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Oriana 1973 - 48 Years on and we haven't changed a bit

One of my former seagoing colleagues and friend Stuart Bennett turned 70 this week and of course, it got me thinking of the fun times we all had back in the 1970s. I doubt that officers on the modern cruise ships experience the fun that we had as youngsters would call it “Back in the Old Days”.

When I joined Oriana back in 1973 I was 19 years old. Stuart was 22. At the time Stuart was Senior Assistant Purser l assume he was the oldest male assistant purser.

Of course, Gill Angrave who was Senior Woman Assistant Purser was almost at the golden age when women working at sea had to retire. Gill was one of the more senior officers in the bureau. The WAP’S tended to be slightly older than the AP’S but sadly at that time were forced to retire early.

Gill wrote a wonderful book about her life. "From Oceans to Embassies"

I had been appointed Junior Catering Assistant Purser on Oriana, my desk was located in the ship’s bureau and backed onto the Senior Assistant Purser’s desk which of course was occupied by Stuart. I have to admit Stuart was a role model to me and l learnt a lot in that first few months at sea just by observing the way he ran the bureau.

Back in the day work did not stop when you left the bureau in the evening. Once in mess kit and having enjoyed dinner at the officer's tables in the Drake Restaurant we were released onto the decks where it was expected that we mixed and entertained passengers.

If you read my previous blogs you will know that I was a bit of a dancer and loved to get on the dance floor and was very happy to drag poor unsuspecting passengers onto the floor and whirl them around for a dance or two.

Most evenings onboard ship were a theme night of some sort. There would be French Night, Italian Night, Mexican Night where the restaurant would feature special menu’s and some of the evening’s entertainment would follow the same theme. Other Theme nights were more centered around entertainment than food.

Oriana like most of the old liners did not have a Casino onboard. Around the ship would be clusters of one-armed bandits or slot machines, for some strange reason, these were looked after by the Catering Deputy Purser, my boss. In his small office, there was a very large strong room where coinage from the machines after being counted would be stored. These machines were mechanical as opposed to electrically operated and would often get jammed. And guess what, yours truly or another of the assistant pursers would be dispatched with a large bunch of keys to unblock the machine and get it functioning again.

After my first six months on the ship, we returned to Southampton for Mediterranean cruising. We were greeted in Southampton by Dave Traynor who joined Oriana as her first “Fruity” Fruit machine operator who took over running and repairing the machines. Dave in retirement fills some of his time by running “The Crew Bar” and other groups on Facebook.

As there was no Casino onboard, once a

cruise one of the theme nights would be Casino Night. Casino games would be set up and various members of the ship's company would man the tables. Cash was exchanged for chips and of course, it fell on the purser’s department to man the cashier’s desk. At the end of the evening, any winning or unused chips could be exchanged for cash. I seem to remember that any profits Yours truly with the dice at Casino Night

made from this evening were donated to

various seaman’s charities.

By the same token Horse Race Nights were always a big hit on board. The horses were wooden cutouts and mounted on a wooden track, tied to a piece of string and attached to a winding handle at the other end of the room. The hapless jockey would mound the saddle at the end of the track and on the starting pistol, they would wind like hell. The first horse over the line scooped the magnificent prize, I’m sure they were magnificent, but l cannot remember what they were.

The Tote was operated by the Assistant Pursers and before each race, the bets were taken. Something like a shilling or two, if you remember shillings you are old like me, 5p for the younger members of the crew. The Tote takings would have been totted up by this stage and then divided by the number of winning tickets


Doing a little research, I discovered that horse racing was in full swing on board ship in the 1930 and still carries on today. However, I must say I think the old way of winding the handle was much better than the snakes and ladder game of throwing dice to move the horse seen on the ships today. Much more exciting for the punters. I also seem to remember that old horse racing films were often used on cargo ships as a means of entertainment.

Entertaining a passenger at Island Night on Island Princess.

You cannot talk about theme nights without mentioning one of my favourites, Island Night. Island night was always a good excuse to cast off the Mess Kit and run around the decks half-naked. Get out the grass skirt or the lavalava, or that piece of a brightly coloured piece of cloth you bought in Fiji or Tonga.

In warmer climes, these events were held on deck where shedding one’s clothes in the tropic air was a welcome relief. The steel band would come out and rum punch would flow to get everyone in the mood. Island night would not be complete without the Hawaiian Wedding Song and of course the inevitable Limbo competition. As officers, we were expected to team up with a passenger and help them under the bar. Well to be honest the bar never really did get very low but bounce the bar and you were out. If the sea was slightly rough it all added to the fun.

Getting back to where I started.

I would like to wish Stuart a

Very Happy 70th Birthday.

Stuart lives in his native New Zealand and unfortunately, due to covid restrictions he was unable to celebrate this milestone occasion with his children.

I hope you are soon able to get together and celebrate with a true

"P&O Pourout"

P.S. Stuart, I have never forgiven you for bollocking me for going ashore without my cap. In those days it was unthinkable. How times have changed


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