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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Modern sailors battle Cook's high seas
The Ship
The ship is a replica of Cook's Endeavour

Chris Terrill, the documentary-maker behind The Cruise and Jailbirds, spent six weeks retracing a journey undertaken by 18th-Century adventurer Captain James Cook for his latest series - The Ship.

He was joined by a 55-strong crew on board a replica model of the captain's ship, Endeavour, for a 3,500 mile journey across the South Seas.

Mr Terrill filmed their every move as they battled with 18th-Century living conditions, the forces of nature and a modern tragedy - the 11 September terror attacks.

The result - a six-part documentary series - is being screened on BBC Two from Tuesday, 20 August.

Where did the idea come from?

The initial idea came from BBC Two controller Jane Root. I think she wanted a rattling good maritime story. It became apparent that we hadn't done much about heroes of discovery and exploration. Then we found out there was a replica of Cook's ship Endeavour in Australia.

The Ship
The crew were encouraged to work as a team
How do you feel about The Ship being called reality TV?

I don't want people to think it is "Big Brother at sea". I am bemused by the label reality TV. It seems it's applied to exactly that which is not real - be it Big Brother, The Trench or the 1940s House. The Ship is observational TV. There were no tasks, competitions or structured situations.

Were you looking to recreate the 18th Century?

I didn't want us to dress up and attempt to be 18th-Century people. I wanted it to be a 21st-Century experience, mostly because we cannot adopt an 18th-Century mindset. I chose to do many things which were totally a-historical - like including Maori, Aborigine and women crew members.

What did you learn from the voyage?

An absolute sense of the humanness of the people who first experienced exploration and the people they encountered - such as the Aborigines. In discovering the east coast of Australia, Cook was starting the colonisation which led to modern Australia. The European crew members were trying to identify with Cook and the sailors. The Aborigine and Maori people identified with what it had been like for their ancestors.

How did the crew get on?

I'm fed up with TV which resorts to pitching people against each other. We needed each other and we're still very close. It was about celebrating the best of the human condition.

The Ship
The passengers had to endure 18th-Century cooking
What was it like learning about 11 September on the voyage?

I cannot imagine anyone else from the western world being in such a state of self-imposed isolation. We had an emergency phone and someone contacted us to say the world had gone crazy. When it was announced, I dropped the camera. We were away for six weeks and realised that we were going back to a world that was completely different to the one we left behind. Cook was away for three years and he came back to a very different world.

What were the high and low points of the voyage?

Well, 11 September was a low point, but it led to a high point. We thought about ending the voyage, but a communal decision was made to carry on. It led to an astonishing sense of unity.

How did you cope with the basic rations?

When you are used to salt beef and hard biscuits, a segment of orange is like a precious jewel. We sometimes had a handful of raisins with our porridge - that was like the best Cordon Bleu dish you could imagine.

See also:

14 May 02 | Entertainment
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22 Jun 02 | Breakfast
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