Adrian Johns - Death of a Pirate (3 stars)

History of rogue broadcasters' ideological quest resonates with Pirate Bay trial

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Adrian Johns - Death of a Pirate

(WW Norton)

The groovy aspect of 1960s British pirate radio has already been dramatised in Richard Curtis’ film The Boat That Rocked. University of Chicago professor Adrian Johns charts the story’s more serious side: how rogue broadcasters were undone by their involvement with seedy underground elements, and how their ideological quest against the status quo is paralleled today in the controversy surrounding file-sharing websites such as Pirate Bay.

After painstakingly tracking the genesis of British broadcasting from the 1920s, Johns builds up towards the killing of Reg Calvert in 1966, a pirate operator who was shot dead by a rival, Oliver Smedley, in an incident that hastened the outlawing of pirate stations and the formation of Radio 1. He gets a little too tied up in intricacies for this to be recommended as a piece of popular history, but it remains engaging enough throughout thanks to cameos by a smattering of very British eccentrics and villains, from Screaming Lord Sutch to the Kray twins.

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