Upminster councillor remembers when he was banned from Spain by dictatorship

There can’t be many councillors who have been put on the banned list of a dictatorship, Ian Weinfass went to meet Havering’s.

“I don’t think there has ever been such a brilliant time for music as the 1960s – it was fantastic,” Cllr Ron Ower, the member for Upminster ward fondly recalls.

The councillor describes himself as a rare breed – a radical who believes in direct action – but who has held memberships of Residents’ Associations since the early 1970s.

He said: “Since I was a child I have always been interested in politics. My first campaign was when I was at primary school, Carpenters Road in Stratford, to try to get indoor toilets.”

He soon became involved in Oxfam, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the anti-Vietnam war movement.

But it was his love of music which landed him in some potentially dangerous situations.

As a young teenager he took part in risky sea journeys to work on pirate radio stations.

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Cllr Ower drew inspiration from the fact that: “There was a huge music explosion from the UK across the world, but there was a gap, there was nowhere on the radio you could listen to it, just a couple of hours a week on the BBC and nothing else.

“I was only 14 or 15 when I started, younger than a lot of the guys that worked on them, who were in their twenties and thirties.”

He began by working on a radio station called Radio City, which was run by Screaming Lord Sutch from the Monster Raving Looney Party, as well as the famous Radio Caroline.

At weekends the schoolboy would travel on the Thames Estuary to the Shivering Sands Army Fort where Radio City was broadcast.

But after the Government closed down the station he sought new opportunities to help spread music, and spent three summers hitchhiking across Europe, helping at stations in other countries.

As well as working on stations in the Netherlands and Luxembourg, he went behind the iron curtain to East Germany and unsuccessfully attempted to enter Slovakia.

An East German pen pal from the time would later find that the Stasi secret police had confiscated some of Cllr Ower’s letters to him.

Spain, then under the control of the dictator General Francisco Franco, also became a destination for him,

“When I was travelling, me and a pal met a Spanish guy who was going to set up a small station just outside Barcelona,” he said.

“It took us about three days to get there. He needed to put the equipment up and the mast was very tall, he was going to put it on a big government building overnight.

“We were setting up this studio when the civil guard arrived. They insisted we demolish the gear and took me and my friend away.”

He added: “There was no nastiness or violence involved but we were banged up for a couple of hours, then they took us to the French border and we were kicked out of Spain.

“They stamped my passport and made it clear that we were not to come back. I didn’t go back until a long time after Franco died.”

More than 40 years later, Cllr Ower said he still holds the same beliefs he did in the swinging sixties.

He added: “I joined Havering Council to do my bit for the community and I’m lucky to because Upminster and Cranham are the nicest parts of London.”