the production of the Jumbo Records documentary album The Wonderful Radio London
Story, Ray Anderson met Duncan Johnson and interviewed him for the documentary
Full version of this interview was published in OEM 122
For OEM subscribers it can be found in HERE.
was your first radio in the UK?
Well I didn't do any radio, I did a few voice-overs for overseas, for
Radio Luxembourg and companies using Radio Luxembourg and Gambia and places,
Nigeria and places like that. In November 1964 I read about Radio London in the
Daily Mail and I thought, "Now I must find out about this". So I
phoned the PR Company and they put me onto the telephone number and I got onto
Ben Toney, Radio London's Texan programme controller. I went to see him and he
said, "have you got a tape?" I said "well only an old tape of
some commercials I made in Bermuda, there's only three commercials on it and
they're very similar" and he said, "That'll do for me". I gave
him the tape and heard no more from him for months and then I was working on a
movie set doing extras and just gofers and doing everything like that, I rang up
Ben Toney when this all finished, when the movie finished, and said I'd like to
come and see you" and he said "no, I'd like you to come and see me,
can you be here at twelve o'clock?". He said I'd like you to meet Philip
Philip Birch shook my hand and said "welcome aboard" he said "I'm
glad to see a nice looking, clean cut chap like yourself has come in to join us
because there's some funny looking people around here" meaning Kenny
Everett and Tony Windsor and Paul Kaye, who I didn't know at the time. Then he
walked out, turned around and walked out again and I looked at Toney and I said
"what's that mean?" and he said "well you start tomorrow"
That was it, I got there and got on the late tender which was six hours late
which wasn't unusual at that time of year, got on board the ship, Radio London,
the MV Galaxy, and couldn't get off if I wanted to for three weeks because of
the bad weather. And that's how my radio experience started.
do you remember about going on board? The ship wasn't very comfortable in the
early days I understand.
Well, having met the tender coming off and a very cold looking Tony Windsor
coming off the ship who wasn't the least bit interested in seeing me or meeting
me as a new person going on and a couple of others who looked a bit blue around
the gills. I arrived on the ship and he said "be careful where you walk
because some oil drums have split in the storm and spread oil all over and you
might slip and slide off ", I then said "oh, that's fine, I can handle
that" I never get sea-sick but it did shake around a little bit. The
next day was even worse. There was a Captain on called Captain Vinegar who spoke
very good English and I went to complain and I said I wanted a life jacket
because the sea was so rough. I thought it was going to be dangerous, he said
"come with me" and we went up to the steering deck up to the top, he
said "see that gauge there?" and everything was kicking around banging
and clunking and making noises, he said "see that gauge there? It's gone 25
degrees that side hasn't it?" as the ship rolled over, I said "yes"
he said "now look at that" he said it's only going 15, it has to go 25
both ways before the ship will turn over". He said "now come
downstairs and have a drink with me because you can't have a life jacket, there
aren't enough to go around". So I started off on what became a very good
relationship with the Captain because whenever I wanted anything he took me in
and gave me another drink of sloe gin. So we got on very well together.
do you remember about those early days, was there much mail coming into the
station or was there much audience reaction?
I didn't get a lot of mail, I used to get some letters, I can remember one
letter and unfortunately I lost it, I kept it for a long time from a girl in
somewhere in Ipswich or Suffolk at least, wrote to me and said she had had this
terrible argument with her mother because her mother was talking while she was
listening to the news and her mother said "I don't understand it, it's the
first time you've ever mentioned anything in the news, you take no interest
whatsoever in the news" and she said "well I do now!" and then
she said "but the real reason is I love the sound of your voice and that's
why I've listened to the news" she said "I could listen to you talk
about anything". And that was one of the letters I could talk about I
did everybody get on onboard together because you were living you know on sort
of a fairly, two weeks on, one week off, all living in a closed confined area.
Did everybody get on alright or were there a few personality problems?
I think there were a few clashes but I was fairly amenable, I didn't take too
much notice of what they did and also I didn't socialize with them in the week
that I was off. Kenny Everett was too young, he wasn't quite into our set not in
the first six months anyway or the first year and the rest of them we saw each
other in the office and maybe lunchtime in the pub but not in the evenings. Then
there was, after a while, a bigger mixture, but in the first six months of only
eight of us working and going on and off we didn't really have time to get upset
I got on better with the crew I thought and the Captain because I could go for a
drink and he thought that was the way to do it, you know be sociable with the
crew. I was keeping in touch with them and generally not being English about it
which went down much better with the crew because we still had a lot of English
crew on at that stage.
you on board the day the USAF Phantom jet crashed into the North Sea close to
Yes I was in the studio when this happened and I kept saying to them "well
what's happening" and nobody would tell me because there was no
communication between the upper deck and the lower bowels of the ship where we
were and it took a long time to find out what was going on. And this bloke came
down and then they didn't want to make a big thing of it they thought "oh
don't, it's nothing special that happens all the time". They used to buzz
us, I don't know how many of these jets used to buzz us every now and again and
one of these jets kept flying by at nearly the speed of sound just a few hundred
yards above and they were supposedly out doing their training it did give us a
bit of a fright.
you look back on it and feel that it was a good moment in your career or not?
