Tom Wilkinson, Lesley Nightingale and Peter Eyre in...
SPYSHIP (BBC 1983)
by Harry Dobermann
"I want to know a secret. And everyone is determined to keep me from it." Martin Taylor (Tom Wilkinson)
1983: In the sea between Russia and Norway, as the forces of NATO and the Soviet Union keep a wary eye on each other, the British Fishing Vessel Caistor disappears in mysterious circumstances....
Francis Main (Peter Eyre) is quizzed by Hillmore (Michael Aldridge)
Broadcast in November 1983, SPYSHIP was a 6-part TV serial, adapted by Callan creator James Mitchell from the 1981 novel by TV journalists Tom Keene and Brian Haynes. The novel was inspired by their ITV This Week documentaries investigating the 1974 disappearance of the Hull trawler Gaul. This review considers the TV show and the events which inspired it.
A BBC co-production with Australia's 7 Network and America's Arts and Entertainment, Spyship was produced at BBC Birmingham by Colin Rogers. A former ATV producer ( A Bunch of Fives (1977) starring Lesley Manville), Rogers moved to BBC Birmingham, where he would later produce the 1992 BBC adaptation of John Harvey's novels about the Nottingham detective Resnick (again starring Tom Wilkinson). Spyship was directed by Michael Custance, who had previously directed episodes of ATV shows such as The Feathered Serpent (1976) and Philip Martin's apocalyptic BBC2 play The Unborn (1980).
The night before it sails from Hull, the British trawler Caistor is fitted with special equipment under the supervision of Harding (Malcolm Tierney), who has chartered the vessel. The next morning, Johnno (Joe Belcher), the chief engineer on the Caistor is accompanied to the docks by his son, journalist Martin Taylor (Tom Wilkinson). Martin has been visiting, following his mother's funeral, and Johnno has tried to encourage Martin to take up with his old schoolfriend Suzy (Lesley Nightingale), who is now divorced. Suzy brings Johnno a fruit cake. He jokingly says it's unlucky for women to come and see the ship off, but hugs her farewell.
Joe Belcher, Tom Wilkinson and Lesley Nightingale
In London, Irving (George Baker) tells Sir Peter Hilmore (Michael Aldridge) that Russian subs will be testing new equipment in the middle of NATO exercises, and asks if the Caistor can be moved outside its normal fishing grounds for 12 hours to carry out listening operations. Hilmore agrees, but during a storm, the Caistor is hit by a massive force and begins to flood. After a search, the ship is assumed lost with all hands. In London, Hilmore asks Francis Main (Peter Eyre) to "see there's no evidence left which might be embarrassing to either side.". Main has clandestine meetings with Rokoff (David Burke), his Soviet opposite number and also controls Evans (Philip Hynd), an ascetic 'dirty tricks' operative. When the brother of a Caistor crewman (Malcolm Hebden) raises money to organise a search for wreckage, Main frames him for theft of the funds. Rokoff arranges for a life buoy, supposedly from the Caistor to be found off the coast of Norway. Admiralty scientist Dowdall (Thorley Walters) deduces that the buoy has never been in deep water and Main's assistant Simon (Paul Geoffrey) rewrites the report to remove this conclusion.
During the Board of Trade enquiry into the loss of the Caistor, relatives protest that the Russians have got their men, and the rumour that the ship was on a spy mission gets into the national press. Harding (Malcolm Tierney) tells Main that the widow of the ships wireless operator received a letter mentioning the new equipment. Main sends Evans to destroy the letter but he kills the wireless operator's widow when she discovers him searching the house.
The local Labour MP asks a question in Parliament about Russian involvement, and Hilmore tells Main to make sure there is no evidence to contradict the Prime Ministers' statement that the Russians were not involved. Martin has realised that a photo he took of his father's departure shows the extra equipment on the Caistor's mast. Evans finds Martin's notes in Suzy's flat and pressures Main into letting him "retire" Martin, letting Main know that he's been taping all their phone conversations. Hilmore discovers that Evans killed the wireless operator's widow. He gives Main the option of facing a board of inquiry or resigning, and tells Simon to take over the operation, saying that Main has given his operatives, "a purchase over all of us.".
