Mark Dean is a Radio Caroline North hero

For whatever reason, last night on BBC Radio Lancashire, which is simultaneously broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, the Monday to Thursday Late Show (10pm to 1pm) included a studio guest calling himself Mark Dean. Host Alison Butterworth (or one of her broadcast assistants) had invited him into the studio because during the 1960s he had been a DJ on Radio Caroline North. He’d called the Late Show a few times to talk about 1960s pop music, and in passing revealed his knowledge was because he was a DJ on Radio Caroline North at the time.

Radio Caroline is often portrayed as being just one station, and its southern based history tends to neglect the northern station. Indeed, for a while, the stations used the call-signs Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South, indicating that they had regional differences and yet were indeed what we today would describe as the same ‘brand’.  This north and south bit is usually lost in history.

For a long while, the outputs were radically different. Radio Caroline South was a soft ‘interlude‘ or ‘elevator muzak‘ station, dominated by the awful sound-a-like recordings and songs coming out of the stable of one of the backers, Alan Crawford (remember the ‘Embassy’ record label?).  Less spoken of is the fact that Radio Caroline North was free from that terrible ‘muzak‘ and so became a very fast moving pop service, really resonating with the teenagers who were part of the whole Merseybeat scene. The on-air DJs spoke fast and excitedly, whilst down south their counterparts were sounding like announcers from the then BBC Light Programme.

Radio Caroline North in contrast, was ground-breaking and built a huge and very loyal regional audience who were also experiencing the whole ‘beat’ music revolution. A revolution that was itself giving teenagers their own identity, but was not being reflected on the Radio Caroline down south.  It’s so annoying that quite often the history is transposed to make Radio Caroline South sound so much more exciting than it was.

Anyway.  So, it was potentially exciting to get an actual radio DJ from Radio Caroline North into the BBC Radio Lancashire Late Show studio.

Now, even as a radio anorak with a failing long term memory, I could remember, under prompting, most of the names of the DJs on Radio Caroline North. Knowing the names off rote is an essential part of passing the initiation ceremony when entering the world of radio anoraksia. I hadn’t heard of Mark Dean. Not to worry, maybe he used a different name, I mused.

Ok, so the format of the Late Show is that songs are played and followed by reasonably medium length talkie bits, before the next song plays. It actually works really well, and Alison Butterworth is a very bright and commanding presenter. On BBC Radio Merseyside at that time we have a bunch of confused sounding very very old age pensioners constantly unable to remember whatever subject it is they want to talk about. The more coherent conversations might be about how there were once horse drawn trams and this area or that area used to be fields or countryside.

So, as I say, Alison’s format is bright and engaging. I wish it was a format that was on BBC Radio Merseyside. Even if they just relayed Alison’s show on BBC Radio Merseyside, that would be something. The BBC Radio Merseyside presenters are mainly near death so hopefully when they keel over they’ll get replaced by something more able to attract actual listeners.

Alison started off by teasing that Mark Dean of Radio Caroline North was in the studio. Then when we finally got to hear from him about his memories he couldn’t really remember anything. After a few ‘links’ (talkie bits inbetween the songs) it became obvious that this Mark Dean knew absolutely nothing about offshore radio, let alone Radio Caroline North. Well, the more ardent anoraks probably sussed it as soon as he opened his mouth.

Listening to Alison’s voice, I’d say that within two ‘links’ an alarm bell had started to ring inside her head. Her questioning became more generalised and she was obviously looking for ‘proof’ that Mark Dean had been a hip cat from the world of radio in the 1960s. His answers, punctuated by long pauses and ‘urm’ indicated that life on board had been monastic, celibate, extremely regimented and that he had once interviewed Gene Pitney. He couldn’t really remember any of the names of the other DJs or which air-shifts he’d been on.

Eventually the car crash broadcast was saved by top North-Western radio mega-anorak Paul Rowley, who called into the show (apparently following a ‘help me’ type email plea from Alison after he’d emailed her saying Dean was a fraud!).

Now, it has to be said that everybody working in radio is an anorak. It’s the law. Rowley is not only a radio obsessive, but also the man behind ‘The Other Radio Caroline‘ a radio documentary about Radio Caroline North that is much heralded by radio anoraks as a definitive work.

He had been listening in his car and had obviously started to emit steam from his ears as he heard Mark Dean say absolutely nothing about Radio Caroline North, yet still maintain he had been part of it. The anger in his voice, whist controlled, was huge. Mark Dean was making a mockery of all that radio anoraks hold dear. He challenged Dean directly, putting it to him that he had never been on Radio Caroline North at all. He asked questions that Dean should have known the answers to. He clearly didn’t have a clue, and yet he maintained his story that he had been on Radio Caroline North from 1965 through to 1967. He even got wrong the name of the ship used by Radio Caroline North.

Now, it has to be said that actual radio anoraks, as well as those who actually spent time on board an offshore radio ship, can, in a ‘fisherman’s tale’ manner, spin a good yarn. However, they usually have the facts and knowledge to be able to tell outright yet very convincing lies. As an example, apart from the age issue (I would have been just starting senior school), I could probably have carried off a pretty good fake Radio Caroline North DJ tale. Anything I didn’t know, I could have been hazy about, saying I couldn’t remember, but at least I would have been able to give something to sound plausible for poor Alison Butterworth, being as I actually did a memorable stint on Radio Caroline in the late 1980s. From that I’m sure I could have homogenised tales of life on board a radio ship 20 years before. To be fair, most true radio anoraks could probably do it better than me. It was so shocking that Mark Dean went ahead with his studio guest appearance with so little knowledge of the subject he was there to lie about.

Anyway, this has a least set the radio anorak message boards alight. Conversations about how much oil a generator used in 1973 have been replaced by outrage and blood vessels bursting in anorak foreheads.

And that’s the only good thing that the Mark Dean lies have achieved.