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.

How I Joined the Campaign for Independent Broadcasting

Hi, my name is Fred Bunzl, former Hon. General Secretary of the Campaign For Independent Broadcasting (CIB), and as I sit here at my desk in November 2013, I
shudder to think that it’s now nearly 45 years since I joined as a member of a group called the “National Commercial Radio Movement” (NCRM) back in January 1969.

I had often listened to the offshore (“pirate”) radio stations that ringed the UK between 1964 and 1967. Living in the south east of England at the time, I think my favourites were probably 259 Radio Caroline South and 266 Radio London, although I may have tuned in to Radio 390‘s soft music from time to time.

Then on 27th July 1966, the Labour government of Harold Wilson introduced the “Marine, Etc., Broadcasting (Offences) Bill to the House of Commons and on 14th August 1967 the Bill had become law.

Of course, for many years, it had already been illegal to listen to such unlicensed broadcasts but clearly the government felt uncomfortable with the prospect of prosecuting millions of music listeners who preferred the offshore pirate programmes to the BBC’s three alternatives which, at the time, were the “Home Service“, the “Light Programme” and the “Third Programme“.

The new 1967 law made it illegal for UK residents not only to have anything to do with the offshore stations, it also became illegal to write or say anything which might be construed as some sort of advertisement for an offshore station. This not only stopped any UK newspaper or journal from publishing any offshore radio program listings, it also stopped publication of books which did little more than record the history of those stations.

One example is “Pop Went The Pirates” by Keith Skues to whom I had written in 1968 asking where I could buy a copy. True to form, Keith Skues promptly replied (his letter today resides as a souvenir inside the opening cover of my copy of Keith’s book) stating that “…alas, it never got published. Perhaps it will eventually come out when there is either a change of Government, or at the introduction of commercial radio…“.

If Keith Skues’ book had been published in 1968 its author, publisher and printer might well have been prosecuted. But with the passing of time, the same book’s contents now appear to be regarded as “history” rather than “advertising”…

As we know, on 14th August 1967, when the Government outlawed the offshore pirate radio stations, the two Radio Caroline ships, anchored off Frinton, Essex and the Isle of Man, defiantly continued broadcasting. But by March 1968 Caroline’s money had run out and both radio stations were silenced by the Dutch tender company which had regularly supplied them because of unpaid bills.

So why did I join NCRM? The catalyst for me was undoubtedly the silencing of Radio Caroline in March 1968. It represented the end of UK independent radio and I felt the need to take action to remedy the situation, rather than sit back in my comfortable chair and wring my hands.

At that time I had a weekly subscription to a journal called “Record Retailer” and I remember that whilst the offshore stations were broadcasting, Record Retailer had regularly published each station’s “Fab 40” or “Top 50” record charts. They had also published some information about NCRM so I requested they send me address details so that I could contact them. This they did and I promptly received a letter and brochure from NCRM’s Hon. Public Relations Officer, Martin Rosen on which I acted to join.