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All at Sea - Series One - TV Comedy (CBBC, 2013)

Title card from the CBBC show All at Sea. Show title written in sand with family looking up.
I launched this blog back in April with an article about the BBC comedy Scarborough. One of the main characters in that series was played by Steve Edge who also plays one of the main characters in All at Sea, another comedy set in Scarborough. They were both made by the BBC, with Scarborough airing less than four years after the final episode of All at Sea, and Steve Edge was in both. The main difference between the two shows is that one is aimed at adults and the other is aimed at kids. 

I discovered All at Sea by chance in 2013. I think I had seen it in the TV listings and managed to watch a few episodes. This was the first time in years that I had seen a comedy set in Scarborough on TV, the previous instances being an episode of an ITV sitcom that I will write about next year (it will be worth the wait, I hope) and the film Little Voice which I wrote about recently. I wasn't in the habit of watching kids TV in 2013, but I made an exception for something set in Scarborough. I remember being quite impressed with the first episode. I was already familiar with Steve Edge from Phoenix Nights, The Visit, The Cup and a particularly memorable episode of Peep Show. I was also familiar with the writer of the first episode, Daniel Peak, as I had seen his name pop up often in the credits for Not Going Out

I enjoyed that first episode enough to watch a few more, but then I didn't think about it much again until Scarborough aired and I was able to seem momentarily knowledgeable by sharing the fact that it wasn't the first TV comedy set in Scarborough staring Steve Edge - I'm still waiting for it to pop up in a quiz though. The next time I thought about All at Sea was earlier this year when I started this blog and put together a list of all the books, TV shows and films I could think of that are set in Scarborough. I was pleased to discover that the series was (and, at the time of writing, still is) on the BBC iPlayer and I was surprised to see that there were two series with a total of 26 episodes. That's 20 more than Derren Litten's Scarborough!

Before I get into the first episode, I should give credit to Brian Lynch who created All at Sea and wrote many of the episodes. I can't say I am familiar with any of his other work. His IMDB page shows quite a few writing credits, starting in the late nineties and ending with All at Sea in 2015. A profile page from Julia Tyrell Management gives a bit more detail on Brian's writing career, explaining that several of the series he wrote were for RTE, the Irish broadcaster. The profile page isn't as up to date as it could be. It explains that All at Sea was nominated for a Children's BAFTA (for best comedy) in 2014, but it doesn't mention that it was nominated again the year after. Sadly, it was pipped at the post on both occasions. I presume that Brian Lynch has now retired and that All at Sea was his final project. I could be wrong of course, he could come back with something else, but perhaps that ship has sailed. If it was his final project, at least it wasn't a shipwreck.

Seagull is the title of the first episode and whilst it initially seems to have nothing to do with the plot, there is a great set piece that is worth waiting for involving a seagull and a fish and chip shop. It is original, surprising and very funny. The episode starts with Dad (Steve Edge) showing Mum (Nicola Stephenson) the new online guest book he has created. Straight away we know this is a B&B and very quickly the story gets going when the parents realise they have received some bad reviews. They can't tell which of their current guests has posted the reviews so Mum decides to cause various inconveniences for the guests and see what they write next. The problems in the B&B are exacerbated by youngest child Louie's nits, which quickly pass on to the rest of the family. So where does the seagull come in? That would be in an entirely separate plot with Charlie who is the middle child in the family and the main character in the show. It starts with him accidentally causing damage to a car and then a whole load of misadventure which results in a boy called Roy getting into trouble every time. The seagull scene is the pinnacle of this plot. There is also another storyline involving the oldest child, Hannah. She meets a boy she fancies and decides to join him whilst he does his community service, just so she can spend time with him. Whilst the plots are largely unrelated in terms of situation and theme, they do occasionally crossover and this works best near the end when Roy essentially walks out of one plot and straight into another, instantly creating a visual joke. 

Two young people, wearing hi-vis jackets, walking along Scarborough's South Bay beach with The Spa in the background. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 1.
Hannah and new friend walking along Scarborough's South Bay beach (below The Clock Cafe) with the Spa in the background. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 1, 5min 12sec.

This episode is an excellent example of how to start a series. There is very little exposition and this is not the day that the characters open the B&B or move to the seaside. The episode could come from later in the series, the only thing that really marks it as an opener is the scene with the B&B guest book. A lot of other TV writers could learn from this, and not just ones writing for children. I suppose TV comedy is shifting more and more to a dramatic template where the events of episode one lead into episode two and so on, until the end. Whilst those shows can be exciting and addictive, I think there is still a place for traditional sitcoms which don't require the viewer to watch from the start of the series.

Episode One filming locations: In many episodes there are really nice establishing shots, mainly filmed at the South Bay, from the beach looking towards Foreshore Road or the harbour. In this first episode, there are also a number of scenes that take place on the beach, close to where the outdoor pool used to be. I presume they chose this area because it tends to be quieter than north of the Spa. This part of the beach is where I used to go with a net and bucket, searching for crabs in the rock pools.

