Interview Paul Hollingdale

op . Gepost in Zeezenders Archief

Paul Hollingdale en Robbie Dale in 1978In 1961 presenteerde Paul Hollingdale, samen met o­nder andere Doug Stanley, programma's voor CNBC: the Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company. De programma's van CNBC werden uitgezonden vanaf het Veronica zendschip Borkum Riff. Colin Nichol had in februari 1984 een exclusief interview met Paul Hollingdale in London. Paul praat o­nder andere over zijn tijd bij CNBC, BFN, Radio Luxembourg en de BBC.


Mr. Paul Hollingdale Talking in his London studio to Colin Nichol (Colin Nicol) in February 1984. Edited transcript of a recorded interview. Copyright Colin Nichol 2007-04-05.

Paul Hollingdale: In 1959 I was working for the British Forces Broadcasting Service, it was then known as the British Forces Network, and at that time I had been given a stroke of luck in the sense that within six months of joining the organisation I had the opportunity of presenting Two Way Family Favourites from the Cologne end. That programme was o­ne of the most important radio shows going out at that period and was for more than two decades, in the sense that it very much appealed not o­nly to the audience but also to the recording business because it had audiences of something like 12 or 15 million people a week. So it was my intention not to stay with BFN as it was then known for very long, because I wanted to return to England to continue my career and as I had now been given a programme where I could actually, you know, present my talents it came into focus as far as the BBC were concerned.

But before that, when I decided to return to England, the BBC had to wait, or I had to wait for them, and I got the opportunity of working for Radio Luxembourg for the very first time and during the winter of 1960 and '61 I presented a programme o­n Radio Luxembourg called The Six O'clock Record Show which was sponsored by Phillips (Record Company). That gave me a certain amount of money, very low by today's standards, to be able to come back and live in London.

What happened during that period was, there was a Canadian-born disc-jockey, Doug Stanley, who I had met whilst I was serving with the British Forces in Germany and he was just ending his period of operation there and he was looking for other things to do. He came back to England and got involved with a company called Mitchell Monkhouse Associates run by Malcolm Mitchell who was running a trio that was very well known and Bob Monkhouse who of course needs no introduction. And they were producing shows for Radio Luxembourg which were sponsored by Cadburys Chocolates and people like that and Bob Monkhouse was fronting this programme. Doug Stanley was o­ne of the producers.


But his interests had wandered to Holland where three Dutch brothers, the Verweij brothers, Dirk, Jaap and the third brother who’s name was Hendrik, known as Bull. Now, they had set up a pirate ship in 1959 for the station Radio Veronica. They had made a lot of money in post-war-years by running a sort of stocking factory which was, of all places, centred in Hilversum, which as you know is very much part of the Dutch radio and television area.

They got in o­n some transactions in flogging nylon stockings and all that sort of thing and had made quite a lot of money and by 1959 they were running this stocking factory. But out of this particular area they decided to start this pirate ship. They got together a few business people but they mostly controlled the shares and together with an engineer they set up this ship. The ship was the Borkum Riff and it was run by an extraordinary Dutch sea captain. In fact they weren't the forerunners of the pirate radio because there had, as you know, been some other piratical situation going o­n off the coast of Scandinavia in Denmark and Sweden where some other load of entrepreneurs had got going with a boat. But the idea had ventured south and they had got this ship going and they were broadcasting in Dutch during the day and they were very successful and they got a lot of advertising. The studios were very makeshift, they were all done with egg boxes and things like that but it was enough to get it going and they had a team of young enthusiastic people.

CN: Weren't they taping o­n land?

PH: They were taping o­n land, they used to take the tapes to the coast of Holland, in Scheveningen near the Hague and then they used to take these tapes out by tender to the boat and that used to happen about o­nce a week, so everything was taped o­n land.

Our involvement as far as we were concerned was that Doug Stanley put it to the Verweij brothers. How Doug came to know the Verweij brothers was that at the time he'd got a job at Radio Nederland, the world service of Dutch radio, and he'd gone from BFN to Holland and that's how he happened to know about the Dutch situation. He left Radio Nederland and went in with the Verweij brothers.

He came to see me and he said, “We are going to do this thing but we are going to have to do some test transmissions”. So a company was set up called CNBC, the Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company, and the byline of it was, “Your friendly host off the Dutch coast”. That was how it was going to be known. It was decided to open some offices in the then newly-built Royalty House which is not too far from I'm speaking, in Dean Street, and we took two rather smart offices from whence we were going to run the English operation.

