Thursday 22 March 2018

John Fabian

Producer of The Onedin Line, who, in his later years, qualified as a psychotherapist to work with youth

John Fabian, who died last month aged 84, had a long and successful career in television production, notably in the popular 1970s' series The Onedin Line.

As associate producer, he helped re-create mid-Victorian Liverpool at Bayards Cove near Dartmouth, where much of the series was filmed.

Created by Cyril Abraham, The Onedin Line followed the fortunes of ambitious sea captain James Onedin (played by Peter Gilmore), as sail and steam struggled for supremacy on the ocean waves. But visually the star of the show was his first ship, the magnificent three-masted schooner Charlotte Rhodes, which flew the Onedin flag on her voyages around the globe.

The job called for much ingenuity on Fabian's part; as well as its home base in 19th Century Liverpool, episodes of The Onedin Line were also set in more exotic locations, for example the Virgin Islands. In 1971, however, his budget for each episode was a mere £29,000, which meant much improvisation.

Using copious amounts of straw and old barrels together with donkeys and carts, Fabian not only helped transform Bayards Cove into 1860s' Liverpool but also a local quarry into a Turkish volcano; and a stretch of the Dart near Dittisham into the Amazon, complete with dugout canoes and natives, some played by locals roped in as extras, and many shots fringed by branches of palm trees stuck on with gaffer tape.

He also managed to re-create the Arctic using artificial snow during a Devonian summer when temperatures climbed to 84 degrees.

John Fabian was born on May 19, 1927 in Wolverhampton, where his father was a director of the Star Motor Company. From Merchant Taylors he went to Birmingham University to read Medicine, and did his National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Having become interested in the theatre, he joined Birmingham Rep under Peter Brook, making his West End debut in Blood Wedding, with Maxine Audley, at the Playhouse. He appeared in Pablo Picasso's only play, Desire Caught by the Tail, in 1950.

Fabian diversified into radio, making features, drama and poetry programmes with, among others, Dylan Thomas; and in 1955 starred as David Flame, Secret Agent. He joined the J Arthur Rank Charm School, appearing in such films as Under Capricorn (1949), directed by Alfred Hitchcock; with Gene Kelly in Crest of the Wave (1954) and A Town Like Alice (1956).

Settling on a career behind the cameras, Fabian became a director on Panorama and the Tonight programme. From current affairs he moved to the BBC's drama department, directing episodes of Dr Finlay's Casebook, Z-Cars, Compact and The Newcomers.

When he branched into production, he worked as assistant producer on such programmes as Late Night Line Up and The Onedin Line. Fabian was then contracted as production manager, planning and deploying multi-million-pound budgets for new programmes such as Warship and The Buccaneer and was associate producer on Secret Army, Juliet Bravo, Angels, and Howards' Way.

His innovative ideas on The Onedin Line led to an invitation to direct action sequences for Sils de Strandjutter, a film company based in Holland, Belgium and Germany, in particular storm sequences at sea.

When he left the BBC in 1987, Fabian became a freelance lecturer and producer.

In later years, he qualified as a psychotherapist and worked with the Training Enterprise Council on the problems of the long-term unemployed and the training of young people with special needs.

John Fabian is survived by his wife, Margaret, their son and four stepchildren.

Sunday Independent

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