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The SS Rex - S1, E4

Exploring the Depths: The making of 'The Secrets of the Lost Liners'

The SS Rex | Image: The Secrets of Lost Liners

Secrets of the Lost Liners producer and director Jason Davidson provides some exclusive behind-the-scenes insights into how this fascinating new Sky History series was created.

Few objects crafted by human hands have the power to enthral like magnificent ocean liners. They came to symbolise the very epitome of technological and national prowess. They pushed the boundaries of style and taste, were lauded by the press, and conveyed the world's rich and famous in almost unimaginably opulent luxury. They also conveyed the hopes and dreams of generations to live new lives across the sea.

However, many of these incredible ships also suffered dramatic and untimely ends, destroyed by uncontrollable infernos, through the bombs of attacking enemy aircraft, or through a simple mistake that had catastrophic consequences.

Their enduring stories continue to fascinate us today, with ships like the world-famous Titanic becoming an enduring symbol in popular culture. When myself and my colleague Peter Roch joined the team from Content Kings and Born This Way Media as Producers and Directors for the series, we had some knowledge of what we thought ocean liners were. But little did we know the remarkable journey of discovery on which we were about to embark.

Peter Roch (L), designer of the Queen Mary 2 Stephen Payne (C), and Jason Davidson (R) on the deck of the steamship, Shieldhall.
Peter Roch (L), designer of the Queen Mary 2 Stephen Payne (C), and Jason Davidson (R) on the deck of the steamship, Shieldhall.

‘Immersed in the world of ocean liners’

A key part of any production is research. This is critical not only in understanding the facts and technical aspects of a subject to ensure accuracy, but also to allow ourselves to become immersed in the world of ocean liners. To this end, we were helped immensely by our colleague and co-producer Max Barber who was able to put us in contact with experts and enthusiasts from across the world.

We were also indebted to commissioning editor Dan Korn whose detailed notes and passion for the subject helped refine and improve our scripts and storytelling, enabling us to bring these long-lost ships back to life on screen.

Most rewarding of all, however, was reaching out to the families of some of the key figures behind the stories of these remarkable ships. These interactions provided some of the most amazing and poignant moments in producing the series.

‘Few have provided an insight into the man behind the great ship’

One of the highlights was speaking to the family of designer Vladimir Yourkevitch. Through personal and little-seen photographs provided by the family, we were able to shed light on a remarkable life that saw Yourkevitch forced to flee his country. He also fought against the odds for his revolutionary ship design ideas to be adopted into the legendary French liner Normandie, only for him to be forced to watch the dramatic and ignominious destruction of his greatest creation at a New York dock.

Many people have spoken about the creation and destruction of the Normandie through the decades, but few have provided an insight into the man behind the great ship. The family photographs bring to life Yourkevitch and his story, from a fresh-faced cadet to the proud designer standing on the deck of his famous ship on its maiden voyage. It is these personal insights that help the series stand out.

‘Their memories live on in the people who celebrate their achievements'

Another personal highlight was our contributors, whose authoritative and insightful analysis helped to bring the stories of these incredible ships to life. What was clear through all the interviews we conducted for the series was the passion each person had for exploring the stories of our featured ships. It was our job as filmmakers to capture and share this passion on screen.

We wanted to show that although these ocean giants may have been lost many years ago, their memories live on in the people who still celebrate and commemorate their achievements. Our interview with Stephen Payne, designer of the Queen Mary 2 in the engine room of the steamship Shieldhall in Southampton was very special. That was until we were rudely interrupted by the Cunard cruise liner Queen Victoria manoeuvring at her berth!

Many also had remarkable personal collections of objects and ephemera, from menus and booking passes to chairs, cabin telephones, and physical pieces of the ships themselves. Although we weren't able to include all the objects in the series, for filmmakers delving into this remarkable world, they provided unique touchpoints and allowed us to connect with the stories we were telling.

‘We hope audiences are fascinated by the series’

Many of the stories featured are truly harrowing, with tales of immense courage and tragedy. It is our responsibility as filmmakers to explore this in both a sensitive and engaging format. We hope audiences are fascinated by the series, gaze in awe at the technological achievements these ships represented, are enthralled by the beauty and craftsmanship that went into their design and construction, and are moved by their heartbreaking demise.

We may not see their like again, but through the telling and sharing of their stories, these remarkable ships, and the people that sailed aboard them, will continue to live on for years to come.