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Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 12:56 UK
Keith Skues: 50 years on the air
By David Clayton
BBC Norfolk


Keith shows personal footage aboard Radio Caroline and talks about the heady days of pirate radio to BBC East's Inside Out

During Easter 2009, Keith Skues MBE, an original radio pirate and Radio One DJ, notched up 50 years in broadcasting.

From the humble days of broadcasting in his garden shed, to sailing the waves with Radio Caroline - his career went from strength to strength.

Keith is still gracing the airwaves with his popular show Pirate Radio Skues in the East of England.

David Clayton, editor of BBC Radio Norfolk, remembers hearing his special voice for the first time.

I had no idea when I tuned my five quid portable radio into 'Big L' back in the summer of 1967, that I'd end up working alongside one of the pirate DJs from that heady summer of music.

Keith Skues is the broadcaster I wanted to be and I'd have given anything to be a pirate radio DJ like him and his DJ mates.

Being an impressionable teenager, Radio London played everything I wanted to hear with a slick, American radio style that changed the way popular radio sounded. It was an era that paved the way for what we all do now on BBC Local Radio.

Keith Skues at Radio One
Keith Skues has achieved a momentous 50 years in broadcasting

Easter 2009 marks Keith Skues MBE's 50 years in front of the microphone, in radio studios as far a field as East Africa, the Middle East and the fabled watery wireless ships on the North Sea.

That would perhaps be enough to put Skues in a disc jockey's radio hall of fame, but he then went on to be the second voice on Radio One after Tony Blackburn opened the station in September 1967.

He shifted over to Radio Two, managed a long stint running one of the country's most successful local commercial stations before returning to the BBC, almost by accident in the nineties.

However you assess it, Skues has had an amazing career in an industry where it's all too easy to plummet into obscurity, as a fad heads off in another direction.

A radio amateur

Keith Skues was meant to have a sensible job, perhaps in furniture like his father, but as he grew up in Timperley, Cheshire, tinkering with radio equipment in the garden shed broadcasting became his passion.

He even signed up for Latin at school so he could fall under the influence of the Latin teacher who was something of a radio amateur.

Richard Skues 'tutted' as his son wasted more and more time in the shed and really blew his top when the young Keith turned his radio receiver skills into transmitter skills and illegally blotted out Mrs Dales' Diary for 15 minutes.

Timperley was shocked and the police confiscated the equipment. The first Skues' broadcast broke the law!

The apple of Keith's eye was his younger sister Margaret, but whilst family time with her was great fun, it was a strict household from which National Service provided an escape.

Keith Skues in a publicity shot for Radio Caroline (Mobile Press Photos)

So it was off to RAF Compton Bassett for an 18-year-old Skues to learn telecommunications and spot the potential of British Forces Broadcasting as a career move.

BFBS operated from studios in Cologne, Germany. Skues pleaded for a transfer, but was told the only way was to do something drastic like get a local girl pregnant and force a foreign posting!

He didn't, but persistence paid off and he eventually got himself posted to Germany and set about auditioning for BFBS. Finally they gave him a show and he followed in the footsteps of people like Cliff Michelmore, Keith Fordyce and Bill Crozier.

As the Skues National Service came to an end, he was taken on by BFBS as a civilian and moved to East Africa where he really started to learn his radio trade.

It's often said that 'right time, right place' forges careers, so when better to come back to Great Britain than 1964, as Radio Caroline was looking for DJs.

So began Keith's life aboard the pirate ships. Just to make sure he ticked all the radio boxes possible, Keith headed to Radio Luxembourg for a while and then joined the other famous pirate ship, Radio London, in 1966, which is where I first heard the famous Skues voice.

Non-stop pop

Unless you lived through it, it's hard to explain the impact these pirate stations had on a Norfolk teenager's life.

There was non-stop pop music linked by people who sounded like your mate, not your stern uncle. At the time, I didn't realise this, but they were ad-libbing, being spontaneous, living the radio moment and simply having fun. The old BBC was scripted, staid, predictable and pop music was severely rationed.

No wonder the pirates amassed a huge audience. You couldn't phone or text the stations, so interaction meant sacks of mail and crowds at any onshore event they attended. Blackburn, Walker, Everett and Skues were superstars.

British radio had changed for ever more.

Keith Skues' pirate fame didn't wash with his parents. They pretty much disowned him, denying his fame and success until, that is, he literally jumped ship and joined the embryonic Radio One before the pirates were made officially illegal in August 1967.

Keith Skues previews his record collection - one of the largest in the UK

Once Skues could claim the BBC initials, he was measuring up to his Father's expectations.

Now a famous Radio One DJ with a Kensington pad in swinging London and a range of 'dolly birds' on his arm, Skues was at the epicentre of sixties cool.

So it was a shock when he had to listen to a radio SOS message from the BBC announcer just before starting a live Radio One Club, asking for anyone who knew a Margaret Skues to contact the Police.

His sister died in a head-on car collision. Keith had heard the appeal in his headphones and for two hours had to carry on being the jolly host of a live outside broadcast until he knew what had actually happened. Margaret was 21.

As Keith Skues reached his 30th birthday, he was called in to see his BBC boss who told him his Radio One days were over, but he could have a staff announcer's job which meant presenting some Radio Two shows and reading the news.

He accepted and with people like Bruce Wyndham and Barry Aldiss, Keith popped up here and there on the airwaves until he crossed over to commercial radio, becoming programme director at Radio Hallam in Sheffield.

All the Skues experience and expertise came into play and Hallam became one of the most successful commercial stations in the country.

As the nineties dawned, Hallam dispensed with Keith's services while he busied his time helping the military with press relations out in the Gulf.

Keith Skues (left) visits the EMI Recording Plant (detail)
Keith has experienced much in his 50 years

He's been in the RAF Reserve for many years. On returning, he turned his attentions to writing the definitive book about Pirate Radio and his 'Pop Went the Pirates' is being revised and updated.

In 1993, Keith Skues and I crossed paths at a BBC function quite by accident.

He wasn't an official invitee, but turned up as the guest of someone who was. I was amazed to be talking to one of my broadcasting legends. He didn't need much persuading to present a programme for BBC Radio Norfolk, then another and then another. The rest is history.

Keith resides with his massive collection of records and 50 years of radio memories at his home in Horning, Norfolk. I'm sure he's a surprised as anyone that his illegal broadcast from the shed in Timperley turned into half a century in front of the microphone.

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