More thrills than skills: A half-life in journalism, part four

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills: A half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

I GUESS that was why I felt so excited as I tuned into that first broadcast from Radio Caroline, the forerunner of a miniature fleet of radio ships which would anchor off the British coast over the period 1964-67.

Short-lived in terms of time, nevertheless the pirate radio phenomenon would completely revolutionise broadcasting in Britain, directly leading to the creation of Radio One in 1967 and spawning the creation of BBC local radio, and then commercial radio.

Today, when a licence to broadcast on the airwaves is relatively easy to acquire, and the internet is available to all, it is difficult to recall the assumed all-encompassing rights of government to control all broadcasting.

And it was not just a matter of the pirate stations changing broadcasting for ever. Up until 1964, in the UK, culture and experience was dominated by middle-class, middle-of-the-road traditional values. These values were reflected nowhere so forcefully as at the BBC.

The BBC endorsed, formalised and disseminated an ethos of subscription to such values in everything it broadcast, from news to music. Subscription to alternative values was denied by the BBC’s monopoly.

The pirates would change that for ever, far beyond changing radio broadcasting. For millions of teenagers and other young people, all of a sudden there was another way. The definition of popular culture and access to freedom of expression was no longer the right of a privileged few.

Pirate radio may have posed more questions than answers but it successfully challenged a whole series of assumed rights: rights to the airwaves, rights to hear the programmes of one’s choice, rights to self-expression, and the right to question things which had never been up for discussion before.

I didn’t realise at that moment in time how much pirate radio would influence my own life, as it did those of millions of youngster in the 1960s. In the wake of offshore pirate radio, came a veritable revolution in music, dress, design, speech, human rights and attitudes.