Paul Atterbury travels around Britain finding out how the great ocean liners made such a mark on the popular imagination and why they continue to enchant.
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A silver-plated teapot from the Edwardian period.
I see lots of these, and generally,
they're not worth much, but this one is special and is rather different.
There is a mark that tells me it was
made for the White Star Line This teapot was made in about 1911,
and ones like this were on great ships - the Olympic, the Titanic.
Of course, that makes it hugely valuable in financial terms,
but that's not the point.
The value of this teapot is that it takes us directly
into the glamour, the romance, the excitement,
the drama of the golden age of the ocean liner.
The heyday of the ocean liners
was between the end of the 19th century and the Second World War.
Nearly all of these ships are long gone,
but throughout Britain, relics of them survive.
I'm setting out to discover how our romance with liners began...
and why they continue to resonate with us to this day.
Giant cruise ships like these, providing holidays afloat,
are today's descendents of the great liners.
I travel on cruise ships regularly as a lecturer and I love it.
A great modern ship like this has every amenity for all modern tastes.
But a cruise is not about getting somewhere in a hurry,
it's about the journey, the ship itself as a destination.
But it wasn't always like that.
In the late 19th century,
a sea voyage was a terrifying, a hazardous prospect.
Passengers would face days, weeks,
of boredom, discomfort and seasickness.
But it was the only way to get to America,
to get to the colonies, to get to the rest of the world.
'Scores of passenger ships crossed and re-crossed the seas
'along scheduled lines,
'carrying everyone from emigrants to the rich and famous.'
The passenger liner companies quickly realised that the way
to make money was to offer the shortest possible passages.
And on the most profitable route, from Europe to America,
the fastest ship across the North Atlantic
could also claim an unofficial prize - the so-called Blue Riband.
For most of the 19th century, it was British liners
that provided the fastest crossings to America.
But then, Germany entered the race.
This was no ordinary contest. The Kaiser took a personal interest.
Emperor William II was a naval buff.
He could be seen drawing battleships.
That's what he did for fun. Germany initiated, in the 1890s, a large
naval construction programme, so basically a battle fleet.
This led the British to take action,
who responded with their own battleship construction programme -
the Dreadnought programme - and it became quite clear
that they outproduced the Germans by a wide margin.
So it is a frustrated naval challenge on the part of the Germans
that stands at the beginning of this rivalry.
Where German battleships failed, German liners succeeded.
The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, launched in 1897,
was built with the express aim of winning the Blue Riband for Germany.
They drew great national pride
from the ability to cross the Atlantic faster than anybody else
and, of course, for the wealthy clientele,
who were interested in getting around as quickly as we are today,
those were the ships of choice.
The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was not only the fastest liner,
it also set another standard.
It was the first liner that was designed by
a single architectural intelligence.
Johannes Poppe was the chief designer for the interiors of that ship
and, um, the Germans went well over the top in creating interiors
that were splendid beyond the necessity of transport.
These ships were fantasies, they were meant to divert, they were the...
They provided a wow factor.
These lavish German ships certainly made an impact.
But it was Albert Ballin, the head of the German Hamburg-American line,
who really transformed the ocean liner.
He understood that the race for the Atlantic
was as much about fashion as speed.
None of these great early ocean liners survive intact,
so, to see Albert Ballin's vision, I've come to the Ritz in London.
This is the palm court of the Ritz hotel,
a wonderfully opulent and magnificent interior.
The Ritz hotels of Paris and London
were designed by the most fashionable architects of the age,
the Frenchman Charles Mewes and his English partner Arthur Davis,
using the style of Louis XVI.
It was this kind of setting that inspired Albert Ballin
to try to bring to his ocean liners the glamour
and exclusivity of the grand hotel.
He knew that he had to attract that rich elite,
who were used to wining and dining and socialising
in these opulent interiors.
But he wanted them to do it at sea.
And so Albert Ballin commissioned the designers of the Ritz
to create the interiors of his latest ship, the Amerika,
launched in 1905.
Very often, the ocean liners were advertised as floating hotels,
because I think a lot of the publicity
was trying to reassure the sort of potential passenger
that nothing awful would happen.
They were going to be ensconced in this gorgeous interior,
sheltered from the ravages of the Atlantic,
and it would be a comfortable, fabulous experience.
In the first class of most ocean liners
of the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
the interior was not only a way of establishing
a sense of security against the elements, but also a way
of reaffirming the self-importance of the passengers travelling.
'Ocean liners traditionally fed travellers at set mealtimes,
'often at navy-style long tables with fixed swivel chairs.
