Sailor (TV series)

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Genre documentary
Directed by John Purdie
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
Running time 326 mins. total
Original channel BBC One
Original airing 1976

Sailor was a major BBC television documentary series, first shown in the mid-1970s, about life on board the fourth HMS Ark Royal, a British aircraft carrier. It followed the ship on a five and a half month deployment to North America in 1976.

The series was filmed after the completion of a major refit and coincided with the twenty-first anniversary of her commissioning. It is particularly noteworthy for its depiction of fixed-wing aircraft operation in the Royal Navy before its demise in 1978, with the paying off and scrapping of Ark Royal. It shows the Phantom, Buccaneer, Gannet, Sea King and Wessex air group from 809 Naval Air Squadron, 824 Naval Air Squadron, 849 Naval Air Squadron and 892 Naval Air Squadron.

In the third episode the Ark Royal receives orders to divert towards the Azores and aid in the medical evacuation of a US sailor from the submarine USS Bergall. The program shows two Sea King helicopters from the ship flying to meet the submarine and making a recovery of the man and his evacuation to a medical centre on the Azorean mainland.

Her commanding officer during this deployment was Captain Wilfred Graham. He later became Flag Officer Portsmouth. The Executive Commander who featured quite heavily in the series was Commander David Cowling. LA Powell, a Leading Hand who was shown getting into trouble for not displaying the required level of responsibility featured prominently, as did the Fleet Master-at-Arms and the Padre.

Follow up programme[edit]

The BBC made a follow-up programme in 1984 entitled Sailor:8 Years On with updates on the lives of the crew members and showing the ship part-way through scrapping at Cairnryan near Stranraer.


The theme song was "Sailing" by Rod Stewart. The DVD release uses a different version due to copyright issues. Another memorable sequence in the documentary featured footage of Phantom and Buccaneer aircraft at Vieques weapons range with Shine on You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd playing in the background appeared in the original TV broadcast. The DVD substitutes a smooth jazz composition.

See also[edit]