Through her job at the university, Suzy puts Dowdall in contact with Martin (who has survived Evans' attempt to 'retire' him). Dowdall tells Martin that his suppressed report into the buoy indicated that it had never been in deep water and had been planted on the Norwegian coast. While Martin investigates the discovery of the buoy in Norway, Dowdall uses his "old school tie" to call upon Sir Philip Stang (David Ryall), who happens to be Hilmore's superior. Suzy is attacked by Evans to find out where Martin is. In Norway, Evans makes another attempt to kill Martin but it's Evans who ends up dead.
Returning to England, Martin tricks his way into the psychiatric hospital where Captain Huninger (Michael Lees), who was leading the Royal Navy search for the Caistor, is being treated for a breakdown. Martin learns the truth about the Caistor, but is captured by Hilmore's men. Hilmore appeals to Martin to suppress the truth, telling him that his activity has ensured thirty years of peace in the west. Hilmore releases Martin but is then confronted by Strang. Rokoff has told Moscow that Hilmore had a KGB man killed in Glasgow and both Main and Simon have told Strang that Hilmore masterminded the 'dirty tricks' operations. With Hilmore sidelined, Simon takes over Main's regular strolls with Rokoff, as Main listens to their conversation over a radio.
Don Henderson and Tom Wilkinson discuss the missing trawler
As a conspiracy thriller, Spyship is an oddity because the central situation so closely resembled something that had happened in recent memory. Although the writers of the novel said that it was not about the Gaul, there are a number of similarities, as you can see below. The notion that the crew of the trawler had been captured by the Russians may seem fanciful in hindsight, but at the time there were still fresh memories of the 'Cod Wars', where trawlers and crews had been taken into custody by the Icelandic navy - a friendly power. So it was not much of a stretch to imagine that the nuclear bogieman of the Soviet Union was behind the disappearance of a trawler. Nevertheless, this notion had already been discounted by the TV documentaries and Keene and Hayne's novel, and the TV serial makes it clear that the vessel has sunk, although the cause is still a mystery.
The adaptation is credited to James Mitchell, the creator of Callan and When The Boat Comes In, but additional scenes are credited to Robert Smith, who would write several plays and TV episodes in the 1980's and 90's including an original screenplay about the Julia Wallace murder, The Man From The Pru (1990) starring Jonathan Pryce and Susanna York. It's not known whether the additional scenes were required because of the substantial location filming in each episode, but the format of the serial differs from the usual course of a conspiracy thriller. Usually the hero is confronted with a mystery and we only gradually get to a glimpse of the people behind the plot. But Spyship introduces the people behind the plot in the first half hour. In a way it plays fair with the viewer because we see the conspiracy develop in real time although some crucial elements are withheld. In addition the interplay between Main, Simon, Hilmore and the last-minute introduction of Strang is so obscure that it can distract from the central mystery.
Even when first broadcast there was a slight sense of deja vu in Richard Harvey's folky title song (performed by June Tabor) which comes across as a knock-off of Clannad's theme from Harry's Game (1982). The serial seems to be treading similarly flattened ground in the scenes with Peter Eyre and David Burke strolling around the more arcane tourist sites of London discussing British history. Even the casting of Don Henderson and Thorley Walters from Strangers and Michael Aldridge playing yet another security service chief (viz Tinker, Tailor.., and the Power Game episode The Goose Chase ).
