Keith Martin
(a.k.a Gary Courtney)

2nd April 1934 - 21st February 2024

Keith Martin

Keith Martin in the studio of Radio Caroline South.

The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame was saddened to hear of the death of Keith Martin. He was involved in offshore radio from its very start in Britain. Some years ago he kindly wrote a piece about his life and career for this website. It can be found here.
Danny Keith Martin was born in Sandwich, Kent, on 2nd April 1934. His family ran a bakery in the town. A radio fan from an early age, Keith made his first broadcast at 15 when he was interviewed on the English Service of Radiodiffusion Française. After leaving school he trained in catering with a view to going into the family business but the pull of the media was too strong. He began applying for work with the BBC. His parents felt he should get a 'proper job' and persuaded him to join the merchant navy instead. He worked for P&O on the 28,000 ton liner Chusan. It was the first ocean-going passenger ship to be fitted with anti-roll stabilisers. This was probably just as well because Keith was not a great sailor. His time at sea was cut short by a bout of glandular fever which landed him in hospital.
He returned to London and a job with Granada Television in their sales and advertising department. Somehow he heard about Radio Mercur, an offshore station which broadcast on FM to Denmark, and in 1960 he went on holiday to the country. He visited their studios (the programmes were recorded on land) and was shown around.


An I.O.U to Keith from GBLN founder John Thompson. The £25 was later invested in shares in the station.

The following year he was fascinated to read in a newspaper that a man called John Thompson was planning to launch a similar station in the UK to be called GBLN. Keith managed to make contact with Thompson and was invited to meet him at his base in Slough. Keen Keith travelled by bus the 18 miles from his home in west London to Slough. He wrote: “That first meeting with John Thompson was at an Eton Road café, a kind of greasy spoon ... We just talked and small talked about radio. With all my schoolboy twiddling I felt I was the master craftsman of the radio dial and had something to offer his proposed station Radio GBLN - even if I didn't make it as a disc-jockey. It was a cautious encounter, that first meeting, a kind of cat and mouse affair. The reason for the feelings of unease was explained later. John Thompson suspected I was an undercover agent for the GPO ... the power then in charge of UK wireless broadcasting.” Eventually Thompson was convinced that Keith was a genuine enthusiast, not a spy for the Post Office, and invited him to record programmes for the planned station. In the studio he was introduced to the other DJ - someone he recognised from his day job. It was Granada post boy Roger Gomez.
Keith was persuaded to invest £25 from his meagre savings in the new venture but sadly GBLN never made it onto the air. Nor did another proposed station, GBOK, so Keith continued to work at Granada while keeping an ear open for any further radio projects which might come along.
In 1963 he spotted a piece in the Daily Express about a new station being planned, Radio Atlanta. Keith made contact with Allan Crawford, the man behind the project, but at the time there were no vacancies. Keith was told to stay put at Granada until Atlanta could afford to take on more staff.
Atlanta went on air in May 1964 and, soon after, Keith was welcomed onto the team working in their office in Dean Street, Soho, not as a DJ as he had hoped but dealing with the advertisers. Atlanta was not to last long. On 2nd July it joined forces with the rival Radio Caroline. The original Caroline ship sailed round the coast to become Radio Caroline North and Radio Atlanta changed identity. It was now Caroline South. Atlanta's programmes had mostly been recorded on land. The majority of Caroline's were presented live on the ship. When the “merger” took place, many of the Atlanta DJs quit. They didn't fancy working at sea. The station suddenly needed new broadcasters and Keith was there to help. He was part of the team of Atlanta personnel, along with Bryan Vaughan and Tony Withers, who joined the existing Caroline DJs, Simon Dee and Doug Kerr, with newcomer Peter Ducrow on the ship, the mv Mi Amigo, to staff Radio Caroline South. He spent most of his time as a panel operator, driving the desk for Dee, Kerr and Ducrow, but also presented shows of his own. Colin Nicol who up until then had been on board, playing out the Atlanta tapes, was then able to come ashore.

click to hear audio Keith Martin on The Sound Of Music programme from Radio Caroline South during its early middle-of-the-road days. This is a studio recording kindly provided by Keith (duration 3 minutes 2 seconds)

