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The Prize is James Onedin

There are two new characters in The Onedin Line to fill the gap left in James Onedin’s life and in the series by Anne’s death. Eithne Power went on board the Charlotte Rhodes to see how newcomers Caroline Harris and Kate Nelligan were shaping up

Peter Gilmore, who plays the tough self-made founder of the Onedin line, James Onedin, with
one of his new co-stars Caroline Harris, on the Charlotte Rhodes during a filming break.
 He affected to be as tough with the newcomers as he is with the crew. But, says Caroline,
'This monster here likes to pretend he gave us a hard time. I must be insensitive, because I
never noticed it.'

PETER GILMORE says there’s nothing to it, keeping his two new leading ladies in shape, that is. ‘It’s just a question of hitting 'em hard enough,’ he says, smiling the smile that made many an Onedin Line cabin-boy wish he had never been born.

‘They’ve ganged up on me ...’

Caroline Harris and Kate Nelligan remained unmoved. Neither of them was sporting slings, or fractures or bruises; they even laughed.

‘Look at ’em,’ says Gilmore bitterly. ‘They’ve ganged up on me, impossible to cow ’em.’

But if wind and weather on the River Dart, where they’d spent a day bucketing on board the Charlotte Rhodes filming The Onedin Line, hadn’t cowed the two newcomers, what chance had a mere man - even the die-hard James Onedin.

‘In fact, these two lovely ladies were my idea in the first place,’ says Gilmore, reluctantly throwing in his hand.

‘When Anne Stallybrass decided she wanted to leave The Onedin Line to go back on stage and the script editor said to me, ‘Well, what do you think; do we get another actress to carry on in the role of Anne Onedin?’ I said ‘No, much better kill her off, nobody could possibly take over from Anne Stallybrass. ’Why not bring in two completely new characters instead and start afresh?’

And that’s how Caroline and Kate, playing newcomers Caroline Maudsley and Leonora Biddulph, respectively the eligible daughter of a coal-merchant and a not-impoverished widow both with their sights set firmly on James Onedin, came to join the close-knit team that had already two years and 29 episodes of The Onedin Line under its belt.

‘That first day I crept down here to Dartmouth,’ says Caroline, ‘I felt like a new-girl who had joined boarding-school in the middle of term, wondering if I was wearing the right uniform. I recognised all of them, of course, but they didn’t know who the hell I was.’

‘It was a case of sinking or swimming’

‘I saw these two lovely ladies in a restaurant here in Dartmouth, sized ‘em up and thought  ‘Yes, I’ll knock ’em round a bit,’ leers Gilmore.

‘Old softie,’ says Kate scornfully. ‘He came over and introduced himself and welcomed us to The Onedin Line and that, as far as I was concerned, was that. We were in.’

‘It was a case of sinking or swimming, it was up to us,’ says Caroline. ‘We could have stuck together, Kate and I, for mutual protection because we were a pair of rank outsiders but it wasn’t necessary.’

Caroline Harris plays the 28-year-old worldly-wise widow
Mrs Maudsley: 'She's not a consciously sexy lady, but she
knows that her beauty is an asset and she knows how to
use it. There can be no doubt that she is attracted to James.
But it's not love at first sight. Rather she is intrigued ...'

‘In fact we were told by the producer not to get too friendly with each other because we’re rivals for James Onedin in the series, and the matiness might show through.’

‘Rubbish,’ says Kate, ‘Method gone mad.’

‘Peter likes to pretend that he gave us a hard time,’ says Caroline. ‘I must be very insensitive because I never noticed it.’

‘He lacks charm, of course,’ ads Kate fair-mindedly. Gilmore beams his gratitude; ‘That’s me, just about as rude and crude as they come.’

‘I had a pretty cloistered sort of background myself,’ says Caroline. ‘Nice private school, ballet until I took up drama five years ago – so Peter did come as a bit of a surprise to me.’

‘Go on,’ says Peter, ‘call me a rough diamond. It’s my 20 years in variety maybe – maybe it’s just me. I like to clown around at rehearsals, get a bit of a laugh. I miss an audience, can’t really get myself to boiling point until the actual filming or taping.’




Howard Lang: 'I like to welcome
anyone new - particularly when
they're as pretty as Caroline.'

'... like giving birth to a baby'

Caroline rolls her eyes and shudders. Gilmore stares and asks her if it worries her. She said, ‘Frankly, yes.’ She can’t be that relaxed at rehearsals, she’s got to have everything absolutely straight before she goes in front of the cameras.

Gilmore looks shamefaced: ‘I keep telling them I never felt sorry for newcomers to the series, I was much too concerned for myself, but I’m not proud of myself if I put someone off.’ ‘To give the man his due,’ says Caroline, “he never once tried to overawe either of us, which as the established star he could have done I suppose.’

‘Every episode for me is like giving birth to a baby,’ Gilmore continues gloomily. ‘In fact I’m a frustrated cameraman: I love the technical side of things. If someone said to me “Right, you, take over the cameras,” I’d be thrilled to bloody bits.’

