Around The World With Ridgway(1978)
The first column in the clipping ‘Getting personal under pressure’ explains my vision for this, my first feature documentary commission.
"All the people in (John Ridgway’s) boat have in common is that they cannot get off. It's not going to be a documentary about a boat. It's the claustrophobia that interests me."
The cameraman was Roger Deakins who’d walked into my office looking for his first job in television and, on the strength of his portfolio of still photos, walked out with one. What a good decision that turned out to be.
The backstory: John Ridgway and his wife Marie Christine had bought a 57 foot ketch to mark the tenth anniversary of their adventure school, which they had set up after John’s ‘daring do’ Atlantic row, and sail it around the world crewed by instructors from the school. On top of this they decided to enter the 1976/7 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race to lift their performance.
I have huge respect for both John and Marie Christine and this was typically adventurous and brave. It would also add a lot of strain, stress and pressure especially as, in order to attract some sponsorship, John was committed to writing a book and had agreed to our filming.
How much stress? Here’s a quote, written after John and his crew came in last, from Tom Woodfield’s Yachting World review of John Ridgway’s book (see on right).
Captain Tom Woodfield was the navigator for the Cape Town to Auckland leg, he’d spent 19 years of his life in Antarctic waters; ten of them as Master of an exploration vessel.
It quickly becomes evident to the reader, as it did to those sailing with him, that as owner, John’s attitude towards the race, and as skipper, his priorities, were as confused as the seas to be met in the Southern Ocean. Caged afloat, this showman adventurer but never a yachtsman, always uncertain whether to increase canvas and race or reduce and cruise, never sure whether to command, advise or hold committee meetings, failing to take most advice given and tormented by the possible cost of every sound around him frequently became wretchedly depressed ...
So it was not at all surprising that at the end of the Cape Town to Auckland leg there was a “mutiny”. Roger Deakins, and fellow filmmaker Noel Smart were in the thick of it.
In quick succession I got two phone calls from Auckland. The first from Roger Deakins to say he and Noel left the boat and would not return. The second from John and Marie Christine to demand a new camera team.
I flew from London to Auckland for the weekend to patch things up after reasoning that the simple act of flying all that way was likely to put this 'storm' into perspective.
A few years later Roger Deakins went onto Hollywood to become a legend in his own time, so with 20-20 hindsight it’s not at all surprising that Around The World With Ridgway secured a peak time 90 minute slot of ITV.
And I commissioned a couple more less stressful films that centred around John and Marie Christine.