Mention Belfast’s shipbuilding industry and most people immediately think of the Titanic, but it was just one of nearly 2,000 vessels to come from Harland & Wolff; once the greatest shipyard in the world.
BBC Northern Ireland tells the untold story of how Belfast at the fringe of the industrial revolution single-handedly transformed world maritime history in Ships That Changed The World.
In this compelling three-part series Colonel Tim Collins embarks on an epic voyage through a century and a half of the yard’s global impact, revealing the characters and personalities that drove the shipyard into the headlines, two world wars, and the centre of a commercial transatlantic shipping race that would lead to both triumph and tragedy.
Using an inventory of visual techniques including film projection, digital time-lapse photography and CGI, and featuring lost Titanic footage, this is not just a story about ships, a shipyard or even a city, but of earth-shattering events on a global scale.
One of Winston Churchill’s first acts during World War One was to place an order with Harland & Wolff for a complete squadron of fake warships. Two thousand workers converted 14 cargo vessels into deadly “warships” using nothing more than wood and scrap metal in this early attempt at psychological warfare. But Belfast also built some of the biggest battleships in the Navy’s fleet, and the story takes us right up to the era of the supertankers - and the liner the SS Canberra, a ship that won fame from here to Australia to the Falklands.
The shipyards of Belfast, and there were more than one, are an integral part of Northern Ireland’s history, one which helped to shape our fortunes, our future, even our sense of humour.
This series looks beyond the legacy of the Titanic to reveal the full story of how a small city, tucked away on the Western edge of Europe became the site of the world’s largest and greatest shipyard.
Michael Appleton, producer said: “The story of the Titanic is well known, but the fact that tiny Northern Ireland on the far-flung margins of Europe was the biggest player in global shipbuilding is still our ‘secret history’. Belfast produced one in every eight ships afloat on the planet at one time, and even before she built the Titanic, the shipyard really transformed the White Star Line into the biggest name in transatlantic passenger shipping. Director David Starkey employs a restless inventory of surprises to bring this story to life, Glowfrog Studios in London created the CGI effects, and National Museums Northern Ireland provided access to hitherto lost Titanic footage.”
Ships That Changed The World is an About Face Media TV production for BBC Northern Ireland. Producer Michael Appleton Writer/director David Starkey.