Warship (1973 TV series)

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

GenreAction/Drama series
Created byIan Mackintosh and Anthony Coburn
Written byIan Mackintosh and others
Directed byMichael E. Briant and others
Theme music composerAnthony Isaac
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English in Warship, Dutch in Alle hens aan dek
No. of series4
No. of episodes45
Producer(s)Anthony Coburn and Joe Waters
Editor(s)Ian Mackintosh
Running time50 minutes
Original networkBBC1
Original release7 June 1973 
29 March 1977

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.


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 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 series, Bryan Marshall portrayed Commander Alan Glenn, a former Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot in the third series, and Derek Godfrey portrayed Captain Edward Holt, a former nuclear submariner, in the fourth and final series.

The similarly contrasting First Lieutenants of HMS Hero were David Savile as Lieutenant Commander Derek "Porky" Beaumont in the first three series, and in the fourth and final series 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 in the shape of the Ton-class minesweeper HMS Fittleton, 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)

"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 first series of Warship was released on DVD in September 2014, with the second series being released 9 November 2015.

Episode list

Series 1

No.TitleWritten byOriginal air date
1–01"Hot Pursuit"Martin Worth7 June 1973 (1973-06-07)
HMS Hero is undergoing a self-maintenance period in Gibraltar after several months without a captain or first lieutenant. After the arrival of Lieutenant Commander Beaumont and Commander Nialls, a random incident with a crew member in a bar leads to a civilian ship suspected of gun running. When the ship leaves port with its cargo, HMS Hero takes pursuit and forces the ship to stop in international waters, where the doctrine of hot pursuit is explained to its crew.
1–02"Nobody Said Frigate"Donald Bull14 June 1973 (1973-06-14)
Hero arriving at Malta is reassigned at short notice to pick up a defecting Russian diplomat from the North African coast. The risking of a frigate and its crew of over 200 causes questioning of the "request" down the line of command, with each man aware that his superior will abandon him if anything goes wrong. Although the foreign coast guard detects and responds to the intrusion with a surveillance helicopter and MTB, Hero collects the Russian and escapes without injury, although it turns out that he may be of little value. In the repercussions, a government official says "it was expected to be a simple submarine operation, nobody said frigate".
1–03"Off Caps"Manus Hardy21 June 1973 (1973-06-21)
Hero is assigned at short notice to take part in a naval exercise. Stores accountant Rabbits who had been planning to visit his pregnant wife but now can't leave the ship, receives a letter in which she says she is depressed and thinking of getting rid of the baby. Meanwhile, Marine Engineering Mechanic (stoker) Cutler and his chief Slater come into conflict, climaxing when Cutler lashes out and kicks Slater in the head. Rabbits sabotages a bearing in the ship's propulsion system with an oil dispersing agent, forcing Hero to withdraw to Gibraltar on one engine. At Cutler's on-board trial, he is accused of both assault and sabotage. However, evidence implicating Rabbits is found. Cutler is cleared of both charges and Rabbits is convicted instead.
1–04"Funny, They All Say That"Ian Mackintosh28 June 1973 (1973-06-28)
Petty Officer Willows leaves the ship to sort out the debts run up by his oniomaniac wife. While at home, he is approached by a foreign agent who impersonates naval security, obtaining a confession for smuggling and then blackmailing him into becoming a spy. Back on the ship, he photographs documentation for a new submarine detection system. However, when Nialls finds out about his debts, he has him transferred off the ship and calls in the real naval security for further investigation.
1–05"The Drop"Robert Holmes5 July 1973 (1973-07-05)
With Hero at Malta, Chief petty officer Donovan, who previously had criminal dealings with a man named Spiro, goes ashore to recover his money which he had left in the hands of his girlfriend Gina. However Gina is now living with Spiro and between them they have disposed of it. Gina's death is faked and Donovan is threatened with being framed for the "murder" if he doesn't deliver an advanced electronic valve from Hero. He is caught with the valve while leaving the ship, but the British intelligence services want the delivery to go ahead in an attempt to capture a Soviet scientist. The scientist turns out to be a woman who has been socialising with the officers of Hero, but she evades capture.
1–06"The Prize"Mervyn Haisman12 July 1973 (1973-07-12)
Hero encounters an abandoned freighter at sea off the regular shipping lanes. A boarding party searches the ship and discovers explosive charges set to go off, but as they leave the ship, AB Drew falls off a ladder below decks and suffers a potential back injury, making him difficult to move. Beaumont and Master-at-arms Heron defuse a plastic explosive, a limpet mine and a depth charge, the latter with the help of the appointed explosives expert Lieutenant Parry, who turns out to be terrified of the job. Hero takes the freighter in tow, which will allow the crew to share the salvage prize and thwart the presumed insurance fraud.
1–07"Subsmash"Stuart Douglass19 July 1973 (1973-07-19)
Hero takes part in an exercise with the submarine HMS Omega. ABs Wallace and Pomeroy from Hero go aboard Omega as visitors. Omega attempts to hide from Hero by bottoming on the sea floor at 160 feet. However, it strikes a WW2 mine and its accommodation compartment is holed. Once the compartment is sealed off, Wallace and Pomeroy are trapped in the forward torpedo bay. With the sub unable to surface and the aft escape tower out of service, the only option for survival is for divers from Hero to repair the hole. Pomeroy panics and attempts to flood the torpedo bay and use the forward escape tower, an action that would doom the submarine's crew, but is physically restrained by Wallace. Once the hole has been patched, the submarine safely surfaces.
1–08"A Standing And Jumping War"John Wiles2 August 1973 (1973-08-02)
Hero arrives at Hafsidia, the capital of the Arabic-speaking state of Hafsidia. Its government has heard rumours that Britain is considering selling a frigate to Israel, and demands that Britain promise never to do such a thing, with a threat to seize Hero if a deadline is not met. When Nialls hears that Britain will reject the demand, he must arrange an escape, with the assistance of a British agent named Tashing. Replacement engine oil is floated across the harbour at night, 22 of Hero's sailors are rescued from detention onshore, and Hero evades guards on the wharf, artillery pieces, a mined boom across the harbour, a gunboat, and two approaching (presumably Russian) frigates. Lieutenant Parry is killed by a rifle shot from shore, but Hero heads for a liaison with her sister ship HMS Phoebe.
1–09"Shoresides And Home"Alun Richards9 August 1973 (1973-08-09)
With Hero at Gibraltar, Master-at-Arms Frank Heron applies for extended service, but is shocked when it is rejected. He argues with his girlfriend Maura who is returning to England. Also in port is HMS Boadicea, commanded by Commander Murton, who Heron blames for putting a black mark on his record. At an on-shore party, Murton argues with his own girlfriend, Peggy Carter, who he wants to break up with. A drunk Heron arrives to confront Murton, but he is taken back to the ship. Murton and Nialls, drunk, make a bet of £500 over which ship can get back to England first. Nialls tells Heron to pull himself together. Murton sabotages Niall's chances by having him delayed at the base, but Nialls phones Peggy Carter, who arranges for her connections to send Boadicea on a bogus assignment, allowing Nialls to win the bet. Back in England, Heron is apparently marrying Maura.