'But that would all now change.'
The interiors of the Amerika echoed the Ritz hotels in so many ways,
but somehow, it wasn't enough.
Albert Ballin wanted a great a la carte restaurant
equivalent to the best in Paris, London, New York and Berlin.
And so he enlisted the help of Cesar Ritz,
who planned a great Ritz-Carlton restaurant just for the Amerika.
The menus were planned by Auguste Escoffier, the great French Chef,
the staff were trained in London and the diners
sat at 25 separate tables, in a magnificent dining room
framed on three sides by windows.
Of course, the irony of all this was that the Amerika,
a great symbol of German pride and Imperial supremacy,
was actually designed by a Frenchman
and built at Belfast by Harland and Wolff.
But for the clientele the Amerika sought to attract,
a German identity was not the only thing they were interested in.
The main body of first class travellers
on the North Atlantic were Americans, and so,
the ships were contrived to appeal to American tastes.
They were named for Americans, the George Washington for example.
A German ship named after the first American president
to appeal to an American Clientele.
The interiors, too, were meant to give Americans
the sense that they were enjoying an abbreviated tour
of great European houses while they were still at float.
This was the age of the Carnegies, of the Astors,
of the plutocrats that had gotten rich in the gilded age.
And they travelled to Europe regularly and what they expect
on these liners is to be treated like a new aristocracy,
and this is exactly what the liner companies give them.
Americans go to Europe, because they see it
as the seat of high culture, of old culture, of established culture,
and Europeans, of course,
try to basically get in on the act and make money out this.
The Americans themselves weren't indifferent
to the commercial possibilities of liners.
One of them, banker JP Morgan,
had been buying up British liner companies,
culminating in the transatlantic White Star Line in 1902.
Lord Inverclyde, the chairman of White star's competitor, Cunard,
saw his chance. He persuaded the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour,
that Cunard, too, was threatened by foreign takeovers,
that Britain risked losing her transatlantic lead.
In short, that Cunard needed money.
In 1903, the British government arranged a massive loan for Cunard,
to help the company build two new super liners.
These were the Lusitania and the Mauretania.
And the aim was to win back to Britain the Atlantic Record,
and rebuild the nation's prestige.
This project was immensely successful.
The Lusitania won the Blue Riband in 1907,
but the Mauretania did even better, winning the Riband in 1909,
and then holding it for an astonishing 20 years.
So here I am, sitting in
the second class drawing room of the Mauretania.
Of course, it's safely on dry land.
So famous was this ship that, when she left service in the mid-1930s,
bits of her grand interiors found their way
into buildings across the country.
This house in Poole is a ship-lover's paradise,
complete with the officer's cabins.
Here you can sit and imagine yourself
coursing across the Atlantic.
In the Edwardian boom period of transatlantic travel,
as the steamship companies vied for attention with their ships,
they also sought to bring the glamour of the liners
into the metropolis. This building is the monumental Oceanic House,
built in 1911 for Britain's White Star Line.
This is Cockspur Street,
which runs between Trafalgar Square and Pall Mall.
At the beginning of the 20th century,
it was a sort of shipping alley. It was here
that most of the shipping companies had their offices.
A one-stop shop for travellers.
It was here that most people began their journeys.
Today, it's all gone, but, of course, the buildings survive
and they're covered with wonderful details revealing their great past.
Cunard was here, the French Line, Canadian Pacific and many others.
Even Stanfords, for your maps. The companies sought
to draw in passing trade as well as the seasoned traveller
with colourful window displays, model ships,
and a supply of alluring brochures.
This spectacular building housed the Hamburg-American line before WWI,
later the Peninsular and Oriental line - P and O.
Inside was a taste of the opulence of the liners.
Here, first class passengers could leave their bags
and later find them waiting in their cabins.
Once established, luxury travel quickly became a total package.
From Waterloo station, dedicated boat-trains, often Pullmans,
would run directly to Southampton, to the Quayside terminals,
where the liners were waiting.
The transit from land to sea was made as seamless as possible,
creating a sense of security and comfort.
But once the ship was at sea,
things could never be completely predictable.
The one name known to everybody in maritime history is Titanic.
This great White Star liner sank in April 1912 on her maiden voyage
with a loss of 1513 lives. An event that has become etched permanently
on the popular consciousness. Yet this disaster was not unique.
Two years later, the Empress of Ireland
sank with a loss of 1,024 lives, an event that is almost forgotten.
