Behind the mic – Paul Burnett

Oct 2019 Behind the mic – Paul Burnett

(Former Radio Luxembourg and Caroline DJ)

By Ian Woolley

Many disc jockeys harbour a secret ambition to also have a hit record. But Paul Burnett’s appearance on Top Of The Pops dressed as a chicken takes some beating. More of that later…

Paul’s radio career started in 1962 when he was out in Aden with the RAF, listening to the light programme. He was offered a job on their small radio station.

”What tempted me was that they had Double Diamond on tap at the club next door and the whole place had air conditioning. With that as an incentive, how could I turn them down?” said Paul.

After serving his five years, he managed to secure a position as resident DJ at the Majestic Ballroom in Darlington while still being stationed at RAF Dishforth, nearby.

A year later, after fruitlessly auditioning for Radio Caroline, he travelled up to Newcastle where he was offered the job of DJ on pirate radio 270. Even though the station had no record library at the time, it was Paul who managed to supply them with his contact back at the ballroom.

Paul explained: “The manager had a hatch where, after playing the records, he would flick them up into it. This had been going on for 10 years, which resulted in a bulge in his ceiling! I offered to take them all away as I was leaving anyway, which resulted in an impressive collection for my new job onboard.”

Although the station was meant to be on air at noon on April 1, 1966, with all the waiting press on land tuning in to the great switch-on, out in the North Sea a freak storm was buffeting the pirate ship.

Paul recalled: “We were all in under cover thinking the worst, when actor Roger Gale had the foresight to get up on deck with the crew and hacked away at this giant 150 foot mast with an axe. Eventually it slithered away beneath the waves and the ship was saved for another day.

“Four months later, we had replaced the mast and was back on air, but sea sickness was a huge problem for me at the time.”

From there, he went to Manx Radio on the Isle of Man which, at the time, was the only legal commercial radio station in the British Isles. For six months, he was their breakfast show DJ until the station closed down.

He managed to secure a job on Radio Luxembourg. On October 27, 1967, Paul and his car made his way to the Principality to become one of their presenters – a post he would hold for six and a half years with fellow DJs Tony Prince, Kid Jensen, Bob Stewart, Dave Christian and later Mark Wesley.

Paul recalled: “We were a great team and got along with each other so well. Fond memories for me was doing a gig with the Bee Gees in Carnaby Street on the balcony of the famous men’s fashion shop Lord John; presenting Peter Wyngarde (alias Jason King) with an award, with thousands of people below.

“Lots of the big names would come over and visit the station, and very often, you would find us in the nightclubs until the early hours partying, with their agents picking up the bill. Meanwhile back in the studio a certain Noel Edmunds would be playing pranks on all and sundry which, I’m guessing, gave him the idea of his show later on in his career, Happy days.”

When Paul replaced Johnnie Walker at Radio One in 1974 for refusing to play the Bay City Rollers, he remembers a pop concert at Mallory Park at the height of the band’s fame.

“We commandeered the little island in the centre of the park with the Rollers being brought in by helicopter. At the time, these racing cars were whizzing round the circuit while their fans were running across the track and wading into the water to get to our island. How anybody didn’t get killed is a miracle. The chief constable threatened to pull the plug if they landed, so we had to just get them to fly around and wave at the crowds.”

With Paul in reflective mood, I thought it time to ask him about his 1976 chart success and that chicken costume.

Paul said: “It was DLT’s (Dave Lee Travis) idea. He said ‘why don’t we cash in on the CB craze and make a parody of CW McColl’s novelty hit Convoy with a British slant’. We wrote the lyrics and got it recorded and was amazed with how quick the record stormed the charts.

“When it got to No.6, we were asked to appear on Top of the Pops. That said, we did top the Luxembourg charts with it. So there we were, on TOTP split screen as Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks – me dressed as a chicken with the CB handle ‘Plastic Chicken’ and Dave as ‘Super Scouse’. Tony Blackburn introduced us, as I recall.”

Incidentally the chicken costume was previously worn by Tony Hancock for a TV ad!

In 1982, Paul left the station and joined Capitol radio where he spent eight happy years. With Tony Blackburn, Kenny Everett, Mike Read and myself, the station had the listening figures that would rival any station.

With so many great funny stories in his head, I asked Paul when he was going to write his autobiography.

“Never say never” replied Paul, “but I would think a lot of things would have to be left out – possibly.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.