Transcript of recorded interview with Bill Scadden, Saturday 4th February 1984 in his home at Frinton-on-Sea, Essex.

Klik hier voor de Nederlandstalige versie.

Mr Scadden had retired before he even began his operations with the radio shiBS. He was therefore of a considerable age by the time of this conversation, twenty years later. He was hesitant and slow in recalling his memories. Nonetheless, this is a unique record, which has been slightly edited for repetition and clarity. The facts and sense of the story have not been altered.

Colin Nichol: I'd like to get lots of stories from you, but let's start at the beginning. How did you first hear about pirate radio. From whom did you hear it, when and where, how did you get into it?
Bill Scadden: I was a resident here in Frinton.
CN: What was your job?
BS: I was retired.
CN:You previously worked in the shipping industry, of course ..
BS: I was in the Police, and before that I was a radio operator at sea.
CN: I thought you worked with a shipping firm too.
BS: No, we had an office in Harwich – forget the name of it now..
CN: Well, you were already retired – but how was it you were approached and by whom?
BS: Let's get this straight - I had a phone call from Ronan O'Rahilly and he said you don't know the chap but his name is Gillman and he's our chief engineer and all the rest of it and he wants to have a chat with you.
CN: And was that your first contact with pirate radio? How did they get your name?
BS: Well, Ronan got it from somewhere and er ..
CN: Through your amateur radio connections?
BS: Yes, I was in the amateur radio book you see.
CN: Ah, he must have picked it up from there.
BS: Yes. Anyway, I met Gillman – met him in (town of) Thorpe ..
CN: John Gillman, wasn't it? Yes, you told me he was rather careful about making contact.
BS: Yes, he was a little bit, er ..
CN: Cloak and dagger .. and he said it wasn't a good idea to meet in Frinton, that it?
BS: Yes, he thought we might be followed and all that sort of nonsense. So I met him at Thorpe and he told me he was the Chief Engineer and he wanted somebody to act as agent down here and that it was all Ronan O'Rahilly's idea and he understood that I was a bit of a wizard with two-way communications and I had a license and all the rest of it.
I liked old Gillman, he was a silly old fool but he phoned me once or twice more and asked me to go up to Caroline House, so I went up to Caroline House and met O'Rahilly and Crawford and Barry Ainley (then General Manager) and one or two other people and before I knew where I was they'd offered me a job. Ronan, who always had an eye for the legal and the illegal said, well now look, we haven't got a lot of money, we can't pay you a lot of money, but we'll give you 30 pounds a week plus expenses, if you write out what your expenses are. I wasn't really worried about the money, really
CN: Did you feel you were in for an adventure?
BS: Yes, that was the real object. So, I met. one or two of the radio engineers when they were going out on the next occasion and checked over what equipment they had for sending and receiving and I made one or two tests that night.
CN: When this was, do you know the date?
BS: Yes, it was May 1964.
CN: So Caroline had been on the air for a little while ..
BS: Not for very long. I don't think she started till about Easter.
CN: Yes, that's right. So it had been going on without the need for this clandestine radio contact up to then? But the PMG (Postmaster General's Department, the Post Office had control of communications), I believe, was starting to clamp down on those two-way messages, ship to shore?
BS: Yes. They had a contact through North Foreland in an official way with the Post Office. And suddenly, the Post Office wouldn't take their messages. That's where I came in.
CN: Were you working through the Harcourt Shipping Agency?
BS: That's right.
CN: That's in Harwich.
BS: So, I arranged for the radio engineers on board the ship to make a schedule, gave them my frequencies and what frequencies they could use and it worked very well. That was at Brightlingsea at first.
CN: Did you used to go down on the beach? We used to have visions of you – because I was on the ship at that time – we used to have visions of you hiding on the beach somewhere with your transmitting set.
BS: No. (Laughs). No – it was far to heavy. I'll show it to you in a minute. No, I used to meet the agent down in Brightlingsea and we had several near cock-uBS with this alert customs officer who couldn't understand the discrepancy between what the form that was filled in for what they wanted the next day, and when it actually came to what went out, it was a different list, mainly because owing to the passage of time, I'd had my message and they'd said, change that nil water requirement to five tons; and there were various things like that, you see.