The scenes outside of London have a stronger narrative because of the search for the truth. We the viewers have seen something sinister happen to the Caistor although we don't know exactly what has happened. The city is never actually named as Hull, although the city and University scenes were filmed in Hull. The portside scenes were filmed in Grimsby as Hull's St Andrews Dock (where the Gaul sailed from) had already been closed and redeveloped into a retail centre). With a limited budget, the production sketches the uncertainty, dread and disbelief of the trawler's loss. The wives and mothers of the trawlermen are well represented with a lack of sentimentality. There's a whole micro-drama in the first couple of episodes around the character played by Malcolm Hebden (Norris from Coronation Street) trying to mount a search for the wreckage and his harridan of a mother played by Jean Boht (Bread), who asks why it couldn't have been him, rather than his brother who died. There's also a good deal of gallows humour. During the Inquiry, one of the wives shouts Martin over, "Come and sit here with the rich widows!" Unsurprisingly, no-one tries to do a Hull accent (when he played a trawler skipper in The Seventh Wave even Patrick Wymark was criticised for getting the Grimsby accent wrong ), and the odd bits of dialect seem closer to Tyneside. It's notable that the engineer who has to be taken off with a broken leg was the first TV role of Jimmy Naill.
Jimmy Naill and Tom Wilkinson
While the London scenes can be annoying (because they seem to distract from the ongoing search for the truth) they do have some humour. When discussing the marine scientist Dowdall, Main is annoyed that their usual "sympathetic" scientist is not preparing the report on the life buoy. The young and eager Simon says that Dowdall has an "Awful lot of letters after his name.". Main agrees, "FAR too many for this line of work.". There's also an amusing pantomime when Main strides into his outer office leaving the door wide open. His secretary immediately gets up and firmly shuts the door. Main continues into his inner office, where he opens the safe door and removes some files. He begins to discuss the plot with Simon leaving the safe door open. During the course of the conversation, a porter walks into Main's office, sees the open safe door, pointedly shuts and locks it and walks out again, barely acknowledged by Main and Simon (later on, when Main is caught out by Hilmore, the same porter will steer Main to Hilmore's office like a school prefect). Yet despite the odd amusing highlight, there is a generic familiarity about the London scenes (ITV would begin showing Chessgame halfway through Spyship's run starring Terence Stamp as Anthony Price's counterintelligence agent Dr David Audley) .
The role of journalist Martin Taylor was only Tom Wilkinson's third TV role and his first lead (although he had been acting since 1974 with the Nottingham Playhouse and National Theatre). Martin seems an unlikely hero, deeply withdrawn. In the opening scenes, as they leave the Minerva pub Jonno says the people in the pub are his friends, but he doesn't know if Martin is his friend (a subtle point is that the only time Martin calls out to his father, he calls him Jonno, rather than Dad) Jonno tells his son that he knows he's unhappy,"Moping about, always on your own." but, "I don't know you - because you never tell me ow't." We learn that Martin did not visit often before his mother's funeral. When they return to Jonno's house, Martin is surprised to find a postcard on the mantlepiece that he sent home from Greece when he was at University. Johnno says off-handedly that he doesn't know how long it's been up there, and says he'd like to sail somewhere warm, just once.
Later, the recently divorced Suzy (who works in the University labs), says of Martin that it makes a change to have a date with someone who "likes talking", suggesting that it's just his dad - or people like his parents- who Martin can't talk to . In the final episode, in a state of exhaustion, he confesses to the Norwegian journalist who is sheltering him that, "I loved my parents - but I never really knew them as an adult.". Born in the 1950's Martin appears to have the typical estrangement of working class boys who went to Grammar School on a scholarship and who were taught to behave differently from their background but at the same time knew that they didn't really belong in the upper class. The bigger question is where he develops the resilience to survive the conspiracy against him. After he's fended off one attack by Evans, Suzy says, "What really bothers me is it doesn't seem to affect you. Nothing does really." Martin's too young to have done National Service, but we can perhaps assume that during his working class childhood (especially marked as different), he learnt to instinctively defend himself. This enables him to survive three murder attempts by Evans and finally kill the assassin during a fight that happens so quickly it could almost be an accident.
