Rare Pirate Radio Anthem Discs Discovered

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Do you remember a song called: Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Wilson?

How good is your memory?

Well, here’s a hint… we need to go back more than 40 years…

Back in 1970 there was no Internet, no music streaming, no music downloads and if you were living in Britain and wanted music on the radio there was only 1 station: BBC Radio One. And because of union restrictions known as “needle time” even monopoly Radio One didn’t play music all the time. OK, there was also evenings-only 208 Radio Luxembourg if you were happy to put up with music fading in and out.

And millions of British people at the time were very, very hungry for more music as they had already proven after the huge success of the offshore radio stations like 266 Radio London, 259 Radio Caroline, Radio 390 and several others, all of which the then Labour government had decided to outlaw 3 years earlier in 1967.

Mr Harold Wilson’s Labour government was dogmatically opposed to any form of commercial radio but was in for a surprise when a new radio ship called Radio Northsea International (RNI) appeared in international waters off the coast of Clacton, Essex in March 1970.

His government’s reaction was to start jamming RNI’s programmes in April 1970 in an unprecedented attempt to prevent British listeners hearing its output. RNI responded with pro-Conservative political messages for the general election on 18 June 1970.

Some weeks earlier, RNI’s programme director, Larry Tremaine, had had the bright idea of recording an alternative version of the signature tune to the popular BBC-TV comedy series “Dad’s Army” as a sort of campaign song.

The lyrics were changed, the title became: “Who Do You Think You’re Kidding Mr. Wilson?” and the song was recorded at IBC recording studios at Portland Place, London — a lucky coincidence for UK commercial radio because IBC had been the company, owned by the legendary Leonard Plugge, which organised the very popular English language commercial radio programmes from Radio Normandy way back in the 1930’s.

Here is Larry Tremaine explaining to Paul Rowley on the BBC programme “The Radio Election” how “Who Do You Think You’re Kidding Mr Wilson” came to be created:

 
RNI changed its name to “Radio Caroline International” during the week of the June 1970 election and repeatedly played “Who Do You Think You’re Kidding Mr. Wilson?” which was very popular. But it was never actually issued to the public as a vinyl record.

So exactly how many acetates of the recording were made?

RNI’s programme director, Larry Tremaine has said that “major rock stars” were in the studio during the recording and he also says that only three (3) acetate record pressings of the song were made and he has one of them.

The other two copies were sent to the m/v Mebo II for playing over the air during the election campaign and one of those copies was kept by RNI DJ Alan West, who, some months later, offered it for sale.

In about 1971 Alan West attended several CIB committee meetings, at one of which he lent his acetate copy to CIB’s John Ker, who now takes up the story:
“… I met DJ Alan West who would often come to CIB meetings. In about early 1971 he lent me his copy of the acetate which I took to Graham Bunce (BBC engineer) and he transcribed the disc to tape. He took a great deal of care to ensure a really good quality transfer to tape (15 ips. filtered and re-equalized using an “Astronic” graphic equalizer). Having returned the original acetate to Alan West, I took the tape to IBC Studios (in the basement of 35, Portland Place – just opposite Broadcasting House) and had five (5) acetates cut. I was very pleased by the fact that they were recorded onto exactly the same acetate blanks as the original at IBC, i.e. near perfect clones. The only differences were that the group “The Opposition” was typed on these blanks whereas on the original “The Opposition” was hand-written and included mention of “Beacon Records”.”

According to DJ Alan West, Beacon Records was, at the time, R.N.I.’s “secret London address”.

Of those 5 acetate pressings, John Ker says he kept one for himself, he gave one to Graham Bunce and two to CIB’s Fred Bunzl. John Ker cannot now remember who had the fifth pressing!

Fred Bunzl kept his two acetate discs together with his record collection until they were all packed away into cartons when his wife and he emigrated from the UK in 1976. He didn’t give them much thought until recently when he was compiling old CIB documents for publication elsewhere on this web site.

Fred has now scanned and uploaded his two discs. You can also download a direct copy of the recording.

And here is a scan of what may be one of the original acetate pressings.

Asked what he intends doing with these two rare copies of “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Wilson”, Fred said: “I haven’t yet decided. If there’s enough interest I’d like to auction them off and give all the proceeds to charity.”


Download the audio of this rare acetate pressing here.

