History in Films: Pirate Radio

I have a fondness for the British endeavors of director/writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, 2003). The comedy Pirate Radio (2009) tells the true story of how 1960s British Rock got a forward thrust via “pirate” radio ships off the coast of England who dared to air rock music 24 hours a day on international waters thereby evading British authorities. In a highly censured time, DJ’s like Dave Cash, entertained millions of British teens.


In a NPR, 2009 article by Vicki Barker, “The Real Story Behind Britain’s Rock and Roll Pirates” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120358447 apparently Richard Curtis was at a boarding school as a boy and listened to the forbidden radio shows hungrily.  British teens loved the randy, off-shore DJs who introduced songs from new groups like The Rolling Stones. His memory became the impetus for the film. Take a look at this trailer/interview.

What a great cast. Kenneth Branagh is perfect as the official who goes on a witch hunt to silence the ships. Bill Nighy is cool and dry and Philip Seymour Hoffman


is the American DJ who comes aboard as one of the principal DJs. The film is mostly about the silly antics of a group of men who romanticize sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll. While this kind of plot is predictable, what I enjoy about the film is the peek into a historical window of censured British policy and their efforts to squelch the misbehaving pirates. I would have liked more than a peek, but I suppose it would have been less of a comedy.


The government pushed but ultimately lost to a younger generation who demanded their uptight elders “get off my cloud”.  What’s even more ironic is that half of the rebels from the British Invasion like The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles, David Bowie, etcetera, have become national jewels and knighted by the Queen. (Bowie rejected his) But back in the mid 60s, their music was scandalous stuff.

The core of the film is moderatly accurate but lost to fictional characters who are an  over-the-top version of reality. Sounds like I dislike the film? Nope. I still think its fun. Besides, the soundtrack and crazy costumes are worth the watch. Clearly the cast had a great time including me.

10 thoughts on “History in Films: Pirate Radio

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  1. i remember pirate radio well .. but it was something that seemed to be happening elsewhere – sadly. and i didnt know any of the real reasons why it manifested. i figured it was just a celebration of the worthy revolution that was going on – and a hell of a revolution it was !!! glad i was around to take it in.
    yeah … looks like a bit of fun … and a bit of history.


    1. As a lover of history, I am biased. So I concentrate on that and ignore the lowly bits of amusements like guys seeking the hook up. As an ex-sailor, I have a thick skin and don’t get too offended. Mostly, I just love the music and loved the story behind it. Glad you stopped by!


  2. This is one of Richard Curtis’ films I’ve missed out on! I was doing a music list from his films last week and took a listen to the soundtrack for this. Thanks for reminding me to see this, Cindy!


    1. IT’s fun and crude–but if you focus on the cast and the music and the history, the lewd stuff doesn’t bother you.
      Like in ‘Love Actually’ with the porn couple and the lovely bloke who went to Milwaukee! Charming.


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