But there is something compelling about the Titanic,
and in a macabre way, the story of that ship
and the disaster that befell her has added something to the glamour
of the history of ocean liners.
This monument to the engineers of the Titanic
was unveiled in Southampton in 1914,
before a crowd of almost 100,000 people.
But it's this small memorial to the musicians of the Titanic,
just eight names, that I find most powerful.
One pictures the glittering maiden voyage,
the cream of society in evening dress,
and the band playing on as the ship goes down.
Tragedy plays an important role
in the way we look at these liners, I think.
There is that allure.
I wonder if part of it is that we can look at it
and we are the survivors.
We can enjoy the glamour and the gorgeousness of that ship
and now it's gone.
There is a sort of longing around that, I think.
It is to do, I think, with a complex mixture of nostalgia
and a failure of modernity really.
Although the Titanic disaster
resulted in new safety regulations for ships
and the beginning of a US coastguard ice patrol,
the liner companies responded in the way they knew best -
They needed to make ocean travel ever more exciting and attractive.
You could call it one of the most successful
public relations initiatives in the history of industrial society.
In the 1870s, for instance,
it would have struck people as profoundly bizarre
to go on a ship for pleasure.
So the idea that a ship could be a glamorous place
is an altogether new idea,
and it is manufactured by these liner companies
in order to get new customers onto these huge investments.
In 1913, Cunard spent £54,000
on promotions for its transatlantic service.
The image of the liners had to be carefully managed.
In reality, it was quite harsh travelling on these ships.
I mean, in terms of ocean liners,
there would be almost 1,000 passengers in steerage
and they would be right in the bottom of the ship.
They would have very harsh conditions.
I mean, that's at the bottom, you'd be near the engines,
so by and large the experience of most people
was fairly rudimentary, I think.
What you have is, of course, people of the largest social disparities.
So you have multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires in many cases
next to the poorest.
And, of course, this is a time of high class tension on land,
and it's a potential problem to have people of such strong contrast
confined to such a small space.
In order to deal with this,
the shipping companies assure in particular the rich customers
that they will not be bothered at all
by the presence of the poorer travellers.
So segregation was crucial to the image.
And wealthy travellers wanted to be reassured
that there was nothing immoral or unclean
going on beneath their feet.
The North German Lloyd liner, George Washington,
was a typical example of a ship
aboard which northern European emigrants in third class
were separated completely
from southern European emigrants in third class
to maintain what their own publicity material called "Teutonic hygiene".
Whatever the hardships, the dream of freedom and opportunity in America
gave the emigrants' journey a certain romance.
But the liner companies had more of a struggle
on their hands with the crew.
When you look at the sumptuous public relations material,
what is immediately striking is the absence of the workers.
You will not see the kitchen
as it is being used during a busy time of the day.
You will not see a boiler room from the inside during operation,
which were some of the toughest workplaces
that industrial society had brought into existence.
In the engine rooms, especially before the First World War,
the trimmers and the stokers had to work very long shifts in great heat
and they were physically abused by their superiors.
What goes on behind the scenes is something that is hidden from view,
a function of the fear,
of the tensions of class society becoming visible on these ships.
I think when we're looking at the history of ocean liners,
it's quite often easy to forget about the people.
We look at the ships as technical marvels,
and the nations outdoing each other, the Blue Riband, and so on.
The heroic images of the ships
were encouraged by the liner companies,
and helped to distract the public from less savoury aspects.
It is very difficult to find critical reports
about, say, the working conditions on these liners,
even though they were atrocious.
And that has something to do with the fact
that the social democratic press or the labour press
ran the risk of being accused of acting unpatriotically
if it drew too much attention to the harsh working conditions
and attacked the liner companies.
The role of liners as national symbols
was an increasingly useful one,
and it tapped in to the popular mood.
In 1913, the Hamburg American line introduced its new liner, Imperator.
With her eagle figurehead,
she was not only an expression of German might,
but also the world's largest ship.
Her owners also went to great lengths to get a good press,
treating over 100 journalists to a first class passage
from Hamburg to Southampton and a three-night stay in London.
On board the Imperator, there was the ultimate symbol of luxury -
an indoor swimming pool.
It wasn't the first on a ship,
that honour goes to the White Star Liner, the Olympic,
but that was very plain and utilitarian.
Completely unlike this.
For the Imperator's pool, they really pushed the boat out.
The model was the Pompeian Pool
here at the Royal Automobile Club in London.
They copied the style, they copied the look,
but above all else they copied the great sequence of columns,
ceramic mosaic in wonderful Pompeian colours.
