"O, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!"
That is a quotation from Sir Walter Scott.
Scott was very good at inventing history that never happened, and David Block must have attended his school of thought, because either David Block was told to distort real events, or David Block who wrote the first Radio Caroline booklet had no idea of what the real story was. But we do!
While Block was writing about contemporary events that had taken place only a few months earlier, the actual events that he was referring to were shrouded in secrecy, and there is nothing in the writings of Harry Spencer to suggest that David Block was present the day that Harry Spencer showed up at 47 Dean Street. This is important because Harry Spencer relates an event that must have taken place during the first part of January 1964, and we conclude this from the references that Harry Spencer made in his recital.
One key to the date is found in Harry Spencer's timeline of events resulting from that meeting. By following his thread we are led to the arrival, or rather, the non-arrival date of the mv Mi Amigo at El Ferrol, Spain, following its original port of departure from Galveston Island, Texas.
Spencer says that he went to 47 Dean Street after Allan Crawford had made the most recent in a string of telephone calls to him. The originating purpose of those calls was moot by the time that Spencer did arrive at 47 Dean Street, because Crawford want to to discuss fitting a new mast to the THV Satellite, which Crawford no longer owned via a ship's mortgage. Whatever, Crawford wanted to discuss, it was not the THV Satellite which had been docked at a port on the Isle of Wight where Spencer maintained his own business.
Spencer recites how he walked into 47 Dean Street and encountered Alfred Nicholas Thomas.
Thomas had made a career out of transmitter engineering with the BBC from which he retired in 1959 after which he went to work for the Pye Group of companies. This was verified in his obituary published by the BBC staff magazine. It contained comments from several people who had known him, but his BBC employment and his later work for Pye were not the only references. It was acknowledged that Thomas had also gone to work for at least one offshore radio project.
From other sources we know that Thomas visited the offices of CNBC on Dean Street, and then went on board the Borkum Riff anchored off Holland which was home to VRON, an offshore station that became known as Radio Veronica. It was not a happy experience for Thomas. Since VRON/Veronica was short of money, there is enough evidence to show that his employment by Pye, and his subsequent deep involvement in offshore broadcasting, was not an activity that Thomas took on by himself. His employer was Pye.
Thomas then cropped-up in connection with the spin-off GBOK project of Arnold Swanson who Metropolitan Police had deemed to be a con man, a swindler, and whose ultimate goal was not offshore broadcasting, but absconding with investment money. That had also been the downfall of the CNBC venture. Swanson ultimately left the UK with his wife who was the heir of a shipping company fortune bequeathed by her deceased father in Vancouver, Canada. Swanson's wife ultimately divorced him and revealed that he had been a vacuum cleaner salesman when she met him, and was going to prison for underage sex when she divorced him.
Swanson had come on to the scene like Ronan O'Rahilly, surrounded with fanciful tales which included inventing car seat belts and all kinds of other wonderful accomplishments, which according to his wife, were all bogus. But Swanson managed to get his wife to buy an impressive property in England, and then he managed to ingratiate himself with John Thompson of Slough who had also spent time in Canada as a journalist.
It was Thompson who made the first splash in the press - including the Canadian press - about starting a British offshore radio station. At the time one major British firm was registering a string of companies that all began with 'Voice of ....', and were part of the momentum to secure licensed land-based sponsored commercial radio stations. In the end there were nearly 200 of them, but their hopes were eventually dashed, first by Pilkington, and then by the General Election result of October 15, 1964 when Labour came to power.
But in the early days Thompson pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he secured a 7 days a week contract from the Aldridge Brothers London advertising agency representing the British interests of Herbert W. Armstrong and his Radio Church of God, Inc. This church organisation was headquartered and registered in California, USA, as well as in London, UK where the church had just opened a second campus of its Ambassador College between Watford and St Albans in Hertfordshire.
Swanson approached Thompson and sold himself as not just a wealthy man, but a technical expert who could transform Thompson's tiny 'Voice of Slough' station into something major that was based upon commercial formats used in North America. So the two joined forces.
However, Swanson's flim-flam attracted the interests of Charles Orr Stanley and his son John Stanley who controlled the Pye Group of companies. Via a subsidiary of a subsidiary formed in December 1963, the Stanleys had incorporated an offshoot of Faraday Electronics at Sheerness. This company had originally been a radio-gramophone manufacturer, but when Pye took it over the company was changed from being a retail manufacturer to a manufacturer of technical instruments. This coincided with the sale of HM Dockyards at Sheerness and the subsequent purchase of a large building within that complex that also faced the quayside.
Swanson eventually got hold of the former Irish lightship Lady Dixon and had it towed and docked alongside the Faraday facility. The Stanleys who had hired Alfred Nicholas Thomas then put him to work on the GBOK project.
Working with Thomas was another retired BBC employee named John Howard Gilman, and one of his specialties was in antenna design. A third member of that technical group was Arthur Carrington who had been hired away from Marconi to work for Alpha Television, a company jointly owned by Associated TeleVision and ABC Weekend Television who were program contractors for the Independent Television Authority (ITA). Carrington's specialty was in television cameras and microwave networking, both of which were skills used by Alpha Television in which Pye had a major interest. Pye supplied a lot of television equipment, both transmitters and cameras to both BBC and ITA, and Pye also worked closely with the Gates corporation in the USA.
In the end Swanson's own devious devices caused the collapse of GBOK, and for a time John Thompson tried to revive his original project by renaming his 'Voice of Slough' venture as GBLN. He even made an illegal land-based transmission from Slough and tried to fool everyone, including Armstrong, that his project was still going ahead. In the end Thompson redirected his attention to the former Maunsell Fort on Red Sands sandbar and the fledgling Radio Invicta.
So when Spencer came through the door and shook hands with A.N. Thomas, he was shaking the hand of a man with a lot of offshore radio experiences under his belt, as well as a lifetime of work for the BBC, and the backing of the Pye Group of companies.
Thomas grilled Spencer, according to Spencer's own account, and that grilling was resumed by meeting the next person: Captain De Jong Lanau, Chief Superintendent of Wijsmuller Tug and Towing company based in Baarn, Holland. With the Captain was a very young Ronan O'Rahilly, which means that before anything had taken place, O'Rahilly was working with Crawford in January 1964, and, he had previously been sent to Houston, Texas in June 1963, by Allan Crawford. A little later all of the announcing staff (including Simon Dee) who were used for the venture that became known as 'Radio Caroline', were all trained by Crawford's fellow Australians, upstairs in Crawford's studio at 47 Dean Street.
More tomorrow when I will tell you more about David Block and Arthur Carrington and how we were able to discover aspects of his life and reassemble his CV which went from Marconi to the Pye umbrella!