David Dimbleby’s Britain and the Sea: travel guide

As the Question Time presenter gets tattooed, plays Punch and Judy and sails along the smuggling routes of the UK, we talk to series producer Alexander Leith about the best bits from the show and the places to visit...

“I’m very fond of the sequence in programme one about Captain Cook and his voyages of exploration,” says Alexander Leith, the producer of David Dimbleby’s new show Britain and the Sea (9pm, November 17, BBC1). “Cook brought tattoos to Britain, and David got a tattoo himself. He was very up for it.”


The now famous tattooing was just one of many adventures the Question Time presenter undertook while sailing around the UK in his boat Rocket, as part of his new four-part, travel, history and art show.

“He’s always harboured a desire to have one,” says Leith, referring to Dimbleby’s new scorpion ink. “When we first filmed the sequence in Plymouth, I think he wasn’t completely convinced that he was going to do it there, and then he had a bit of time to think about it and decided that he’d go ahead. As soon as he made his mind, up he went and did it. There was no passing out and no unhappiness. This may be the first of a number.”

At the age of 75, Dimbleby has been on quite an adventure. Each show is themed, and recounts great events from each area. Leith reveals what else Dimbleby got upto during the series, and how we can follow in his footsteps…

Episode 1: Adventure and Exploration

Route: Helford – Dartmouth

Points of interest: Falmouth and Buckland Abbey

“This episode is all about our earliest sea-faring pioneers, and addresses the sea as the great unknown and the way we conquered it,” recalls Leith. “David explored Falmouth and went to Mevagissey where he investigates smuggling and Rudyard Kipling – famous for his poem Smuggler’s Song. We also found out more about an artist called George Morland who painted along that coastline and was fascinated by smuggling and drinking. Then there’s Buckland Abbey, which is a National Trust property now but was once the home of Sir Francis Drake. We reveal the story of Drake’s circumnavigation. Here you’ll find the Drake Cup, which was given to him by Queen Elizabeth when he returned from his circumnavigation.”

Episode 2: Invasion and Defence

Route: Limington – Dover

Points of interest: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and Southsea Castle

“In this episode, we look at Britain as an island fortress. We stop at HMS Portsmouth, and look at figurehead carving and we also look at JMW Turner who sketched the Victory and then turned it into the biggest canvas he ever painted, which is currently in the National Maritime Museum. At Southsea Castle, we tell the story of the sinking of the Mary Rose, it was one of Henry VIII’s forts along the south coast.”

Explore Britain’s coastal cities with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details

Episode 3: Trade and Romance

Craobh Haven – Glasgow

Points of interest: Crinan Canal, the Highlands, Tarbot and Mount Stuart House

“The Crinan Canal is quite spectacular, it’s known as the most beautiful shortcut in the world and it really is very stunning. David went on board a Clyde Puffer here – a little ship, which used to transport goods up and down the canal. The highlands became seen as this great romantic wilderness. Queen Victoria in particular saw it in that way. We talk about a poet called James McPherson, who wrote a poem called Ossian, which is written about that part of Scotland. We do some fishing at a place called Tarbert, in Loch Fyne. Then Mount Stuart House, on the Isle of Bute, is stunning and a very over-the-top place to visit.”

Explore Britain’s coastal cities with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details

Episode 4: Pleasure and Escape

Route: Gorleston-on-Sea – London

Sights of interest: Lowestoft, Aldeburgh, Frinton on Sea, Greenwich

“Near Great Yarmouth, we sail down the coast of East Anglia down the Essex coast and into London. We look at the idea of the Victorian Seaside. We try Punch and Judy at Lowerstoft, and research the origins of the puppet show and why it came to Britain. We visit Aldeburgh and find out about Benjamin Britten’s music and David meets a sand sculptor at Frinton on Sea. We visit the iconic art deco Labworth Café – built in the 1930s on Canvey Island – and then finish in Greenwich, the heart of British Maritime.”

Watch Britain and the Sea at 9pm on November 17 on BBC1

Explore Britain’s coastal cities with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details