Sky Arts and Baim Films

S.S. France

In S.S. France we glimpse of life on board the world's largest Liner back in 1974. The ship held the title of the longest passenger ship ever built at 316 meters, until the construction of the 345 meter RMS Queen Mary 2 in 2004.

Our guide is Nicholas Parson's who takes us on "a tour de France" as the ship sails from Southampton to New York in 1974.

The SS France's maiden voyage to New York took place on 3 February 1962, with many of France's film stars and aristocracy aboard and we get a sense of the luxury and style of the ship.

The décor of the rooms was itself art, with notable French designers and artists commissioned to create the most striking spaces afloat. The Salon Riviera tapestry by Jean Picart le Doux dominated the entire forward wall, at 17.4 m long; two paintings by Roger Chapelain-Midy occupied niches in opposite corners. The overall interior was designed by Arbus, who had previously worked with Chapelain-Midy in theatre design. Salon Fontainebleau was decorated by Maxime Old, and within was contained three tapestries by Lucien Coutaud (Les femmes fleurs), two by Claude Idoux (Jardin magique, Fée Mirabelle) and Camille Hilaire (Sous-bois, Forêt de France). Salon Debussy or Music Room had three bronze lacquered panels by Bobot, and a bronze abstract sculpture by Hubert Yencesse.

Some of the interior and art work was saved prior to the ships decommissioning and eventual break up in India in 2008/9

Registered: 9 May 1973
Duration: 28 minutes
Feet: 2520 feet
Board of Trade Certificate number: BR/E36123/14/5/77
Produced for: MGM -EMI
Production Company: Harold Baim Motion Picture Productions Limited
Title Credits: Nicholas Parsons tells you the story of S.S. France
Narration: Nicholas Parsons
Photographed in Eastmancolor by: Harry Orchard
Research and script associate: Arthur D. Jones
Music: De Wolfe
Editors: Jim Atkinson
Peter Elliot
Recordists: Tony Anscombe
A.Carlotta
Film Processing: Rank Laboratories
Lighting: Ted Davis
Continuity: Jean Barrie
Associate Producer: Michael G. Baim
Produced and Directed by: Harold Baim

Script

The pull on the line means there must be something pretty big on the end of it. You are looking at one of the tugs that helped to manoeuvre into Southampton docks the one thousand and thirty-five feet in length and sixty-six thousand tons of largest ocean going liner in the world the S.S France.

This is the third of the ships of the line to be called the France; the first was built a hundred and seven years ago, the second made her maiden voyage sixty years ago; this magnificent vessel went into service nine years ago.

Let's join the ship for a long weekend at sea and when it's over we will be in New York USA.

Now meet some of the men whose line is to make the liner work; Monsieur Ragoudie, Monsieur Lepretch, Monsieur Erenelle, Monsieur Pelegan, Monsieur Bergan, Monsieur Le Docteur or Doc, his French name is the same in English. Left of the picture Monsieur Aresleure and on the right Monsieur LeMare. We'll let you guess who this is. Monsieur LaRue. OK. Let's go.

[Title Credits]

The power-packed steam turbines drive her through the water at a cruising speed of thirty knots.

Monsieur Ragoudie is Chief of Reception or head steward.

One of the eleven decks.

Passing out of the bell-boys is complete so although we have no bicycles let us do a kind of 'tour-de-France'

On the veranda deck is a circular domed library where lush Brittany grey carpets ensure a quiet relaxed atmosphere.

Bookcases in lacquered aluminium hold thousands of volumes. Library and reading room merge into one.

Security is in the hands of central control; a twenty-four hour watch is maintained on the eighty sections the of the ship. It's nice to know even though the vessel is completely fire-proof.

At sea, work sent out to the printers would not come back in time; here's their answer to that problem.

There are eleven decks. This one in three-hundred and thirty-eight feet long, twenty-one feet wide; you can really take a turn around the deck on this one.

But the veranda deck is really where it's at. Art exhibitions and branches of the great French stores are all here. They haven't missed a trick. To quote an old French saying "It is enough to make your hair curl"

One of the swimming pools. To swim a length you would have to do thirty-two feet; a width twenty feet. Just off the pool you can fence, sun bathe, do gymnastics or drink at the bar depending what mood you're in. You can tell what mood they are in.

