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Warship (TV series)

Genre Action/Drama series
Created by Ian Mackintosh and Anthony Coburn
Written by Ian Mackintosh and others
Directed by Michael E. Briant and others
Theme music composer Anthony Isaac
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English in Warship, Dutch in Alle hens
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 45
Producer(s) Anthony Coburn and Joe Waters
Editor(s) Ian Mackintosh
Running time 50 minutes
Original channel BBC
Original run 7 June 1973 – 29 March 1977

Warship is a popular British television drama series produced by the BBC between 1973 and 1977. It was also dubbed into Dutch and broadcast in the Netherlands as Alle hens. Four series were produced, with 45 episodes made in total, and it enjoyed popularity in Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

The series dealt with life on board a Royal Navy warship, the fictional HMS Hero. It was mainly filmed aboard the Leander-class frigate HMS Phoebe.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy co-operation 3
  • Theme music 4
  • Series creators 5
  • Warship and Blue Peter 6
  • Falkland Islands tensions depicted 7
  • Warship assessed in retrospect 8
  • Products based on Warship 9
    • Books 9.1
    • Board game 9.2
    • Scale model kit 9.3
    • Theme music single 9.4
    • Availability on DVD 9.5
  • Episode list 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


The episodes were written and filmed to reflect the reality of life in the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines in the 1970s. The primary focus for most stories was on the Captain and his fellow officers, but the series also featured life on the lower decks to portray episodes heavily featuring ratings. Episodes featured a variety of events at sea (the Cold War, smuggling, the evacuation of civilians from crisis-hit places, etc.), as well as the personal lives of officers and ratings and the impact their personal lives had on their professional lives and duties.

HMS Phoebe, one of the frigates which was the fictional HMS Hero


HMS Hero was captained by three very different officers throughout the series. Donald Burton portrayed Commander Mark Nialls, a high flying young officer in the first two seasons, Bryan Marshall portrayed Commander Alan Glenn, a former Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot in the third season, and Derek Godfrey portrayed Captain Edward Holt, a former nuclear submariner, in the fourth and final season.

The similarly contrasting First Lieutenants of HMS Hero were David Savile as Lieutenant Commander Derek Beaumont in the first three seasons, and in the fourth and final season Robert Morris as Lieutenant Commander James Napier.

Other regular actors in the series included Andrew Burt, James Cosmo, Norman Eshley, Graeme Eton, Don Henderson, Nigel Humphreys, Frank Jarvis, John Lee, Prunella Ransome and Colin Rix.

Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy co-operation

The series enjoyed close collaboration between the Royal Navy and the BBC, and—unusually for a TV drama of the 1970s—looked like a documentary. Seven Leander-class frigates played the role of HMS Hero and for continuity, all were repainted with the pennant number F42 of HMS Phoebe, the main warship used for filming. The others were HMS Danae, HMS Dido, HMS Diomede, HMS Hermione, HMS Juno and HMS Jupiter.

HMAS Derwent, a River-class destroyer escort of the Royal Australian Navy, was also used as Hero for some scenes filmed in 1976 in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The crews of these frigates - and Derwent - were given Hero cap tallies for filming purposes, and their ships were given HMS Hero ships' badges, name plates and lifebuoys. Similarly, their Westland Wasp helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm's 829 Naval Air Squadron were all repainted with the identification HMS Hero, the code 471, and the nickname "The Fighting Forty-Two". Among the Wasps used for the fictional Hero Flight were serial numbers XT419 from HMS Phoebe's Flight, XV625, and XV626. (One of these Wasps, XV625 still painted with the 471 code, is preserved at HMS Sultan in the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School.) These measures, along with the use by all the frigates of the pennant number F42, had the unintended side effect of confusing Soviet spy ships.

Other Royal Navy warships used for the series included the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, the helicopter cruiser HMS Blake, the commando carrier HMS Bulwark and the submarine HMS Andrew. The Royal Marine Commandos took part in the series, as also did the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the shape of RFA Reliant and other ships, and the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service.