Children and young people, wearing hi-vis jackets, clearing rubbish from the beach. South Bay, Scarborough. Rock pools, sea, harbour and castle in the background. From All at Sea Series 1, Episode 1
Children and young people clearing rubbish from the beach. South Bay, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 1, 26min 22sec.

Very close to this section of the beach are some long disused beach huts. For several weeks each summer, my family used to hire a beach hut that was situated directly below The Clock Café. The ones shown in All at Sea are closer to where the outdoor pool was. I have a vague recollection of seeing these in use, but I don't think they would have been available to hire for about a decade before this programme was made. They appear disused in the series, although the doors look to have had a fresh lick of paint (they mustn't have had any left over for the railings - what a state they're in!). Charlie and his friends, Ben and Alison, use one of the huts as a den which implies they have broken into it at some point. A cardboard sign can be seen outside, with a different message in each episode. The scenes inside the beach hut were most likely filmed in a studio, but we do see Charlie and his friends crawling through a hatch into the hut from the outside so presumably the council gave them access.

Disused beach huts with brightly painted doors; green, red, blue, yellow. South Bay, Scarborough. From All at Sea Series 1 Episode 1.
A blindfolded Charlie is led into a beach hut used as a den. South Bay, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 1, 8min 54sec.

Vase is the second episode of the series and this was written by Brian Lynch, the show's creator. What I have found is that his episodes tend to be fairly streamlined in terms of plot. There is usually a main plot and a minor one related to it, for example in Vase, Charlie accidentally breaks his mother's vase. First of all, he first tries to fix it and then, when that doesn't work, he tries to find a replacement. There is a minor plot in which the parents arrange to go out for dinner and employ a babysitter who turns out to be from Hannah's class at school, something she's not too happy about, but this is really just a device to remove the parents from the B&B. Breaking or losing an item that belongs to someone else is a classic sitcom trope. The best example I can think of is from Blackadder the Third, in the episode Ink and Incapability when Dr Johnson's dictionary is thought to have been burnt on the fire and Edmund attempts to replace it by re-writing it. Obviously that is more sophisticated than what we have here, but the vase plot works well, particularly because the escalation later in the episode is both surprising and plausible.

Episode Two filming locations: There is a brief scene by the small row of shops next to the Grand Hotel. One is an antiques shop where Charlie and his friends go looking for a replacement vase. Interestingly, this would have actually been an antiques shop at the time; Hanover Antiques. It's no longer there, but there is another antiques shop two doors down which would have also been there at the time of filming. My main memory of this location however is occasionally looking in the window of a computer games shop back in the late 90s - a bit of an oddity with two antiques shops for company.

Two boys approach an antiques shop. Man by lamp post with shopping. St Nicholas Cliff, Scarborough. Grand Hotel entrance in background. From All at Sea Series 1 Episode 2.
Charlie and Ben approach an antiques shop. St Nicholas Cliff, Scarborough. The entrance to the Grand Hotel can be seen in the background. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 2, 12min 47sec.

The following scene takes place on Sea Cliff Road. The children are following a lady who has bought a vase. In reality they would have walked quite a long way, but it's not inconceivable (they could have walked across Spa Bridge and onto the Cleveland Way - very scenic!). You can see some metal fencing to the left of the frame in the image below. This is where the Holbeck Hall Hotel was situated before it collapsed following a landslip in 1993. 

Woman walking with shopping. Sea Cliff Road, Scarborough. From All at Sea Series 1 Episode 2.
Sea Cliff Road, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 2, 13min 7sec.

From the end of Sea Cliff Road, the characters approach a house where some building work is being carried out. I wondered whether this might be on a completely different road, but looking on Google Street View I can see that the house is further up the same road, after it crosses Holbeck Hill Road. It is a distinctive house, looking very different to the other properties. I wonder if it was chosen because building work was actually being carried out? The Google Street View images are from October 2014 which is one year after the programme was broadcast. If you look at Street View you can see wood panelling on the ground floor and around the first floor window. In the scene, there is wood panelling on the ground floor, but on the first floor there is just a frame in place for the panels to be secured to. Also, in the scene the window frames are white, but on Street View they are dark grey.

Building work on exterior of house. Two builders. Woman approaching with shopping. Sea Cliff Road, Scarborough. From All at Sea Series 1 Episode 2.
Building work on exterior of house. Sea Cliff Road, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 2, 13min 18sec.

We see the beach huts again. This time the cardboard sign reads "Danger. Giant anaconda that also bites." I like the inclusion of the "that also bites" part here. Sometimes a bit of additional, but concise, information goes a long way in comedy. It is at this point that the children discuss what to do with the money they have acquired and decide on a spending spree. This involves a montage of the kids dashing around the Sands area (how do they have they energy having walked from town to South Cliffe and back?) eating lollipops, playing the 2p machine, having a go at various fairground games and riding the Ferris wheel at Luna Park. I don't think there is much acting going on in the montage, the kids are simply having a great time. Interestingly, the arcade they go into is Sandside Penny Arcade where Steve Edge's character gets a job in the sitcom Scarborough.  


