When The Boat Comes In to be performed on South Tyneside stage

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A writer is bringing his father’s iconic TV series to a South Tyneside stage for its world premier.

Peter Mitchell is busy shoring up the script for When the Boat Comes In ahead of it being performed at The Customs House, South Shields.

The former journalist and TV producer has been working on the first stage adaptation of the classic TV drama series, which ran for four series between 1976 and 1981.

The original BBC series was written by his father, James Mitchell, and followed the fortunes of Sergeant Jack Ford in the inter-war years on Tyneside.

A star-studded cast has been assembled and rehearsals start next week, with director Katy Weir at the helm of the production.

Peter followed his father into a career as a writer 40 years ago and says he was re-reading the books his father wrote to tie-in with the TV series when it struck him how relevant the stories still are today - social, political and economic uncertainty facing the north east and the UK.

We are talking about something that was massive in its day.

Peter Mitchell

He said: “Since my father’s death in 2002, there have been television companies that have wanted to revisit When the Boat Comes In but, for one reason or another, none of them ever came off.

“Ray Spencer, the executive director of The Customs House, and I were talking and we thought, given the subject matter and the time, it would make a good play.”

When the Boat Comes In was ground-breaking for its time as it was shot on location in the north east and featured local actors, including James Bolam (Jack Ford), James Garbutt (Bill Seaton) and Jean Haywood (Bella Seaton).

At its peak, it attracted 15 million viewers and the fond memories people have of the show – and its theme tune – means there is a heavy weight of expectation, says Peter, who has based the stage version on the first series.

James Bolam who starred in the original TV series.

James Bolam who starred in the original TV series.

He said: “I had a massive advantage in that I know all the characters and I know the story really well, so it was incredibly simple to translate it into three-act play.”

A read-through of the script has already taken place with the cast, which includes Jamie Brown as Jack Ford, Alice Stokoe as Jessie Seaton, Steve Byron as Bill Seaton and Janine

Birkett as Bella Seaton.

Tom Seaton will be played by Matthew Howdon, Billie Seaton by Luke Maddison, Matt Headley by Charlie Richmond, Dolly Mather by Anna Bolton and Mary Routledge/MrsScrimgour by Sarah Balfour.

The play has been generously supported by Colmans of South Shields.

Peter added: “We are talking about something that was massive in its day. When I was a student at university and my dad was a writer, it was all commonplace to me, but going past the TV room at Manchester University’s halls of residence to see it absolutely heaving with my peer group of students, all just sitting watching When the Boat Comes In, you could have knocked me down with a feather!”

When the Boat Comes In runs from Thursday, August 15, to Saturday, August 25, with performances at 7.30pm and a 2.30pm on Saturday, August 18, Thursday, August 23 and Saturday, August 25.

Tickets, priced from £15, are available from the box office.