Well I don't know about being a good moment in the career but it was, I have
done a lot of silly things in my life. But yes I enjoyed it and that's why I
didn't stay as long as some of them did because the boredom level was reached
fairly rapidly and because nothing much was changing. But it was good excitement,
on the good days it was very good and the other days, well it was interesting.
remembered for London After Midnight, what do you remember of that progra
Not a lot, trying to get an Aussie to write a signature tune for me, that's
about it and he rapidly became the managing director of an advertising agency in
London and then found out he had to work for a living doing that so he
disappeared a few years later. But that's about all I can remember and getting
the signature tune from him I think it was a John Shroeder production if I
remember right, I can't even remember the name of it now. Yes, that's what I
remember most about it, trying to find the right signature tune for doing it.
did UKGM come about and why were you earmarked to organise it.
Well I think it really started when Philip Birch said "what would you do if
you had another radio station, one that you could work yourself?" and I
said I'd make it a Top 40 but slightly more middle of the road, go for a
slightly older audience" he said "oh I was hoping you'd say something
like that". Then Alan Keen said "we've got all these great records
here we never play any great records on Top 40 stations because they're all pop
records". So he said "we've got this idea to do on this fort in the
Thames estuary, it's already operating but not operating very well and we've got
an opportunity to take it over". So we go down to Whitstable with Reg
Calvert, who owned this Radio City fort, or said he owned it and we were there
and there was a photographer hanging about waiting and we get on with Keith
Skues, myself, Dennis Maitland who was the sales manager and in control of the
boats and things and Martin the engineer and Reg Calvert. We go down and get on
this boat and we didn't realise this bloke taking all these photographs was up
to anything, we thought "oh well there are photographers wherever we
go", we go and have a look around we crawl up this fort, I wouldn't go up
the lift, the hoist that they had because I thought it would snap at any time
and break, and we crawl up this rusty old ladder and Skues said "Oh well
I'm with you", so we go up and we finally get to the top or near the top
and there's a few steps which were all, felt a bit loose and I was going very
carefully and very gingerly up these things because they were about 80 feet
above water I suppose. We reached the top and there's someone in a Rudy Nureyev
blue costume, cap, jumper and tight jeans and he said "hello my name's Tom
Edwards but everyone on here calls me mother". Two days later we open the
morning paper and there's a photograph of Keith and myself and Martin the
engineer and Reg Calvert "who was shot dead last night near his home in
Essex" that's what they were all looking for and I was frightened to go out
and I didn't go out for a couple of days 'till I found out what was going on,
but there was a bit of an 'argy bargy' between him and... Reg Calvert and some
of the other people. No one was ever found guilty of anything he was a strange
that result in the project being killed off?
Yes, literally, they still were determined to carry on, Alan Keen by that time
was in charge of part of Radio London and he was determined for it to carry on
and said "we've done all this, we've got the programmes, we've hired the
equipment, bought the equipment it should go" and I said "I don't
think it's going to work" but we were still having discussions and they
were going to call it Radio London United or Radio London something and I said
"no you can't do that, I'm not a musician, Alan Keen is and he can't have
three beats to the bar if we're going to have some decent PAMS jingles made up
we'll have four beats in there, it's got to be UKGM we're going to cover the
country" and Philip Birch agreed with that and that was the last thing that
ever happened, that I was involved in, UKGM and deciding we would call it UKGM.
back do you feel that you were pleased to have been a part of it?
Oh yes, but I've got a long history of always getting in early to places and
never being there when it starts, when it finished or even being there when the
good times happen when all the money was being made, I always get in first I
suppose, the pioneering spirit perhaps. But I did that with Radio London,
started there and started with Radio 1, started with Greater London Radio
started at Radio Northsea as well.
Well I did have a moment or two with Radio Northsea yes, that was another
How did that come about?
Rodney Collins who worked for the Record Mirror at the time, who I had met
during my days of Radio London when he used to work in a local newspaper
somewhere then introduced him to the editor of Record Mirror and he then became
a columnist with Record Mirror. He said to me one day "you should go out
and work on Radio Northsea I can fix you up with it, I've been in contact with
the bloke" I said "I'm not too sure about that" and he said
"well come out there with me this time because I'm going out they have
invited me out", "how do we get there?", "oh we meet Roger
Day at Gatwick and we fly over to Holland" I said "that's something
interesting". We get over there, we arrive in Scheveningen you know,
somewhere like that, stay overnight in a hotel because it's too stormy, get on
this boat and the Swiss man in charge of it said "well you're not staying
in the hotel another night because I'm not paying for you to stay there so
you're getting on the boat". So we had a twelve hour journey across the
North sea, Rodney Collins was green he turned absolutely green and he let go, we
were standing on deck we were the only two left apart from the drunken Captain
who weren't sea sick and he said "I can't take any more" and he let go
and I grabbed hold of him by the scruff' of the neck and held him on the boat
because he would have slipped off; it was all I could do. After that when it
calmed down a bit I fell asleep myself ,rolled up somewhere in a corner, we had
twelve hours of that and I thought "this must be absolute madness" got
on Radio Northsea and I knew it was absolute madness. That was an interesting
excursion which had nothing to do with radio I'm sure.
Johnson interview by Ray Anderson, All Copyrights reserved East Anglian