CN: In other words, he picked up the fact that there were discrepancies between the written orders that came ashore on the tender and the actual order that was filled the next day, and there had to be an explanation for this and they were all wondering why. And the explanation was, you with your two-way amateur radio set.
BS: Yes, yes. Well, he said to me one morning down at Brightlingsea, you live down at Frinton don't you Mr. Scadden, and I said, yes that's right, and he said do you live in a big house on the front, and I said that's right,with a big aerial over the top? and I said yes. Oh, he said, somebody told me that that was where you lived and I drive that way on the way home and coming along there I saw the house and the aerial over the top and then I started to put two and two together. I said to him I don't know what you're talking about, and he said well the tender came ashore asking for no water and this morning he takes out five tons. So I said well that's entirely between the captain and the agents I don't know anything about that.
Then on an another occasion he said, you've got a ham radio, haven't you? and I said, yes – licensed, everything logged, come along and inspect it if you like. He never did but he was very suspicious of me. And there was a seaman at Harwich who reckoned he recognised my voice, so I always used to call Magna, Magna, Magna – Magna, Magna, Magna, in a muffled tone, and that's what he'd heard.
CN: I've heard you doing that. I remember tuning the dial in and then listening for you, on the ship. And thinking how cloak-and-dagger we're getting, out of necessity, with all these mysteries going on. You used that call sign Magna, you didn't use your frequency call sign when you were making these calls.
BS: I didn't use my amateur radio call-sign.
CN: No, but what is that – what was that?
BS: G3 C-E-B, Charlie Easy Baker.
CN: And that's still your registration today?
BS: Yes, yes.
CN: But you did have a visit, didn't you, in the end, from the authorities?
BS: Two chaBS. I received a routine visit by the Post Office.
CN: It seemed routine, but it was tea time, wasn't it?
BS: Well, they always came in the evening they hope to get (find) people in, you see. They came from Colchester, the Post Office headquarters at Colchester, produced their cards, said that they'd like to inspect my station. They did inspect my station, they took no notice of a large picture of Caroline on the wall or some Caroline notepaper on the table. They never questioned me about it at all.
CN: How long had you been operating for Caroline, by the time this happened?
BS: Twelve months ..
CN: So you'd been in action quite a while.
BS: Oh, yes.
CN: This was not a sudden visit out of the blue, just after you'd started
BS: No, no. They inspected my station and found it correct and looked at my logbook. Didn't ask me anything about Caroline - what was really comical, one of them said to me, do you get any interference from that bloody pirate ship out there? I said, no it doesn't interfere with me. I've got pretty good receivers of course, they're selective and all that. He said, I wondered if you got any interference, only the Postmaster General, speaking in a hushed voice when he mentioned the Postmaster General, said the Postmaster General was very anxious to get some evidence or material against Caroline, Radio Caroline.
I said, oh yes, what have they done? He said, well we are building up a file to produce. in parliament and we'll try and bring in the Marine Offences Bill, and if we can get some complaints, I mean, you're a skilled radio bloke, do you get any interference on your amateur radio or on your ordinary broadcasts or anything? I said, well I must be truthful, I don't, my receiver equipment's good, I don't get any complaints at all. So, he said, well the Postmaster General would very much – be very pleased, if you do get any complaints, will you write us a letter and complain saying that you can't get the broadcast and you can't get the ..
CN: Did they say that many other people had complained?
BS: No.
CN: Because I don't think very many people did, really, when you come down to it.
BS: No. So I said, well, let's leave it at this. If I do get trouble from Caroline I will certainly write you a letter. We left it at that, and we shook hands and away they went.
CN: You don't think they were playing a game, with you?
