Where would we be without our cruise ship captain? As well as being on-hand to share drinks with us at the sailaway reception, posing for pictures, officiating at our wedding and updating us as to the conditions at sea, there’s also the small matter of navigating the ocean safely and getting us from port to port, then home again. Indeed, the trials and tribulations of the sea captain, fantastical or otherwise, have long captured our imaginations both in print and on screen, so here’s a tribute to just some of the most memorable, with my top five best fictional sea captains.
Oh and just a heads-up before we start. I’ve made a decision to exclude pirate captains (sorry Jack Sparrow fans) from this blog because they arrr just so dishonourable. Sorry.
Few can fail to have heard of this most reconisable of best fictional TV captains, even though his adventures typically amounted to saving the day by doling out fish-fingers in abundance to hungry kids. Birds Eye’s iconic mascot first appeared in 1967 and was most famously portrayed by the late actor John Hewer, who played the captain up until 1998. In an effort to modernise his image in the late 1990s, he was dropped in favour of a younger, designer-stubbled pretender whose exploits were more action-packed, though this incarnation was short-lived and he was soon back in his familiar, white-bearded form.
One of celebrated science fiction author Jules Verne’s most memorable characters, antihero Nemo made his first appearance way back in 1870 in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The son of an Indian Raja, he roams the ocean in his state-of-the-art super submarine the Nautilus, generally being disgruntled by the British Empire, but sometimes helping out those in need nonetheless. His most recent appearance was alongside Sean Connery in the big-screen adaption of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he joins a band of other famous fictional characters.
Herman Melville’s whale-obsessed and just a bit mad captain is at the helm of the Pequod throughout the celebrated novel Moby Dick, which concerns Captain Ahab’s self-obsessed revenge quest to kill the giant bull sperm whale which maimed him during a previous voyage years ago. Hardly the most lovable of best fictional sea captains but an utterly memorable one nonetheless, he has been portrayed a number of times on screen, most memorably by Gregory Peck in John Huston’s 1956 movie version.
“Herge’s adventures of Tintin!” It’s possible you’re more familiar with that opening to the animated cartoon series of the Belgian author’s famous creation than the comics themselves but either way, Captain Haddock was one of Tin Tin’s go-to friends when it came to getting out of a fix. Ticking a number of seafaring stereotype boxes with his name, beard, course vernacular and love of the bottle, he’s nevertheless dependable and one of the series’ most memorable characters. He was most recently seen in Steven Spielberg’s CGI version, played by sometime Smeagol Andy Serkis.
Davy Jones is of course a famous mythical figure from sailing folklore, with Davy Jones’ Locker being an idiom for the bottom of the sea. Where the legend comes from is not altogether clear, though some believe he was an incompetent sailor, others that ‘Jones’ is a reference to the famous biblical character Jonah, famously swallowed by a whale. Though we’re sailing dangerously close to pirate waters here, he was brilliantly realised by Bill Nighy in the Pirates of theCaribbean series, in which he plays a cursed character doomed to ‘ferry’ lost souls to his ‘locker’ at the helm of the legendary Flying Dutchman.