PIRATES ETC

Spike Milligan
(First published in A Book of Bits, or a Bit of a Book, 1965)

Pirates etc., on the starboard helm! That cry struck terror into the hearts, liver and kidneys of all who heard it, especially if said at sea aboard an unarmed, sinking merchantman with a cowardly crew. To storytellers is conjured up a picture of uninhibited topical highlands [uninhabited tropical islands. -Ed] with the bones of skeletons bleached white by New Square Deal Surf! (You get eighteen per cent more bones with New Deal.) All those romantic salt-fiecked days are o’er, at least I thought they were o’er until I went over to my Evening paper and what do I see in it? Chips! Brushing them aside I finally reached the vinegar soaked columns and what do I see? Are my eyes deceiving me? Are they playing tricks? But no, there in black and white it is; but is it? It can’t be, but again it is! (This is how to fill in the page, folks.)

Yes, there was a pirate ship hove to off unarmed England! On board evil one-eyed men are saying Yo-ho-ho to each other. This Pirate Ship, the Caroline (the very name strikes terror), was beaming pop tunes with pin point accuracy at innocent unsuspecting citizens in the privacy of their own up-to-the-neck-mortgaged homes.

The G.P.O. were quick to act. Within one year they had issued a statement to the press through one of their nameless bureaucratic twits. “It is technically illegal to listen to Radio Caroline.” The statement set listeners by the ears. How did one know when one was listening technically or un-technically? Questions were asked in the House, like:

Q: “Who was that Prime Minister I saw you with last night?”

A: “That was no Prime Minister, that was Lord Home.”

Finally under public pressure the Prime Monster released a statement to the Press, “No Comment.” This brilliant choice of words convinced the public he was doomed in the Autumn.

Of a midnight, from Hangman’s Wharf at Wapping Broadstairs, long boats with cargoes of Hit Records and Sacks of Gold pulled out of the dock with muffled oars and muffled drums. The cargo was taken to the Island of Rockall and buried alive. A carrier pigeon would be posted to the Caroline with the latest Charts marking the spot with an X, meaning the treasure was for adults only unless accompanied by a guitar playing child of sixteen. At dawn the skipper of the Caroline, a fiend called Captain Blackjack Jackson and Conservative member for Haiti, orders five one-legged men with eighty shovels to “dig those crazy records!” So much for the buccaneers. Now the public. What reprisals can we expect from the G.P.O. for those brave souls who dare to listen to the Caroline? Mr Wedgwood Benn has told me personally that we who break the law can expect “The knock on the door in the night”. I have tried my best to get the election put forward to defeat this happening, and as you know, while the Conservative Party hold a monopoly of the shareholdings in the Beatles they will delay the day of reckoning as far as possible. By the Autumn the Beatles should be washed up, so that’s what they’re aiming for. Oh, folks, between now and then what horrors await the “pirate listener”.

Picture the scene. Midnight in the home of Mr and Mrs Eric Friggs, he a semi-humble assistant sponge lifter at Fords of Dagenham. Inside the house the blinds are drawn (but the furniture is real). The shutters are down, and the room is lit by a small candle, and a large electric light. At the back door, her ear to the keyhole, is the Grandmother who poses for Giles, in her hand she carries a male sock loaded with marbles. At the front window peering through the heavy curtains is the Grandfather. He is holding a World War I bayonet in a World War I hand. “All clear,” he says. At this Eric Friggs pulls a heavy cupboard from the wall. Behind is a small aperture. Into this he inserts a small brass key which he keeps on a cord around his neck. A tiny door opens, revealing a small compartment, inside which is a plain white plastic Japanese transistor radio. He switches the set on, having first chosen the wavelength. There is a slight oscillation, then a brave pseudo-American voice says with great dignity, “Hi there!” Here the entire family cross themselves. The voice continues, “This is the voice of Radio Caroline calling the listening free people of the World! Now here is the latest news. No. 1 in the charts: Charlie Frock and the Grovellers with ‘My My Little Hairy Girl’. No.2 and coming up fast is Grinning Frank Lapock and the Droolers with ‘Ave Maria I Love You’. No.3, The Nasals with their version of ‘Quo Vadis Means That I Love You’.” As the records start to play the whole family twist, rock, and Madison the night away.

But outside, homing in on their illicit musical orgy, are the G.P.O. detector vans. Sure enough, within the hour the family are stopped in their tracks by “The knock on the door in the night”. “Quick, that’s a knock on the door in the night,” says Gran. “Douse the light!” The Daughter snuffs the candle, the Father with speed and skill swallows the transistor set. “Right, let them in,” he says. As the black leather jacketed G.P.O. men enter, a scene of domestic bliss meets their gaze. The Grandmother is naked in a tin bath in front of the radiator, Grandad is reading the ”Good Book” (Fanny Hill), while the Son is making little plaster statues of Prince Philip making little plaster statues of the Queen. Mother is in front of the TV smoking a pipe and knitting tobacco. The G.P.O. man speaks: “We have reason to believe that you live here.” Father lowers his upside-down evening paper. “Yes, come in.” His words are strangely mixed with the sound of Gerry and the Potboilers singing! Fool that he was, he’d forgotten to switch off the set before swallowing! There, dear reader, you have the picture of the horrors to come. Let the cry go up: “Sink the Caroline!”