Sixty years ago, Hammer Films set out to see if they could make swashbucklers as well as they could horror. Cannily deciding to release them during the summer holidays – when not everyone would be at the arcade, and when modern package holidays were still in their infancy – the studio found success with 1962’s The Pirates of Blood River, which starred Christopher Lee as the one-eyed Captain LaRoche. The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) was its even bolder follow-up, and featured exploding galleons, Nazi-inspired costumes, and Lee playing the murderous captain of pirate ship the Diablo – a man who gaslights an entire English village into submission. Finally available on Blu-Ray, it’s one of many films and TV programmes that perfectly tap into our island’s fascination with the sea.
Another Shore (1948)
Gulliver Sheils (Robert Beatty) is about as far away from a pirate as you can get. A Dublin tax clerk who quit his job due to its inadequate pension, “Gully” now spends his time on the beach staring at waves, so engrossed in his thoughts – which always involve him paddling around the Cook Islands, not a tax return in sight – that he fails to spot Moira Lister flirting with him. Cue an enjoyable farce where Gully loiters in accident black spots to scam himself some litigation money, and fund his 10,000 mile dream trip to Rarotonga. But will he be making the journey alone?
The Buccaneers (1956)
If you think Robert Shaw’s time at sea began with him dragging his nails down a chalkboard in Jaws (1975), think again: almost twenty years before he was hurling chum, Shaw played the dashing Captain Dan Tempest for this swashbuckling ITV series. A pardoned marauder now tasked with policing the Caribbean and fighting off Spanish freebooters, Tempest’s adventures on his ship the Sultana (actually a schooner that was anchored in Cornwall) play like a Marvel Cinematic Universe of infamous pirates. Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Anne Bonny all appear as guest baddies, while Shaw gets to show off his fencing chops as he springs his crew from the clutches of yellow fever, maroonings, and gold-hungry cutthroats – always to the tune of a cheerful sea shanty.
Petticoat Pirates (1961)
The Wrens (Women’s Royal Navy Service) was once the most accessible way for women to experience life on the ocean waves, provided they let the men do the fighting. Officer Anne Heywood thinks otherwise, so when her superior remarks “How far do you think a ship would get with a great gaggle of giggling women messing about the deck, and distracting the men from their duties?” she decides to hijack a frigate. Will she and the 150 Wrens under her command call for male assistance when their ship enters a potentially lethal training exercise? It doesn’t seem likely – especially when male assistance comes in the form of Charlie Drake, who’s a stoker yet to find his sea legs …
City Beneath the Sea (1962)
Bond’s nemesis Blofeld wasn’t the first tyrant to live in a volcano hideout: 500ft beneath the surface of the Pacific lies Aegiria, a modern, subaquatic city concealed in a crater, and home to the bonkers Professor Ziebrecken (Clockwork Orange’s Aubrey Morris). He has rockets trained on the world’s capital cities, and a freshly stolen atomic submarine. His only problem? Intrepid reporter Gerald Flood and his trusty assistant Stewart Guidotti. The pair would return for sequel series Secret Beneath the Sea, submerging themselves again to find wonder element Phenicium: a metal that’s going to put the Brits first in the space race.
Jezebel Ex U.K. (1963)
This nautical anthology series follows the crew of luxury liner Jezebel, whose captain (Ernest Hear) and pursers (a young Cavan Kendall of Sexy Beast among them) are required to wait on a succession of guest stars – each of whom take the lead in a different weekly adventure. As the crew carry out their duties in the background, which involve everything from mixing cocktails to telegraphing the police, we see Reggie Perrin’s Leonard Rossiter, Butterflies’ Geoffrey Palmer, future Corrie star Amanda Barrie and The Ipcress File’s Guy Doleman each coming aboard for a taste of sea air.
French Dressing (1964)
The debut film from Devils (1971) director Ken Russell, French Dressing is a light-hearted look at how British seaside towns responded to citizens holidaying abroad. Roy Kinnear plays dogsbody Henry, who one day is promoted from straightening deckchairs at Gormleigh-on-Sea to its head of tourism. He decides the best way to lure Brits back from continental getaways is to bring Europe to them, which he does in the shape of French New Wave starlet Marisa Mell. If the pair’s spiky exchanges sound familiar, it’s because they were given a polish by Till Death Us Do Part creator Johnny Speight: get ready for some cultural bridge-building that’s so ham-fisted, its organiser would be a fine candidate for the current Chief Negotiator of Task Force Europe.
The Doombolt Chase (1978)
Fans of HTV serials Sky (1975) and Children of the Stones (1977) will enjoy this Bristol-based conspiracy thriller about a naval commander attacking a fishing tug. It’s up to the commander’s son (Andrew Ashby) to investigate why: clues lead him to a single word, “Doombolt”, and a groundbreaking missile guidance system that’s at risk of being sold to foreign powers. Is there a conspiracy amongst the armed forces to facilitate the sale? Is Captain Hatfield (aka Porridge’s Peter Vaughan) part of it? With the Navy and Marines co-operating in the production, The Doombolt Chase’s funky score and flashing “Permission to Fire” buttons still thrill, and feel like you’re watching teenagers sneaking aboard Trident.
The Club (2015)
Father Ted might have cornered the market when it comes to priests banished to a remote dumping ground, but this haunting drama from director Pablo Larrain is a close second. Four clergymen have been exiled to a Chilean beach as punishment for disgracing the church. Banned from mobile phones or venturing out during daylight by formidable housekeeper Antonia Zegers, their only release comes from walking on the sand, and training a greyhound they hope to race against locals. The arrival of “fixer” priest Marcelo Alonso shows that, just as Tom Hanks observed in Cast Away, “Tomorrow the sun will rise, and who knows what the tide will bring.”
George Bass Contributor New York Times | The Guardian | New Scientist