Another pool. Off this one you can indulge in weight reducing, sauna baths, massage, all kinds of therapy or you can drink at the bar, depending what mood you are in. You can see what mood they are in.

And to keep your perceptive true or perhaps a sense of balance; quite beautiful isn't it?

Listen to this average consumption Southampton to New York return; one thousand two hundred bottles of champagne, one thousand bottles of fine wines, two thousand four hundred bottles of spirits and liquors, eighteen thousand quarts of beer and ten thousand bottles of mineral water. Mind you, if the ship is full both ways there are nearly four thousand thirsty people to be catered for in the dining rooms or in one of the many bars like The Atlantic and it stays open 'til four a.m.

Surprised? Well, he's the head of all the orchestras aboard; a musician himself he keeps the others, swinging.

The décor throughout is magnificent, eye-catching and colourful. This mural depicts nature in the form of trees, flowers and birds executed in real feathers no less. The boys in the band became a little self-conscious as we turned our cameras onto them. They told us so. In French, course. On his deck also there is the largest theatre afloat with six hundred and sixty-four seats. Used as a cinema or for live shows it has every twentieth century presentation refinement.

For those who like to make their own music there is a piano in the blue and gold Debussy Room. Tape and stereo play-back are available in one of four get-away from it all retreats like this one. Where late afternoon music to dance to is played, where there are concerts at cocktail hour and classical renderings and where night owls can dance 'til dawn, that is the domain of Maestro Lepretch, Head Music Maker.

At the push of a button in your cabin there is music relayed from discs, music transmitted from tapes and you can see movies on closed circuit TV.

If we put out best foot forward or better still, "for' ad" we arrive at the anchor room. The anchor itself weights fifteen tons. Look right down and you can see the sea sliding by. The S.S. France is equipped with two mooring lines; each has one thousand and eighty-two feet of chains. Together they weigh one hundred and twenty-eight tons.

Until you look over the side you don't know you are in a ship, it's like a vast luxury hotel and sometime one wonders at the ingenuity of it all.

In New York the cranes dance a pas-de-deux as they swing around and greet the latest arrival. Pier ninety-two, the one third of a mile long France makes an unforgettable picture of grace and beauty.

Four holds carry cargos which include automobiles.

Ashore, in the terminal there is excitement that is always present on arrival. And from the garage that houses ninety-four American size cars, offloading begins.

The mind boggles when you realise that the fireproof linings of the walls, interior surfaces and ceilings, are six times the area of Trafalgar Square in London; and it floats.

Anchors away. Good-bye New York. The Americans on board are looking forward to their arrival in England and those who in fours days time will await the ships docking at Southampton are looking forward to their relaxed journey to America. A quick turn-around. The France has to cross and re-cross the Atlantic with the minimum amount of delay.

We took some pictures whilst we were on Fifth Avenue in New York. Pictures of a man, who, if we had left him ashore we would really have been in trouble. What part do you think he plays in the running of the S.S. France? What do you think he looks as if he does? Head waiter? Engineer? Head Chef? He's the Captain, who has the overall responsibility for this great liner. He has to a maritime genius. And know his stuff theoretically and practically from A to Z. The Bridge is where he is to be found and he leaves it seldom when at sea. Navigational equipment, complex to us, is read by the Captain and his officers like a book.

And what is there to say about a scene like this? That's right. Nothing.

Amidships on the sun deck, cabins open onto a private patio. Looks like the French Riviera. Another of the best locations; more cabins open onto patios. These passengers have their own personal fire-hydrants, Parisian milestones and of course lamp-posts. Their own menu is in French. Of course, most of the do bark the language. The steward especially assigned to them will go to their cabin, called or not. Supervision is complete. Most of them can't wait to book another trip. Red carpet treatment in corridors and cabins. It's just as well you are told where you are from time to time. If you do take a wrong turning, well the ship's doctor says walking is good for you.

By-the-way, the grand suites are worth looking into. We will stalk the stewards. Incidentally there are twenty-five-thousand three-hundred bed sheets, twenty-four thousand table napkins and twenty-one-thousand six-hundred tablecloths onboard.

Let's go in. He's either off his food or it's yesterdays menu.

