Posts tagged: southampton

Brochure Browsing – P&O Normandy Ferries, 1977

In 1976 Normandy Ferries expanded from their original operations in the western Channel based at Southampton and opened a new service between Dover and Boulogne – the latter approximately 90km from Normandy itself. The operator, established in 1967, had been a joint venture between the British P&O and French SAGA, SAGA having been a storied cross-channel operator in their own right in the inter-war period.

The Boulogne service used the Lion, late of P&O’s Ardrossan-Larne service (formerly Burns & Laird) and was something of a gamble. P&O’s presence at Dover was not welcomed by the establishment operators, and memoranda from meetings of the cartel that fixed rates and operations around this time express the view that Normandy Ferries were a “black leg” (sic) who would not be invited to “join the club” (P&O subsequently attended various meetings but were always resented by Sealink and Townsend Thoresen for adding further capacity to a market which already had too much and for driving down fares so that everyone struggled to make money).

This brochure shows the Normandy Ferries operation just after the commencement of the Boulogne service and before the second vessel, the nf Tiger, was brought into operation in 1978.

Whilst the Dragon and Leopard were superior, elegant overnight car ferries with comfortable interiors and harmonious lines, the Lion was a robust little ship with only a few concessions to real luxury.

Whilst the Dragon and Leopard were superior, elegant overnight car ferries with comfortable interiors and harmonious lines, the Lion was a robust little ship with only a few concessions to real luxury.

"We don't put our car ferries on any old route." In reality Normandy Ferries had spotted a gap in the market as BR/Sealink had focussed on the shorter Dover-Calais operation rather than Dover-Boulogne which, just a decade earlier, had been the centre of their short-sea car ferry services.

“We don’t put our car ferries on any old route.” In reality Normandy Ferries had spotted a gap in the market as BR/Sealink had focussed on the shorter Dover-Calais operation rather than Dover-Boulogne which, just a decade earlier, had been the centre of their short-sea car ferry services.

"Lion obligingly provides a comfortable sun deck!" Complete with deckchairs, perhaps the last to be seen on a short-sea ferry.

“Lion obligingly provides a comfortable sun deck!” Complete with deckchairs, perhaps the last to be seen on a short-sea ferry.

Our passengers have espied something interesting from the Lion's upper forward lounge.

Our passengers have espied something interesting from the Lion’s upper forward lounge.

"Lion gives you individual shops plus a shipboard supermarket - to give you one of the best shopping centres afloat". These facilities had certainly been beefed up compared to her Irish Sea days when a dual information desk/shop was supplemented in the summer by the conversion of a cabin into an additional retail outlet.

“Lion gives you individual shops plus a shipboard supermarket – to give you one of the best shopping centres afloat”. These facilities had certainly been beefed up compared to her Irish Sea days when a dual information desk/shop was supplemented in the summer by the conversion of a cabin into an additional retail outlet.

Enjoying a full English in the Lion's cafeteria.

Enjoying a full English in the Lion’s cafeteria.

Things look slightly more formal in this view of the restaurant on either Leopard or Dragon.

Things look slightly more formal in this view of the restaurant on either Leopard or Dragon.

The neatly-detailed main lobby on the Southampton pair, with its central lift shaft, oval mezzanine and sweeping open-tread staircase remains one of the most attractive spaces on any cross-channel ferry.

The neatly-detailed main lobby on the Southampton pair, with its central lift shaft, oval mezzanine and sweeping open-tread staircase remains one of the most attractive spaces on any cross-channel ferry.

The Dover-Boulogne service expanded to three ships in 1980 and, after SAGA’s exit, operated under the P&O Ferries name. Both routes were acquired by Townsend Thoresen in late 1984 and the five ships fairly quickly withdrawn from Channel service.

Blast from the Past: Thoresen Car Ferries, 1964

1964 saw the arrival on the Western English Channel of the Viking I and Viking II of newcomer Thoresen Car Ferries. British Railways had closed their loss-making services in advance, confident that money simply couldn’t be made out of these operations. Thoresen very quickly showed them how it could be done and a third passenger ship, the Viking III, followed in 1965.

To illustrate just how different the Viking I and II were, consider that they were delivered in between British Rail’s almost embarrasingly conservative Avalon (1963) and the Dover/Holyhead Ferry I (1965). What must have passengers made of these amazing, thoroughly modern ships?

Equally impressive and modern ferries would follow from other operators and, latterly British Rail themselves. Yet the Vikings stood out for more than just their orange hulls. Styled by Tage Wandborg at KEH, these were utterly gorgeous little ships with modern, Scandinavian interiors and, on a practical level, completely clutter-free, drive-through vehicle decks.

The three original Vikings proved successful beyond just their initial careers – each lived to see their 40th birthday with the premier ship, ranking alongside the likes of the Forde, Free Enterprise and Princess Victoria (I) as one of Britain’s most significant car ferries, being the first to be scrapped in 2008. This post however celebrates the halcyon initial days of Thoresen when they were the newcomer and swept all before them in a wave of style and modernity. The sad evolution to ‘establishment operator’ and the services’ ultimate demise under P&O in the early 21st century was not a pretty sight – P&O clearly hadn’t learnt the lessons of innovation and investment taught by Otto Thoresen himself at the outset.

Show below is a Thoresen Car Ferries brochure from that very first season, printed before the ships were even delivered.


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