Writer Peter Mitchell is busy shoring up the script for When the Boat Comes In ahead of its world premiere at The Customs House.

The former journalist and TV producer has been working on the first stage adaptation of the iconic 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, starting as a newspaper reporter before moving into television production and working his way up to become director of programmes at Tyne Tees Television.

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 in terms of the social, political and economic uncertainty facing the north east and the UK.

He said: “Over the years since my father’s death in 2002, there have been television companies that have wanted to revisit When the Boat Comes In and 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 given 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.

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/Mrs Scrimgour 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 on (0191) 454 1234 or online at

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