New BBC doc takes you inside the world of London’s pirate radio stations in the ’80s





Lock down your aerial.

The Last Pirates: Britain’s Rebel DJs explores how pirate radio stations in London – alongside record shops and clubs – forever transformed the UK’s cultural landscape, giving a platform for black music when it was shut out by ‘legal’ radio, and mainstream channels.

“As Margaret Thatcher cruised to a second victory in the 1983 election, a new parallel universe was spreading through the airways over London,” rapper Rodney P explains. “Invisible to most, transmitted through the ether, the sounds were right there in the forest of aerials sprouting on London’s rooftops.”

Presented by Rodney P, with archival footage and interviews, the film reveals the industrious pirates who set-up illegal aerials across tower blocks and estates, and how they intertwined with record shops and clubs to alter the music scene of Britain.

“The radio, the record shops and of course the clubs. That was the holy trinity,” explains Gilles Peterson.

“This is like our church, this is like our university, it’s our communication hub, this is our internet this is our Wikipedia,” says Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B speaking about the power of record shops.

“Sometimes I’d be thinking to myself hmmm am I going to eat food this week or am I going to buy these import records? Food… imports… Ah. Imports won all the time. I had to have those tunes,” says DJ Camilla.

We know the feeling.

The Last Pirates: Britain’s Rebel DJs airs on BBC Four Friday 29th September at 21.00. Head here for more info, and clips from the film.