John Aston in the Radio 355 studio in 1967. This still is taken from a cine film shot by Maths Lindgren.
John Hatt must have worked for more offshore stations - and under more names - than any other sixties pirate. His first experience of broadcasting was when he joined his friend Mark
Hammerton on King Radio. He used his two Christian names for his on-air DJ alias - John Stewart. Mark has kindly provided a recording of the two of them learning their craft together:
Mark Hammerton and John Stewart learning the ropes and having fun in the King Radio studio. They called this programme - probably never broadcast - “The Hammerstew Show” (duration 4 minutes 10 seconds)
King Radio was nearing its end and John, Mark and others had been taken on in preparation for the launch of a new station - the much larger, more professional, Radio 390. This took place in September 1965. Sadly
John's career on Radio 390 was short-lived after an unfortunate incident. A major advertising campaign was about to begin for Reveille magazine but, because of bad weather, it had taken a while for the script to reach the
Radio 390 fort. When the tender finally arrived, the script was rushed up to the studio and John, who was on air at the time, was instructed to read it as soon as possible. He propped it up on the desk and, as the record ended,
opened his microphone. With the worst possible timing, just as he was about to start speaking, the page slipped down behind the desk and disappeared from view. John ad-libbed the commercial - and was promptly fired for his efforts.
While working on Radio 390 John had applied to join Equity, the actor's union. They already had a ‘John Stewart’ on their books (John thought it might have been the TV producer Johnnie Stewart) so when, after a short break
of unemployment, he joined Radio Essex in November 1965, he took a new name. He became Chris Stewart.
Some of John / Chris's memories of working on this station are here. Unlike Radio 390, Radio Essex was broadcasting on a shoe-string. However it had big ambitions and, in January 1966, became the
first 24 hour radio station in Europe. Resources were minimal and John, who had been promoted to Programme Controller by this time, found the experience demanding: “I used to go on the air at eleven o'clock at night through until
six in the morning. I would then sort out news and weather for the guy doing the show from six until nine. At nine o'clock I'd go back on the air until midday. As Programme Controller I would then do administration through until six
in the evening. Go to bed at six, get up again at nine, cook myself something to eat, and get back on the air for eleven!” Not surprisingly, it all became too much and, at the end of May 1966, John had to leave Radio Essex,
suffering from exhaustion.
After a short break he joined Radio Caroline North as a newsreader and occasional DJ. They already had a disc jockey called Stewart - Bob Stewart - so, once again, John had to change his name. He picked a
new surname, one he was to keep throughout the rest of his offshore career. He became John Aston. (There are some documents dating from John's time on Caroline North, which he kindly shared with The Pirate Radio
Hall of Fame, here.)
In October 1966 Radio Caroline suffered a downturn in advertising revenue and staff numbers had to be cut. As John was the most recent recruit, he was the first to be shown the door. His boss, news chief, Graham
Webb, put him in touch with Chuck Blair, the General Manager of Radio England/Britain Radio. Chuck didn't have any vacancies for a broadcaster but suggested John try their sales agents. He did, and John
got a position selling advertising for the two stations. This particular job didn't last long though because in November he was back at Radio Caroline reading the news - this time on their south ship.
John Aston reading the news on Radio Caroline South. Studio recording kindly provided by the man himself (duration 1 minute 57 seconds)
While John was on Caroline South, The Daily Sketch ran a three part series of articles about the station. He features in a photo in one of them but unfortunately is referred
to in the caption as “Jim Aston”.
The Caroline South ship, mv Mi Amigo, was considerably smaller and less stable than its northern sister ship, and after a severe storm, John decided to leave. He quit in January 1967. The following month he joined an even smaller
vessel - Radio 270. He has described his memories of working on this station, and provided a drawing of the ship's layout, here.
John Aston on The Midnight Hour on Radio 270, 7th April 1967, a studio recording kindly provided by the man himself (duration 4 minutes 28 seconds)
While John was on shore-leave from Radio 270, his friend and former colleague Mark Hammerton (by then known as “Mark Sloane”), got in touch. He told him that Radio 355, a new middle-of-the-road station,
was recruiting. John contacted them - and got the job. He joined 355 in June 1967.
John Aston on an evening programme from Radio 355 in July 1967. Recording kindly provided by Hans Knot (duration 2 minutes 15 seconds)
|John Aston in the Radio 355 studio in 1967. Three stills from a cine film shot by Maths Lindgren.
