Bob Graham's Radio Invicta adventure.

In late 1964 two new disc-jockeys, Bob Graham and Garry Branden*, joined Radio Invicta, the low-powered sweet music station based on Red Sands Fort off the Kent coast. They arrived soon after the tragic deaths of owner Tom Pepper, engineer Martin Shaw and DJ Simon Ashley who had all lost their lives when the station tender sank. All these years later, Bob still remembers his time with Invicta fondly although, as he says, “we weren't on the fort for very long. Garry and I were there over Christmas and stayed until early February '65 when the station closed down.” Bob has very kindly offered to share his memories from that time with The Pirate Radio Hall Of Fame.

Radio Invicta car sticker

“Well - where do I start?
 
In the early 60s Garry (Branden) and I went on a great adventure, left home together in Derbyshire. Garry was on the playing staff for Aston Villa (it didn't work out as it didn't look as if he would be playing for the first team!), and I was working in an office in the coke ovens of a major steel plant. If you know anything about coke ovens in those days - Dante's Inferno was as tame as the local fish & chip shop in comparison!
 
We had saved up some cash, said goodbye to our respective families and eventually boarded the Green Arrow to Paris. We finished up much later on the Côte d'Azur in a town called St Raphael. My memory has gotten a littled blurred about what went on there in '63 - I think I'd better move on before I get into trouble.
 
Early '64 we arrived in Folkestone having had such a good time that the customs officer didn't recognise the spotty face in my passport photo - which we thought was hilarious at the time! After working at Stricklands bakery in Folkestone and then getting the sack for mainly fooling about with the girls, we moved to Deal mid-July '64. I remember sitting in Divito's Ice Cream Parlour drooling over the owner's daughter Pauline, one Sunday afternoon, when a guy we knew, a butcher, mentioned to us that Tom Pepper and two other men had drowned off the coast of Whitstable and he knew someone looking for two guys - unattached and looking for some adventure - to be DJs on the estuary fort station called Invicta. Of course, we jumped at it!

Tom Pepper and Ed Moreno

Tom Pepper, left, on Red Sands with disc-jockey Ed Moreno. Bob says of this photo: “I never knew what Tom looked like and the picture of him on the fort with a colleague is quite poignant as I've stood there a few times myself.” The picture is from Tom Pepper's own collection, donated by his son David Featherbe. More of his photos are here.

We were taken from Deal to Whitstable in a Hillman Minx estate car (quite flash at the time!) and boarded a small fishing smack. We headed out of the harbour towards the forts. The harbour was calm but, as we headed out in the North Sea, it got quite rough and the weather broke into a serious storm.
 
Believe me, it certainly was no picnic as we approached alongside the massive steel structure, being tossed about like a cork! The captain told me that I had to climb onto the rigging and, at the time when the boat swayed nearest to the rusty iron ladder attached to the first platform, I was to jump and grab hold!
 
I did it - at the second attempt - but, looking back, I still have nightmares about it. Garry followed and we climbed up inside this huge tin can. We were told previously that there was only an engineer and one DJ on board so we set out to find somebody, scrambling through dark rooms and following the sound of indistinct music. We finally stumbled into a room covered in wires with someone crouched over a mike. He looked up at me and said ‘Quick, hold this, sit here and when I say go, introduce this record and yourself and let the mat go’ - he then rushed out - to the loo I think. That was my baptism into the life of a pirate DJ! I just hoped to God that he would return in time to show me how to play the next one!
 
By the way, at that moment I remember looking down at my hand, which was covered in blood. I'd caught my hand on the rusty ladder that I grabbed jumping off the ship and in the excitement hadn't noticed it.
 
I do remember that we had lots of trouble with supplies - water and diesel for the generator - and we caused problems with the on-shore emergency frequency, etc!
 
I remember some of the disc-jockeys - Eddie Jerold and Ed Moreno and a few others but I am afraid I can't recall their names. I was told that Moreno was the brother of Rita Moreno of West Side Story fame but I didn't believe it, though Garry did.
 
One of the younger DJs was mad on Thelonius Monk and at every oportunity used to play a track from the only one of his LPs we had in the library. We used to crack up when we heard him say ‘now another track from Thelonius’. I don't suppose that anyone out there listening had ever heard of him!
 
I used to run a programme called Pop Stix. I can't remember much about it now but I think I still have a fan letter from a lady in London saying she was listening to my programme whilst doing the ironing.”

Our grateful thanks to Bob for telling us his story.
 
Bob has written a novel and tells us that there is a chapter in it about his time on Radio Invicta. Published under his real name of Graham Adams, The Stone can be downloaded from Amazon to read on a Kindle, PC, iPad or smart-phone.
 
* Bob has referred to his friend as ‘Garry Branden’. The book Offshore Radio by Gerry Bishop lists him as ‘Gary Brandem’. Can anyone give us the definitive spelling?
 
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