Sea Stories (lost early BBC talk show; 1936-1937)

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Listing of the first two episodes in Radio Times.

Status: Lost

Sea Stories is an early BBC Television Service talk show. Broadcast from late-1936 to early 1937, the premise involved Commander A.B. Campbell detailing locations and people who he encountered during his time on the waters, including as a Naval Officer. The first episode would also provide history by being the first talk broadcast from the BBC Television Studio.


Commander A.B. Campbell served in the Royal Navy during the First World War. He most notably was a paymaster-commander on HMS Otranto,[1] which sank off the island of Islay in October 1918 following a collision with HMS Kashmir, which caused a hole to be produced on its port side. Campbell survived the disaster, which killed almost 500 people.[2] After serving in the Royal Navy, Campbell became a broadcaster for the BBC in 1935, starring in radio programs, including discussing the HMS Otranto's last voyage in August 1935.[3] He also provided a recollection of some of his journeys at sea for the radio program Some Stories of the Sea, which was broadcast on Regional Programme Scotland and Regional Programme London on July 19th, 1936.[4]

Sea Stories

Following the popularity of his radio programs, Campbell was invited by Gerald Cock, who had recently become Director of Television, to the Alexandra Palace. Cock was impressed with Campbell's ability to provide compelling broadcasts without a script, which was generally the result of Campbell being illiterate. Cock requested that Campbell provide a talk for BBC's then-new Television Service, which would also become the first talk from the BBC Television Studio. Campbell readily agreed, being interested in trying out this new platform. After he arrived at the Studio, he was introduced to Leslie Mitchell, a broadcaster most famous for being the first voice heard on BBC Television.[5]

Mitchell would be responsible for introducing Campbell to the viewers, who would talk about a story involving cardsharpers travelling in British ships. Mitchell accidentally said "sharpcarps", resulting in Campbell turning to his proximity and shaking his fist, not realising he was live on air. This incident made most viewers amused. Additionally, Mitchell referenced that some cardsharpers in the ships were Americans. While this statement usually would not be an issue, as broadcasts back then typically could not travel beyond 50 miles, weather effects meant that it became one of several transmissions over BBC Television Service's early lifespan to make its way to New York. A New Yorker complained via letter to Cock about the mention, with Cock forcing Mitchell to apologise in the second broadcast in case a similar unusual transmission occurred.[6]

Overall, a total of five episodes were produced between December 14th, 1936, and April 5th, 1937.[7][8][9][10][11] The first episode was summarised by issue 689 of Radio Times by discussing how Campbell talks about his stories at sea, which could occur anywhere across the world, including in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, and the unusual personalities and places he encountered over the years. A week after the final broadcast, Campbell would go on to present Cabaret Cruise, a light entertainment programme from 1937-39, 1946, and 1949.[12] As stated in the TV Times column, Sea Stories would contribute towards a generation being entertained by Campbell's various stories on the waters.


Like all early BBC television programs, Sea Stories was broadcast live and was not directly recorded, as there were no means of achieving this prior to the end of the Second World War.[13] Thus, all episodes of the show are now permanently missing. A few Radio Times mentions and a column by Campbell discussing his first appearance on television in issue 132 of TV Times help to preserve the show's existence.


See Also

Early BBC Television

Early BBC Sports Television

External Links