For the first few months of 1961 we started to tape programmes; we went across to Holland and we were broadcasting test transmissions which were, being picked up in England. There were three of us: myself, Doug Stanley and a Canadian, John Michael, and the three of us recorded these endless tapes of pop music and so o­n and they used to be broadcast during the daytime with the Dutch taking over either at lunchtime or something of that nature.

We carried this o­n for the first three months and we were often visited by any o­ne of the Verweij brothers and this station engineer who turned out to be a rogue because he was ripping them off left right and centre with money and all this that and the other. He was a young engineer who was two-timing his wife, who lived in the Hague, he'd got a lady over here who was pregnant, who was working in our office as a secretary - we didn't know anything about this whatsoever, it was kept extremely quiet until it was all revealed - and there was a lot skulduggery going o­n which of course, would be very amusing now when you look back o­n what the word pirate means and they certainly lived up to all of that.


CN: Were there other incidents that were..?

PH: Well, there were certain incidents going o­n over the other side which, you know, about bits of equipment that suddenly went missing and all this, that and the other and it's my opinion that this engineer was taking the brothers Verweij for a few thousand guilders, that is basically what I think.

CN: Was anybody involved in that with him?

PH: No-one, it was a single handed effort because he controlled what was bought and sold in the way of equipment. But we didn't know anything about this because we were young, naive and in fact from our point of view we were very excited about the prospect of breaking the BBC monopoly, even in those days, and the whole thing.

So, we went o­n for a few months and then during the proceedings we got a telephone call o­ne day from the house of parliament and it was then Edward Heath, who was later to become Prime Minister, rang up and he was employed in the government at. that time as the Lord Privy Seal. Now his department wanted to know just how far this pirate radio was going to operate. Was it going to come closer to London, or was the ship going to remain where it was. But certainly the Home Office was becoming very interested in the activities because they suddenly realised that o­n the horizon not too far away was an alternative form of radio from the then monopolistic BBC. We told him that we had no intentions at that time to bring the ship across because it was Dutch-owned and they wanted Dutch radio but at certain times of the day they thought the market could open up for the English situation.


During the time we were in the office, we were visited by a man called Allan Crawford who at that time was a music publisher and director of a company called Merit Music who operated from Manette Street just near Foyles book shop and he had quite a number of successes in the charts and including the Wheels Cha Cha, I am sure a lot of people will remember that.


So he was not doing too badly as a music publisher, he was from Australia and he was also very entrepreneurial and he could see that with CNBC, as modest as it was, there was no doubt about it that pirate radio was going to be successful and effective, and he tried to come in with us in various ventures, and we would have had him in because he was quite bright and understood the whole set-up. But he decided to break away. Well, he broke away mainly because CNBC could not be effectively run with the ship o­n the other side of the North Sea, and so he decided to set up Radio Atlanta.

CN: So he was offered financial participation in CNBC?

PH: He was offered the opportunity – but because CNBC, we, were having a lot of problems with the Dutch, they didn't understand what we wanted to do, and they wanted to contain it for themselves. Of course, we were to learn later that Radio Veronica was peopled also o­n the board of directors by o­ne or two people from the Dutch parliament and that's why they were able to operate for so long – because other people had vested interests. I mean, the thing came to an end eventually, but a lot of things were sorted out before Radio Veronica finally ended up.

CN: They went ashore and became legal.

PH: Well, they did, that's what I'm saying. It became legal because of the people that were o­n the board of directors and o­ne of the brothers died – Dirk Verweij was the elder brother and he died – and so o­n. And Bull Verweij, who was the middle brother, actually went to prison himself for o­ne or two bits and pieces that went o­n over there – I've no idea – so, you know, they knew that they were sailing close to the wind, if you'll excuse the expression.

But Radio Atlanta was really Allan Crawford's brainchild. And at that time - and we're going back now, we're talking about the early '60s, Ronan O'Rahilly had appeared o­n the scene and you probably know that his father was a leading Irish businessman; they actually, I believe, owned a port over there where they could actually kit out what was to become Radio Caroline.

CN: At this stage Ronan was involved in the Scene Club in Soho, is that so?

PH: Ronan O'Rahilly - I don't know exactly what – I mean, Ronan O'Rahilly was a face, was o­ne of these characters that would stand out in a crowd, and you got to know him, but nobody - he was very, very quiet o­n what he was doing. I mean as soon as CNBC was almost fading out of the picture both he and Allan Crawford were arranging things, independently of course from each other, about what the next move was going to be. And Ronan O'Rahilly as I say because of his interest in this southern Irish port - his family's interest – was able to get hold of a boat and kit it all out in Southern Ireland, whereas I believe Radio Atlanta had to be kitted in a Spanish port or somewhere else further down, I don't know the exact history of it, and as it was later to become, Caroline was the first that was going to sail around the sea and get there before Radio Atlanta. There is a strange sense of irony actually because a few years later I was to work for Radio Luxembourg, and, in 1965 and I can remember it so well, I was coming back to England to join the BBC and I went to Holland, to Amsterdam for an Easter break and I can remember in my hotel, because we'd been told about it beforehand, switching o­n in Easter 1964 and listening to the very first words that Simon Dee ever said o­n Radio Caroline. And we actually - and when I heard this, I was with Don Wardell (Head of Radio Luxembourg English Service) at the time and I said this is going to be the biggest thing out, this, you could see it. And we saw it, too. I mean we, even in the Sixties, in 1960 – '61 we knew that this thing was going to be very, very exciting.


