The story of Radio Luxembourg and former Essex DJ Mark Wesley
PUBLISHED: 15:59 17 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:59 17 February 2020
Radio Luxembourg made a household name of Essex DJ Mark Wesley in the 1970s, spinning the discs alongside Paul Burnett, Kid Jensen, Peter Powell and Steve Wright. Today Mark is settled in Saffron Walden and has turned his hand to writing thriller novels
Mark Wesley has happy memories of his time on the decks in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, broadcasting to pop-pickers across Europe.
'Let's face it, who wouldn't want to spend their days messing around playing hit records?' asks Mark.
'My interest in radio was sparked the same way it was for many of the others who got into radio in the 1960s - the pirate radio ships like Radio Caroline and Radio London' I had been playing guitar in a rock band, so music was right at the top of the things I loved.'
Mark started out at Radio Essex, not a trendy pirate station but one willing to employ an 18-year-old from South Benfleet with no experience at all.
'It was the smallest station at the time, but what a training ground. As for our listeners, I think they must have been very generous and patient to stick with the amateur programmes presented by a bunch of youngsters who were making it up as we went along.'
Having had his first taste of the decks in Essex, Mark managed to get on board at the pirate radio ship, Radio Northsea International, and it was his experience presenting at sea that led to his big break.
'I sent an air-check of my Radio Northsea International breakfast show to Radio Luxembourg and then went to work for Dick James Music in a useful record plugging job that kept me in contact with radio producers.
'I was plugging the last of the Beatles records and the first of Elton John's, such as Your Song, when I received a telephone call from the programme director of Luxy, who asked if I was still interested in working for the station. Daft question.'
Mark joined one of the most listened-to stations across the continent, Radio Luxembourg, in spring 1971 and stayed for 10 years.
'It was one of the best gigs in radio at the time,' says Mark. 'Our night-time shows had an audience of millions in the UK alone. To give you an idea of its popularity, we put out a magazine called Fabulous 208, which regularly sold 250,000 copies a week.'
Rock groups and pop stars regularly visited Radio Luxembourg's studios to promote their latest records.
'Queen spent an afternoon at my apartment drinking tea and listening to their new album,' remembers Mark.
It was only when he returned home that Mark's own pin-up status became apparent.
'Living full-time in Luxembourg, where the local population were largely indifferent to us radio DJs, meant we didn't really notice our success or popularity until we came to the UK to do personal appearances - then it hit you,' explains Mark.
'On occasions it was a bit like Beatlemania in the clubs we appeared at. I was 23 and I loved the attention!'
Mark is still in touch with his Radio Luxembourg colleagues.
'There were six of us DJs on air - Paul Burnett, Dave Christian, Bob Stewart, Kid Jensen, Tony Prince and me. In later years came Peter Powell, Steve Wright and Mike Read, among others.
'We all got on really well and we still see each other when we can. I'm profoundly grateful for those life-long friendships.'
During his time at Radio Luxembourg, Mark also began to write and produce records.
'Philadelphia Fliers and Leroy Brown had modest success here and in the US,' he says, 'so in 1981, when I left Luxy to return to the UK, I began writing jingles for local advertisers.'
Teaming up with a script writer, he soon moved into video production.
'I had always had an interest in cinematography and had made short films, so there was a bit of technical background to support that ambition. We ended up producing TV documentaries.'
Fair Cops was one of Mark's successes - a six-part series for ITV following the lives of women police officers in Essex - and he also produced and directed television commercials as well as films for London Overground and Crossrail.
But, keen to make the move to the silver screen, Mark wrote a producer's pitch for a caper-style full-length feature film. He found himself so inspired by the plot that he couldn't contain it to the intended two-page synopsis.
'It grew into a 356-page novel!' he says.
His latest novel, Dead City Exit, sees the return of Mark's protagonist James Stack and his team, Summer Peterson and Charlie 'Hollywood' Dawson and was inspired by a scientific discovery he read about in The Guardian.
'While before, my story ideas seemed to come out of thin air, this yarn was inspired by a report I'd read a few years before about a claim that some neutrino particles had been found to travel faster than the speed of light,' he says.
'If true, it would have a profound effect on our understanding of the nature of time. That story was followed up a year later with a report that in fact the team of scientists appeared to have made an error. Right there, I thought, you have a terrific government conspiracy plot.'
Mark puts a lot of effort into researching the technical and political content of his novels as well as the geography, but he finds his home in the pretty north Essex market town of Saffron Walden, a peaceful base for writing.
'I've lived in Saffron Walden for 30 years or so - it's lovely and full of friendly people,' he says. 'I was born in South Benfleet but moved to Thundersley when I was 11 and, as a young lad with little or no cash in his pocket, I loved walking along the coast from Leigh on Sea to Southend.
'I'd catch the bus to Hadleigh and walk down to Hadleigh Castle and take the Downs route to Leigh. What a magnificent view of the Thames Estuary.'
Little did the young Mark know that waves would be so important in his future.
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Mark Wesley's latest novel, Dead City Exit, is on sale now