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Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 16:21 UK
When Howards' Way ruled the waves

The cast of Howards' Way
The cast of Howards' Way

Dubbed "Dallas on Sea", Howards' Way was the BBC's answer to the American super-soaps of the 1980s.

The "gin and Jag" set of the south coast were seen as providing perfect material for a Sunday night drama - epitomising the wealth, aspirations and glamour of the Thatcher years.

Jan and Tom Howard
The Howards whose boatyard investment results in many problems

The show follows the fortunes of Tom Howard (played by Maurice Colbourne) who sinks his redundancy money into fulfilling his dream of designing yachts.

He invests in the Mermaid Boatyard run by the heavy-drinking and cigar-smoking Jack Rolfe (Glyn Owen) and his daughter Avril (Susan Gilmore).

Tom's wife Jan (played by Jan Harvey) eventually enters the world of high fashion with brash power-boating entrepreneur Ken Masters.

The Howards' marriage falls apart, but their children Leo and Lynne (played by Edward Highmore and Tracey Childs) become the male and female heartthrobs of the series.

BBC South Today footage of behind the scenes of Howards' Way from 1985

Add to that a web of countless entangled affairs, romantic liaisons and cut-throat business skulduggery.

All courtesy of property tycoon Charles Frere (Tony Anholt) and his father, Sir Edward (Nigel Davenport) - and the emotional traumas of the Urquhart family.

It was soon clear that the producers had a hit on their hands - all played out with the backdrop of the beautiful River Hamble, the Solent and Hampshire coastline.

The setting could be one of the reasons why Jan Harvey says she has never tired of being reminded of her six years in Howards' Way.

She explains: "Everyone loved it and as an actor it's great to be in a success like that. It was one of those series where everyone got on - it was just lovely."


All the interior scenes were shot in the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham. The cast and crew would come to Hampshire to film outdoor locations and on-the-water in the summer months.

The Elephant Boatyard in Bursledon
The Elephant Boatyard now houses yachts instead of naval gun ships

Bursledon was transformed into Tarrent - the Howards' home village on the River Hamble.

The Mermaid Boatyard was, in reality, the Elephant Boatyard, a yard dating from the 1780s when it was used to build Lord Nelson's flagship at the battle of Copenhagen.

The handcrafted, wooden vessels were in stark contrast to the shiny white motor-cruisers and powerboats at the rival Leisure Cruise Ltd.

The petrol station, the Howards' house, Leisure Cruise, The Jolly Sailor pub, Ken Masters' Chandlery were all requisitioned as locations around Bursledon, Hamble and Warsash.

The Jolly Sailor
The Jolly Sailor featured regularly in the series due to its great location

There were also scenes shot in Southampton - the art deco Civic Centre was a court, a Swiss bank and a Rome fashion show venue.

As the show progressed, the locations got more exotic.

Although it was still mostly still shot in Hampshire - a restaurant in Hamble became an Italian honeymoon destination and Warsash miraculously became Rhode Island for Lynne Howard's transatlantic crossing.


It is difficult to over-estimate just how big a phenomena Howards' Way was at its height.

It was one of the great BBC series that was real appointment-to-view television - the only drama to have more than 10 million viewers for each of its series.

Howard's Way boat tours along the Hamble
Howards' Way boat tours along the Hamble cashed in on show's popularity

Such was the popularity of the series, there were even Howards' Way tours organised by Southampton City Council in which hordes of fans sailed up the River Hamble to see the locations and maybe glimpse the cast and crew at work.

Local pubs like the Jolly Sailor did good business and the south coast's yachting industry benefited from the glamour and profile of appearing on the nation's favourite drama series.

And that is not to mention the dress and hair fashion trends which were launched every time Jan Howard popped into her House of Howard boutique.


Lymington yachting journalist Bob Fisher was brought in as a sailing advisor.

 Bob Fisher
Howards' Way Sailing Advisor Bob Fisher from Lymington

As well as teaching the cast how to sail (or at least, look as if they were sailing), Bob oversaw the technical design of a new type of yacht - mirroring the plotline of Tom Howard's ground-breaking designs.

Barracuda was designed by Bob's sailing companion Tony Castro and proved so successful that the "real-life" yacht went on to be commercially produced.

It was not all plain sailing however - in 1988 the tight filming schedule was disrupted when Barracuda sank off Bembridge, Isle of Wight.

And how close to real life was Howards' Way and how did the local sailing fraternity take to being portrayed on a TV soap?

Bob insists members of local sailing clubs loved the show: "They could laugh with it. They knew how we made it and many were involved in the making of it - I borrowed boats off many of them. It was fun."

Filming at the Elephant Boatyard
Filming at the Elephant Boatyard, which still runs as a family business today

"I know one or two Ken Masters and a few who are a bit like Tom Howard, but it was Jack Rolfe who was the real character.

"I suppose those type of guys were from another era. But we wanted to re-create that era - that's why we chose the Elephant Boatyard - it's right on the shore and looks like everyone's idea of what a small boatyard was like."

Making sure the yachts and the sailing action were technically accurate was, of course, a priority but local sailing suppliers were more than eager to lend equipment, such was the prestige of a sail, mast or a rope appearing on screen.

As well as being a shot in the arm for local marine businesses (there were stories of people phoning up to buy boats with credit cards straight after an episode ended), Bob is sure the series boosted sailing as a leisure pursuit:

"They might deny it, but many people actually got into sailing though Howards' Way. There was a steady stream of people to see her [Barracuda] when she was berthed here at Lymington. We hope we started a few people sailing."

End of the line

Filming on the Solent
Filming on the Solent - many of the cast were sailing novices

Maurice Colbourne's untimely death from a heart attack, meant the programme came to an unexpected and enforced conclusion after the sixth series.

Appropriately the final episode of this iconic 80s drama was broadcast just days before Mrs Thatcher left office in 1990.

But millions still remember the Sunday night escapism, glamour and spectacular yachting action provided by Howards' Way.


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