And I am pleased in a way even for the short time we were o­n the air to have pioneered the idea and we were the originators of the idea. I mean Ronan O'Rahilly came along later and so did Allan Crawford but we were the people that actually put it o­n the air and put the thoughts into their heads.

CN: Well there were the Verweij brothers, in association with yourself and with Doug Stanley - obviously the idea, though, had been around before, even with the Radio Veronica concept. Where did they pick up their ideas from?

PH: As I say, the first people that actually got a ship going, and it's already chronicled in a lot of books, was the business off the coast of Scandinavia, in Denmark and Sweden, Radio Mercur. And they were the first people that got the idea of broadcasting off the coast. I mean, the point was, that off the Scandinavian coast, there was no doubt about it, that because of the weakness of the government in terms of the media, they obviously decided that there was a thing for that, but the Dutch people got in very quickly afterwards in 1959 with Radio Veronica.

I think that most books will tell you that Mercur and Sud (Syd, off Sweden) were the first, certainly in the European area, to do this and I don't know of any other set-up. You see, if you look at radio in the post-war period, as it got going in Europe - Germany, France, Holland and so o­n – it was quite obvious that the monopoly was going to exist for quite a number of years. That nobody had ever thought about commercial radio, other than Radio Luxembourg, which had been going since the Thirties and they had a bit of trouble after the war, going – they got some support from the post-war government, Churchill was very keen o­n the idea of Radio Luxembourg, but I think he had other areas in mind for that.

CN: Such as?

PH: Well Churchill realised the important of Radio Luxembourg because of its transmitter, because it had been used by the Germans during the war – Lord Haw Haw and all that sort of thing – and he wanted to reverse the procedure because he thought that broadcasting propaganda into Europe, particularly behind the Eastern Bloc, that those transmitters that they had were very powerful. But when he was out of office and the Labour government got in they were told, Luxembourg, that they would not have the support of England and they would have to get o­n with it themselves, and they did, as a commercial entity.

I think people were frustrated generally, in radio. As far as England was concerned I think most people just accepted the fact that the BBC was a reality, Radio Luxembourg was the foreign infiltrator and nobody really worried too much about the radio and I think you also have to take into consideration that in 1955 most minds in Britain were preoccupied by the then up-and-coming independent television service and so therefore it was a diverse thing and they moved across to television.


And so those five years from 1955 to '60, which I suppose we could have been o­ne of the first in o­n pirate radio, they were not interested, there were (television) stations opening up all over the place and radio was allowed to drone o­n in the background you know unimpeded because nobody cared too much. But it was o­nly the Scandinavians - I think the Scandinavians were definitely the first people to see the advantage of having these stations and they did a very good job. But they were short-lived, weren't they – they didn't last all that long.

CN: Let's go back to how you became a pioneer of pirate radio.

PH: I had presented the Six O'clock Records Show for the Phillips (Record) Company (on Radio Luxembourg) from September 1960 through till the following spring in in1961.

CN: It was taped here? (In London).

PH: Yes, it was taped here. And during that time I'd re-established my contact with Doug Stanley, and when it became known - I'll tell you this - you o­nly have to look back at the newspapers of the day - we had national coverage like you'd never believe, because of this pirate thing (CNBC) , the papers went berserk.

CN: What year was this?

PH: 1961. What happened really basically was that I was then blacklisted by Radio Luxembourg, Geoffrey Everett said that I would never work for the station again. Now Radio Luxembourg was hardly in a position to do that sort of thing seeing as they were unofficially broadcasting to England, but they were more legitimate that we would ever have been. And as for the BBC, well, up in the Gramophone Department, my name was mud. And in fact I have to tell you the circumstances as to how I got back into favour again.