BS:No. No, I'm sure they weren't.
CN: At this stage you were more than just an emergency communications link with the shore though, weren't you?
BS: Oh, yes.
CN:What other work were you doing for Caroline?
BS: Well, on one occasion - I did two or three things. Only, owing to the nature of what I was doing, I couldn't give it any publicity. For argument's sake, one night the chief engineer on the Caroline was using a gas torch to weld something - it blew back in his face and injured his eyes and the next thing I knew was that at half past eight they, er ..
CN: That was at night?
BS: Yes, I had a frantic call from Caroline to say that their chief engineer had burned his eyes badly and the captain was very worried and what could they do. So I said, well I'll call you back. I got in touch with somebody in Harwich who was very friendly with a doctor and put the story to him and the doctor said,well wash his eyes out with water, plain, pure water if you can get it, take his temperature first and take it later on during the evening and if it has gone up at all, very much, you'd better really get a lifeboat and bring the doctor out there. Well I did all that I got in touch with the doctor and that is the advice he gave me. I radioed it back to Caroline and they did what I told them and at 11 o'clock that night they called me and said that his temperature had gone down and he was much better so we were all right.
CN: Is that the end of the story for that? No more troubles?
BS: No more troubles from that. The other thing was, one night I got a call from a policeman in a remote Norfolk village and the story he told me was that there was a young man in the village who was touring on a Lambretta and he always listened to Caroline. He had a little set on the back of the motorbike and his parents were both killed at a crossroad accident nearby while he was away and they desperately – this copper - wanted to desperately get in touch with him so that he didn't come home and hear the news, 'cause he was a bit of a suicidal lad, they thought he might do himself in. So the thing to do was to get a message out to Caroline; they knew he'd be listening. You see, if you haven't got a schedule with somebody there is no way of getting them (aboard Caroline) unless they are sitting by the receiver.
CN: Yes, so how did you make contact out of schedule?
BS: I thought it all out very carefully, and I went down and saw coxswain of the Walton lifeboat, who was a helpful sort of bloke, explained the position and he said, well look, I'll get my own boat out and chuck a message on board the Caroline.
CN: Which was illegal, of course, to do.
BS: Yes. And so I wrote a message out and put it in a tobacco tin and sealed it all up with tape and he went out in his own boat - and it's marvellous how these East Essex blokes – how canny they are. He said, well now look, when I go out, I'll go out about 12 o'clock tonight, so that the coastguard, looking around all the evening, they see my boat going out, which would be very usual, they'd wonder what it was all about and look harder. So he went out with his son, a fourteen year old boy, and chucked the message on board successfully and Caroline broadcast it, and the boy went in for petrol first thing in the morning, to a garage, and the bloke - I was able to give the the index (registration) number of the motorbike you see – and he, the chap in the garage, saw the bike and said, Oh! – Caroline's been looking for you, because he listened to Caroline too, you see, you've gotta go and see the copper, wherever it is you live, before you go home. And it it worked. He went and saw the copper and got the strength of it and he didn't cut his throat or anything.
CN: There must have been a lot of stories like that.
CN: Just clarifying now, you were developing in this work, as time went by, more and more activity, weren't you, on behalf of Caroline?
BS: Yes, of yes.
CN: Did you become an employee of Harcourt Shipping Agency?
BS: No, no.
CN: You were always on commission from Ronan ..
BS: From Ronan, yes.
CN: From Caroline and Project Atlanta.
BS: Yes, yeah.
CN: But you started being liaison Officer – that's what we always knew you as.
BS: Yes, that's right - well I used to all sorts of things for them- buy stores in, I used to spend sometimes 500 Pounds a week in Harwich for bits and pieces for them – radio parts and all of it, because I would know about radio parts, and all sorts of things like that.
CN: And food and provisions – did you buy any of those at different times?
BS: Yes, yes – ordered (he ordered them).
