Boarders repelled – says Caroline 

27 January 2021


Customs deny radio ship story

The skipper tells them: Keep off!



Daily Mirror masthead

From the Daily Mirror for 7 May 1964

A DRAMATIC broadcast from the “pirate” radio ship Caroline yesterday said that a Customs launch had drawn alongside. And, added duty disc jockey Simon Dee, officers on board the sleek anti-smuggling cutter Venturous had sought permission to board.

The captain of the Caroline, which broadcasts commercial radio programmes to an estimated 6,000,000 in Britain, turned down the request.

But last night the Customs and Excise Department denied that the Venturous, which carries a crew of eight Customs men, had asked to board the radio ship.

Radio Caroline's vessel

Caroline – anchored beyond the limit.

A Customs spokesman said: “She made routine inquiries about duty-free stores, and sailed away.”

The disc ship is anchored five miles off Felixstowe, Suffolk — in international waters and outside British jurisdiction.


Caroline’s version of the encounter was broadcast by 28-year-old Canadian-born Simon Dee, in a special “news flash” at 1.30 p.m.

He told listeners that an hour earlier Venturous, flying the Blue Ensign, had drawn close on the port side.

“Permission was asked for them to board and see our bonded stores,” said Dee.

“The captain of the Caroline stated that this was against the law as we were in international waters, but he would allow one man to come across in a lifeboat.

“This offer was not accepted. Venturous drew off and after some moments turned and steamed away.”

A Customs spokesman said: “Caroline is entitled to have duty-free stores aboard. But when there are boats coming to shore from her we like to keep an eye on things. We asked Caroline if she still had duty-free stores aboard.”


Said Simon Dee last night: “They said they wanted to come on board and check our duty-free stores. But, of course, they had no right to do that.”

And the Dutch skipper, Captain Conrad Backer, said angrily: “We are outside the three-mile limit, so it’s as good as mid-ocean.

“The British Customs have no more right to come on board the Caroline than a policeman from Piccadilly Circus.”

The Postmaster-General, Mr. Reginald Bevins, is expected to announce plans to deal with Caroline — and the new commercial radio ship Radio Atlanta, which is due to operate within the next few days — in the Commons next week.


A Customs ship

The Customs launch Venturous – seen yesterday from the radio ship Caroline. Disc jockey Simon Dee took this shot before his broadcast.

The following section is commentary from Transdiffusion's expert writers

Russ J Graham writes: Drama attached itself like a magnet to the offshore radio stations of the 1960s. The newspapers lapped up every story, no matter how small, that painted the ‘pirates’ as adventurers, buccaneers, slightly seedy, exciting or drunk and pushed the stories out with screaming headlines. This one is on the front page of the Daily Mirror, pushing the other main stories – a model found with stolen jewels in her car and a libel case that the winner received a halfpenny (still just 4p now allowing for inflation) – that on other days would’ve been the big splash.

The readers loved these stories. For the grown-ups, it was another example of “what the world is coming to” and an example of how things had changed. For the teenagers, who were also listening in their thousands to the new pop stations, it was new and exciting and an example of how things were changing.



But really, it’s a non-story. Whether Customs asked to come aboard or not (there’s no harm in asking, after all), they didn’t. The story ends there. There might be a case to be made about how the state was starting a campaign of petty harassment, but that question wasn’t asked.

The hapless Reggie Bevins’ plans to deal with the offshore stations never came to anything, partially because until the eureka moment of banning people in the UK from having financial ties with the boats rather than trying to just ban boats that were outside of the UK there was little the Postmaster-General could do, and partially because by the time he was ready to do whatever he planned to do, the 1964 election was upon him and his government was about to be kicked out. Bevins lost his seat and never returned to parliament.

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