1 9 7 9 (UK)
This short-lived Saturday morning kids show from Granada TV debuted on 2 June 1979 and was broadcast live from a working ferry (the MV Royal Iris) on the River Mersey in Liverpool.
Claiming to be a pirate broadcast, the carefully orchestrated anarchy of The Mersey Pirate caught the imagination of a large percentage of the young UK viewing audience.
The Captain of the vessel was comedian Duggie Brown (from The Comedians) whose manner was something of an acquired taste, but his energy, warmth and bouncy savoir-fare ideally qualified him for this particular role.
His crew consisted of radio DJ Billy Butler – replete with stripey blazer and a straw boater – who served as the Entertainments Manager; comedy folk-singer Bernard Wrigley as the ship’s French chef, Pierre Le Oui-Oui; Paul Clayton as the Chief Petty Officer; and Frank Carson as a sort of Long John Silver character.
Also onboard were teenage stowaways Franny Scully (Andrew Schofield) and his sidekick Mooey (Ray Kingsley), who had first appeared in the mid-70s in a series of short radio by Alan Bleasdale and would go on to feature in their own TV series, Scully (1984).
Regular segments included a keep-fit session called ‘Ship Shape’; fashion tips from Therese Birch (‘Decked Out’); a weekly update on the Top Twenty; and energetic open-air games played on the deck of the ferry whenever Liverpool’s unpredictable weather permitted (adverse weather conditions regularly caused outdoor segments to be delayed or abandoned).
About 150 schoolchildren were taken on board each week for the telecast, which cost the production a lot in supplies: approximately 1,000 bottles of pop, 4,000 bags of crisps and 4,000 chocolate biscuits were consumed!
The Mersey Pirate ultimately fell foul of the technicians’ strike that blacked out the entire ITV network in the summer of 1979, and the show was gone by the end of August.
The MV Royal Iris was taken out of service in 1991 and towed to London.
Despite plans to turn it into a floating nightclub, the ferry has been berthed on the Thames at Woolwich ever since, slowly sinking and rusting.
Duggie Brown passed away on 16 August 2022, aged 82.