CIB Origins : National Commercial Radio Movement and Free Radio Association

The Campaign For Independent Broadcasting (CIB) came into being in 1969 but this was only a change of name from the same organisation’s previous title: National Commercial Radio Movement (NCRM). NCRM was founded in July 1968 and although not all the group’s records have survived, we know that its founder members were Fred Hasler, Hon. Chairman, David Prewett, Hon. Vice Chairman, Martin Rosen, Hon. Press & Public Relations Officer and Tony Peters, Hon. General Secretary. Other founder members included Paul Peters and Caroline Peters.

All NCRM founder members had previously been members or founder members of the Free Radio Association (FRA) based in Rayleigh, Essex. The FRA originally came into being in February 1967 through a merger of a number of listener groups which supported the offshore pirate radio stations. These radio stations had been on the air since 1964 and the Government were planning to put them out of business by passing the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Bill through Parliament which eventually became law on 14th August 1967.

Many radio listeners at the time did not object to the closing of the offshore stations as such – what really made them angry was the then government’s decision to reject the introduction of land-based independent radio by imposing a diet of monopoly radio only.

Three of the free radio listener groups which merged in February 1967 to form the Free Radio Association (FRA) were the “Commercial Radio Listeners Association” led by Catherine Baker and Roger Taylor, of which Fred Hasler was also a founder member, the “Free Radio Supporters Association” led by Geoffrey Pearl and a group from the Oxford area led by David Prewett.

Unfortunately, not long after the FRA’s formation, one or more disputes surfaced among the Committee members which by early 1968 led to several members leaving. The exact details and cause of the disputes are unclear. One side of the dispute is detailed in a 1969 brochure by FRA’s former Promotions Officer, Barry Schofield, entitled: “FRA – Rise & Fall of a Misguided Association” while the other side of the dispute is provided by Geoffrey Pearl on pages 11 to 13 of FRA’s Spotlight magazine.

In a letter dated 24th March 1970, former FRA and NCRM committee member, Tony Peters, remarked: “… I have had hanging over my head for over a year a writ for slander issued by this man (Geoffrey Pearl) as a result of my telling the truth about his operations to the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times. Writs which he refuses to drop and his solicitors refuse to take any further.”

While Barry Schofield’s brochure includes some factual inaccuracies – e.g. on page 3 he erroneously states that Mottingham is in North London when in fact it is located in South East London – David Prewett, writing in November/December 2013, clearly remembers several of Barry Schofield’s notes as being “a pretty fair record” of events.

The FRA disputes led directly to the formation of the NCRM in July 1968. However, despite the considerable number of people he had alienated, Geoffrey Pearl’s FRA appears to have remained undeterred because he invited NCRM to Rayleigh for a meeting on 23rd February 1969 and in the autumn of 1969 he again contacted both NCRM and another well known group, the Free Radio Campaign (FRC) led by Alex McKenna with another merger proposal.

NCRM/CIB records show that one meeting was held in London on 12th October 1969 and another meeting was planned to be held in Rayleigh on 23rd November 1969. The result of these meetings as far as NCRM was concerned was to agree to cooperate with the other two organisations wherever possible but nothing further.

On the other hand, FRC did agree to merge with FRA and this was confirmed on page 9 of FRC’s journal “Free Radio News No.6”. This merger however seems to have been short-lived because in letters from FRC dated 4th April 1970 and 7th April 1970 it is evident that many FRC organisers had decided to revert back to the “Free Radio Campaign” name.

Looking back today, there are three elements that strike me as to why the FRA failed to stay united:

1. FRA’s objectives were too broadly based on freedom of the individual and consequently lacked focus on the fight for UK independent radio. For example, in September 1967 Geoffrey Pearl had proposed to broaden FRA’s interests to include, among others, the National Federation of Property Owners, Free Britain, Aims of Industry and the Pure Water Society.

2. Geoffrey Pearl appears to have displayed a cavalier attitude which other committee members resented. For example, FRA’s meeting minutes of 11th February 1968 allegedly included comment from FRA’s own President, Sir Ian McTaggart, who “… thought that Mr. Pearl was a most remarkable combination, in that he displayed tremendous dedication to the Association plus a determination to take it over for himself…”.

3. Both sides agree that there was a financial dispute involving FRA funds.