The Memory: Moby Dick started life in Stoke-on-Trent
Triggered by the news that Alton Towers has been given the go-ahead to build a Sea Life aquarium. By Alan Cookman.
ALTHOUGH he was born and bred in the Potteries, there could never be a place for Moby Dick in the Sea Life attraction at Alton Towers.
For one thing, Moby Dick was 75ft long and weighed 12 tons. For another, he was made of rubber.
And then there was the little matter of the great sea monster's famous disappearing act. Moby Dick vanished in October 1954 and has not been seen since.
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I must admit that when I was first told the story of Moby Dick just over 20 years ago, I was convinced I was having my leg pulled.
But research revealed that the giant artificial whale which starred with Gregory Peck in the 1956 film of Herman Melville's novel really was created in Stoke-on-Trent.
Moby Dick was made amid the greatest secrecy by the Dunlop Rubber Company in London Road, Stoke.
Dunlop were under strict instructions from Associated British Pictures to keep the entire project hush-hush. The film company insisted that the existence of the vast rubber whale remained a secret.
A lot of the unit's defence work really was top secret, but did it really matter if the development of a movie prop, albeit a massive one, became public knowledge?
The film-makers evidently believed that if it became known that Moby Dick was manufactured in Stoke, the paying public's illusions would be shattered.
Both Dunlop works and Sentinel commentators found this a ludicrous stance. How many film-goers would seriously believe that a real whale had been captured and trained to perform for the film cameras?
The giant whale was completed, however, and its dimensions were mind-boggling. As I remarked in 1986, Stoke's Moby Dick "made the latex shark in Jaws look like an anorexic anchovy".
It was in the Irish Sea, off Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire, that Moby Dick decided stardom wasn't for him.
Bouyed by 80 drums of compressed air, and with an interior hydraulic system to propel him, the leviathan answered the call of the deep and bade farewell to the movies.
It was said that Gregory Peck, playing Captain Ahab, whose remorseless pursuit of the whale is the subject of novel and film, "clung to the rubber whale in the midst of a sudden pea-souper fog...the boat towing the whale broke its line and the two became separated, with Peck lost to all other human life. "Eventually, he was rescued but the whale went on its way, and has not been seen since."
There may be a touch of Hollywood hype in this account, but the whale really was lost. And the Coastguard, the RAF and merchant vessels were placed on alert, while the Royal Navy officially classified Moby Dick as a potential danger to shipping.