Oliver Smedley

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Major William Oliver Smedley MC (19 February 1911–1989) was an English businessman involved in classical liberal politics and pirate radio.

Early life[edit]

Smedley was born in Godstone, Surrey, on 19 February 1911, the son of William Herbert and Olivia Kate Smedley, his father was a director of the Gramophone Company.


Smedley was a paratrooper and gunner during the Second World War and won the Military Cross on 11 July 1944 at Audrieu in the battle for Normandy.[1]

Politics and economics[edit]

In opposition to Clement Attlee's Agriculture Act 1947, Smedley helped to found, and become Secretary of, the Farmers' and Smallholders' Association in 1947. Its first President was the Conservative MP Waldron Smithers.

In 1952 Smedley resigned from his job as a Chartered Accountant and campaigned for economic liberalism from his office in EC2. His main campaigning organisation was the Cheap Food League which was against all types of protection and subsidy in agriculture, especially marketing boards. In a protest against high taxation he founded the Council for the Reduction of Taxation in 1954. Then in 1955, whilst a member of the Society of Individualists, Smedley met Antony Fisher and together they founded the Institute of Economic Affairs. Smedley also took over the Free Trade League and the Cobden Club in 1958.

Smedley was also a Liberal politician, standing against Rab Butler in Saffron Walden in the general elections of 1950 and 1951. In all he contested eighteen Parliamentary elections. However, he left the Liberal Party in 1962 due to his opposition to their favourable attitude to British membership of the European Economic Community. He founded the Keep Britain Out campaign to oppose British membership of the EEC. In 1982 he founded the Free Trade Liberal Party with David Bundy.

Bars and nightclubs[edit]

Smedley also owned and ran a bar and nightclub in Albufeira, Portugal, called the Seven and the Seven and a Half. Tom Jones and others performed there, as well as his son Charles Smedley (he had two children, the other is Emma Currie).

Pirate radio[edit]

In 1964, with Alan Crawford, Smedley helped to form the British company Project Atlanta Limited that successfully launched Britain's second full-time offshore commercial pirate radio station called Radio Atlanta. The station used a ship that had once been the home of Radio Nord. Radio Atlanta eventually merged with the Caroline Organization led by Irishman Ronan O'Rahilly, and changed its name to Radio Caroline South.

When Reginald Calvert, manager of The Fortunes pop group, founded the rival pirate station Radio City, Smedley tried to persuade Calvert to amalgamate with Radio Caroline in exchange for a new transmitter. The transmitter turned out to be antiquated and did not work properly (one of its sections had been accidentally dropped into the sea prior to being installed, though it is uncertain as to whether this was responsible for its malfunctioning) and Calvert refused to pay for it. Smedley in response hired a group of riggers to board Radio City and retrieve the transmitter. The next day Calvert went to Smedley's house, where Smedley killed him with a shotgun. Smedley claimed that he feared Calvert was there to kill him and was acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defence.[2]


  • Richard Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable: Think-Tanks and the Economic Counter-Revolution, 1931–1983 (Fontana, 1995).