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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

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Shipyard stars in BBC documentary

AFTER several years working on submarines Steve Crabtree found that shipyard life wasn’t for him.

Erin Browne, an electrical apprentice who appears in the documentary. She is stood in the Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH) with Astute class submarines Artful on the left, and Ambush on the right. REF: 0544115

But that did not stop him wanting to pay public tribute to Barrow shipyard, its people and skills.

Now, after 18 months of filming and eight weeks of editing, the moment has finally arrived for him to both salute his Barrow hometown and its skills, and help educate the rest of Britain about what goes on here.

Mr Crabtree, 40, said: “I am really thrilled that this documentary has finally been made and is about to transmit on BBC2.

“Ever since I left the shipyard I have wanted to tell the amazing story of what the skilled people of Barrow are capable of. And I hope everyone who watches it feels proud of what the town is able to produce – one of the world’s most complicated machines, a nuclear submarine. I am thrilled with what I have done.

“One of the things I wanted to do was show my town in a nice way.

“Because I am at the BBC and independent, I have to be careful what I say, but equally I have always wanted to tell the story of what goes on in the town.

“Whether or not you agree with the need for submarines is another matter, to me it was really showing the amazing skills that people still have in this little corner, Barrow.

“My series is about showing off what we can do in this country.”

The other two programmes How to Build....A Jumbo Jet Engine about Rolls Royce, and How to Build....Britain’s Secret Engineers about the military technology developers QinetiQ, make up the series.

He has produced all three, but personally directed the shipyard programme in the town where his mum, Alice, and dad, Dennis, still live happily on Walney.

Mr Crabtree said: “I think the town does get a bit of a bad rap for various things, but I could not have shown my face back at mam and dad’s house if I had not been honest in the way I portray it.

“I hope I have shown it in a nice way and I hope people feel proud of what the story of the film is trying to tell.

“It is mostly about the Astute submarine, but I was really determined that we showed Barrow, it’s about people in a community, so there is a bit of the town in it.”

He finds knowledge about Barrow in the South East pretty thin on the ground.

Mr Crabtree said: “There are a couple of people in the BBC from Barrow and we say hello now and again, so they are really looking forward to seeing it. But people don’t really know much about Barrow, or where it is. That was the other reason for doing the film, actually.”

Mr Crabtree said he sometimes gets his leg pulled when he comes back home for a lifestyle which now includes drinking Earl Grey tea, and eating sushi for lunch. Though he loves the town and is grateful for the start the shipyard gave him with a painting apprenticeship, he admits he has become a regular cosmopolitan Londoner.

He said: “I had a dream as a teenager that I would come to live in London as a pop star or rock star with the long hair and everything. To be living here and working in television is just as good.”

His wife, Janet, who is also a northerner, works in finance for BBC Comedy. They have a dog called Millie.

Steve was at VSEL, as it was then, for about seven years, working on Upholder, Trafalgar and Vanguard-class submarines.

“My biggest claim to fame at the yard was that I painted the frames for the bullet-proof glass that Princess Diana stood behind at the launch of Vanguard.”

His yard career ended with the end-of-Cold-War shakeout, as thousands of jobs were lost.

He had always been into arts and music, playing in local bands, so he wasn’t heartbroken to go and find a new career.

Mr Crabtree said: “I did not particularly enjoy working there, if I am honest. I wanted to get out and do something else, and when the redundancies came round I was not particularly worried. But I have always said I am enormously grateful for those seven years. It was really that, in a very long-winded way, that got me into television.”

Steve, who got a media studies degree at Carlisle, believes being an ex-shipyard painter of nuclear submarines made him so different from the normal BBC graduate applicants that it ended up working in his favour.

When he finally joined the BBC it was as a researcher and he cut his TV teeth working on Tomorrow’s World.

Today he works as a producer for London Factual, the BBC department that makes historical and science type documentaries and programmes like The Culture Show, Horizon and Timewatch.

His team had to edit more than 350 hours of filming to one hour. Not everyone had been convinced of the subject.

Mr Crabtree said: “People did not really understand what I was talking about when I was pitching the film, but when they started to see some of the rushes they were blown away

“They didn’t realise this goes on. They didn’t realise there is a huge shed off the M6 with nuclear submarines inside it. They just think it shows something we do in this country in really amazing ways.”

BAE Systems Submarine Solutions worked with the camera crew for 18 months to film exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage.

The hour-long documentary will take viewers on a journey of construction, starting with the design of what are the largest and most powerful hunter/killer submarines ever ordered by the Royal Navy, right up to the beginning of the first of class Astute sea trials.

It includes some of the drama of delays in the delivery of Astute, and the race to repair a failed dock gate at the port to allow the submarine to get away on the agreed date.

Managing Director and naval architect John Hudson is in the film. He said: “The Astute programme is one of the world’s most demanding engineering projects, and having the cameras there to capture the complexity and scale of the challenge will help demonstrate to the viewing public what a highly-skilled operation submarine design and build is. There’s a fantastic spread of talent right across our workforce, from leading-edge engineers to highly-skilled craftsmen, and the pride, skills and commitment each of them demonstrates will hopefully be reflected in the documentary.”

Have your say

Got out of that toilet as fast as I could.Thank God in the sixties if you had worked in shipbuilding you could get away as an uncertified engineer in the Merchant Navy.Left Barrow and never came back.However contractors are just stealing Barrow Lads jobs get rid of them.

Posted by Barrow Lad on 31 August 2014 at 20:25

First of all, I have to admit that I didn't watch the programme, so I might not have the full view of the issue, but having read all the comments on this article it has become apparent that a lot of people are making a fuss over the fact that the spouse of a worker, or the men that used to work there. Although I agree that the title of the programme may have been in a way misleading but you have to realise that it is not only the technical aspects that are needed to make these subs but the people that are working there. To be honest without them the subs wouldn't get made. Having these points of view included are just another aspect of how the work gets done, just because there might not have been the uber scientific technical aspects that people were expecting doesn't mean that it was any less informant than any other documentary. Majority of my family have been employed at the shipyard through different roles and from I can gather from their experiences is that they enjoyed the work and that although they did have days where they hated work, who can honestly say they haven't had similar thoughts. I currently go to college and even though I love there are days where I simply can't be bothered and would say I hate it, it happens!! So lay off, this guy has taken the time to give an insight into something that most people would never have had if not for this programme. As I said, I didn't watch it, so make of my comment what you will but that is just my point of view.

Posted by Becca on 14 March 2011 at 11:53

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