Clive Thomas

Clive Thomas

 Interview by Roland Beaney.

Where and when were you born? 

I was born in Swansea, South Wales, where I lived until I was 19. My parents wanted to Christen me “John”: so I am grateful to my elder sister (then 7) for insisting I should be called Clive.

Where do you live now? 

I came to London in 1968 to go to drama school and taught in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham for 7 years, then moving to Basildon, Essex in 1978 which also includes Wickford where I’ve lived for 15 years.

What is your favourite part of the country? 

I have always loved the Gower Peninsula. English people tell me it always rains in Wales but I have superb childhood memories of long sunny days and superb sandy beaches, but when it came to buying a holiday home we plumped for Brittany in France: times have changed.

How did you get involved in radio?  

We had no TV until I was 11 so I was already hooked on radio, especially Radio Luxembourg and AFN (the American Forces Network Europe). Then in Easter 1964 I read a Sunday paper about Radio Caroline and found it on 199m MW and became a lifelong fan – I think you’d say I was a bit of an anorak.  By 1966, I and some mates had set up Radio City Swansea at the Morriston Hospital and later at the Singleton Hospital which celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year and has just been granted an AM licence by Ofcom.

What other radio stations have you been involved with?  

In 1975 I was scanning the Medium Wave whilst staying in Tooting and I discovered the land-based pirate Radio Kaleidoscope. They were advertising for presenters; “but you must have a good voice”. It was very tight and I liked it, so I applied. Three weeks later, I was standing in a field in Banstead, keeping an eye out for the Home Office.  When LBC came on and we had to move frequency, things got tougher and we decided to retire gracefully: our final hour still sounds pretty moving. The presenters then opened what is now the regular BT award winning Whitechapel AM at the Royal London Hospital and is still there after 30 years – more due to Pat Edison than I – as in 1978 I landed the Station Manager’s job at the newly formed cable station, Radio Basildon, the studio of which Mike Harding described as “a Corn Flakes packet”, but which was enormously successful, beating Capital and Radio 1 in the ratings and described by BBC TV’s “Nationwide” as “the future of local radio”.  By 1982, I had enough of 60 hour weeks and rubbish money: I got married to the wonderful Christine and we had two new babies Sabrina and Leanne – I guess it was time to grow up. So in one of those “poacher turned game keeper moments” I got a job with the Performing Right Society and ended up as its Performance Sales Director for 10 years from 1995. Christine, my wife, joined the Police and we had two more children: Siân and Ieuan. In the 80’s & 90’s I did do a bunch of “restricted radio services” in Basildon but gave up on that in the end. In 2005, I got sick and have undergone a few operations and other treatment since then, so I took early retirement, bought our wonderful house in France and joined Radio Caroline. It was time to chill and I’m loving it, loving it, loving it!

What are your earliest memories of Caroline? 

Doug Kerr ( fantastic theme tune – “Big Noise from Winetka”) and Simon Dee on air and that woman over the sound of waves: “This is Caroline on 199, your all day music station.”

Have you got any special/fond memories of the station? 

The weekend the MV Caroline went to the Isle of Man to start Caroline North. I got up early as usual to crank up the steam valve radio and turn up the volume because it was a long way from Swansea even with 50KW. Instead it blasted out Tom Lodge “… and now we’re rounding Lands End”. There followed one day of exceptional reception as Caroline steamed past Cornwall and West Wales with Tom and Jerry Leighton doing 3 hours on and 3 hours off.

What is your favourite radio station other than Caroline?  

Today it’s Radio 2 – commercial radio used to be at the cutting edge but now it’s over computerized and bland. The music policy at 2 is better. Mind you, I also like Country 105 in Calgary, Western Canada when we visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.

What’s the best and worse thing about radio today?  

The best thing is there’s so much of it and there are smaller more local outfits like Swansea Bay Radio making their mark and internet and satellite providing outlets for all sorts: some of the stuff you used find on Short Wave is also available again. The worst thing is the UK approach to DAB digital radio. The signal is nowhere near as better than FM as was claimed and the franchise system keeps variety, creativity and innovation like you get from Caroline off the air – we probably need another Free Radio Campaign – and funnily enough I now live in the parliamentary constituency of Rayleigh (and Wickford).

Have you ever worked on a Radio ship? 

Sadly no. Alan King offered me a show on the Voice of Peace in 1972 but because I wasn’t a student, the Israelis decided it was too much cost to get me out there. One day, the Ross Revenge maybe??????!!!!!!!!!!

How much freedom do you have on Caroline?

There are rules on Caroline and the music is well programmed, particularly the featured new music tracks but we’re allowed to change up to 30% in an hour and I tend to use that to meet listener requests. It’s amazing to talk to Australia, Antarctica, the USA and South Africa as well as all over the UK and Europe in one 4 hour show – I love that.

Have you any embarrassing or funny moments to share with us?  

I embarrass myself every show with my “Connection Competition”: it amounts to my life story in bi-weekly chunks. The week before I went on air at the Big K came the announcement: “And next week on the Big K its Clive Thomas!” I turned to Pat Edison in shock and said: “Hang on, that’s my real name!” “Sounds made up!” apologized Pat.

Who is the most famous person you have met?  

I guess it must be Prince Charles but when on Radio Basildon I did go on a walkabout with the Queen in Grays. I interviewed everyone she spoke to. They were ecstatic but I found out she asked everyone the same question: “So where have you come from today?” I’d gone through MI5 vetting and had remained 6 paces behind her for a bunch of interviews I couldn’t use. Paul and Linda McCartney visited my department at PRS: they were among the nicest people I’ve met – still keep the photo in my office. But don’t talk to me about Bobby Crush. Oh and I did go to school with Rowan Williams, now the Archbishop of Canterbury.

What do you do for relaxation?  

Have friends around for dinner and drink copious amounts of good red wine – life’s too short to drink cheap stuff!

What is your favourite food?  

Without a doubt Tandoori Chicken and Bhindi Bhajee but I do cook a mean curry myself.

What do you like doing the most?  

Spending all day Saturday in the kitchen with my wife, cooking for people or being with my kids doing anything – watching football, cinema, restaurants, or even just playing monopoly.

What are your favourite bands or groups?  

The Beatles and Queen plus the Kaiser Chiefs, Fray and the Hoosiers. Did love Catatonia, too. Seen loads of bands I love over the years: Them, Pink Floyd, Kinks, Sam & Dave, Arthur Conley, Lee Dorsey, Blues Foundation, Foundations, Rolling Stones, Coors, Beach Boys, Simply Red and many more. Of course when you have kids you also end up at MC Hammer and New Kids on the Block and sitting in the car park at Knebworth listening to Oasis on Knebworth FM or whatever it was called.

What are your top 5 favourite tunes?  

Hey Jude - The Beatles,  Burlesque - Family, Those were the days of my life - Queen, 25 or 6 to 4 - Chicago,  Green Onions -  Booker T and the MG's

When did you last go on board the Ross? 

When it was anchored in the Medway near Rochester.

What plans have you for the future?  

Staying alive and chilling out in our 3.5 acres of France with my wife, kids, grandkids and friends and an even more regular slot on Radio Caroline once a fortnight isn’t enough – too many people think I’m Barry James.

Sadly Clive passed away early 2009, always remembered.

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