Fleet Air Arm squadrons embarked on HMS Ark Royal used for filming included the Buccaneer S 2s of 809 Naval Air Squadron and the Phantom FG 1s of 892 Naval Air Squadron. The Westland Wessex HU 5s of 845 Naval Air Squadron embarked on HMS Bulwark also featured in some episodes.

The series was also filmed ashore in, among other places, Gibraltar, Malta, Hong Kong, Singapore, north-east of Isfjellet in Loppa and Larvik in Norway, the Admiralty Experiment Works in Haslar, RNAS Predannack, Portland Harbour, Plymouth Dockyard, Portsmouth Dockyard and South Uist.

Theme music

The opening and closing music of the series were taken from a march called Warship, composed for the series by Anthony Isaac. The theme was played by the Band of the Royal Marines, Deal, conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Neville, MVO, FRAM, RM. (See links to files of opening and closing music below.)

The march is still played by Royal Marine bands. The theme influenced the opening bars of a 2010 march, Scrap Iron Flotilla, composed by Leading Seaman Martyn Hancock of the Royal Australian Navy Band.

Series creators

The originator of the idea for the series and main script editor was a serving Royal Navy officer, Ian Mackintosh, who worked with BBC producer Anthony Coburn after Mackintosh originally approached the BBC in May 1971. Coburn had for some years wanted to produce a series "that would do for the Navy what Z-Cars had done for the Police". Apart from Mackintosh, other scriptwriters included Michael J. Bird, and the series was directed by Michael E. Briant among others. Mackintosh was seconded to the BBC for the series, and was awarded the MBE for his work on Warship in 1976.

Warship and Blue Peter

In 1975 the BBC's children's television programme Blue Peter included a feature about the filming of Warship at Plymouth Dockyard aboard HMS Danae; the item was presented by Lesley Judd. The next year, future Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan played a major role in the episode All of One Company. Six episodes of Warship were filmed aboard HMS Danae around that time.

Falkland Islands tensions depicted

One 1977 episode, A Matter of History, depicted a visit by HMS Hero to a fictional British Overseas TerritoryEddowes Island—at the time of its handover to an unnamed Latin American country. Eddowes is described as being 50 miles offshore, and the islanders are stated as being offered a choice between retaining British nationality and leaving, or staying and becoming citizens of the unnamed country. The tensions this caused amongst islanders, the ship's company - one of whom is described as having been born on Eddowes - and British and Eddowes government officials are depicted in a realistic way. There were very strong parallels with the contemporary Falkland Islands situation, and the episode foreshadowed the events that led to the Falklands War.

Much of the episode was filmed on Dartmoor, states the Michael J. Bird website (link below). During filming of this episode, series creator Ian Mackintosh received news that he had been awarded an MBE for his work on Warship.

Warship assessed in retrospect

Writing in 2006, historian Professor S.P. MacKenzie judged that:

"Warship had succeeded where Making Waves failed because those involved – the multi-talented Ian Mackintosh above all – managed to create varied and interesting characters and plots in which RN frigates and other vessels served as useful backdrops for the action. Warship, in short, helped the Royal Navy through a combination of competent writing, acting and direction rather more than through using its equipment as a showcase. (...) Mackintosh and those around him knew how to draw in the viewer with stories that were both contemporary and interesting." (Broadcasting the New Navy: the BBC-TV Series Warship (1973-1977), p.119)

After Warship, Ian Mackintosh wrote the equally successful ITV drama series The Sandbaggers, described in the New York Times on 12 October 2003, by Terrence Rafferty, as "the best spy series in television history".

"Making Waves" was a 2004 series made by ITV, and intended to be in the same vein as "Warship". It proved less successful, and only three episodes were shown out of the six that were made.

Products based on Warship


Ian Mackintosh wrote three books based on the series, which were simultaneously published in hardback and paperback. The books were:

  • Warship (published in 1973)
  • HMS Hero (published in 1976)
  • Holt RN (published in 1977)

Board game

Series creator Ian Mackintosh also devised a version of the board game Battleships, based on his experience of modern naval tactics and called Warship after the series. It was produced by Merit Toys in 1976, in association with the BBC.

Scale model kit

Airfix produced a plastic 1/600 scale model kit with decals for the fictional HMS Hero, using their model kit of HMS Leander.

