I have been involved in various TV series’ over the years and below are the flagship programmes that featuring some amazing boats and eclectic characters.
The Boats that Built Britain
This 6-part series started on BBC4 and was so popular it was later transferred to BBC2.
‘The Boats that Built Britain’ was the flagship programme in a major new season called ‘Sea Fever’ which looked at the crucial way in which the sea has helped shape our island. My series, produced by Century Aspect, examined the pivotal boats involved in Britain’s exploration, trade, fishing and defence. I sailed on board six charismatic vessels, discovered facets of the sea I never imagined, and even took to the water in a skip!
This ten-part series was immensely popular and people still stop me in the street to say how much they loved it. It was first screened in 2005 on Discovery Realtime TV and frequently repeated – the last time on Quest.
Boatyard was created by Century Aspect Films for Discovery Real Time about the tribulations and triumphs of five ordinary guys tackling major boat renovations on limited budgets. Their vessels vary from a 1930’s classic yacht to a jet-craft of unknown origin. Venues include a Yorkshire council estate, a Norfolk farmyard and the legendary Eel Pie Island. I found the owners an eclectic bunch of characters. They are the real stars.
The ten half-hour episodes run back-to-back in pairs so you can follow a complete project across an hour. After this, nobody could imagine boats are for the privileged few again.
In 1994, I sailed round Britain in my 1911 pilot cutter Hirta to make a series for BBC2 called Island Race. Accompanying me were John McCarthy, the Beirut hostage, and Sandi Toksvig, comedienne.
With John and Sandi, my crew and I juggled the 35ton gaff cutter into some interesting places. The Celebs slept aboard on the occasional nights we were at sea or obliged to anchor off. In harbour, after they’d interviewed pre-arranged local characters they understandably toddled off to some suitable hotel. All hands left on board then chilled out in the traditional way. We staggered out of our bunks the next morning trying to look crisp and ready to serve as the stars and cameras arrived from the clean sheets. Then we were all set to go again, putting in more miles on the most original Bristol Channel pilot cutter of the time.
It is no longer possible to obtain a video of the series. It’s a shame as the images of the boat, shot by some great cameramen, who were a pleasure to work with, are special.