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Filming the Onedin Line at Exeter Quay during March 1976

Page updated 1st November 2011

Also see Making the Onedin Line
and I was an Onedin Line extra

Captain Baines spies a sailExeter Quay became famous in the 1970's as one of the main locations for the BBC's well loved, Onedin Line. The series, about a ship's master trading from the Port of Liverpool, captured the imagination of the nation, with its evocative theme music from the ballet Spartacus, by Aram Khachaturian. Exeter quayside was used as the Port of Liverpool - the warehouses dating from 1835, the Custom House and fish market, and the Prospect Inn all combined to give the producers an authentic backdrop. Many locals would hang around, watching the filming during the two periods of filming. The photographs, were mostly taken by Alan H Mazonowicz and David Reynolds (of Flat Broke Films) during March 1976, and illustrate how much trouble was taken to decorate the quay, and remove all modern fixtures to bring the Onedin Line to our screens. The quay was also used in 1971 for a previous series of the nautical drama.

The quayside has undergone many changes since the 1970's making the area less suitable for filming costume dramas. Therefore, the visit of the Charlotte Rhodes, and other period sailing ships, in 1976 were a reminder of the 19th Century port that Exeter had been.

Created by Cyril Abraham, the Onedin Line was first aired on UK television on 15th October 1971. It ran for 90 episodes over eight series, with the last episode showing on 26th October 1980. Peter Gilmore had previously appeared in Carry On, St Trinians and the Doctor films. Anne Stallybrass played Onedin's wife for 29 episodes and Warren Clark and Jane Seymour both had their first major roles in the series. The most famous ship used in the filming was the Charlotte Rhodes, but a variety of sailing ships was docked at the quay during filming, along with Brunel's steam dredger, that was normally birthed in the canal basin, as a Maritime Museum exhibit. The producers also shot many scenes at Dartmouth, Falmouth and Bristol.

Peter Gilmore as James Onedine 1976 Extras pose for the Onedine Line 1976Peter Gilmore as James Onedin by one of the many carriages that were used in filming the series - it is not certain whether this was a take or just chatting. Photo Alan H Mazonowicz. A general view of the quay shows James Onedin looking across at his ships berthed off camera. Photo by David Reynolds/Flat-Broke Films.

Extras pose for the Onedine Line 1976 Three extras pose with their costumesRight - The brothers, Ken Carpenter, and twins John Carpenter & Alan Carpenter were extras for the filming. The beards were real, the seventies being a bearded era. John Carpenter shaved his beard off after filming finished, causing his two year old daughter some anguish as she did not recognise her dad. Photo by Alan H Mazonowicz. The photo left shows three more extras – one is showing some leg. Photo by David Reynolds/Flat-Broke Films.

Filming the Ondine Line by the King's BeamA photo through the fish-market, with the King's Beam on the left, as they filmed a busy quayside scene. The camera and the microphone are just to the left of the Prospect Inn, at the centre of the photograph. Notice the young lads as extras in the foreground. Filming the Ondine Line by the King's BeamTwo extras sit in a cart waiting for action, while the film crew mill around, getting ready for the scene. The hatted extra in the cart was a life insurance salesman in real life.

The Exeter Quay warehouses as a backdropThe cart shown in the previous photo is shown in this scene, with the two 1835 warehouses as a backdrop. Many of the extras appear to be hanging around, not required for this scene. There is a large light on a stand. Filming a scene of the Onedine LineThe camera is set up to film some actors walking along the quayside.

The Charlotte RhodesThe Charlotte Rhodes, a three masted schooner, is tied up at the quayside. She was James Onedin's first ship. A steam ship at the quayI am not sure if this ship tied up at the quay represents the Anne Onedin, James Onedin's steam ship in the series. The ship was the Marquis, with a false funnel. It later became famous when it was wrecked in the Bristol Channel.

Barrels decorate the setA railway notice decorates a doorAlan took photographs of some of the props used in the production. Here posters and barrels have been placed to add colour to the scene.

The Charlotte RhodesThe Charlotte Rhodes name plateLeft – A view of the bow of the Charlotte Rhodes tied up at the quayside. Photo courtesy Lydia Barnard. Right – the nameplate of the Charlotte Rhodes by David Reynolds/Flat-Broke Films.

Spectators watch from the opposite bankCharlotte Rhodes at the quayRight – Spectators watch the filming from the opposite bank. The riverside apartments and Piazza Terracina had not been built at this time. Photo courtesy Lydia Barnard. Left – The Charlotte Rhodes berthed at the quay. Photo by David Reynolds/Flat-Broke Films.

The Tea DealersProps help to set the sceneLeft – An Exeter quay building with a few props and change of signs to indicate a tea dealer. The cameraman would have to choose his angles carefully to avoid the modern flats on Quay Hill getting into shot. Photo Alan H Mazonowicz. Right – The use of props,carefully placed, helped to add atmosphere to this scene of the quay and the Charlotte Rhodes. Photo by David Reynolds/Flat-Broke Films.

Captain Baines played by Howard Lang A female extra.Right – A nice portrait of Howard Lang who played Captain Baines, one of James Onedin's ships masters. Lang was a well established character actor who had appeared in many films and TV series from Great Expectations in 1946, through Z-Cars and his last appearance in The Pickwick Papers. He died in 1989. Left – Costumed up, this extra poses for the camera.

Peter Gilmore relaxing between takes A close up of Peter Gilmore Peter Gilmore chatting with another cast member between takes. Are the flared trousers authentic to the Liverpool Docks of the 1800s, or do they reflect the style of the mid 1970s. Photo Alan H Mazonowicz. Right – Filming a close up of James Onedin below Quay Steps. Photo by David Reynolds/Flat-Broke Films.

Carts used in the Onedin Line A horse-drawn hearse for the shoot A horse-drawn hearse complete with coffin on the quayside. It should be possible to work out which episode it was used in. All the carriages were supplied by Goody Bros. of Reading. Two carriages for use in the production are temporarily stored off shot. One of the horses is enjoying a rest. Two carts are placed against the warehouses to make the area look like a busy commercial area.

Filming under the lights The glare from the lights was obviously too much for the actress Jessica Benton, requiring the incongruous wearing of sunglasses in her Victorian costume between takes. The day was dark, with threatening snow storms, even though the scene with the donkeys was supposed to be in the Azores.

The horses take a breakCarriages used in the Onedin LineRight – Two of the horses used to pull the carriage take a break between shots. Judging by the number of horse drawn vehicles used, there must have been more horses, unless these two had particularly good acting skills depicting pulling a hearse, cart or carriage - they had probably been to RADA. Other animals used at the quay include at least three donkeys. Photo by David Reynolds/Flat-Broke Films. Left are two more of the carriages that were used in the series. Photo Alan H Mazonowicz.

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