CN: Because at that stage there were still provisions coming up from Harwich, weren't there?
BS: Yes, they normally would come up, but if they had any urgent things, medicines or anything like, that, they'd get in touch with me and I would get it.
CN: And how did you get them out to the ship, then?
BS: On the tender, of course.
CN: Because you were mostly operating out of Harwich by then, weren't you?
BS: Yes,oh yes.
CN: You were originally involved in Brightlingsea, were you?
BS: Yes, yes.
CN: So when your first contact came, it was to originally work out of Brightlingsea and then later Harwich?
BS: Yes, but in actual fact, you see, one unusual order that I got was for about a dozen electric fires. The weather turned very cold, and snow in the winter and the generators were giving trouble on the Caroline and it wasn't up to running a lot of electric fires, so Ronan got in touch with me and said you must get some electric fires, they're complaining bitterly about cold and all the rest of it, so I bought a dozen electric fires, a nice little order for our local shop. (Laughs).
CN: Was the Caroline able to cope with the power load for those – the Mi Amigo?
BS: Yes. Bit of a struggle sometimes.
CN: Yes, that generator was not always perfect.
BS: Anyway, it got them over a bad patch while the weather was bad and cold.
CN:When was that, do you remember?
BS: '65, I think.
CN: What was your feeling about the whole of the Caroline operation, looking at it in retrospect now, looking back on it?
BS: Looking back on it, I think it did nobody any harm, it was popular with the public and I can't see that the government could ever say that there was any harm that it did, or any interference that it caused.
CN: Let's hear that story about Tony Blackburn up the mast. When was this, now?
BS: About '66, I think.
CN: Early '66 – winter of '66? Yes, it would have been, because she went aground shortly after, I think.
BS: Yes. Ronan phoned me up and said that they were having trouble out there with a short on the mast (short circuit), the top of it was touching, and they must get it right as quickly as possible, he said I'm coming down tomorrow morning, and you can tell them I'm coming – what's the best sort of shoes to climb up the mast, 'cause I'm going up myself. So he came down the next morning with a big pair of rubber shoes and I'd told them over the link that night that Ronan was coming in the morning and that he was going to climb up the bloody mast. They didn't take that very well - not in a nasty way - and Tony Blackburn, when he heard about it, he said he'd go up. Well I went down to Harwich in the morning with Ronan, we boarded tender and out we chugged and as we were getting a little way out we looked at the ship and there was a little black figure going up the mast very, very slowly - it was Tony Blackburn. And the captain radioed to me and to the tender that, not to bring the tender alongside, 'cause it would probably shake Tony off the mast.
CN: Yes, as the two bumped together.
BS: Yeah. So we cruised 'round and 'round the Caroline and we saw Tony get to the top and do the job and come down again; I thought he did remarkably well and Ronan was delighted because while Ronan said he was going up, he was bloody pleased that he didn't have to. I don't think he would have gone up actually. But he was doing a lot of talking about going up. He was overjoyed when he saw Blackburn go up and do the job. And he – oh! - he offered – what I do remember very well - he offered Tony fifty Pounds, and he refused it.
CN: About the comings and goings on the ship, can you recall any other stories of emergencies, of disasters, of late night to-ings and fro-ings ..
BS: We had one occasion where there was a Dutch cook, and when he got drunk he got a bit amourous and we had one or two girls on board who were from the London office and they were doing the record library and he bumped into them in one of the alleyways and I don't think he did anything really grim other than perhaBS put his arm around one of them which they promptly reported and that was that.
CN:That didn't result in any special trip out to the ship ..
BS: No, no activity.
CN: Were there any late-night surreptitious journeys?
BS: Well, not as far as the girls were concerned because they left the ship a few weeks after that.
CN: Yes, but for any other reason?
BS: Well, what happened was, the cook got very drunk one night and was throwing the plates over the side and all this got reported to the Captain and on one particular occasion the disc-jockeys all had a party and they played music and all the rest of it, and the Dutch crew complained to the captain because they couldn't go to sleep, and I went out there to try and square this row up. I was always squaring up quarrels and rows. And I went and saw the captain, he was a very nice bloke ..