The rivalry between Britain and Germany went on,
the liner companies competing with ever greater luxury.
The Great War ended all this.
Some liners became troopships, some became hospital ships.
Incredibly, others continued to cross the Atlantic,
In 1915, with the Cunard liner Lusitania due to sail from New York,
the German Government placed an advertisement
in 50 American newspapers.
It warned travellers that the liner might be attacked,
that the seas around Britain were now a war zone.
Nonetheless, she set sail from New York to England
with almost 2,000 people on board.
Just miles from the coast of Ireland,
Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
She sank in just 18 minutes.
1,198 people were killed, including 128 Americans,
The Lusitania was one of the ships that had held the Blue Riband.
It was one of those ships
that restored British maritime pride in 1907.
And for this ship to sink through enemy action
was a huge shock for the British public.
It galvanised public opinion as an attack on a national symbol.
British propaganda began almost immediately
to draw on this act of total war,
painting a picture of triumphant Germans
revelling in the deaths of women and children.
Throughout the war, the Lusitania continued to be invoked
as evidence of German inhumanity.
And Irish and American propagandists followed suit.
It may even have helped to bring America in to the war in 1917.
The damage inflicted by German submarines
was to have a direct effect on German liners.
After the armistice, the Versailles treaty specified that the Germans
should surrender all ships over 1,600 tons.
One by one, the liners,
these symbols of the German nation were handed over.
Imperator became the Cunard line's flagship - Berengaria.
Vaterland became the American Leviathan,
and Bismarck became the White Star Line's Majestic.
Edwardian built ships continued to take passengers
across the North Atlantic in the years after the Great War.
But by the 1920s, they were showing their age.
Ships last for 20, 30 years, sometimes longer,
but in the end they all die,
and when they die, they come to a scrapyard to be broken up.
Here we are in Thomas Ward's yard in Inverkeithing.
This was one of the biggest yards in Britain,
and it was here that many famous names met their end,
not least the Olympic, the famous sister of the Titanic.
It could take years to break up a great ocean liner.
Here, laboriously, a ship would be reduced to its constituent parts.
Ward's company made sure that every piece of the ship was recycled,
from furniture and mechanical components to the toilets.
Which means that for those ships it was not, entirely, the end.
Here at Stonehouse in Scotland,
I've come in search of a remarkable survival
from another White Star Liner, the Homeric.
-Great to see you.
Now, you're going to tell me all about your grandfather.
So your grandfather was a showman?
Er, he started originally as a showman,
and he went into the haulage contractors business,
and in 1934, he decided he wanted to open a cinema.
-And this is where the Homeric comes in, isn't it?
Tell me what happened.
There was a ship being broke up in Inverkeithing,
which is about 55, 60 mile from here
and he went along and had a look at the ship being built up
and realised that he could take the grandeur from the Homeric
and fetch it to a cinema in his own style.
And this is what he done.
He bought most of the remains from the boat,
and fetched it on 6 railway carriages to the local railway station
and then he got a local builder to build it.
-And is that the cinema.
-You can see some photographs.
-It doesn't look like this now.
That was taken 40, 50 years ago.
Cos of course it's the inside that counts, isn't it?
It is the inside. When you go through the doors,
you'll see it's like going back in a time-warp to the 1930s.
Stepping into this building is the most exciting experience,
because it really brings the past to life
in very very dynamic and unexpected ways,
cos it's two pasts, here I am in an Art Deco cinema,
one of the most exciting of its type surviving in Britain.
At the same time,
I'm standing in the first class dining room of the Homeric.
I love to imagine that wonderful pile of pieces,
bits of ship arriving on those railway wagons,
and everybody thinking,
"My God, what shall we do with all this?
"How shall we fit it all in?
"Put this here, put that there."
It could have been the most amazing sort of jumble,
but in fact it's wonderful, they've made sense of it,
and so here we have both cinema and ship.
Different periods of history,
but coalescing, coming together beautifully.
It's a most bizarre and wonderful experience.
The White Star Line's Homeric was another one of those German ships
ceded to Britain after the First World War.
It was originally the North German Lloyd liner, Columbus.
Her interiors were designed by Paul Ludwig Troost,
a devotee of German neo-classicism,
who later became one of Hitler's favourite architects.
By the 1930s, when this cinema was built,
the ocean liner had become synonymous
with modernity and glamour,
and the ideal backdrop for Hollywood movies.
'Oh, I seldom change boats in mid-ocean.'