Martin's partner in the investigation is Suzy, who Lesley Nightingale makes adorable. Lesley had appeared briefly in Muck and Brass as Mel Smith's secretary and appeared in Boys From The Black Stuff as the social worker who gets head butted by Yosser Hughes' young daughter. We learn most about Suzy from other people. Johnno tells Martin that Suzy was like a daughter to him and his wife (perhaps a hint of reproach to Martin who was not like a son). A work colleague says Suzy has "had a lot of practice.." getting over men, even though "she's so mature in other ways. If Martin is the typically alienated working class Grammar School boy, Suzy is representative of those working class Grammar School and University graduates who found their options as financially constrained (albeit in a less manual job) as if they'd left school at 15. We learn that Suzy feels trapped in the University lab- "Even with a damn good degree, there's nowhere else I can go to get a job." As it becomes clear that the truth is being hidden, Suzy helps Martin by using the resources of the University to track down Dowdall's unedited report and get in touch with the wife of Captain Huniger. Ultimately, Suzy almost pays the ultimate price when Evans attacks and terrorises her to find out where Martin is hiding. Although hospitalised, Suzy survives, though perhaps because Evans is saving her for later. There's an eerie scene in episode three where the assassin is prowling round her empty flat and rubs her silk dressing gown against his cheek before sniffing it. And when he prepare to terrorise her in episode five we see Evans stroking a Punk-style poster of a woman biting a whip.
The third lead character is Francis Main, although he only emerges obliquely during the first episode. Peter Eyre was already a well-established stage actor, having appeared in Spike Milligan's Son of Oblomov in 1964 and played major roles for the Nottingham Playhouse, Royal Shakespeare Company and Birmingham Repertory. He had generally played supporting roles on film and TV such Tesman in Hedda (1975) opposite Glenda Jackson , and a university lecturer working for the KGB in a 1972 episode of Callan. Eyre's inscrutable performance as Main matches the enigmatic script and it's therefore only in retrospect that we appreciate the character's journey. At times, Francis Main's situation is the same as a character in a series like The Power Game. When Hilmore tells Main to provide wreckage from the Caistor, when Main has already told the Russians there won't be any wreckage, he's in the same position as any other middle-manager made to look foolish because of a senior management about turn. Similarly, when Evans starts to go out of control, we don't immediately appreciate the risk this puts Main in. It's not surprising in his 1990 adaptation of House of Cards, Andrew Davies adopted the device of Francis Urquhart talking to the audience, taking them into his confidence and explaining his devious schemes. .
Evans was played by Philip Hynd, who acted in series such as Bergeracand Fell Tiger, before shifting to a successful career as a Change Management Consultant where he helped Pfizer bring Viagra to market nine months ahead of schedule. Evans is one of a team of ex-soldiers who Main controls to carry out dirty-tricks operations. He appears abstemious and self-possessed, often seen jogging through the countryside (even in Norway). As Hilmore notes, Evans is probably smarter than the others. His contact address is only an anonymous drop for his cash payments. When Evans learns how much Martin knows, he tells Main that he's been taping their telephone conversations as insurance ("I'm not on a pension. I don't want my name to be given to some bloke in a telephone box.") and forces Main to sanction Martin's murder. Described by Hilmore as, "Embarrassing enough to warrant execution," and throws away his radio-receiver when Hilmore tries to shut him down. Hynd delivers some of the most unsettling scenes in the serial - especially his Peter Manuel-like prowling around Suzy's empty flat, helping himself to a cup of water as he scans the kitchen for props to terrorise her. In the end, Martin shares the audience's frustration that Evans' downfall is quick and offscreen - almost accidental.
