In early summer 1983 Michael Bird and his wife, Olive, took a holiday, sailing the Hurtigruten, the coastal steamer, up the coast of Norway from Bergen to Kirkens. Richard Wakeley, Bird's agent, says the Scandinavians, like the Greeks years before, had made overtures about locating a story in that part of the world. Bird discussed with the Tourist Board the possibility of something set in Norway and, keen to co-operate, they alerted Tourist Offices along the route to make him welcome.
Bente Saxon of the Alesund Tourist Office says, "although we met for only a couple of hours we got on very well and discussed possible ideas for a story." After he returned to England Bird wrote to Saxon telling her that the story had started to take shape, and later that summer, while she was on holiday in London, they met and he gave her a copy of the outline for Maelstrom.
Echoing The Outsider two years earlier, Maelstrom begins with a mysterious bequest which draws heroine Catherine Durrell to Norway seeking to discover why a stranger would make her beneficiary to his will. Richard Wakeley says the story did not come as easily as other series and he recalls the writer complaining that it was hard work. In Germany the series was appropriately re-titled "Eine Unheimliche Erbschaft" (An Uncanny Inheritance). In Finland it became "Hiidenvirta", which translates as "Devil´s Stream".
Once the go ahead had been given, Bente Saxon says, the production team moved very quickly. "We were told the BBC had a cancellation of a planned series and if we got everything organised quickly at this end they would start filming the following Spring." The BBC made their first reccy in September 1983 and location filming began in May 1984. Bente was appointed "Norwegian Liaison" and receives a credit on the end titles. Studio recording took place the following Autumn and the series aired in February 1985.
Producer Vere Lorrimer had produced Bird's previous BBC serial The Dark Side of the Sun. Lorrimer had a long career with the BBC and, amongst other shows, had produced Blake's Seven and Tenko. The director, the late David Maloney, was another BBC stalwart having directed many episodes of Dr Who, Z Cars and Softly, Softly and for a time had also produced Blake's Seven, When the Boat Comes In and Day of the Triffids. When told Maelstrom was to be set in the small Norwegian port of Alesund Maloney surprised everyone by saying, "I know the place." He had spent a holiday there.
Bente Saxon is in no doubt that Maelstrom was the catalyst for Alesund becoming an internationally known tourist destination. "I remember the year it was shown on Dutch television," she says, "the town was full of Dutch people. The same with the Fins, the local newspaper I remember even had photographs of traffic jams with Finnish cars parked all over the place!" It also gave credibility to the Tourist Organisation there. "Before Maelstrom," Bente says, "we were a small organisation struggling to survive. After, we got a lot more support from the local community, people with more influence on our board, more financial support from the Council."
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