The Onedin Line . . . . .
In the 1970s, The Onedin Line was the highlight of Sunday night television. Every week millions would tune in for a dose of high- seas adventure, romance and boardroom politics, all accompanied by a stirring theme tune.
The programme ran for 10 years and made household names out of actors Peter Gilmore, Anne Stallybrass, Jill Gascoine and Jane Seymour.
The drama took viewers on a voyage of exotic places around
the world, but what most viewers didn’t realise was that these scenes were actually filmed in a quiet cove on the Devon coast, and I joined the cast and crew in the early Seventies to take some publicity shots.
The River Dart became a tropical river with the help of a few plastic palm trees and a few tame parrots here and there. Bayards Cove in Dartmouth was made to look like 19th- century Liverpool and the local fire brigade was brought in to create a storm scene.
Local people appeared as extras; office workers and schoolchildren dressed up in Victorian clothes to become hardened seamen and street urchins, and the 70- strong
film crew made good use of the pubs and bars in the town.
The Onedin Line was first screened on 7th December 1970 as a one- off production entitled The Wind Blows Free in the BBC’s Drama Playhouse series. The show was such a hit that the BBC decided to make it into a series, which was aired the following year.
The story centred around James Onedin, a hard- up shopkeeper’s son in Liverpool during the 1880s, who dreams of owning his own shipping line.
The series was set in a time when anyone with a ship and the courage to risk their life on it could make a fortune travelling the oceans of the world.
Onedin had no shortage of bravery, but having inherited just £ 25 in his father’s will, cannot afford a boat. When his brother refused to lend him the money, he marries Anne Webster to get his hands on her father’s ship, and is surprised when he finds himself falling in love with her.
The ruthless would- be shipping tycoon finds his feisty bride is just the sort of person who can keep him in check.
With its dramatic special effects and great use of location filming, the series was very ambitious
in its day, and even now has a considerable following. It is regularly repeated on satellite television and is available on DVD.
In real life Peter Gilmore, who played James Onedin, and Anne Stallybrass married and settled in Dartmouth, but later moved back to London due to Gilmore’s ill health. He died in 2013.
Local schoolchildren appeared as extras.
An old salt ready for his close- up! Dartmouth transformed for “The Onedin Line”.
Peter Gilmore ( centre) played James Onedin, Anne Stallybrass was his real- life and on- screen wife ( Anne) and James Garbutt ( left) took the role of Robert Onedin.
Creating a storm at sea! Dartmouth where much of the filming for “The Onedin Line” took place.