Some legendary stories about working at GKA

Probably the most legendary story concerns the former Chairman of Cunard, Sir Basil Smallpeice. On a typically busy Christmas Day back in the 1970s, he rang GKA to place a call to the QE2. In those days, Christmas Day R/T bookings were made weeks in advance, and it was rare for calls placed ‘on the day’ to be accepted. The phone conversation went along the lines of:

SMALLPEICE: I would like to place a call to the QE2 please. 

GKA: I am sorry but all available calls to the vessel have been booked. 

SMALLPEICE: But I need to speak to the Captain urgently. 

GKA: Sorry but we cannot accept any more calls for the vessel. 

SMALLPEICE: Do you know who I am? 

GKA: No. Who are you? 

SMALLPEICE: I am Sir Basil Smallpeice, Chairman of Cunard.

 GKA: I don’t care if you are Sir Basil ***** Brush, you still can’t have your call! (Click) 

 A few days later a letter of complaint was received at the station in which Sir Basil accepted why he could not place his call, but he did take exception about being compared to a furry rodent.  
 During the Falklands war, HRH Prince Andrew was on helicopter duties and he placed a few radio calls through GKA during his time there. On one occasion he placed a call to Buckingham Place, and once connected he was advised to “speak up son, your Mum’s on the line”  
 Simon Le Bon, lead singer with 1980s band “Duran Duran” often used the station for calls to and from his yacht “Drum”. At the height of his fame he was firmly put in his place by being asked who he was and how to spell his name - “How do you spell L-E-B-O-N?  
 One R/T call was connected and the connection commenced with the sound of a dog barking. This was followed a long tirade of moaning and groaning from the caller’s wife. At the end of a particularly long and vitriolic episode, the caller asked if she could put the dog back on the line again.  
 One young female R/O was taking down a telegram over the R/T circuit when her typewriter jammed. She was heard to advise the ship of this malfunction and she would have to ‘finish him off by hand”. Much spluttering and chortling from the neighbouring GKA staff.  

One famous actress sailing on the QE2 was attempting to make a person-to-person call to David Niven at his home in the South of France. Numerous attempts to locate Mr. Niven were made, without a great deal of success and some attempts at the French language. Eventually, Mr. Niven was located and the call connected - although he was under the impression the call was from HM Queen Elizabeth herself rather than from the ship "Queen Elizabeth 2/GBTT". His disappointment was obvious to all.


An R/O was observed standing up punching away at a typewriter.  When he had finished someone asked him why he was typing standing up "I was receiving a message for Her Majesty The Queen" he solemnly replied.

Then there was the British R/O on a British ship who called Rogaland Radio on RT and asked for the traffic list times.   On being told that the foreign traffic lists were at such and such a time, he said "Look here old man I'm not foreign, I'm British."

The staff notice board was a favourite place for R/Os to (anonymously) comment on management policy, and it was not uncommon for notices to be appended with such comments as "2 out of 10" or "could do better". One particularly memorable notice urging staff to save money by using rewound telex rolls (thereby using both sides of the paper) was soon replaced by a notice urging staff to use both sides of toilet paper for reasons of economy. 

Another notice announced the introduction of "stork" microphones (referring to the new "stalk" microphones installed in R/T, to which the following (or similar)) was appended:

"If to ships you wish to tork, don't forget to use the stork"

In addition, the following have been reported:

FOR SALE - 3kW Fan Heater - this was anonymously changed to a 3kW Fanny Heater...

FOR SALE - 6' x 4' Garden Shed, £300 or near offer. This was felt by one R/O to be overpriced, who inscribed the notice with '£500 near enough?'...

FOR SALE - Stabilisers for Child's cycle. These were consequently brought in and presented to one certain R/O who had recently fallen off his motor bike....

There was also a notice advertising club 18-30 holidays (yes there were some young R/Os there!). Unfortunately one well-travelled R/O added the phrase 'much cheap jiggy jiggy' to the notice...

One new (non-sea-going) R/O had just completed his R/T training, and had just been called by the QE2/GBTT.  Upon asking the vessel’s position, the QE2 replied ‘just off Newfoundland’.  A long silence from Portishead was only ended when the R/O on the QE2 broke in ‘you don’t know where that is, do you?’ – one red-faced young R/O took a lot of stick for weeks afterwards…. 

One enterprising R/O purchased a book from the visiting book salesman with the intention of presenting it as a retirement present to one particular overseer famous for his spelling mistakes - the title of the book? 

'My 500 first words'...

Iriships in Dublin once sent a telegram to all of their vessels stating that crew would from now on be paid every two weeks instead of fortnightly.

Texaco in London sent a telegram to all of their vessels requesting that due to the increasing cost of telegrams, masters should refrain from ending them with the word ‘Regards’. The telegram was signed ‘Regards Texaco’.

One overseer (who shall remain nameless, but has been featured elsewhere) had the habit of disappearing on nights at around 0100 to fit in a few hours' sleep. For obvious reasons, the R/O staff took exception to this. On one memorable occasion, one R/O was instructed to 'keep watch' and alert the rest of the staff when the overseer woke from his slumbers. When the alert was given at around 0600, the whole staff disappeared out of the building, leaving the overseer searching for around 20 absent R/Os. 

One R/O on a particularly busy and stressful morning, once answered the telephone with the immortal line "Good Morning, Portishead Radio, How can you help me?"