Sailor (TV series)

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17 HMS Ark Royal North Atlantic July 76.jpg
HMS Ark Royal in 1976.
Genre Documentary
Directed by John Purdie
Opening theme Sailing by Rod Stewart
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 10
Executive producer(s) Roger Mills
Producer(s) John Purdie
Location(s) HMS Ark Royal in North Atlantic
Cinematography Patrick Turley
Camera setup Peter Gordon
Running time 326 mins. total
Production company(s) BBC
Original network BBC One
Picture format 1.33:1 (PAL)
Audio format Mono
First shown in 1976
Original release 26 August – 7 October 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.



 Episode  Title Original airdate Summary
1  Last Run Ashore  5 August 1976 The officers of HMS Ark Royal attend the departure briefing while the majority of the crew enjoy a last night ashore in Plymouth before the ship departs on a five-month deployment.
2  The Squadrons Are Coming  12 August 1976 In the Western Approaches, Ark Royal welcomes her air group back aboard, with the occasional hairy approach for newly qualified aviators. Meanwhile, members of the crew get lessons in responsibility.
3  Happy Birthday  19 August 1976  Orders are received to divert towards the Azores to aid in the medical evacuation of a US sailor from the submarine USS Bergall. Two Sea King helicopters are sent to meet the submarine to recover the patient who is evacuated to a medical centre on the Azores mainland.
4  Thoughts of Home  26 August 1976  
5  Puerto Rican Banyan  2 September 1976  
6  Officer Territory  9 September 1976  
7  Theatre Workshop  16 September 1976   
8  Florida USA  23 September 1976   
9  Homeward Bound  30 September 1976   
10  Back Home  7 October 1976   

Ship's Company return home for Run's Ashore and bang off's


Captain Wilfred Graham, who later became Flag Officer Portsmouth (FOP) (now obsolete), is the Ark Royal's commanding officer during its deployment. Commander David Cowling, who features heavily in the series, was the executive commander. Other members of the ship's crew to feature quite prominently were a Leading Hand named LA Powell (who was shown getting into trouble for not displaying the required level of responsibility), the Fleet Master-at-Arms and the Ship's Padre.

Follow up[edit]

In 1984 BBC made a follow-up programme entitled Sailor: 8 Years On with updates on the lives of the crew members. It also showed the de-commissioned Ark Royal part-way through scrapping at Cairnryan near Stranraer, Scotland.


The theme song for the original broadcast is the 1975 number one hit "Sailing" by Rod Stewart, which remains Stewart's biggest-selling single in the UK, with sales of over a million copies.[1] However the DVD release uses a different version due to copyright issues. Likewise "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd was used in the original TV version during sequences showing a live fire exercise featuring Phantom and Buccaneers at the Vieques weapons ranges in Puerto Rico. The DVD substitutes the Pink Floyd track for a smooth jazz composition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 4 November 2012.