Five years ago, The Boat That Rocked hit the movie theaters, and sank at the box office immediately. And that’s kind of sad because, in a way, it told the story of something that was revolutionary in so many ways: the story of how Rock ‘n’ Roll got freed and how it changed forever our way to listen to music and the way we see it. Curious how the story of this box office failure is in many ways to be paralleled with its pirate radio story.
The idea behind the movie was to picture the story of those pirate ships that sailed around the United Kingdom, even reaching sometimes Denmark, in order to broadcast Rock’N'Roll to make it available to people, and at the same time, to challenge the BBC monopoly of radio. It is basicly based on Radio Caroline history, one of the most iconic pirate radio of those years, still broadcasting today. In 1964, exactly on March 28th, Radio Caroline goes on air, transmitting on a medium wave system as the short wave system is strictly limited to “traditional” radio stations. The story can be paralled as at the time, Radio Caroline is based ashore from the Essex coast.
The movie depicts a boat with a rather unbridled way of life. The crew members – all men (except for the cook, a lesbian)- happen to be all DJs in charge of the broadcast, and every two weeks they await for the visit of their fans. Edward is a young man sent by his mom on the boat after being dismissed from his college for smoking, He’ll discover life as well as love on board, and shall make friends with the crew in the process. It’s an english comedy, made by the same team that made Love Actually. A typical feel-good movie, though its real interest is that most of the things happening have been true, or very close to be true.
By 1967, the audience listening to pirate radios is said to have reached 10 to 15 millions people. There were 10 different stations. Radio Caroline, that had in its three-year-old life merged with Radio Atlanta, grew and gained importance: it was then a two-ships radio station. MV Mi Amigo remains in Fritton-on-Sea and broadcasts as Radio Caroline South while MV Caroline goes to the Isle of Man.
On August 14th 1967, at midnight, the Marine Broadcast (Offences) Act is introduced. All pirate radio stations are to be shut down. This particular episode is depicted in the movie as Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport struggle to make pirate stations disappear. In real life however, Radio Caroline, as shown in the movie, kept on broadcasting changing its name to “Radio Caroline International”.
On August 30th, the Act becomes binding on the Isle of Man obliging Radio Caroline International ships and the Authorities to play hide and seek for the next six months. In March 1968, both ships are eventually raided through a government operation. The Pirate Radio as we knew it, disappears. However Radio Caroline is still alive and broadcasting, thanks to the internet. You can now listen to it on: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/