Hull-based North Sea Ferries are my “local” ferry operator, yet childhood holidays never involved a crossing with them. This is slightly curious – I wonder why we would have ignored Kenneth Williams’ sage advice to motor along the “clear roads” (of the ’62!) to Yorkshire’s East Coast, preferring instead to drive down to the traditional ports of England’s Southern coast.
It can certainly be grim up north, nowhere more so than Kingston Upon Hull but I’m not sure this would have been enough to deter us from using the port there – although most Yorkshire folk west of Goole would probably rank it as a genuine consideration. NSF in the early ’80s though just seemed to be stuck somewhat in the 1970s and very slightly out of step with the times as Thatcher’s Britain evolved.
NSF themselves seem to have come to the same conclusion and here is some evidence from their contemporary publicity material. As late as 1985, NSF brochures were distinctly 1970s in tone; the on board images are a delight for anyone interested in ferry design of 30 and 40 years ago – a cornucopia of orange, brown and wood-effect panelling, the Norland and Norstar of 1974 were, as built, probably the grooviest things sailing from Britain. For about six months maybe. The changing cycles of fashion seems to have dated them quite horribly, and the fanfare which accompanied the launch of the new Norsea and Norsun in 1987 spoke not just of new tonnage, but of a completely new image for their operators.
The company took the opportunity to lengthen and completely refurbish the ’70s ships just after the new vessels entered service – leaving in the interregnum the tantalising prospect of sailing one way to Hull on the 1980s superferries and back to the Continent on the vintage but tiny 1960s Norwind or Norwave. The contrast the 1988 brochure presents to that of just three years earlier is startling – a distinct 1980s aesthetic has taken over, and the word “new” is everywhere.
At around the same time, northern department store chain Lewis’s had rebranded as “THE NEW Lewis’s” in a similar attempt to reinvent themselves, and the designer-label clothes the store began stocking are exactly what the NSF photographers have captured being casually but consciously worn by the “passengers” lazing around the new ships.
Of course, the 1980s pastel tones of THE NEW North Sea Ferries were themselves to date rather quickly – and in 1996 the whole operation would retreat into the safe conservatism of the P&O brand. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…