Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age
is a fairly fascinating book that's trying to do a lot of things at once: the book starts out with the dramatic recounting of MURDER!!! and then immediately takes, if not a deep dive, at least a vigorous swim through such varied topics as the history of British radio and the BBC, Keynesian economic philosophy, copyright limitations, and the founding of Sealand in order to contextualize it.
Once we get back to the story of the murder itself, however, it turns out: IT'S BONKERS. The principals in the case are two pirate radio impresarios in 1966. Oliver Smedley, An Ardent Free-Trade Capitalist, was running a station called Radio Atlanta on a boat off the coast; Reggie Calvert, A Dance Hall Impresario, had taken over an entire abandoned British navy fort called Shivering Sands in the Thames Estuary and staffed it with a rotating encampment of youths running a station called Radio City. At one point Smedley and Calvert were going to have a merger, but then they had an ACRIMONIOUS BREAKUP spurred on in part by:
- the fact that Smedley was supposed to give Calvert a shiny new transmitter and instead provided an old one that never worked
- the fact that Smedley never paid all the bills he had promised Calvert that Radio Atlanta would pay
- the fact that Calvert got sick of all this and decided to merge with another station instead
The reason for all these pirate radio stations on boats and naval forts, by the way, is because in 1966 there was no legal pop radio in the UK (as explained, extensively, via the history of radio and Keynesian economic theory etc. that makes up the first half of the book). Because the pirates were technically
outside of UK territory, on the other hand, they could technically
get away with doing whatever they wanted, or at least the government like "it will be way too embarrassing to launch a huge naval raid against a bunch of youths on was a fort with a radio transmitter, so let's not."
HOWEVER, the fact that everything was happening outside of territorial waters where British laws and police had no jurisdiction BACKFIRED when:
- Ardent Free-Trade Capitalist Smedley decided he was so mad that Calvert had made a deal without him that he was going to MAKE SURE that the deal could never go through
- he was going to GET BACK HIS PROPERTY [the transmitter that had never worked]
- so he sent an ACTUAL OCCUPYING FORCE composed of out-of-work dockworkers to Shivering Sands, stole a bunch of key broadcasting equipment, took a bunch of it back to the mainland, and left a bunch of toughs to hold everybody who was on the station at that time hostage!!!
- (when they met the invading force, the hostage broadcasters were like 'welp' and made everybody tea)
- ("the vessel had to return briefly to pick up [the contractor who recruited the gang], who had been left behind drinking his tea")
- and then Smedley went to Calvert and his partner, an actual professional broadcaster, and was like 'I will not let you broadcast from there again or finish making your deal unless you pay me FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS'
Naturally, everyone involved was like 'wtf????' and refused to pay Smedley a dime; Calvert threatened to involve the police but the police were like 'ummmmmm technically we can't do anything for the same reasons we haven't been able to stop you from broadcasting;' Calvert then made a whole bunch of other even wilder threats; and all the hired dockworkers sat around cheerfully charging Smedley for hostaging operations which he was rapidly running out of money for.
Anyway, in the middle of all this, Calvert drove out to Smedley's house in the middle of the night and started screaming at him, and Smedley shot him and then claimed self-defense and that his HOSTILE OCCUPATION OF A POP RADIO STATION was just a little joke gone wrong! No harm no foul if only Calvert hadn't been so UPSET about it! It did help Smedley's self-defense case that Calvert happened to be carrying A FAKE PEN FULL OF NERVE GAS at the time, which apparently, according to his family, he always carried around just for safekeeping.
...so the author's point in writing about all this seems to be that a.) this incident was crucial in getting the pirate radio boats shut down and the formation of the current BBC radio system that includes actual pop radio, b.) that this is all a forerunner of later copyright battles and offshore data centers and so on, c.) pirate-radio-on-boats in the 1960s was a WILD TIME. About the latter, at least, he is most surely not mistaken.
(This has nothing to do with the main brunt of the book but I have to spare a mention for Radio City's chief engineer, who later was hired by the mob! to perform an assassination attempt!! using a spring-loaded hypodermic needle full of cyanide!!! in what it turns out was ACTUALLY a sting operation by the U.S. Treasury department who picked the hapless Radio City engineer to act as the assassin because "he needed the fee while being clearly incapable of killing anybody"!!!! This whole incident gets two pages in the book because it's somewhat irrelevant to the author's argument but seriously, where is this guy's movie?
For the record, the same mobsters then tried to intimidate Reggie Calvert's widow into selling them the remnants of the station and she was like 'lol no' and they were like '....well, when a lady knows her own mind, she knows her own mind! No hard feelings.')