An anorakky interview turns into a compelling bit of radio, in the middle of the night in the North West.

Listened In is 2ZY’s weekly air-check blog. Every week we listen to a random twenty minute sample of a station or programme in the news.

Alison B

WHO   Alison Butterworth

WHAT  BBC Radio Lancashire (shared by Manchester)

WHEN  29 November 2013, 0009

Alison is asking us to look at some Radio Caroline North photos on Facebook that listener John Stone posted “for anyone like myself that likes to keep in touch with the DJs and the crew,” writes John. “There are lots and lots of radio anoraks”, says Alison, “whether you are one. You are, as you say, with your listening habits, erm, but there are photos and things for anyone who’s interested,” struggling to find the link.

In the studio is Mark Dean, who says he was on board Caroline North in the Irish Sea back in the day. “So are there likely to be photographs of you on here then, Mark?” “There will be somewhere. There will be somewhere,” says Mark, strangely resigned. Alison asks some detail about the boat, and Mark sounds weirdly vague. “It wasn’t a boat, it was a ship,” he adds, needlessly pedantic.

Alison name-checks some of the radio people in the photo and asks if he’s still in touch with them. “I would have to look at that,” he replies. Alison asks about Dave Cash and the southern DJs, Bob Stewart too. “Didn’t really meet him,” says Mark. A couple of texters say they remember Mark but when Alison asks who was on the schedule at the same time as Mike he says hesitantly, “Tom Lodge, Carl England …. D’you know I really can’t … Mike Aherne was there.” “Have you kept in contact with them since?” “Carl England occasionally. Tom Lodge we’re still trying to get hold of.” Mark says he’s a sheep farmer in Australia now.

Mark talks about the 50th anniversary he’s planning “and we’ll have our mobility scooters with the go faster stripes and the twin air horns … we’re all dodderers now”. Alison says he looks good for his age and he warms up, talking about how he’s teetotal, and how alcohol and drugs were forbidden on board. Mark’s stuttering delivery seems contagious though. As Alison asks him about the ’60s wild times, she sounds a little lost. Perhaps a penny is dropping. Mark slags off The Boat that Rocked. “I would like to meet those people and say ‘show me where that happened and I will show you that it didn’t,” says Mark with passion. “Alright,” from Alison. “More memories to come.”

Sweet Freedom/Michael MacDonald

There's nothing this man doesn't know about politics, Wigan FC … or pirate radio.

There’s nothing this man doesn’t know about politics, Wigan FC … or pirate radio.

“You’re tuned to the Late Show on the BBC in the North West. Alison with you through until 1 o’clock, Tony in Poulton’s Midnight Mix to come,” and reintroduces Mark Dean. Then brings in Paul Rowley. Paul is on the phone – a veteran politics correspondent and Wigan commentator. Alison explains he’s also “a living, walking history of Radio Caroline, aren’t you Paul?” Paul explains his credentials – he’s made award- winning documentaries about Caroline North, has been around 40 years “and I’m fascinated by Mark’s recollections. Or not, in certain respects, cos I have to tell you Mark, I know every disc jockey who was on Caroline North .. you mentioned Tom Lodge? I have to tell you, Tom Lodge died last year, you mentioned Mike Aherne and Mike Aherne died three years ago. I knew these people. And I have to tell you Mark, I’ve never heard of you.”

“Right .. ” says Mark. Lost. “You weren’t on Caroline North, were you?,” says Paul, circling. “Yes I was.” “From when to when?” “’65 to ’67.” “And what happened in ’67 that you left?” “How do you mean?” “Why did you leave in 1967?” Paul is going in for the kill. He’s asking questions around exact closedown dates, the Marine Offences Act, more dates. “You see, I’ve written the definitive history of Radio Caroline North …   a friend of mine John Hind has written the most definitive history of pirate radio. Keith Skues who I was talking to only yesterday has written the best book about pirate radio, Pop Goes the Pirates and none of us have ever heard of you. I think you’re a phoney, I think you’re a fake, I don’t think you were ever on Radio Caroline.”

“Wow,” says Alison. Quite. She offers Mark the right to come back. She’s back on form, processing this U turn in her own show, referencing the earlier texts “looking for concrete evidence of your presence on Radio Caroline North, what would you say to Paul?” “I was there,” says Mark. Paul comes back with more questions. “There’s Carl England? There was a Steve England .. there was Carl Conway.” It carries on in the same excruciating but brilliant way, a cross-examination “You’ve not got a very good memory Mark, and I put it to you you were never on Radio Caroline North.” “I was. I was.”

SUMMARY

I’m not a massive fan of radio about radio. And I’m a ‘radio enthusiast’. I think it’s incestuous. This begins as a slightly formless pirates chat with a vague listener-turned-guest who’s organising a reunion. There are a couple of hints all is not well before Michael MacDonald, but it’s when the brilliant decision is made to put Rowley to air that this becomes both storming and uncomfortable. It becomes one of those un-turnoffable bits of radio, like the car crash you shouldn’t look at on the motorway but can’t help yourself.

There’s a serious question about whether Dean should have been on in the first place. If there’s no evidence online, or in the many books about the pirates, that he was at Caroline, then shouldn’t a research conversation have turned that up before he went live on air on two stations? Even a text to Rowley, a pirate expert and in the employ of stations where Dean was interviewed would have meant alarm bells would have rung in time to research the guest more effectively. But how often do we all take approaches from guests at face-value? We’ve got shows to fill, after all.

There’s a duty-of-care question to the guest when you intend to skewer them live on air. Here Alison goes from interrogator to barrister-for-the-defence when Paul’s on air, offering a shot at redemption to the hapless interviewee. There’s a sense that although the show is spiralling a little, she’s in control and cares about the man sitting opposite her.

I don’t know the facts about whether or not Mark Dean was playing records on a boat (ship!) before I was even born. This isn’t the place to discuss that. You can hear it for yourself on the iPlayer and make your own judgement. But there’s no doubt this was an extraordinary bit of radio.

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