter with Ronan O'Rahilly in a pub in London one wet and rainy day, soon found himself onboard the first Radio Caroline ship the MV Caroline, which later became Radio Caroline North.

The book is a well-written account of the early days of Radio Caroline, how Radio Caroline helped to change the UK music scene and also helped to being about the cultural revolution that swept through Britain in the mid to late 1960s.

The book is well-illustrated and at 242 pages is a good and fascinating read.  It does contain several irritating mistakes (something is described as a "palatial palace") and there are several places where the editor failed to spot rogue punctuation marks, but this does not take away the fact that it is, as I say, a good read. The forward is by Steven van Zandt a member of Bruce Stringsteen's E Street Band.

The book also tells how Tome Lodge (a married man with three boys) helped to change the face of the musical recording industry in Canada and eventually became a Zen Master living in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.

Tom Lodge relates one tail that jars. He relates how MI5 nearly blew the Radio Caroline ship up by using the SAS who would have been parachuted on to the ship. The person who would have been responsible for this was an MI5 agent stationed in Southern Ireland, who revealed the plan in later years to Tom Lodge.

An MI5 agent stationed in the Republic of Ireland?  Surely that would have been a job for MI6? And the idea of parachuting SAS officers on to a ship (with a tall mast) sounds a little far-fetched. As does the reason for the MI5 officer refusing to take the job on, the fact that the SAS officers were all between 18 to 22 and so al listened to Radio Caroline.

The fact is that as a maritime matter it would almost certainly have been the Royal Marine SBS who would have taken on such a job and they would have approached the ship by sea. And they would not have refused the commission, no matter what the ages of the officers involved. I believe that it is possible that when Tom Lodge met "Colin" Colin was one of those strange Walter Mitty types who invent their own back story, or that Colin was genuine and that he had been taking orders from someone in the British government who had taken it upon themselves to mount an operation to take out Radio Caroline that was not officially sanctioned, hence the decision to employ the SAS rather than the SBS. 

The book costs $21.50 and is published by the Bartleby Press, www.bartlbythepublisher.com.

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