As mentioned above, Keith was not a great sailor and often suffered from sea-sickness. It was particularly bad when the Mi Amigo was moved to a new anchorage in an effort to improve reception in London. This new position was more exposed to the elements and the ship was thrown about, making life very unpleasant for those on board. It was quickly realised that the old anchorage was better and the ship returned, but Keith had had enough. He came ashore and worked in Caroline House, recording interviews, editing tapes, compiling the reels of adverts that were sent out to the two ships and generally helping where needed. Eventually there was another shortage of DJs and Keith was asked to go back out to the ship. He had one last stint at sea, over Easter 1965, but then left Caroline to join ABC Television as a continuity announcer, the first pirate to get a broadcasting job on land.

click to hear audio Keith Martin interviewing singer Del Shannon for Radio Caroline in January 1965. Recording kindly provided by Karl Jones (duration 2 minutes 57 seconds)

Although Keith was to stay with ABC until 1968, it wasn't the end of his offshore career. He was also on Radio 390. Based on an old wartime fort in the Thames estuary, this was considerably more stable than a ship so sea-sickness was less of a problem. His old Radio Atlanta colleague Mike Raven was now Programme Controller of 390, and offered him the position. Keith wrote: “The problem was that I'd already accepted a job on land ... with ABC Television. But some months later, I was thrilled to be turning the pages of ‘Eve the Woman's Magazine of the Air’ (on Radio 390) too.” ABC insisted that he use a different name. In the car driving down to Whitstable with his new colleagues they discussed what he should be called on air. The record librarian suggested the name Gary Courtney. So at weekends Keith continued to appear on ABC Television, using his real name, but during the week he was Radio 390's Gary Courtney.

click to hear audio Keith in the guise of ‘Gary Courtney’ presenting Morning Melody on Radio 390, a studio recording courtesy of the man himself (duration 3 minutes 50 seconds)

Keith did not stay with Radio 390 for long - just a summer, providing holiday relief for the full-time announcers. Later that year he achieved his life-long ambition of presenting some programmes on the BBC, and this time he was allowed to use his real name.

Keith Martin

Keith in the studio of CKFM in Canada.

After spending a period as one of the final announcers on Rediffusion's London TV franchise, Keith emigrated to Canada in 1968. He worked at CFRB/CKFM in Toronto, and then CHOO where he was reunited with former Caroline colleague Errol Bruce. Two years later Keith was back in front of British TV cameras as a freelance continuity announcer. The TV Room website lists the numerous channels that employed him, including Southern TV, ATV, HTV, Yorkshire, Anglia, Thames, Border, TVS and LWT. Although busy with television, he hadn't lost his love of radio and was involved with the Local Radio Association which campaigned successfully for the introduction of commercial stations in the UK.
Following the legislation to introduce ILR, Keith was employed by Standard Broadcasting of Canada as a consultant to help in their bids for various franchises. In 1974 he joined BBC television for a while before returning to the freelance world. He spent a brief period on Radio Orwell as well as four years with BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service.

Keith Martin closing TVS for the night in 1984.

In the eighties Keith began working in training, either teaching individuals such as politicians or business executives how to present themselves better on air or lecturing groups of students on television presentation and the media. One of the MPs he tutored was John Major.
Keith was a huge help to this website, kindly offering memorabilia, recordings and information. Even in his late eighties, his memory was still sharp and he was happy to chat about his pirate past. Sadly his physical health was less good and he endured a long battle with cancer. After extensive treatment he was given the ‘all clear’, much to his relief, but the cancer returned. Keith passed away on the evening of 21st February 2024, six weeks short of his 90th birthday. Although he was never offically a ‘Caroline Good Guy’, having left the station just ahead of the introduction of that particular promotion, he undoubtedly was one of the good guys and will be greatly missed.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin at the Offshore 50 event in 2017. Photo kindly provided by Gerry Zierler.

See Keith's article and memorabilia.
With thanks to Pop Went The Pirates by Keith Skues for some of the information on this page.
There is more about GBLN and GBOK here.
There is a 38 minute video of Keith talking about his time in television on YouTube.
Thanks to So It Goes - John Fleming's blog for the link.

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