1921 - 2012

Among the many people Chris Edwards interviewed for the Offshore Echo's album "The Radio Forts" were Roy and Joan Bates, former owners of Radio Essex in the 1960's, and since 1967, the Regents of the Principality of Sealand - a former wartime defence fort off the English coast, that Roy took over and declared a sovereign state.

This interview was recorded at Roy & Joan's sea fern processing works office, in Leigh on Sea Essex, in 1979.  Chris recalled "I obviously must have implied that I though Sealand was a bit of a joke. Roy became rather angry, and I thought I was going to get a rather personal part of my anatomy cut off, and then thrown down the stairs out of the office. Luckily Joan Bates was there as well, and calmed her husband down - so the interview continued.
I did see Roy & Joan being interviewed on Terry Wogan's BBC TV show, and Wogan suffered a similar fate, when he joked about Sealand, and was promptly chewed up by Roy. So I was pleased it wasn't just me".


Well, the first thing must be how did you get involved in radio ?
Well, I thought there should be commercial radio, independent radio in the U K. and there was no other way of getting it except (as we did in those days) have pirate radio, which was of course the forerunner to the present day independent commercial stations. It was the only way you could do it - unless you went to America or somewhere else like that.

Why did you use a fort - rather than a ship ?
Well, there were a lot of reasons for it. It makes better sense economically, it's easier to maintain, you have a stable situation for the men to work in, the equipment to be in and the only difficulty is it's more difficult to supply than a ship, but everything else was an advantage.

What were the living conditions like ?
Pretty ropey. It was full of dead birds and feathers and droppings and - it was a bit knocked about, too.  There had been a couple of yachtsmen stranded there the year before, 'torn all the doors off to make a raft because they were dying of thirst. There were 6000 gallons in a tank above their heads but they didn't look! If they'd turned the taps on they'd have found running water but they didn't do it. Somebody rescued them before they did drown themselves.

What about the food ?
They used to eat like horses in fresh air. We had full-time cooks and also some of them took it in turns cooking if they fancied they could cook a bit. They used to eat well fairly good, strong, simple food. Nothing very complicated.

What about wages ?
They weren't very high. They varied a bit. Most of the fellows we had came to us for their first experience of being on the air, so they were really looking for the beginning of a career (I think all the offshore radios were more or less the same). The fellows were coming in trying to build a career and as a result they didn't want a great deal of money, so the salaries were about the average, I should say, of shore-based salaries - but of course it was all found.

What sort of equipment was there in the studios ?
All the best equipment we could get hold of at the time. We found that in that si­tuation you had to get good dependable equipment and so if we found anything wasn't stan­ding up to it, it was rejected and we got something better.

What about the transmitters ?
The transmitters were all custom-made, I had them made by engineers. Radio Essex was never designed to be anything else but a local station and we deliberately kept our signal power down, so that it really did serve Essex, of course we served Kent as well. All our advertising was not national advertising, it was all country advertising. We were the only one of the offshore stations that worked this way. We did there, what these commercial stations are doing now. We acted as local stations.
We didn't do the up-to-date chat that they do, of course, but we kept news local. We didn't do, we weren't able to do interviews because with the tendering work, they were never up to-date enough to use. You could have no communication between an offshore radio station and the UK - it had to be by boat - you had no radio link.

What about advertising ?
We used to get a lot of advertising. We did very well. I think we carried far more advertising than any other station. As I said basically because we were going for the locals. We didn't go for the national ads. at all.
We would prepare various ads. which we could take round to various forms of industry or jobs or shops and if you thought you had a really hot prospect.
But, of course, they weren't used to radio. They'd never use radio and they used to say "we spend £20,000 a year on the papers and they've always done us well", you know, "and we can't change" - and all this sort of thing.. We said to one rather large store once - he'd said he spent £40, 000 a year on basically newspapers, and we wanted some of this you see. He said "you've got to prove to me that it'll work" - so we took his telephone number and said "you won't be able to use your phone in your place here tomorrow". So all we did was put it on the air: "this man thinks nobody listens to us -please telephone this number". And he was on the phone within two hours, pleading with us to stop it, because we'd blanked his phones out, you see. And it proved to him that it would work. So immediately he wanted two hours "please call it off and I'll sign". And he signed up a nice contract. You had to prove it to them like this.
In the beginning, we had to learn radio, we had to learn how to sell it. People had to learn how to buy it, too.