Theme music single

Columbia Records released a 7 inch single (catalogue reference DB 8998) of the theme music (see above) in 1973. As in the TV series the theme was played by the Band of the Royal Marines, Deal, conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Neville, MVO, FRAM, RM.

Availability on DVD

The BBC still has the episodes of Warship in store (see the BBC Programme Catalogue), but unlike The Sandbaggers which has been released in its entirity only DVDs of Warships first series have been released commercially as of September 2014.

Episode list

Series 1:

  1. Hot Pursuit - 7 June 1973
  2. Nobody Said Frigate - 14 June 1973
  3. Off Caps - 21 June 1973
  4. Funny, They All Said That - 28 June 1973
  5. The Drop - 5 July 1973
  6. The Prize - 12 July 1973
  7. Subsmash - 19 July 1973
  8. A Standing And Jumping War - 2 August 1973
  9. Shoresides And Home - 9 August 1973

Series 2:

  1. The Raid - 15 October 1974
  2. Without Just Cause - 22 October 1974
  3. Who Run Across The Sea - 29 October 1974
  4. The Immortal Memory - 5 November 1974
  5. One of Those Days - 12 November 1974
  6. The Man From The Sea - 19 November 1974
  7. Nothing To Starboard - 26 November 1974
  8. Distant Waters - 3 December 1974
  9. Away Seaboat’s Crew - 10 December 1974
  10. Echo of Battle - 17 December 1974

Series 3:

  1. And Wings of Gold - 6 January 1976
  2. What Are Friends For? - 13 January 1976
  3. Knight Errant - 20 January 1976
  4. They Also Serve - 27 January 1976
  5. Under the Surface - 3 February 1976
  6. Rough Run Home - 10 February 1976
  7. All of One Company - 17 February 1976
  8. Quiet Run Ashore - 24 February 1976
  9. The Ides of Mark - 2 March 1976
  10. The Buccaneer - 9 March 1976
  11. Divert With Dispatch - 16 March 1976
  12. Heart of Oak - 23 March 1976
  13. First Turn of the Screw - 30 March 1976

Series 4:

  1. Wind Song - 4 January 1977
  2. Singapore Incident - 11 January 1977
  3. Diplomatic Package - 18 January 1977
  4. Rendezvous - 25 January 1977
  5. Girl From The Sea - 1 February 1977
  6. A Matter of History - 8 February 1977
  7. Counter Charge - 15 February 1977
  8. Man in Reserve - 22 February 1977
  9. Fall From Grace - 1 March 1977
  10. Jack Fell Down - 8 March 1977
  11. Robertson Crusoe - 15 March 1977
  12. Someone, Somewhere - 22 March 1977
  13. Operation Sting-Ray - 29 March 1977

See also


Broadcasting the New Navy: the BBC-TV Series Warship (1973-1977), SP Mackenzie, WAR & SOCIETY (Duntroon), Vol. 25, No. 2 (October 2006), pp. 105–122.

External links

  • Royal Navy History
  • Episode Guide on websiteWarship
  • WarshipBritish Film Institute site on
  • , from the HMS Phoebe Association websiteWarshipRoyal Navy leaflet on
  • at the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School, HMS Sultan471Westland Wasp
  • Warship for 471Service records noting two of the several Westland Wasps painted as
  • Hero as HMS DerwentMemories of HMAS
  • by series Director Michael BriantWarshipComments on
  • WarshipWebpage (at Home > Scriptwriting > Warship) about Michael J Bird's scripts for
  • Warship1977 article from the Australian magazine TV Week about
  • with much information on the series, including episode descriptionsWarshipDiscussion board about
  • opening musicWarship
  • closing musicWarship
  • scale model kit boxWarshipPicture of Airfix
  • scale model kitWarshipArticle about building Airfix
  • scale model kitWarshipPictures of completed Airfix
  • Association websitePhoebeHMS
  • Association websiteDidoHMS
  • websiteDanaeHMS
  • Association websiteJupiterHMS
  • Association websiteHermioneHMS
  • Ian Mackintosh's Royal Navy service record on
  • Warship at the Internet Movie Database
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