Series 2

No.TitleWritten byOriginal air date
2–01"The Raid"Allan Prior15 October 1974 (1974-10-15)
2–02"Without Just Cause"Allan Prior22 October 1974 (1974-10-22)
2–03"Who Run Across The Sea"Ian Mackintosh29 October 1974 (1974-10-29)
2–04"The Immortal Memory"Ian Mackintosh5 November 1974 (1974-11-05)
2–05"One of Those Days"Ian Mackintosh12 November 1974 (1974-11-12)
2–06"The Man From The Sea"John Wiles19 November 1974 (1974-11-19)
2–07"Nothing To Starboard"Martin Worth26 November 1974 (1974-11-26)
2–08"Distant Waters"TBA3 December 1974 (1974-12-03)
2–09"Away Seaboat's Crew"John Armstrong10 December 1974 (1974-12-10)
2–10"Echo of Battle"Allan Prior17 December 1974 (1974-12-17)

Series 3

No.TitleWritten byOriginal air date
3–01"And Wings of Gold"TBA6 January 1976 (1976-01-06)
3–02"What Are Friends For?"TBA13 January 1976 (1976-01-13)
3–03"Knight Errant"TBA20 January 1976 (1976-01-20)
3–04"They Also Serve"TBA27 January 1976 (1976-01-27)
3–05"Under the Surface"TBA3 February 1976 (1976-02-03)
3–06"Rough Run Home"TBA10 February 1976 (1976-02-10)
3–07"All of One Company"TBA17 February 1976 (1976-02-17)
3–08"Quiet Run Ashore"TBA24 February 1976 (1976-02-24)
3–09"The Ides of Mark"TBA2 March 1976 (1976-03-02)
3–10"The Buccaneer"TBA9 March 1976 (1976-03-09)
3–11"Divert With Dispatch"TBA16 March 1976 (1976-03-16)
3–12"Heart of Oak"TBA23 March 1976 (1976-03-23)
3–13"First Turn of the Screw"TBA30 March 1976 (1976-03-30)

Series 4

No.TitleWritten byOriginal air date
4–01"Wind Song"TBA4 January 1977 (1977-01-04)
4–02"Singapore Incident"TBA11 January 1977 (1977-01-11)
4–03"Diplomatic Package"TBA18 January 1977 (1977-01-18)
4–04"Rendezvous"TBA25 January 1977 (1977-01-25)
4–05"Girl From The Sea"TBA1 February 1977 (1977-02-01)
4–06"A Matter of History"TBA8 February 1977 (1977-02-08)
4–07"Counter Charge"TBA17 February 1977 (1977-02-17)
4–08"Man in Reserve"TBA22 February 1977 (1977-02-22)
4–09"Fall From Grace"TBA1 March 1977 (1977-03-01)
4–10"Jack Fell Down"TBA8 March 1977 (1977-03-08)
4–11"Robertson Crusoe"TBA15 March 1977 (1977-03-15)
4–12"Someone, Somewhere"TBA22 March 1977 (1977-03-22)
4–13"Operation Sting-Ray"TBA29 March 1977 (1977-03-29)

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.

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