‘I wonder what they think of me’

Caroline and Kate, both comparative beginners in the business, look baffled at these vagaries. Although Caroline started to learn ballet almost as soon a she could walk, she gave it all up when she was 13 – ‘0-levels and general lack of interest intervened. When I was 17 I decided once and for all to kill this ballet and went back to ballet school.’

After that she danced for three years in Cape Town and two in England, before she hung up her shoes for good to go to Drama School.



Peter Gilmore (right): 'Leonora
is young and tempestuous - but
not a woman of the world."

Kate, the middle of a family of five – ‘that’s where I get all my unresolved anxieties’ – came over to London, Ontario, four years ago, trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and hasn’t been a day unemployed in the 13 months since.

Howard Lang, alias Captain Baines, veteran of The Onedin Line, claims to have taken more drenching and drubbing than anyone else on board the Onedin. After a day stripped to the waist in horror-film fog he’s been soaking in Epsom Salts in the biggest bath in Dartmouth – ‘Pick my hotels for their bath size; don’t give me any of these slim-line affairs’ – and feels he’s probably going to live.

‘It’s always difficult,’ he says, ‘when you come into a new production. You don’t know whether A is short-tempered, B is a moron, or C just doesn’t like women. And always the question – I wonder what they think of me? I should know, I toured long enough.’

Kate Nelligan plays 18-year-old Leonora Biddulph: 'She is an
enchantress, and hopelessly in love with James. Today a girl
like her would easily trap him into a sexual relationship, but
Leonora wouldn't know how to begin to seduce a man. She
wants James as a husband, not a lover.'

Gilmore and himself have lurid memories of the early Onedin Line days when the Charlotte Rhodes was a challenge to the stoutest heart. ‘Things are better now, coffee at 11 and afternoon tea. Not the Ritz of course.’ But Caroline says that it’s thanks to the Charlotte Rhodes that she and Kate fitted in so quickly.

‘You’re so busy worrying if you’ll be able to make it up the sides in your crinolines that you haven’t time to bother about whether your face fits or why so-and-so is giving you such funny looks.’

Corsets are death on board ship

“That first day,’ sighs Kate, ‘when I went on in my corset I ended up prostrate. Corsets are death on board ship. But sea-sickness apart (I take pills before I go on) I prefer the Charlotte Rhodes to hanging around in studios waiting for a take. That’s where these established people score. After two years they’re more practiced in the art of doing nothing. Me, I go out of my mind if I’ve nothing to do. I read all the time.’

‘Funny’, says Caroline, ‘before I went on The Onedin Line, and I was doing very good theatre, none of my friends were impressed. Now I’m mobbed, they want to know every last thing about it.’

‘They’re doing a great job, these lovely ladies,’ says Gilmore, ‘and I’ve too much sense to try and hog the show. Like Danny Kaye said, if people watch you and say the show was lousy but Danny Kaye was marvellous, well, they’re not going to switch on again.

‘I’d read in my stars today – I’m a Virgo – that I’m devious critical of other people and myself. I’ll go along with that.’

‘I’m a Virgo too,’ says Caroline, ‘and though I haven’t really had time to develop these lovely qualities, I’m learning.’

Game, set and match to the lovely ladies. Gilmore would be the first to give in.

Kate Nelligan between takes on the Charlotte Rhodes: 'I go out of my
mind if I've nothing to do. I read all the time. I even had this project
for bringing my iron and ironing-board aboard, but they'd probably
thought I was cracking up or something. But what's the difference?'


The Onedin Line started with James Onedin’s acquisition of the Charlotte Rhodes through his marriage to Anne Webster; the last series ended with her death. Now the past and the future, the history and the romance, are all brought together in a RADIO TIMES Onedin Line special.

Anne Stallybrass will take her place among Onedin fans when the series returns.

‘I haven’t seen any new scripts, of course,’ she told writer Tony Peagram, ‘but I’ve heard a bit about the new series, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen to my husband James and sister-in-law Elizabeth and all the rest. I still feel very involved with the characters; I’ve a very keen personal interest.’

‘I loved doing Anne – the development of the character was fascinating. But after two years I felt there was a danger of becoming too closely identified with her. That’s why I got out, and because I wanted to do lots of different things in the theatre.’

‘People were very upset when Anne was killed off: I’m sorry about that, and I’m a little sad myself. I enjoyed Onedin immensely. I shall miss doing it. It was always a very happy company …’

‘At the time, I think we were all a bit surprised that Onedin should be such an immediate success. Now, looking back, it’s easy to see why. It’s a strong outdoor adventure, with plenty of good family relationships, and super music. There’s isn’t anything else on TV quite like it …’

The death of Anne Onedin
and the birth of a new series
are all part of
The Onedin Line
Special, on sale at news-
agents now, price 30p.

Radio Times

20-26 October 1973
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