Fifty years ago, after a long delay, the government acted to close down the dozen or so pirate radio stations which had sprung up around the British coast. Many of the stories about those ships and offshore forts, and the personalities involved, are well known, but this book asks intriguing questions about what was really going on behind the scenes.

Offshore unlicensed radio stations were not a new idea, they had existed in different forms elsewhere for decades, so why did the phenomenon blossom in the UK when it did?

It is common to conflate the rise of the UK pirate radio stations with the predominantly left-wing liberation struggles going on at the same time: civil rights protests, anti-war movements, student unrest and increasingly liberal attitudes to sex and sexuality. Fifty years on we can appreciate the reality: the people behind the early offshore stations were frequently motivated by very different political agendas and often the ships and forts were simply pawns in much bigger power games.

The list of players in this story ranges from a Texan oil millionaire, a wealthy American evangelist preacher and the wife of a US president to the managers of struggling UK pop groups and notorious London gangsters. And, throughout it all, there’s the shadowy presence of various state security agencies from the CIA and MI5 to the East German Stasi.

Pirate Gold shines a light on the social, political and technological background to the rise of the UK offshore pirate stations and their lasting effect on British radio broadcasting.

Available in paperback and as a digital download

front cover