After the pirates, after I'd finished with CNBC, I went to see Frankie Vaughan whose agent I knew and managed to get a job o­ne night with Brian Matthew compeering a big concert at the Royal Festival Hall in aid of the National Association of Boys Clubs for which Frankie Vaughan has an interest. And at that night, which was a gala night, it was the first time I'd ever done anything like this before, there was Lew Grade, Richard Attenborough and a whole load of people, you know the luminaries of that time and Eric Maswich who was then Head of Light Entertainment at BBC television and after I had done this concert I went to see Eric Maswich and said to him you may remember I was the Disc Jockey presenter of this particular concert for the National Association of Boys Clubs, what is the possibility of me going o­n Jukebox Jury. I refrained completely from saying that I'd ever had anything to do with pirate radio and I don't think he was a person who was particularly interested in that anyway and I always remember because he got Bill Cotton Jr, who was later to become very famous in the BBC as a Controller, at this time he was working as the producer of Jukebox Jury, and Eric said to Bill, look I want Paul Hollingdale to do this programme, and that was the turning point.


CN: So you became respectable.

PH: I became respectable through o­ne programme.

CN: Stories I would love, and anecdotes. And also, any kind of skulduggery and nonsense o­n the ships ..

PH: I'll tell you a wonderful story. When we were with CNBC, as you might imagine o­n board the Borkum Riff, with the storms and gales and things like that, there was trouble technically because they hadn't mastered the idea of sticking the dirty great mast up o­n the – I mean, sticking up a pole o­n a ship and making it remain still for very long. So inevitably there was a big technical problem. Well if we hark back to the idea of the engineer ripping them off left, right and centre as far as equipment is concerned there was no point in asking him to do anything. So we heard of a BBC senior engineer, a man called Thomas, a Welshman ..

CN: What was his first name?

PH: I can't remember, but he actually was the head of the Tatsfield Listening Post. Now, I don't know whether you know what that is but basically it's a listening post with the BBC, they have several in this country, where they can pick up foreign language broadcasts and interpret the news and use it for their own situation. We'd heard that this man was coming up for retirement and I don't know how he came about it but anyway he came up to see us and we said look this transmitter needs sorting out and you're the man that knows all about these things and of course it was the height of cheek to ask a BBC senior engineer to go out to a pirate ship. Well, he said, “Well, I'll go and do the thing,” and we arranged the money.

So he flew to Holland and unfortunately for him as we sent the tender out from the Dutch coast in the direction of the Borkum Riff, a gale like you'd never believe blew up, and it was horrendous. And this guy got o­n board this ship. Well he came back to England, he was distraught, the man said, “Never again will I go o­n board a bloody ship.” But I always remember him because to me that was what piracy is all about - getting extraordinary people. If the BBC had known that we'd taken their senior engineer out to fix this transmitter, I would have been in more trouble, but it was “those were the days” and we thought, well this is a hoot, let's go and do it.

CN: Did you hear any of the stories that came up during the saga of the pirate ships, during the years of Caroline and London. Did you come across direct contact with any of these?

PH: I never had much to do with Caroline although I did apply for a job o­n Radio England which was another ship that was running at that time ..

CN: Yes, I was involved in the early stages of that ..

PH: .. and I went and did some bits and pieces for them. And er, but by that time you see – by1965/66, I'd gone legitimate and joined the BBC, so there we are. But I have to say this also that again, if it hadn't been for the pirate ships I doubt if I'd have made much progress at the BBC because at that time it was very much a closed shop and you either knew people or you didn't and that was it.

My greatest regret is that we did not achieve what we set out to do, because if you can look at the passage of time, 1961 was when CNBC operated, 1964 is when Radio Caroline started, followed by the others. And, if you look at the political implications at that time, the conservative government were in power, very much in 1961, '62, '63 – '64, and in fact the mood was right and if they had seen the possibilities and I am sure that they were beginning to realise that commercial radio could have become a reality, ILR (Independent Local Radio) as we know it today would have been brought it in the 60's and not in the 70's.

It would have brought the whole thing forward by a decade, because, I mean Wilson (Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson) was forced to close the pirates down in the late 60's - '67, whenever it was it finished - and employ a large chunk of the people direct from the pirate ships in order to ensure continuity, so that, what he thought, the British public would not notice much difference between what was going out o­n sea and o­n land and in many ways in 1967 / 8 / 9, up until about 1970 while the BBC sorted itself out, many of the people were actually employed in o­ne form or another o­n Radio o­ne. But again as I said going back to the pre-period of that I had really had hoped that in 1962 we would have got the thing off the ground.

Another thing that's quite interesting - can you imagine that if we had gone o­ne more year we were then into Beatle mania, the Liverpool Sound and all of that, a commercial radio station at that period would have been able to have capitalised o­n the new Swinging Sixties, image that was to emerge during the next four or five years.

CN: That you'd have anticipated by a year or two.

PH: We'd anticipated the thing, and I wish we'd have carried it off.