# At any gambling casino From Monte Carlo to Reno
# They tell you that a beginner comes out a winner
# A beginner fishing for flounder Will catch a 17-pounder
# That's what I've always heard
# And always thought absurd, but now.. #
Hollywood's created our image of the ocean liner today,
even more than the advertising of the liners themselves in their heyday.
Films like Shall We Dance, where Fred Astaire tapdances his way
through a glamorous Art Deco facsimile of the engine room
of a great ocean liner is a good example
of how glamorised the interiors of those ships
have become in our memory.
Hollywood's love affair with ocean liner style
began with a new French ship, the Ile de France.
Although modernism had been making appearances in ocean liner design
in the early 1920s,
the first ship that fully encompassed that style in its interior design
was the French Line's Ile de France.
The design of the interiors of that ship were heavily influenced
by the Paris Art Deco exhibition in 1925.
And the liner immediately became the chicest boat
afloat on the North Atlantic because of that style.
This is the time of prohibition as well,
so that the allure of going on a French Line was quite strong
in terms that you could enjoy the French fine wines and so on.
So we do get a lot of the Hollywood glitterati
travelling on the Ile de France.
Celebrities chose the Ile de France as their boat of choice.
And those celebrities included many people from the media
and particularly from the film industry,
who were travelling from Europe to America
and then on to Hollywood
where the style developed a whole new life.
So the Art Deco of the Ile de France
directly influenced Hollywood set design.
And of course, these ships were the perfect backdrop for a good plot.
No wonder the liners and the movies became so intimately related.
Being at sea makes one feel a little unconventional, doesn't it?
It does indeed. I noticed that myself.
Whilst France shaped tastes with its new flagship,
Germany's focus was once more on speed.
In 1929, its first new liner since the war, the Bremen,
made its maiden voyage, followed a year later by the Europa.
For the Germans the launch of these ships is a hugely symbolic event,
because it seems to signal a resurgence, a national resurgence.
When the Bremen went on its maiden voyage,
it was followed with keen interest on the part of the public.
And this was not just simply because it was the first new ship
that was to cross the Atlantic Ocean after the First World War,
but this was a ship that had been constructed
with the intention of regaining the Blue Riband
and the Bremen did that.
More than ever, the liners became the emblems of competing powers.
The Italian Line's Rex, launched in 1931,
soon seized the Blue Riband from Germany.
But these fast new ships found business slow.
American immigration restrictions
had already killed the profitable steerage trade.
Now the economic woes of the Great Depression
meant even fewer travellers on the North Atlantic.
All this had a rather surprising effect - the rise of cruising.
The companies running ocean liners
had a fantastic tonnage by the early 1930s
of superannuated liners that they needed to do something with.
The began to send them on cruise holidays to warm water ports.
The liner companies come up with plans
to make available cruises that are within the reach of,
say, the middle class rather than exclusively the upper class.
Darling! A cruise! How lovely!
These cruises met rising demand for leisure activities
and the prospect of pre-paid, fixed priced holidays
was particularly appealing.
Cruising became the height of fashion.
Cruising profited very much from the high profile
that the liners had,
because of their history of the glamour of life on the seas.
So basically, all of a sudden, what became possible
is to enjoy a stay in a space
that had previously been the preserve of the upper classes.
So cruising retains its mystique to this day,
because ocean travel is so strongly connected
with luxury and with aristocratic forms of life.
The cruising boom was about enjoying life on board,
as well as the exotic ports en route.
It brought with it cruise clothing and an emphasis on outdoor pursuits.
It became more fashionable to have a suntan, to do sunbathing,
to do more rigorous activities outside on deck, as it were,
which hadn't really happened in the earlier ships,
which mimicked that kind of aristocratic
country house weekend experience.
All sorts of special cruises began to be organised.
As I was making this programme, I found out that my father
had been on one such cruise in the 1930s, at the age of 12.
You know I've done quite a bit of cruising on ships
-and I always like it...
..but it's something I didn't realise you'd done...
How is it you've only just revealed that you were cruising in the 1930s?
Nobody ever asked me.
And I collected things.
I kept this you see.
Because cruising really started in the 1930s, I think...
-But this is a School cruise, isn't it?
-So it was called the Scholars' Wonder cruise?
And were there lessons?
-No, no, just a holiday.
-What was the ship like?
The Doric - a rather aging cruise ship, or a liner of some kind,
I think it had been a liner in its day.
It was 16,000 tons,
White Star Line.
In a way you were pioneers, because as children, going on a cruise,
at a time when cruising was just in its infancy as a popular activity.