Evans plays the recording over the phone to Main
Considering the script, the biggest elephant in the room is probably why Hull-based writer Alan Plater was not approached to do the adaptation. Jarrow-born, but living in Hull from an early age, Plater had written a 1973 Play For Today set in Hull (The Land of Green Ginger) had written for crime series such as Z Cars and also worked on the thriller Juggernaut (1974). Although he had been doing a lot of work with Yorkshire TV, he was obviously available to the BBC at the time as he adapted John McNeil's computer crime thriller The Consultant , which was broadcast on BBC1 in June 1983. Plater had also written his 'anti-thriller' Get Lost for ITV in 1981, which would morph into 1985's The Beiderbecke Affair featuring down-to-earth schoolteacher heroes similar in some ways to Martin and Suzy. It would have been interesting to see what Plater made of Spyship although as it is, Plater later adapted Chris Mullin's conspiracy thriller, A Very British Coup(1988).
The TV serial does, in the end, provide a solution to the mystery. Almost veering into science fiction, the solution is a case of "what can go wrong, did go wrong" - with both sides equally guilty, and the crew of the trawler innocent bystanders. Hilmore tells Martin that NATO and the Soviets are like two men in a darkened room, separated by a wall. They fear each other, but they learn that by turning on a light and peering over the wall,they can see what the other is doing. When Martin questions the lives of the trawler crew, Hilmore replies that there are "Hundreds, thousands, dying the most hideous deaths every day. All they have is fear. Indignation is a luxury.". Given time to consider whether he will keep the story secret, Martin tells Suzy that even if he published, People expect it. They know there's a war going on constantly, which they never see. If it doesn't affect the daily routine of their lives, what the hell, it's forgotten."
SPYSHIP AND THE STORY OF THE GAUL
"For Norman the starting point was always - what are 'they' not asking?" Obituary of Norman Felton (1)
In February 1974, the stern trawler Gaul disappeared in the Barents Sea, North of Norway. The verdict of the official inquiry was that it was swamped in heavy seas.
From the start, there was intense press interest in the story. Although a BBC investigation was abandoned, Thames TV's This Week ran a two part film. Thursday 16 October 1975 saw the first part of The Mystery of The Gaul, researched by Tom Keene and Brian Haynes and produced by Norman Fenton. This ended with the statement that evidence suggested that the life buoy purporting to come from the Gaul had been planted at sea. The second episode, on Thursday 23rd October, picked up on the 'spyship' rumours, disagreed with the official verdict that that the vessel had been swamped and concluded it had either been accidentally or deliberately struck by a submarine.
In 1994, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Norman Fenton produced another documentary for the Channel Four Dispatches series restating this theory. In August 1997, Norman Fenton chartered a survey vessel (financed by Anglia Television and Norwegian broadcaster NRK) which quickly located the wreckage, still in one piece. On 6 November 1997, the results of this survey were broadcast on the Channel 4 Dispatches , "Secrets of the Gaul." As a result, Hull MP and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott ordered a new enquiry (including a new survey of the wreck in 1998). In 2004, a Report into the Re-opened Formal Investigation into the Loss of the FV Gaul was published by the Wreck Commissioner, Mr Justice David Steel.
The report notes that no search was made for the wreck before 1997, because the authorities believed they knew why the ship had sunk and that any wreck would be very difficult to find. Therefore it would have been a waste of public funds to search for the wreck. "Mr Felton's success in discovering the wreck quickly and at no great expense completely undermined (the official stance) and refuelled suspicion." The report acknowledges that the original decision not to search for the wreck "caused the gravest dismay to the relatives (and) encouraged the belief in the theory that the vessel had been captured by the Russians. The report acknowledges that suspicions were raised because the Gaul was only two years old, two sister vessels survived the same storm, there was no SOS call and no floating wreckage.
Using the official report, it is possible to compare the storyline of Spyship with what is now believed to have happened to the Gaul.
TV The Caistor is a lone vessel chartered by Harding (Malcolm Tierney). Fact The Gaul was one of four sister vessels in the British United Trawlers fleet, two of which were also in the Barents Sea. It had been built for the Ranger Fishing Company of North Shields as the Ranger Castor ( the novel called the vessel Mary Castor, whereas the TV trawler is named after the Lincolnshire village of Caistor) and renamed Gaul when Ranger Fishing was taken over by British United Trawlers. The fact that two of the sister vessels survived the same storm added to the suspicions about the sinking of the Gaul.
