Thursday, 25 January 2018

Guest blog: A member of Radio Atlantico del Sur’s staff recalls his work

Last month I was contacted by a fellow broadcasting professional who said he had worked on Radio Atlantico del Sur and had read my blog. There was no doubt as to his authenticity as he got in touch not via the blog, but privately via a trustworthy intermediary known to both of us. We met a couple of weeks later and enjoyed swapping our recollections of 1982. 

He has now written down some of these memories for this blog. He wishes to remain anonymous, and just be known as “A”:

In May 1982 I was part of the management team at a commercial radio station in southern England.

Some years earlier, when working freelance for the BBC, I had been sent to interview Neil ffrench-Blake about one of his business ventures. It was the start of a lifelong acquaintance.

I know from my diary that Neil came to my house on the evening of Monday 17th May 1982. He discussed the Falklands War and the radio station he was putting together to broadcast to the Argentinean invaders. I remember he asked me if I was patriotic.

The following day Neil called me at work and said he would shortly be talking to my boss, “T”. He told me that T would be receiving a phone call from Peter Baldwin, head of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which regulated commercial radio in the UK at the time. I was to go in to see T in 10 minutes time to ask for leave. “T will say ‘yes’,” said Neil.

This I did and sure enough T said “yes”, though he raised an eyebrow since he clearly did not know where I was going or what I would be doing.

On Wednesday morning, 19th May, at 7 am Neil drove to my house and picked me up. I had no idea where I was going or what I would be doing or even when I would be back. I merely knew it was to do with a Falklands radio station. As we drove into London, Neil explained that he had put a team together to broadcast to the Argentinean soldiers and had “acquired” two Argentinean-Spanish speaking military people to do the broadcasts, as well as a small back-up team.

We arrived at the then BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) premises at Kings Buildings in Dean Stanley Street and went to a small suite of offices on the first floor on the left at the top of the stairs. It had “Media Assessment Team” on the door. The story was that we were assessing the various media reports on the war for the Ministry of Defence.

While our offices were upstairs at Kings Buildings, I remember the studio as being in the basement.

My role was to write suitable news stories, based on the news of the day, but always upbeat and pro-British, though not excessively so. These were then translated into Spanish and broadcast. One of the stories that I wrote and was broadcast was later queried by a senior Ministry of Defence official who thought I was revealing classified information. I was able to prove that I had taken the information – about some form of weapon – from publicly available material that had in fact been broadcast by the BBC.

Our first broadcast was that evening (19th May) at 11 pm. Neil had chosen a lilting theme tune, the sound track from a film. We were excited when we were able to tune in to the repeater station on Ascension Island and hear the echo of our broadcast, so we knew it was going out.

I had a typewriter (this was before computers were at all common) and I rang Independent Radio News (IRN), where I had previously worked, to ask them for a stack of “no carbon sets”. These were the A5 sized blocks of 3 sheets of coloured paper (yellow on the top) which IRN used for their news bulletins. This had the advantage that 3 copies of any news story were produced which allowed for one copy to be translated, another to be checked by the director (to ensure it was "on message") and the third filed.

IRN seemed surprised at my request, especially since I couldn’t tell them what the sets were for, but made up some story about my station needing some and that I happened to be able to arrange to collect them.

One of the military Spanish speakers needed his dictionaries which were somewhere on the South Coast. A military car was sent to collect them at once.

I remember the staff as being quite few – mainly male with at least one woman officer. We had a small kitchen, with a sign saying “MAT’s café”, where we made tea and coffee.

I had an MoD pass and may have gone to the MoD building in Whitehall a few times for meals. I also had a car pass and commuted from home every day, parking my car on Horse Guards Parade.

I worked for probably three quarters of the days of the remainder of the war and remember the last day when news of the cease-fire came through. We felt both elated at, hopefully, having played some small part and at the same time a sense of let down, or “end of term”. Everything was quickly cleared up and soon there was nothing left to show of our time there.

We had ordered T-shirts and sweat-shirts, with our slogan of “Bringing Truth to the Front” on them. I remember that mine were sent on to me later since they had not arrived by the time the war ended – I still have them.

And so my work at Radio Atlantico del Sur came to an end. There was an odd follow-up to it many years later - but that must be for another time.

Many thanks to A for his fascinating account. Alongside Neil ffrench-Blake’s memoirs, they form the only published first-hand records of work at Radio Atlantico del Sur. Two points in A’s account are worth noting. He confirms Neil ffrench-Blake’s utterly central role in the RAdS story. And A’s recollection that the station used a basement studio in BFBS’s building may be the origin of the rumour that it had broadcast from the basement of the Foreign Office. (I noted this rumour in my blog post The Secret is Revealed.)

I will be very happy to host guest blogs by other former members of Radio Atlantico del Sur’s staff. As with A, I can guarantee that anonymity will be preserved.

© 2018. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.