What about the problems with the authorities ?
I had problems with the authorities all the time. It was a way of life with me.
I don't think it was me that was wrong. I think they were wrong! We used to get certain problems over a while, the customs didn't know how to deal with it, the police didn't know how to deal with it and so as a result after a bit they left us alone. There was a time though when the customs wanted to clear everything in and out, then they decided that they wouldn't and they did actually leave us alone in the end. We just got on with it and they didn't interfere with us and we didn't interfere with them.

How did you feel about the court cases ?
Well, they were a foregone conclusion, weren't they ? They brought out this bay enclosure line, all right... You see the bay enclosure exercise had never been tested in court of law and when they did test it, "yes" they said this was the bay closure line and it pulled all of us inside the territorial waters, so that was the end of the story as far as we were concerned. I was prepared to carry on broadcasting and I said I would if I could get the revenue to come in but of course the advertisers just would not. They used to ask us to please carry on and maybe they could do something, but you can't run a thing on "maybes". You could cut the corners, but you couldn't cut them as fine as that... You know the Marine Offences Act washed us all up and of course this has been the trouble ever since. The various other people who have tried the idea out there -they haven't been realistic about it. The Marine Offences Act: you can defy it as long as you're outside the English territorial waters, but it just means that nobody dare advertise with you, if they have a decent legitimate business in England, they had too much at stake.

Was the whole venture successful ?
It was a successful station. Of course we were beaten into the ground the last few months, really, because the advertisers were getting very nervous being with us... There were a lot of threats going on. People that supply government offices or any form of government thing, they were afraid that they would get into trouble and lose their business or parts of their business, so there was a lot of pressure on. But when it was going, yes, it was fine.

Now a few things about Sealand. Why did you decide to stay out there ?
Well, again, it's something that needs doing and it's never been done before and naturally it attracted me.
It will obviously never be done again! They've all learned how to stop it now but they were too late with me - it's happened, it's arrived and it's the most challenging thing I've ever taken on in my life and it's fascinating, very very interesting - wherever you look there's scope and it was an idea we had. Well we had it before radio, actually. We were kicking this idea about but the thing was we didn't know whether we could do it or not because the territorial waters hadn't been defined in a British court. Because of radio, they were and so we knew where we could do it. So it was a two-way force really, the Marine Offences Act. In one way it stopped something, in the other way it started something.

Sealand in the early days

What sort of plans have you got out there ?
We're going to build a large island, a free port and a free trade area - rather like the Hong Kong of Europe. The money is available. It will take 18 months to build, 7 to 14 people out there, depending on what's going on.

Do you have any plans for any radio stations out on Sealand ?
Well, I get propositions from people. An American consortium. I had a religious group wanted to put radio out there and transmit into Eastern Europe. I wouldn't have it.
When Sealand does do radio it will be done as 'Sealand Radio' and not as a way of getting at somebody else in some other country. It'll be on the scale of Luxembourg and going for this sort of thing.

If Sealand hadn't come along, would you have stayed in radio ?
If I were a businessman here now I would put a tender in for the local station in Essex now. It's tempting. In many ways I feel that we did the groundwork and made the situation.
The main thing about it is we do know how to run radio. Most of the commercial radios in this style are all amateur aren't they ? They really are.

Just one final thing, what would you say the most memorable event has been over the last few years -since you've been involved in radio and forts ?
Everything in that I did seems important to me. Every day's memorable.

The full version of the Roy & Joan Bates interview can be read in
"The Best of Offshore Echo's"
still available for £5.00 post free in Europe.


Roy and Joan Bates









Knock John Fort in 1966








Roy Bates during legal action L to R - Disc Jockey, Guy Hamilton, Mike Bereton, Roy Bates, his wife Joan Bates and their daughter Penny, 1-12-1966



Radio Essex studio










Roy and Joan on Sealand



Sealand flag





Sunday Telegraph





Roy Bates passed away on 9th October 2012, aged 91.

A comprehensive obituary is on the official Sealand website.

Our condolences to his family and many friends.