When I saw that ‘Pirate Radio’ was due to come to theatres, I was quite excited about it, as it invoked fond memories of the time I spent in England in the early ’70s. The story is loosely based on the saga of Radio Caroline – an actual pirate radio station situated on a boat in the English Channel in the 1960s and 70s, and I had I met a few of the people involved in Radio Caroline when I lived in London working as a nanny.
I was living with Dick Fontaine and his wife, Pat Hartley and looking after their three year old son, Smokey when I met the founder of Radio Caroline, Ronan O’Rahilly. Dick was an independant documentary filmmaker and had a studio on the top floor of the large flat we lived in, in the Kensington district of London. His work was being financed (in whole or in part, I’m not sure) by Ronan, an Irish entrepreneur who was in the music and film business. Dick and Pat were surprised that I had never heard of him, because he was well known in the British entertainment world. Once I did meet him though, he was certainly hard to forget. He was most definitely a person with presence and had a wild mane of grey hair. Dick’s assistant, who was named Caroline, told me that she had been involved in Radio Caroline and that the station was named after her. According to what I have read recently, though, the origin of the name for the radio station is in dispute. Nonetheless, as far as I knew, I had met the ‘real’ Caroline.
I always wondered what became of Pat, Dick and Smokey, and the Internet has been helpful in this respect. Dick is now head of an independant film school in England and has produced several jazz biography films. He showed me various clips he was working with at the time I was there, including some of Billie Holiday. I was already a jazz aficionado, and appreciated the education. I see that Smokey has become an editor and writer and goes by Smokey Fontaine. I guess they moved back to New York after I was there, because Wikipedia says that Smokey grew up in New York and was educated there.
Pat was from New York, and was both an actress and dancer, and had starred in a film called ‘Rainbow Bridge’ with Jimi Hendrix, who had been a close friend of hers. It was never released in Canada, but I found a copy of it years later at a flea market, and it was great fun to see Pat in her role in the film, as the character she portrayed was so like her – fast talking and opinionated. She could also be very funny, and was not pretty, but captivating and exotic looking. I can’t find much information about her current activities or a recent photo, but apparently, a young filmmaker named Jennifer Poe is making a biography of Pat and model Donyale Luna as they were the only two black women who were part of the Andy Warhol group of females. (Ironically though, Donyale Luna downplayed her black heritage all her life, and Pat has a mixed background – with a black mother and white Jewish father). Pat also starred in an Andy Warhol art film ‘Ciao Manhattan’ with Andy’s girlfriend Edie and I found it on Youtube.
Pat and Dick were fascinating people to live with, the type of people who were observant and looked beneath the surface of things, and who took chances. Smokey was a very sweet and bright child, and I enjoyed looking after him. We explored a lot of London together. Pat and Dick appreciated my questionable talents as a cook, as neither of them could cook, and loved my tuna casserole – the only ‘dish’ in my repertoire. Pat was a wonderful story teller and I probably should have been taking notes, but it didn’t occur to me at the time of course. They both encouraged creative pursuits and Dick told me that if I wanted to be a writer, then I should just begin writing. He was so right!
While the ‘Pirate Radio’ film isn’t about them, I will go to see it as it looks like fun and I’m sure will evoke some memories of the ‘good old days’. The 60s and 70s were a special era when people were trying to break the mold and be original, and that’s what Radio Caroline was trying to do. I think we could use some more of that spirit today.