From time to time I watch as these every increasingly old and frail gentlemen shuffle about at memorial services. Some services are held every year, and every year less are able to attend. Kept away by death or pre-death senility, the marking of an increasingly distant event gets quieter and quieter. At some point they stop marking it with public displays, and the public murmur finally falls silent.
On the telly recently there was a quite sad report about one such local memorial service coming to an end after years of marking a World War battle.
Now, young lads in the late 1930s being sent off against their will to shoot or be shot and watching people they’ve gotten to know dying horrible deaths around them is going to be one of those haunting experiences that I’m so glad I was born too late to have forced upon me. Over the decades since the war, true, many have ‘dined out’ on their experiences. But for every mouth on a stick willing to revel in what heroic act they performed, there are a thousand who keep mute about their experiences. It’s their way of dealing with the horror and trauma of the experience.
On a lighter subject, the subject of offshore pirate radio, there’s an echo of this same type of thing happening. Obviously none of the offshore radio experience was actually horrific and traumatic, but it was, at times, very dramatic.
And, from the chaps (it was always a male thing) who actually did the offshore radio thing, there are those who were happy to do what they did, and then move on or keep themselves to themselves. These are the real unsung heroes. Once again, for every hundred of these, there’s always one who will dine off the pirate radio experience for the next 50 years.
It’s interesting that the old fellas you see on the TV or holding court in front of wide eyed radio anoraks are usually those who did just a tiny bit more than eff all. They will talk about this again and again. And again.
Unfortunately, history then gets coloured to make them out to be the all knowing all doing bastions of offshore radio instead of the arseholes they were and indeed still are.
Sadly, it’s that time of year for them to be wheeled out in front of people who were far too young to remember these pensioners and how awful they sounded on Radio Caroline, Radio London, or whatever station foolishly let them stroke their ego via their airwaves ‘back in the day’.
It’s now 50 years since Radio Caroline started broadcasting and so there will be gatherings. To have been ‘there’ in 1964 as a 19 or 20 year old doing the DJing, the age of 70 or thereabouts must now inflict these men. Those that haven’t dropped dead, that is. Listeners, the radio anoraks, are all mainly in their very late 50s or 60s now. True, there are a few latecomers in their 40s who get excited by radio they never heard because it was before they were born, and so they only know the abridged, glamorised and homogenised history of what it was really like.
I guess there’s nothing too wrong with celebrating 50 years since Radio Caroline first went on the air, but why does everybody want to live in the past and not look to the future?
It just seems to me that the legacy of the original Radio Caroline and offshore radio stations should be the desire to move forward, break new ground, keep pushing at the boundaries, poking at things to make it better. It shouldn’t be living in the past and playing those old tapes and old black and white movies over and over again. And it definitely shouldn’t be old men getting their egos stroked by naive radio fans.