About Snowbow

The Story behind the making of the video series...

The Great Liners

People are always asking just what motivated me to undertake the huge task of creating a lasting, moving image record of the golden age of shipping and the great days of the British Merchant Navy.  The short answer is because I was so privileged to be part of it; a way of life that would be etched in my mind for life and change forever my attitude to all.

‘Like so many young boys in the UK I went to sea when I was 16, at a time when travel overseas was only for the rich and famous.  I will never forget the day I left to join my ship, excitement filling my whole body as the fiery steam train came to take me away from the wintry darkness of the dreary railway station in High Wycombe.  The whole journey to London was as if in a dream as I sat beside seasoned commuters who were clearly disturbed by my intrusion into their emptiness as they hid behind their impressive sounding newspapers.  They had partaken in this ritual for years, each in their own special seat, bowler hats and briefcases stashed above them in the luggage racks.  But me, I had no such routine for I was very different; my eyes full of youthful wonder, my mind a whirl of bewilderment, anxiety, excitability and expectation. I looked into their tonelessness and wondered how they would react if they knew that this young, lowly and undesired intruder who had breached their almost sacred custom was, instead of going to some humdrum city office, about to sail away to places those around me could only but dream-about such as Africa, America, Canada, The Far East, South America, Australia and New Zealand.  Yes, every little ‘clickety-click the hurrying train’s wheels made, as it huffed and puffed its steamy way towards the great city, was taking me closer and closer to the journey of a lifetime.

I will never forget the exhilarating moment when I first gained sight of London’s once great Royal Docks from the top of an old London Transport trolley bus as it rumbled its shivering passengers over aged cobbled streets, through the clinging fog of a 1950s winter morn.

My heart almost stopped as the bus creaked and swayed as it rounded the last corner of its journey, and there suddenly appeared through the bank of swirling fog a very strange and different world, the likes of which was beyond my imagination.  My eyes stared in awe at the exhilarating sight before me; the almost endless display of ships, lined up against the quays for almost as far as the eye could see, their famous floodlit funnels looming out of dockland’s darkness as if creatures from another world.  Blue Star, New Zealand Shipping Co, Federal Steam, Ben Line, Glen Line, Shaw Savill, Ellerman Lines, Harrison’s, Blue Funnel, American Lines, British India, P&O, Brocklebank, Union-Castle, Bank Line, Port Line, United States Lines, Elders & Fyffe’s, Royal Mail, Cunard, to name but just a few.

As I left the bus and stood alone in London’s East End cold, a sense of fear surrounded me, and just for a moment I wanted to run away, to go back home to the safety of my family.  Then, as I was about to turn, I was spun in a turmoil of activity as thousands of dockside workers gathered me in their midst and the sound of steel capped boots on cobbled ground broke the silence of the early dawn.  Ship whistles and factory sirens reached out from the swirling mist, adding to the extraordinary world I found around me. Then, as if under the control of some strange, invisible force, I too found myself part of this new, almost secret world, moving with the army of dock workers towards the mighty gates that towered protectively over the great ships that waited me beyond, ships that would change my life forever, their prominence reaching out of the gloom for all to see.

Those were the days when Great Britain was really ‘Great’, when we had so much pride in our nation and in ourselves, when people seemed to be so much more contented with their lot and the ‘stress’ word and ‘spin-doctors’ had still to become a part of our everyday language.  It was a time when time was our friend, and not our enemy. It was also a time when so many young children, especially the more adventurous of the boys, would fill their days at school with dreams of one day being able to sail aboard the staggering star cast list of ships that once graced our maritime stage, filling every berth in every port in the land.

To go away to sea in those days was an adventure and experience that is impossible to find in the world of today.  We took such pride in the ships we sailed in, regardless of their size and fame.  We survived without the harness of political correctness, we just did what we had to do and we enjoyed almost every minute of it.  Everyone aboard came from just about every conceivable social background and just about everyone had a nickname; if you came from Ireland you were Paddy, from Scotland Jock, from Wales, Taffy, New Zealand, Kiwi, and so on.  If you were podgy you would almost certainly be called Tubby, if you were tall you would be called Lofty and if you were short, you’d be called Short Arse or Titch.  Me, I was called the latter but it didn’t matter one little bit, no one complained, we just accepted our many differences, which actually enriched our lives instead of making them into an issue. 

We became as one and sailed aboard ships that became our homes.  We were a roving family that enjoyed the excitement of visiting exotic places, drank in the bars of seedy ports, fell in love in far off places, sailed through horrendous storms and, if you ever needed it, there was always a helping hand in times of personal sadness.  Above all, we were dedicated to the shipping companies we served and to all the ships we sailed on.  It wasn’t just a job it was a whole way of life.

Everyone who ever went to sea has his or her very own very special story to tell.  Sadly, most of these stories will never be properly told and become lost in time, which is one of the main reasons why I have spent the past twenty-years producing this unique series.  

Since starting this work I have received thousands of congratulatory letters from people all over the world, including many famous celebrities and other prominent people including the late Queen Mother.  They all loved the ships and for them “The Great Liners” video series brought back wonderful memories of those very special years.

The words to the last verse in one of the songs used in the making of this series goes:

Now someone’s took them all away
And left the quaysides dead
And me with only memories
Fading in my head.

Everyone who ever had any involvement with ships has stories to tell and here I have been able to tell just a little of mine.  That’s why I have produced this remarkable series - it’s a memorial to an age that I, and so many others, will never forget; the age of ‘The Great Liners’.