CN: Do you remember his name?
BS: I can't - anyway, I saw the captain down in his cabin. I said I've got a bit of trouble here for you. What happened, the Captain, directly he got wind of any trouble, he used to send a typed latter to Holland, to the Offshore people, Weijsmuller, the name of a very big company, very high up in the tug and salvage business, they supplied the ship. They duly received the letter from the Captain complaining about the noise the disc-jockeys were making and I think they wrote on it, “Get Mr Scadden to go out,” and I duly went out and saw the captain, explained the situation to him, and before I did see the captain, I went 'round the ship and had a talk with the disc-jockeys and one or two of the Dutch people, and found out quite a lot. The disc-jockeys told me about the two girls on the way back to their cabin being mauled by the cook, and I also heard about the plates going over the side by the cook and all the rest of it.
So when I saw the captain I was armed with this information, and I said I've got a copy of a letter from Baarm, that's their headquarters, I had a copy of the letter in my hand, you see, that had been sent to me from Caroline House. So I said I've got a bit of a complaint here – you talk about the disc-jockeys making a noise and playing music half the night; I said what about what the Dutch crew do, don't they ever – 'cos he put all this in the log book, the official log book, about what the disc-jockeys had done, but not about the Dutchmen. I said that - I saw the log book, I asked him for it – you see – and I looked at it, I said I don't see anything about the drunken cook throwing the plates over the side or mauling the girls on the way back to their cabin, and I believe they did complain. Oh! he said, I did not think it was worth it. I said yes, but you thought it worth while to report the disc-jockeys. He said, you are a very wise man, we'll have to come to some arrangement Mr. Scadden. I get any troubles, I tell you, and you tell me. So we squared that one up.
CN: But was there, in your opinion, a sense of strain between the Dutch and the English-speaking people?
BS: Honestly, no. There was never any real friction. I didn't think there was, anyway, because they all realised they had to work together and all the rest of it and I think it worked alright. Apart from the incident when the cook got drunk and threw the plates over the side (laughs).
CN: You nearly had an accident – you did have an accident yourself, didn't you? Getting aboard, you slipped, from the ship ..
BS: Coming ashore. The tender ..
CN: When was this?
BS: Oh! - towards the end, 1966 perhaBS. I was told the tender was coming at 4 o'clock for arguments sake and it duly came and it was bloody rough. The tender was going up and down and so was the Caroline.
CN: You were on board and going ..
BS: I was on the Caroline and I was advised by the captain and other people that it was going to be a bit risky getting on board the tender.
CN: Was this the Mi Amigo or the Cheeta.
BS: The Mi Amigo.
CN: So this would have been after she'd gone aground and been refitted, I expect?
BS: Yes, I don't think anything special had happened between. But I was determined to come ashore and when the tender did loom up, I made up my mind - I thought I'd try and judge when the tender came up and the Caroline went down so it would not be too big a jump and I jumped, but I just gauged it a bit wrong and just as I was flying through the air, the bloody tender went down and instead of just jumping about six feet I went seventeen feet down; crashed down on the deck of the tender and slid along the steel deck which was wet of course, hit my head on the little house there and cut my head a bit and also my ankle. So that wasn't very helpful.
CN: But you lived.
BS: Oh yes (laughs).
CN: How many other accidents do you remember? There must have been a few, not just to you but to others.
BS: Don't remember any other serious accidents.
CN: It was surprisingly accident-free, all things considered, really.
PDS: Yes, they were very lucky.
CN: A lot more things could have happened than did. Do you recall the lifeboats being called out at all, on any other occasions?
BS: Well, there's something about a lifeboat going through my head..
CN: Yes, there is with me too and I don't know what it is. Somebody being sick – appendix. Keith Skues. Were you there for that.