Yes, I think it was an unusual thing to do.
There weren't many people doing it. I think they were the pioneers.
But you did keep this diary
It's good cos it's about your impressions of what you see,
and you must have been seeing really strange things.
Well, yes, from Colchester and my parents' house and everything.
Yes, it was a complete break, wasn't it?
At my age, to go to Lisbon and places like that, and Gibraltar.
That shows the map so it's mostly,
-a lot of it was at sea, wasn't it?
What on earth did you do all that time at sea?
Well, going across the Bay of Biscay, I think we vomited!
"The cruise was rather dull until we got to Gib,
"and we got to Gib about 10.00 on Sunday morning.
"We drove round in cabs and went to the top of the rock
"and left Gib that night and reached Ceuta the next morning."
And here we are, that's the page about Tetuan and Ceuta.
Yes, that was an amazing place.
Tetuan I shall never forget. We got onto a railway train
and went into this single line,
about 20, 30 miles into Morocco I suppose.
I remember then seeing the camels and the desert.
It was a very lonely railway line. I do remember that.
"It was a lovely journey all the time,
"and we were all very sorry to get to the ship".
And this is you.
That's me standing on the funnel.
This photograph was taken by a journalist who came on board
-from one of the newspapers to interview people like me.
It must have been about 500 to 1,000 children I'd have thought.
They'd have fitted you in two to a cabin at least.
Oh, I think you'll find more like four.
I think it's extraordinary that I've never seen it.
There are so many corners of your life
that I suppose are still to be revealed.
I hope not! THEY LAUGH
It was not only British schools who wondered if cruising could benefit
the wider population. In Nazi Germany, a scheme was created
to bring cruises to workers.
In National Socialist Germany it's a conscious attempt
to use the liners for political purposes.
The National Socialist dictatorship did not simply function
through suppression. Hitler also wanted to offer
the German citizens the prospect of a better life,
bringing within reach of the ordinary citizens,
leisure activities, pastimes that had been
the preserve of the middle class and the upper middle class.
The Nazi leisure programme, known as "Strength through Joy"
sought to make the workers more productive
by giving them subsidized holidays.
From 1933, cruises were offered on specially chartered liners,
but later, two purpose-built cruise ships were launched,
equipped with basic, single-class facilities -
the Wilhelm Gustloff and the Robert Ley.
What the National Socialists do during the promotion
of their liners is they try to create a counter-image
to the image of the floating palace.
So on the one had they try to profit from the glamour
that ocean cruising possesses,
however they want to establish their own version
and they want to let the people know that it is their own version -
a classless form of cruising.
One needs to say two things however, the first is that of course this was
restricted to so-called Aryans,
the second thing is that the ships did not attract the workers
in the numbers the regime had intended.
Propaganda was disseminated during these pleasure outings
and many Germans would have been put off by this
because, of course, when you go on holiday you don't necessarily
want to run across political indoctrination all the time.
In a political age, liners increasingly
were becoming a tool of governments.
And such direct intervention saw the creation
of the French liner Normandie, which entered service in 1935.
The Normandie's style was aggressively contrived to reassert
France as the centre of visual culture in the 1930s.
The Normandie was the most powerful and largest ship afloat.
It was extremely formal, and it was the product of a huge government
subsidy which meant that every major craftsman and designer in Paris was
involved in the production of the interiors of that ship.
You went on board and you were entering a whole kind of
art gallery almost.
The sort of public rooms
particularly were the very best that the French designers could produce.
intimidating to say the least. Everyone was on view the whole time,
it was about entrances,
about appearances, and about formal glamour.
The gigantic 1st class dining room had no natural light,
but was lit by glass pillars and chandeliers
designed by Rene Lalique.
The emphasis was on grand vistas.
Enormous interior spaces were freed up by diverting the uptakes
from the engine rooms to the sides of the ship.
In fact, the ship was not commercially successful, perhaps
because it was too ostentatious. But the image of the Normandie lives on.
The ocean liner of the 1930s had become an icon,
embodied in the looming abstraction of Cassandre's famous poster.
Indeed, the style of the whole era had been directly influenced
Although today we tend to be very wrapped up in our fascination with
the 1st class areas of the great liners of the Edwardian period
of the 1920s and '30s.
During that time, the avant garde architects of Europe,
and in particular Le Corbusier,
were attracted to the 3rd class sections of these liners
where the structure of the ship was visible.
And it was those sections of the liners plus the deckscapes,
the promenade areas that
influenced the modernist architecture of the 1920s and '30s.
Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, for example,
built in 1930, just outside Paris
was heavily influenced by the design of liners such as the Aquitaine -
these Edwardian liners,
and in particular by their 2nd and 3rd class accommodations
which were practical, efficient and hygienic.
Whereas in earlier generations, the design of grand buildings,
of hotels, of clubs and country houses
had been the primary influence on liner design,
now the utilitarian aspects of ocean liner design
were influencing grand modern architecture.
Other modern styles
drew on the sumptuous first class spaces of liners.
This is the great entrance hall for Eltham Palace.
It was built for the cloth magnate Sir Stephen Courtauld and his wife
Virginia from 1933.
It is probably the most famous Art Deco interior in Britain.
It was a reception space, it was an entertaining space,
and it was designed for them by Rolf Engstromer, a Swedish architect.
It's a very exciting space, full of all sorts of details
and wonderful Art Deco finishes.
But, of course, really its importance is quite separate.
When we look around and look at the shape and feel of the room,
we're actually at sea.
This is a room on a ship.
One of the great features is this
wonderful glazed dome.
It brings light into the room and, of course, it's a technique
frequently used on ships to bring
light into lower decks where there were no portholes or windows.
I'm standing on a great Art Deco carpet, designed by Marion Dorn,
one of the great names of textiles of the 1930s and a name frequently
associated with carpets and rugs on great liners.
And I'm looking at two great marquetry panels -
Italy, the Baltic, very popular cruise destinations in the 1930s.
The ocean liner had found its
way onto land, bringing with it the allure and mystique of the cruise.
In turn, the ships themselves
took on the greater simplicity of modernism.
The Orient line's Orion, which entered service in 1935,
was particularly groundbreaking.
Liners such as the Orion designed by Brian O'Rorke began to reflect
Corbusier's ideas about modernism in architecture,
furniture design, the use of new materials, linoleum, for example,
stainless steel, chromium.
But Britain's transatlantic lines were more conservative.
Cunard's first new liner for a generation, the Queen Mary, was
put on hold during the Depression, and only entered service in 1936.
The Queen Mary was an interesting ship because what you had on the
one hand was a management that really did not want to create
a liner that looked modern.
At the same time, however,
the marketing department of Cunard was very much aware that
what customers wanted at the time was a modernist look, so there was
an internal negotiation process of how modern this ship could look.
Certain key modernist artists were
employed to advise, like Duncan Grant,
whose screen and painting was not allowed on board ship
because it was too shocking
because it featured naked bodies and it was in a modernist kind of style,
and the Cunard directors took offence at this.
Avant Garde artists had their work rejected in favour of theatrical
artists and commercial artists who designed the interiors
in a much more popular manner,
meant to appeal to a broader audience.
Cunard estimated that 70% of their income
would come from Americans, and to oversee the designs,
they even hired a prominent American architect, Benjamin Morris.
The Queen Mary satisfied an American image of Britain,
of British high society, the club,
the country house,
all imbued with a sense of whimsy,
and a kind of elan associated with British culture
as seen through the lens of Hollywood.
Whether or not the design was cutting edge,
the Queen Mary was an immediate success.
On the 27th of May 1936, the Queen Mary sailed on
her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
Cheering crowds lined the shore, many of whom
had come by special excursion trains.
And she was followed out by a flotilla of small boats.
In the previous days before her departure, 15,000 people had paid
five shillings each to tour the great ship -
this symbol of Britain's economic and political resurgence.
It is said that when she arrived in New York a few days later,
there wasn't a single ashtray to be found on board.
It's curious how this great ship has become a part of our,
in a sense, collective memory.
Everybody wants a part of her.
I must say, Jonathan, it's great to see one of those elusive ashtrays.
They are quite rare, especially the larger sizes, the only one of
the larger size in a colour that I've ever seen.
I believe they were designed specifically for the cocktail
lounge which actually had a red theme, so that would make sense.
Now, what is it about the Queen Mary?
She had a character and grace and style that very few matched up.
A lot of crew preferred her, she was always the favourite.
She pulled the country out of the Depression.
She was a benchmark for a lot of things that came after.
What's always intrigued me about ships is that
they are in fact a totality, they have to survive as a floating city,
and that of course means there's everything on board,
and I think the Queen Mary was exceptional.
Queen Mary in particular had everything, she was the
first ship that had a purpose built synagogue, she had everything from
hairdressers, WH Smith's on board.
It was, as they said, "A city at sea".
And that must also make collecting much more diverse.
