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Real life on The Boat That Rocked
Rhys Ifans at The Boat That Rocked premiere (Photo: MAX NASH/AFP/Getty Images)

The Boat That Rocked, the Brit-flick starring Rhys Ifans, tells comedic and debauched tales of UK pirate radio.

Original radio pirates Andy Archer and Keith Skues, now at BBC Radio Norfolk, and Tom Edwards, from Norwich, explain how they rode the waves of legality.

"Suddenly this boat started to chase us and we discovered on board were several officials from the Home Office shouting, 'HIM, HIM'" said Andy.

Keith and Tom relived the pirate days on Pirate BBC Essex during Easter 2009.

The Boat That Rocked, set in 1966, highlights the legal loophole that allowed ships off the UK coast to broadcast to 25 million people.

"I haven't seen the film yet, but from what I've seen of the trails, I wish I had of worked on a boat that size - most of them were very small," said Andy.

Radio Caroline, which became the swashbuckling home to all three disc jockeys at some point in their careers, was often not a pleasant place to live and work.

"We used to take our lives into our hands jumping from the tug onto the deck of Radio Caroline in some very rough seas," said Tom.

"A small ration boat used to come alongside the Mi Amigo and it would slam against the side in a force-eight gale," said Keith.

Fact file: Radio Caroline
Keith Skues (right) aboard Radio Caroline in 1965
First broadcast: Easter Sunday 1964 off Felixstowe, Suffolk
It was the first unlicensed radio station to broadcast in English
The Mi Amigo, the Radio Caroline South ship, ran aground after a storm in Frinton-on-Sea in 1966
Other presenters to DJ on the station were Tony Blackburn, Johnnie Walker and Roger Day
Radio Caroline continues to broadcast to the British Isles via the Eurobird 1 satellite on digital TV

"The DJs were at deck level - you could look out and see it coming towards you and you were thinking, 'Hang on...' and the record would go right across the stylus," he added.

The continuing legal wrangle with the pirate boats ensued, with various British administrations making many attempts to break the barriers that allowed the boats to broadcast to UK audiences from international waters.

Playing pop and rock music was very much against the traditional government ethos.

Presenter Andy Archer was the first person to become a victim of this struggle.

"It was after the Marine Offences Act. It was a strange day, because we knew the authorities were looking out for us and they wanted to get hold of somebody," he said.

"This boat came fairly close, about 30-50 metres away, and they were all on board with cameras waving - we just thought they were fans!

"Occasionally we slipped into a port in Essex like Burnham-on-Crouch, but it was illegal as we should port back in Holland."

A vigorous chase ensued and Andy was taken under custody, but he later saw the funny side.

"I was a little apprehensive after the arrest, because we were the first and they could have set an example and put us inside for three months. Luckily, I only got a £150 fine," he said.

"I went to Ronan O'Rahilly [the founder of Radio Caroline] afterwards and said 'Any chance of funding this?'"

BBC Radio One

The pirate radio stations in their heyday portrayed a romantic, fun and dangerous era - something the UK Government wanted to capture in a legal form on dry land.

"The BBC didn't want to run Radio One incidentally. It was set up by the Government to replace the pirates," said Keith, who was an original presenter on BBC Radio One along with Tony Blackburn.

Keith Skues on the opening day of Radio One - 30 September, 1967 (Photo: Ron Howard)
Keith appeared on the 'Saturday Club' on the opening day of Radio One

"They realised they could lose the next election if they were going to do away with the very popular format of music produced off-shore. The pirates were that influential!"

"Pirate radio changed the whole format of music in those days and of broadcasting - we wouldn't be sitting here now had the pirates not been live."

Radio One has seen many highs and lows in its time, but today it remains one of the UK's most popular stations.

"The BBC did the best they could, but Radio One at the start was ruled by people like the Musicians Union, who insisted they would come in and perform a number one hit by The Beach Boys or The Beatles with the Joe Loss or the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra - it didn't sound the same," said Keith.

"However, we may never hear the likes of what happened on Radio One ever again.

"My Saturday Club lasted for two hours and it was all live music. We had live musicians like the Bee Gees and the Tremolos in the studio - I didn't play any records. We had a 20-piece orchestra backing Cliff Richard live!"

Reliving the pirates

For four days, the age of Caroline was relived when Pirate BBC Essex sailed from Good Friday, 10 - 13 March, 2009.

Keith Skues aboard Radio Caroline in 1965
The pirates relived 'the good old days' on Pirate BBC Essex

Keith and Tom jumped aboard the ship LV18, anchored at Halfpenny Pier in Harwich, to relive the 'good old days'.

Prior to setting sail on the boat, now known to millions as the ship filmed in The Boat That Rocked, the two hoped that a piece of broadcasting history would never be forgotten.

"We have spun records to an audience that has remained faithful for more than 40 years. We're both very humbled by that," said Tom.

New licences for community radio
20 Mar 09 |  TV & Radio



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