TV The Caistor is a stern trawler (the fishing net is dropped from the rear, rather than the side). Fact The Gaul was a stern factory trawler ship, with an additional factory deck and crew to process and freeze the catch.
TV Metcalfe (Jimmy Naill) breaks his leg during the voyage and has to be taken off the Caistor at a port in Norway. The wireless operator asks him to take a letter to his wife. Fact The regular mate of the Gaul was taken ill and left the vessel at Lodigen (a replacement was taken on at Tromso).
TV The Caistor is diverted from its normal fishing ground to spy on the Soviets with the Intercept Receivers. Fact The Gaul had been fishing alongside its sister vessel Kelt. The Kelt lost sight of the Gaul at 20:30 on the 7th February but the Gaul reported being laid up to repair a damaged net. By 02:00 on 8th February, the Kelt and another vessel had to lay and dodge ( at a standstill, without power) due to bad weather. The Gaul also reported 'laid and dodging'.This was the last report heard from the Gaul.
After the end of the 'Cold War', the 2004 report established that on three occasions in the 1960's a trawler had been chartered to make trips with specialist staff and equipment. The skipper was indemnified against any loss of catch while following the course requested by the Navy. On two occasions, trawlers were used to search for a missing Soviet test missile, although the ships officers were told that they were looking for a camera from a US sub. The mate of one of these vessels, was later the mate of the Gaul. Not surprisingly, there was common gossip about spying missions.
TV Caistor disappears during a storm without sending an SOS. Fact The Gaul was last sighted by another fishing vessel on the 8th February during a Force 10 storm and disappeared between 8th and 9th February 1974 without sending a distress signal
TV There is an eight day search by the Royal Navy and Norwegian military. Fact An operation was mounted by the Royal Navy, RAF and Norwegian authorities between 11th and 15th February. A subsequent air search between 21 and 22 February failed to find any trace.
TV Tom Silvers (Malcolm Hebden), the brother of one of the crew, starts fundraising to charter a search for wreckage from the Caistor. Francis Main and Evans frame him for theft. Fact In March 1974, a freelance journalist proposed a search for the wreck of the Gaul.He was not accused of theft. The vessel owners refused to contribute to the costs of the search and the official view was that any wreck would be difficult to find.
TV The Russians plant a life buoy from the Caistor off the coast of Norway. It is found by a two-man fishing vessel with a dodgy captain who only sails at the weekend. Fact A life buoy from the Gaul was found off the Norwegian coast on 8 May 1974 by a Norwegian whaling vessel.
TV As noted above, the Caistor had no sister vessels. Fact Inspection of two of the sister vessels of the Gaul found rust in the water-tight doors and hatches. In the Kurd, rust and overpainting meant that the door to the watertight door to the factory could not be closed. This could have indicated a concern in the Gaulbut the official Department of Trade view in 1974 appears to have been that, since the Gaul had not been inspected, this could only be a supposition. In the wider community, the fact that two of the sister vessels survived the storm in the Barents Sea generated further suspicion about the loss of the Gaul.
TV It's not stated when the Formal Investigation at City Hall begins, although it appears to be very soon after the loss of the Caistor. Fact The Official Formal Investigation lasting 14 days, began on 17 September at Hull City Hall.
TV Relatives of the crew disrupt the OFI saying the Russians have got the crew for spying. Fact This happened on the first day of the OFI.