I think it best if I didn't talk. The suite is occupied and after all we were not invited. That was The Normandie suite and if you'll forgive me it really was Home Sweet Home.

Next question; Who is he? What does he do? Do you think he could be the Radio officer? That's just what he is, responsible for the incoming and outgoing radio communications of the ship. This department deals with everything from the incoming news for the ships daily newspaper to the rendezvousing with a ship which may has sent a distress signal to ask for medical or other help. Tele-printers and the most modern kind of radio apparatus that can send and receive photographs help make up the departments highly organised and indispensable equipment

Meet Pierre LaRue, he's the chief electrician and Monsieur LeMare is the chief engineer, and this is where he works down in the engine rooms, a visit to which is calculated to make your mind reel. Down here too the chief electrician plays his part in the team responsible for the smooth running of this fantastic power station. Look down and it's a complex of panels dials wheels and switches. Look up and it's a maze of gantries conduits and electrical circuits and trunking.

Look around and you will see from here comes the motivation that generates the hundred and sixty thousand horse power which turns the screws. Oil is consumed at the rate of forty tons - tons - an hour. Only the technicians know how it all works. We will leave it to them and just marvel at one of the two rooms. Each has two boilers using a ton of oil every ninety seconds. From this nerve centre comes the power for water sterilisation, for the refrigeration plants, heating, air-conditioning electricity generating and water distillation.

The steam generated hits a high of one-thousand-and-forty-two degrees Fahrenheit. You are looking at one of the four enormous shafts which help drive the ship through the sea. You can not get any lower. We are almost at the keel. The noise is deafening as the shafts revolve day and night. Yet up above on the deck and in the cabins if you cared to drop a pin you would hear it hit the deck.

Take a couple of first class hotels and a handful of French restaurants and put them on top of a power station and you have this liner. And this is what the engine room is all about. Aqua power. It takes enormous force to take this giant through the heavy seas of the Atlantic Ocean.

This is Jacques Degan? Can you guess what is his liner line? Did you expect to see him dressed as head Chef? Well, he is; and a superb one at that maybe because he's French. Responsible for the inner man - and woman - he makes the journey a culinary adventure.

For his round trip stock he takes fifteen tons of meet, sixty-eight thousand eggs, four thousand quarts of milk, five tons of fish, thirty tons of vegetables, three tons of cheese and thirteen tons of fresh fruit.

Everyone needs dough, here they need it more than anywhere else, because they have to bake five thousand rolls on a single trip. The work is fast but there nothing half baked about this department and as the dough rises it has to be needed and put into the ovens, the results are fresh for every meal. Un-garnished? Garnished. They carry forty-one thousand plates and fifty thousand glasses. They carry fifty-four-thousand-two-hundred pieces of silver wear which weighs twelve tons.

How to peel a mushroom, the SS France way.

On board, soufflés are a speciality. The menus are for gastronomic giants. The lesser mortals don't go through the card, they take their pick, but it is all there for the asking. If you do insist on your diet they will assist no end. Even the children have their own menus, and dining rooms of needed.

Besides having the longest bar in the world, sixty nine feet, the ship has the largest dining room in the world and his is it; The Versailles Room, which at one sitting seats eight hundred and twenty eight people and yet there seems to be room for half as many again. Two lifts and a majestic staircase take you to dinner in The Chambord restaurant, which seats about four hundred. Ice makers are constantly being dipped into, tons and tons are used every day. Decorative dishes created by the artists in the kitchen. A fish in ice with caviar under it. A new look in salmon. Another mouth-watering presentation. A decorative Eagle over looks this gourmets delight and lobsters never looked quite like this before. Perfection in the presentation of petit-fours. The ribbon looks good enough to eat. It is, it's made of spun sugar. And another in candy strips.

If you don't know what to do next in French or in English the events board will tell you. You will never be 'all at sea'

Isn't this magnificent? Funny how things always look so great as the sun goes down.

At this time of the evening we are drawn to a room where the motif of the décor is sunshine and I think the best thing I can do now is to let you join them in the Riviera Room.

Our 'tour-de France' afloat ends here.

It really was quite something, wasn't it?

Links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_France_(1961)
http://www.oceanlinermuseum.co.uk/France%20index.htm