Life in the fast lane

THE trouble with living life in the fast lane is you keep trying to overtake yourself until, a traffic light appears on the motorway.
In my case I have been very fortunate in doing what I can only describe as the best job in the world, working on newspapers.
I left school in the late 1950s, and the recent publication of a book by Essex Radio presenter, Ray Clark, really did make me stop and remember.
His book features his time as a DJ on the floating pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, in 1970, but tells the story from the beginning in the 1960s.
My career started in 1960, when apprenticed to a west end publishing house  and training as a photographer.
Moving on after a long training, I eventually turned to newspapers and added the other great interest of journalism to the qualifications. It was through the media and the results of my work, it became universally accepted that as a photographer, I could write, I became a photo-journalist within the strict terms of the title; and recently finishing my professional working life as editor of a vibrant east London weekly newspaper.
That was the fast lane, and though it took me some time to realise how fast I was going, it has been difficult to slow down, such is the joy of having a vocation rather than just a job.
However I digress slightly and the reason for this story is to recommend Ray's book as it really is a window of the past.
It does not matter if you were there or not, it tells the story of how innocent teenage years were met by the tsunami of freedom.
The explosion, for that was what it felt like, came with a number of things, in the forefront for me was radio.
Television for we 'not well off' council estate families was down to sneaking over the fence and watching the neighbours set when they left the window open, but radio was for all.
The huge brown Bakelite box that needed a table of its own, would whistle and moan when the dinner plate size dial was moved.
The set stations like the Light Programme and the Home Service sounded fine, but to get the new sound of Rock, retuning to  Radio Luxemburg produced a high pitched Doppler effect that sped on a sine wave as the set tried to nail the station on one level of tuning. It sounded as if the singers were running from one side of the room to the other.
It took pirate radio to prove that pop groups did not really have to chase a moving microphone round the studio.
However, the radio opened up the imagination in the world of entertainment as everything stopped including bed time, as my dad loved the Goon Show, Journey into Space, Paul Temple and the Navy Lark. There were of course many more radio shows, and apart from stopping broadcasting mid evening, the music was limited to safe and assured stuff that prohibited any form of dancing.


Then came Rock. Elvis, Buddy Holly and all the risqué jive music considered by the Controller of the BBC to be a disturbing organic infiltration into young minds. As they controlled the air waves, we were stuck with the wobbly Radio Luxemburg, and vinyl 45s.
Pirate radio was a revelation. Broadcasting from rusty bucket of a boat outside the three mile limit of the shore, Radio Caroline hit the airwaves with both barrels pop, rock, jive and the Top Ten and with catchphrase after catchphrase.
This came into being in 1964, but I got in first by taking a job as a photographic assistant in the centre of the universe and the Mecca of what became known as the Mersey Sound, Liverpool.
From Mantovani and Mel Torme, I was thrown into photographing a fair portion of the 3,000 estimated musical groups that sprang from the Holy city of fun and laughter, and sampling the total freedom life, love, boozing till 3am in the clubs and riding three up on my Rayleigh Moped. All on £5 a week which often ran into six and seven days without any mention of overtime.
Actually I did not want money, I was totally immersed in the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemaker, The Blue Jeans and good old boy, Billy J Kramer whom I photographed in our studio as it was opposite Brian Epstein's NEMS centre city office in Moorfields. Being a mere 17 and he being a super star, I forgot to turn on a studio light for his passport picture, and he had to go through the next 10 years with a massive shadow of his nose right across his face.
It was a time of hangovers, constant work that now is a massive swirling fog of wonderful, but mostly forgotten memories, but I grew up very quickly and though I still smile at the thought, the memories are getting less clear with age.
So when the bright lights of Fleet Street called, I returned to London and immediately fell into Radio Caroline. Ray also was an avid listener at that time and vowed to become a pirate DJ, which he did in 1970s. I had to cast aside my shoulder length hair, the clown size winkle picker shoes and get a suite that had a collar. The shirts with the massive cuffs and collar that held your head a few inches above eye level, and redeeming my southern accent from scouse.
No longer the boy, I had tasted life and wanted more. Carnaby Street was open but Fleet Street soon put a stop my progression to becoming a parrot coloured Sgt Pepper.
The eagle had landed.

An early photograph of the BEATLES by Harry Watmough and featuring drummer Pete Best shortly before he was replaced by Ringo Starr

Cometh the age of Rock

A young author with school friend Eddy Ryan on a monthly trip to Bisley shooting range in Surrey and trying not to look like Harrison Ford, and an equally young looking Ray  Clark, author of  The Boat that Rocked, and below the book on Radio Caroline, the first pirate radio station