The Onedin Line

BBC (ended 1980)



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The Onedin Line

Show Summary

Welcome to The Onedin Line guide at

The Onedin Line was one of the very classiest dramas produced by the BBC in the 1970s. Originally broadcast as a one-off Drama Playhouse, the show charted the lives of a shipping family in late nineteenth-century Liverpool, focussing in particular upon James Onedin, the ship captain with "ambition enough for an army of Napoleons". Securing the purchase of his first ship through the convenience of marrying the seller's daughter, James Onedin soon proves he is not above trickery and hard-heartedness to survive in the busy, cut-throat world of trade and shipping.

Faced on all sides by business rivals, mounting debts and though sometimes even the very elements themselves seem to conspire against him, James uses his practical business sense and knowledge of ships and the sea, as well as men's hearts and minds, to keep his fledgling empire afloat. In the best tradition of BBC pseudo-historical drama though, things do not always go his way, and the master of the Onedin Line has more than his fair share of disappointments, failed ventures and losses. He is supported in his endeavours by his wife Anne, who, despite knowing initially little of the ways of the sea, comes to learn, and proves herself in fact an astute businesswoman. In addition to this, she is more or less the "power behind the throne", as although James will seldom admit it, he does everything he does with his wife in mind, and would not hurt her for the world.

The show gained huge audiences and became one of the favourite shows of the day. Viewers remember the stirring, triumphant and romantic theme to the programme, Khachacturian's glorious adagio from Spartacus, as the camera travelled towards and then up along the ship, before the title credits appeared emblazoned on the screen.

The writing is superb, the acting first-rate and the stories both interesting, entertaining and informative. So well researched is the series that it is very easy to gain an almost firsthand knowledge of Liverpool in the 1850s and the sea trade in general, maritime practices and rules, and even the state of politics and the economy during the latter half of the 19th century. It's a true family saga, in the grand old tradition, in that people are married, sons and daughters are born, grow up and take their place in the unfolding storyline. However, the series centres around James Onedin, and he is never far from the storyline. Like a colossus bestriding the world of trade, he compels and demands our attention, and we cannot help but wonder where his next adventure will lead, how he will get out of this particular pickle, and in all honesty, who will end up paying the price for his survival? For as James is quick to point out to his wife soon after they are married: "In matters of business, I give nothing away!" He is not above sacrificing the happiness, wealth, futures or dreams of his close family and friends to further his ambitions. He is a tough man, uncompromising, but capable of occasional feats of compassion and kindness. Even his best friend, his First Mate Baines, he will not acknowledge as such, preferring to keep him at arm's length, as a trusted employee, but no more, although the truth of their relationship is later explored in depth.

A note on episode synopses: all synopses here are COMPLETE, which means that the story is finished within the synopsis. So if you're not looking for spoilers, or haven't seen the episode and don't want to know how it turns out, don't read the synopsis until you've seen the episode!

Yet another note, this time on Cast: as this series spanned five seasons and 91 episodes, there was a large main cast and a very large supporting cast. As we are creating this guide season by season, the intention is to only mention at first those stars who appear in those seasons. As a result, those who know the show might wonder at the exclusion of, say, Charlotte Onedin or Max van der Rheede, or even young Tom Arnold. Never fear: once they begin to appear in episode synopses they will be included.moreless
Peter Gilmore

Peter Gilmore

James Onedin

Jessica Benton

Jessica Benton

Elizabeth Frazer (nee Onedin)

Anne Stallybrass

Anne Stallybrass

Anne Onedin (1971-1972, Seasons 1 and 2)

Howard Lang

Howard Lang


Philip Bond

Philip Bond

Albert Frazer

Michael Billington

Michael Billington

Daniel Fogarty

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  • It is time to lobby the BBC to release the complete series!

    This series has got to be one of the greatest seafaring soap operas of all time. To keep it locked in a vault is nothing short of treason! Would the queen stand for such a crime to be perpetrated? I think not! Would James Onedin stand for such a thing? Again I think not! So people write your request and put a stamp on it because it is time to lobby the BBC to release the complete series! Send your letters to:

    BBC Commissioning Editor

    3rd Floor

    2 Entertain Ltd

    33 Foley Street


    W1W 7TL

    Free James Onedin!

    Free Ann Onedin!

    Free Captain Baines!

    Free Frasier!

    Free Elizabeth Onedin!moreless