TV Fielding (Don Henderson), from the Trawler Owners Guild tells Tom that, "They've got to dream up summat, they've got to hope that their fellers are still alive...trawlermen are at sea for months at a time. They get bored. Talk. It's just fancy." Fact The report notes that, "rumours almost immediately began to spread that the disappearance of the vessel and her crew could only be attributable to the fact (or the belief) that the Gaul was involved in espionage and had fallen into Russian hands."(page 73)
TV A local Labour MP asks a question in the House about Russian involvement. Hilmore tells Main that, "The Prime Minister had to make an unprepared statement.". Fact. James Johnson, one of the three Hull MP's, met with the Under Secretary of State for Trade, where the question of Russian involvement was raised and denied. In July 1974, another Hull MP John Prescott asked whether British Navy personnel had ever sailed on trawlers. Bill Rogers MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Navy, confirmed that Navy personnel did travel on trawlers "to gain seagoing experience," but made it clear that there were none travelling on the Gaul. ( The affirmative reply was leaked to the press creating a "Spy Ship Storm) Rogers later added that, apart from officers attached to the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Service getting practical experience in how trawlers worked, there had been two occasions when officers from the Hydrographical Service took part in exercises to check the radio navigation chain by reference to the satellite navigation service "and to try and find some equipment that had been lost." As the report notes, it was known in the Hull fishing industry that the response was economical with the truth" when it said that, "the British trawler fleet is not involved in any way with intelligence gathering." (In a 1997 TV documentary, Lord Rogers explained that he had been misled by his officials).
TV - Admiralty scientist Dowdall (Thorley Walters) deduces that the buoy has never been in deep water. He refuses to tone down his report, but Main's assistant Simon (Paul Geoffrey) prepares a rewritten version for the inquiry. Fact The analyst from the Admiralty Materials Lab remarked upon the absences of deep water diatoms and presence of fresh water diatoms. The 2004 report noted that the analyst gave evidence on Day 5 of the OFI and had admitted that lack of solar illumination could have led to the absence of deep water plankton, although the presence of fresh water fauna could not be explained and this discrepancy was made much of by the Thames TV This Week documentaries.
TV The issue of the life buoy directly contradicts what happened in fact and suspicion about the buoy was one of the main themes of the This Week TV documentaries. Fact However, the 2004 report notes that the Surveyor who identified the rusted doors and hatches on the sister vessels of the Gaul felt aggrieved that his evidence had been downplayed by the Department of Trade. His findings on the sister vessels were not covered in his examination at the inquiry. The inquiry did not consider the possibility that the condition of the ship might have contributed to its sinking, even though it would have supported the official explanation that the ship was overwhelmed. Only when the wreck was finally located did examination support the Surveyor's theory that the ship was not watertight. So, far from allaying the Spyship rumours, the suppression of this theory helped to create the Spyship myth. Could the Spyship rumour actually have been politically convenient?
The 2004 report gives the probable cause of the loss of the Gaul as the factory deck flooding with the capsize as a result of a sudden and sharp turn to port under full power. The report notes that there were no statutory requirements for structural strength, watertight integrity or stability. Although an enabling act had been passed following the loss of three vessels in 1968*, it was not until 1975, after the Gaul disappeared, that the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provision) Rules 1975 came into effect. In short, there was no political will to ensure that trawlers were as safe as they could have been.
As noted above, the security characters in Spyship are often in the same position as management characters in The Plane Makers and The Power Game. Main is made to look a fool by Hilmore's decision about planting the life buoy, Hilmore tells Main to make sure there is no evidence left, but doesn't want anything to be traceable back to him. When Hilmore tells Simon to make sure the analyst Dowdall is kept quiet, Simon makes positive noises but doesn't tell Main that he'd already bungled a previous attempt to keep the scientist on-side. In this way, the serial addresses the main objection to any conspiracy thriller; Why would anyone go to such lethal and explosive lengths to cover something up, knowing the truth will probably always emerge? The serial follows the cock-up theory.When we eventually learn what has happened to the Caistor, the cause of the disaster is a combination of unplanned reactions to unforseen events. Literally what can go wrong, will go wrong.. Similarly, the conspiracy mounts because of individuals pursuing their self-interest and making hasty reactions to unforseen events. There is no all-seeing conspiracy, only farce.
* You can read about the triple Trawler tragedy here
(1) Obituary of Norman Fenton August 14 2013 https://swimminginstormyweather.wordpress.com/tag/norman-fenton/
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