John on the harbour front at Whitstable, prior to the Radio Essex 40th anniversary reunion boat trip in 2006. Photo courtesy of Gerry Zierler.
Radio 355 won a loyal audience with its personality DJs playing middle-of-the-road music but sadly it didn't have long to operate. The Marine Offences Act was about to outlaw offshore radio and, when the
station's servicing and crewing agreement with the Wijsmuller company expired just a matter of days before the new law was due to come into effect, it did not seem worth renewing it. Radio 355 closed down soon after midnight
on the 5th August 1967.
John Aston reminiscing about the various stations he worked for on the final programme from Radio 355. The voice at the start and end of the clip is that of Programme Director Tony Windsor.
Recording kindly provided by Svenn Martinsen (duration 9 minutes 48 seconds)
John became a voice-over for documentaries and training films but gradually moved more onto the production side, dealing especially with special effects. He worked on a number of big budget movies including Revenge of the
Pink Panther, Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Fifth Element and Dune. He even made a brief appearance in this last film, thanks to that Equity membership, playing a five star general.
He continued his interest in radio and for some years was heard on Blast 1386, Thames Valley University Reading Campus Radio.
John was a great help to your webmaster, providing support, information and many items of memorabilia for The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame for which we are very grateful.
At the 2014 Radio Day in Amsterdam John was presented with an award for his ‘Outstanding Contribution to Offshore Radio‘. Sadly the early signs of the Alzheimer's Disease, from which he was
to suffer during his last years, were beginning to take their toll. He bravely attended the Offshore 50 event in August 2017 despite his poor health. In December 2017 he was taken into hospital, suffering from
pneumonia. He fought it off but the disease repeatedly returned. Finally his body gave out and he passed away on 29th December, aged 74. A well-loved friend and colleague, he will be missed by many - as can be seen in the comments
A number of former colleagues have paid tribute to John:
“I was so very sorry to read of the passing to that ‘Golden Studio Above’ of John Aston. I worked with him on K I N G Radio then Radio 390. His splendidly soothing voice was the epitome of
what the station bosses wanted. As a true professional he did exactly what was required of him but as a colleague he was a delight to listen to when, off air, he did not entirely agree with station policy. More recently we enjoyed
brief conversations when meeting him in Amsterdam and just four months ago at the er .. celebration of the passing of the Marine Offences Act on the MV Tattershall Castle amidst the Thames. John, when told of the onset of his
dementia some five plus years ago, did not withdraw into himself but he confronted the condition as a ‘career choice’ - his words - and had his life not been cut short by the cruel scourge of ageing, pneumonia, I have
no doubt he would have continued to challenge and confront just as he had always done. Requiescat in Pace John. Happy Daze JRB.”
John Ross-Barnard (on Facebook)
“I'm so glad that we managed to meet up three times this year. He was a colleague and a dear friend and I will miss his warmth and wit.”
“I am devastated to have lost one of my oldest friends. I am glad I was able to spend time with John at Offshore 50 recently.”
Mark Hammerton / Sloane (on Facebook)
“John Hatt was a lovely bloke. Measured tones, considered opinions, and multitalented. I had never worked on air with John but in recent years we became good friends and I already miss his long telephone
calls when we reminisced over pirate radio and other showbiz stuff. We enjoyed a number of pirate reunions together over the years and, thanks to wonderful support from his wife Christine, we were able to see John most recently at
the excellent Pirates' 50th event and at Michael Bates' Sealand 50 dinner. I am sure John enjoyed being there as much as we enjoyed his company and appreciated his huge effort in getting there. Thanks to this website and other radio
stations, his voice will live on. So will our fond memory of him.”
“That is very sad news indeed. I have some very fond memories of him from my youth on Radio Essex. Glad to have caught up with him this summer.”
Michael Bates (on Facebook)
“Very sad to hear this. He was a good friend to me in my early days on Radio Essex. Condolences to all his family and friends.”
David Sinclair (on Facebook)
“Very sad news, John was a really nice guy as well as being an excellent broadcaster.”
Brendan Power (on Facebook)
With thanks to Pop Went The Pirates by Keith Skues for some of the information on this page.
There is also an excellent tribute to John on the Radio London website.