BS: Yes. What happened – the lifeboat came out to either take him ashore, and er ..
CN: When was this now, do you remember – early '65?
BS: Can't remember now, could have been. What happened was, the lifeboat came alongside the Caroline – it was a lovely summer's afternoon and calm and as the lifeboat came alongside they threw their ropes on board Caroline and the captain was an awkward so-and-so, he'd had strict instructions: no contact with the shore, so he took the bloody ropes off and threw them back. Well, to a lifeboat man this is absolutely incredible, to have their ropes thrown off, but they were put back eventually and they took Skues ashore. There was a lot of chat about it but, that was that.
CN: And he had his appendix removed and quite a major operation almost immediately, which ..
BS: It was a good job he had it
CN: Well, I think so, though there was some uncertainty as to exactly what was wrong and how bad it was, but he was really given a real going-over.
BS: One of his interests - Skues' interests - was tracing old things – church records. He went down to Cornwall ..
CN: He was researching his family history.
BS: Yes. And I had originally come from Cornwall and I didn't know he was going to do this but while he was down there he went all around the churches and went to the village where my relatives originally lived; when he same back and saw me he said, oh - you had an aunt or something called Tibetha, and I said that I couldn't tell you. He said I saw her name on the church records, Tibetha Scadden and that was that.
BS: Just tying up the story for Caroline, because that middle period of Radio Caroline, when Caroline had gone aground and had been taken to Holland, the Cheeta II was out there, being set up. What happened to her, after she ceased to be Radio Caroline South.
BS: She went up, for some repairs and all that, to Lowestoft. She was leaking badly.
CN: When was this, do you remember? '66 – late '66?
BS: Yes. Soon after we'd finished with her, what had happened - the plumbing was bad on her and it was coming up through the loos (toilets) - sea water etc and and she went to Lowestoft for repairs and an old captain in the Dutch navy who was working for Caroline was supervising it. We used to call him “the Admiral”. She went up to Lowestoft and had the repairs and came back and she was then laid up in the estuary near Harwich for some time and on occasion at night - I was still in touch with them all – I'd call the Cheeta, Radio London (Galaxy), Radio Caroline (Mi Amigo again), Britain Radio / Radio England (Laissez Faire). I used to talk to them all.
CN: Did you have different codes for each of them?
BS: Different frequencies – I could switch over. From 1950 to 1906.
CN: Would you do it all over again, if they asked you?
BS: I suppose I would, yes. It was rather exciting. I enjoyed it, I met a lot of very nice people.
CN: Well, you were the voice of civilisation and hope for all of us out on the shiBS, the only contact with land and the man who either could help us or couldn't and whom we fell back on, time and again.
BS: My wife was very good, too, because when I used to go out to the Caroline on the tender I had an arrangement that my wife would call me on my own frequency on the hour and one day we were coming back with Ronan O'Rahilly and he said, I've missed that train at Liverpool Street - I'll be too late, and I said, oh, we'll see what we can do for you. I got hold of the radio on the tender and gave myself a call and Jean came back, and did have then a broad Scots voice, she said, “Magna, Magna Magna”, and it came through very well. Please inform head office Ronan will not catch the 5.10 train but will try and catch the 6.10 or the 7.10 as we are late coming ashore and it all worked all right. She was a very good operator, she was in Civil Defence with me, I was in the Signals, of course. Jean was in too, she was remarkably good.
CN: So it was teamwork.
BS:Umm (yes).
CN: I've missed my train now, too.

Comments in italics by editor.
CN was aboard Caroline at the time
and witnessed the mast climbing incident.
Copyright Colin Nichol, may not be reproduced without permission.


Colin Nichol's Radio Caroline Gallery

Bill Scadden


Doug Kerr, Marion Cochrane, Tony Day, aboard Caroline South
My recollection is, Marion was the first girl to come aboard Caroline ..


Mi Amigo, Caroline South, Postcard, Coastal Cards Ltd


Mi Amigo, Caroline South, Postcard, Coastal Cards Ltd


Mi Amigo, Caroline South


Mi Amigo, Caroline South


Tender coming up to Radio Caroline South


Tender Offshore I alongside Mi Amigo, Caroline South


MV Mi Amigo in Holland, possibly Amsterdam