Oh, you can find anything related to that ship from
biscuits from a lifeboat tin ration box to carpets, rugs, silverplate,
china, crystal, er, you name it, you'll find something and you can tie
-it back to Queen Mary.
-What is this table?
The table is from a 2nd class smoking room
and I bought that myself about 10 years ago.
I was lucky enough to find it in a junk shop
and I had to dismantle it to bring it back through Customs.
-And that's it is it?
-Yeah. That's one of the tables in situ.
It's wonderful to have the positive identification,
the documentary evidence that it is the right thing.
Yes, they were specially designed for her, and it's a ship's table,
a single leg with a centre of gravity
with a weight in the bottom so it doesn't roll over in rough weather.
So it matters that things actually have to come off the ship,
they have to have that magical,
almost mystical quality of association.
Yeah, very much that association. If you pick up a table, a stool,
a piece of silverplate, and you can open up a book,
and there's this historic ship that all these famous people travelled on
that was such a piece of the nation, and then there you have that piece
it's that tangibility, that tactile nature of
items that all collectors like.
I notice this book you've got open here which shows one of
the great rooms, first class lounge,
but what excites me is the fact that it's in colour.
One's so used to the black and white pictures, but to actually know
the colour palette is extraordinary.
It's quite an important thing.
I recently bought this book. I was very happy to find it
cos I actually own one of the rugs from this room.
-You own one of the rugs?
-Yeah, I was very fortunate
to find one that had survived.
They had been assumed that they'd all been destroyed until one appeared at
auction and I was fortunate enough to purchase it at an internet auction.
What are you going to do with it?
Well, after having it for a couple of years
and not really knowing what to do with it,
I've tracked down a very good,
reputable, experienced rug restorer cleaner
and it's going to be whisked off next week to be unrolled.
Jonathan's carpet has arrived at the workshop of Robert Behar,
whose family has been in the carpet cleaning business since 1920.
-So you have four pieces like this.
-Yeah, three more, four in total,
Then just plain rugs either side on the runners in the main body of
the room which was three storeys high
and almost the width of the ship.
You can just see the people
walking across it in their cocktail dresses.
It hasn't ever been fully unrolled since it left the ship,
so it's the first time I've really been able to examine it
since it left the ship in 1967. They describe this rug
as "walking on clouds", they were that proud of it,
that it was that thick.
It's not so much that it's that
thick, it's the density, number of wool strands per knot, type of wool,
and they used to dye everything by hand.
Oh, right, so this is all done hand-dyed.
I didn't know that.
And, er cleaning wise...
..the thorough cleansing will make quite a big difference to this.
It's the first time it's been cleaned in 43-odd years.
-So we should keep the dirt.
-Yeah, bottle it and sell it on eBay!
The magic of these objects goes on, each one bringing with it
some of the glamour we associate with the ships.
There truly is an elegiac quality to the great liners of the 1930s.
Within a few years, war had come again.
The Queen Mary and her sister ship the Queen Elizabeth
were painted grey,
and took on new roles, as the valiant transporters
of vast numbers of soldiers.
In 1942, in New York harbour,
the Normandie caught fire while being converted to a troop ship.
The water pumped into her to douse the flames
fatally destabilized her.
The great French Line flagship lay on her side for 18 months,
and eventually, she was broken up.
Her destruction after just a few short years has given her
an almost mythic quality,
forever young and mysterious.
The fate of the Normandie captures the sense of nostalgia we feel
for the golden age of liners before the war.
In this age of high speed travel
we still love the idea of the ocean liner.
It's an idea we created about a hundred years ago when a means of
transport became a floating hotel, a palace, a ship of dreams.
And it's an idea that is really a fantasy.
It has nothing to do with the often harsh realities of sea travel -
seasickness, steerage conditions.
It's also a fantasy that we love because
it has everything, it has romance,
glamour, drama, excitement, politics, propaganda,
and of course a good slice of tragedy.
And that's why in our imagination
we will go on enjoying the idea of the ocean liner forever.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Paul Atterbury embarks on an alluring journey into the golden age of ocean liners, finding out how these great ships made such a mark on the popular imagination and why they continue to enchant to this day.
Paul's voyage takes him around Britain and reveals a story of design, politics, propaganda, Hollywood glamour and tragedy. Along the way, he uncovers some amazing survivals from the liners of the past - a cinema in Scotland built from the interiors of the SS Homeric, a house in Poole in which cabins from the Mauretania are lovingly preserved - as well as the design inspiration behind the first great liners.