Artist is the third episode in the series. An artist from London stays at the B&B and each member of the family have their own reasons for being interested in him; Dad wonders if he will like his own 'art', Hannah wants to have a portrait of herself and Charlie realises he can copy the artist's new work (shapes) and sell it to a local café. This is Charlie at his smartest; the café owner is initially reluctant to by the artwork and Charlie realises very quickly that he has connections with the army and then tells him that it was a soldier that painted them. I was impressed with how the episode was plotted for the most part, but the ending was a bit disappointing. It was similar to the previous episode in that it involved a lot of running around to create a sense of chaos followed by Charlie being given a specific chore as punishment. These chores feature at the end of each episode I have seen so far and are never related to the problems Charlie has caused, they always seem incredibly lenient. For example, at the end of one episode, Charlie reveals that he has to do the supermarket shopping for a week. Is that a punishment? I think at that age I was eager to take control of the supermarket trolley. I might have Dale Winton to thank for that and perhaps Charlie has never seen a repeat of Supermarket Sweep. After telling Ben and Alison about his 'punishment', Charlie uses the phrase "It's a travesty of justice!" which I can see being a line that youngsters would pick up and repeat to their parents and teachers. I suppose what makes the line funny is that the punishments seem so lenient. I can see how useful it is to have a set structure to the episodes and ending the episodes in the same way makes the show memorable, but I think the writers could have had fun with giving Charlie punishments that were linked to what he had done. For example, in this episode, Charlie could be given the task of carrying the artist's easel a long way or having to hand out flyers for an exhibition. The real travesty of justice is that the artist is an innocent man who has had a terrible stay at the B&B. I suppose he is supposed to seem aloof, but he isn't dislikeable enough to warrant what happens to him and his paintings.

Episode Three filming locations: The Tramway to Beach and Parlour Tea Rooms is the backdrop to a brief scene in which Hannah has a minor stand-off with a girl from her school. I suppose the purpose of this is to elevate the stakes when Hannah's wish to have the artist paint her portrait keeps being dismissed. The location doesn't have any significance to the scene, but it's a nice backdrop. Whilst the café is open (Hannah exits with a can of pop), the entrance for the tram is closed. I presume this was filmed on the same day as the scene in front of the antiques shop from episode two as it is just around the corner. 

Tramway to Beach, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 3.
Tramway to Beach, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 3, 5min 32sec.

Then we have another café, used in multiple scenes which is not actually in Scarborough. I had seen on IMDB that the location of the B&B is in Altrincham and that the fish and chip shop in the first episode is in Stockport. I have worked out that the main café seen in this episode is also in Stockport. When Ben runs away with the fake portrait of Dad, you can see in the background a sign for Boars Head Hotel. This can be found in Stockport marketplace next to Market Hall. I think the café they filmed in is most likely Blackshaw's Kitchen as Baker's Vaults can be seen through the windows on the right. There is also a scene in a park, but with few discernable features I can't say where that was filmed. 

With the title Alien, I was somewhat trepidatious about the fourth episode. I thought this one was perhaps going to be sillier than the others, not that silliness tends to put me off comedy in general, but with this being aimed at children I had perhaps wondered if it would seem naive. Having the younger children believe in the possibility of aliens isn't straying too far from reality though. I suppose what's a bit more of a stretch is to think it plausible that Charlie and his friends would believe that they had been successful in their attempt to make contact with aliens, but this does lead to some amusing scenes in which a guest is baffled by the way Charlie behaves around him. Charlie thinks this man is an alien (with a human disguise) and the guest thinks Charlie is a very strange child. There is a technique that can work really well in comedy, where two people are discussing different things, but each person thinks they are discussing the same thing. This isn't quite like that because the guest really doesn't know what is going on. It reminded me of a scene from One Foot in the Grave in which Victor goes to collect Margaret from a rehearsal at the amateur theatre. He is early and his wife is on stage with the rest of the cast so he takes a seat to watch. Things start going wrong on stage, including someone falling from a balcony, but Victor thinks it's part of the play and starts laughing as if he is watching a brilliant piece of comedy, and in doing so he creates a brilliant piece of comedy for the viewer at home. I think the dynamic between Charlie and the guest in this episode of All at Sea makes it stand out and it also leads to the funniest scene so far with Steve Edge; Charlie goes into the guest's room at night and the man is disturbed and annoyed. When Dad comes in to see what is happening, he tries to calm the guest down and then as a parting shot, with his head poking around the door, he declares "This is a dream". There is also a great little subplot in this episode with Louie. Unlike the previous two episodes by Brian Lynch, this deviates from the main plot, but it is appropriately wacky for the episode. I can't really do it justice through description, but basically Louie starts admiring a fruit tart. He likes it too much to eat it and instead takes it with him from room to room, even outside. It really caught me by surprise and I liked how it was such an innocent, but weird idea.

Episode Four filming locations: Most of the action in this episode takes place inside or outside the B&B, but there is a very short scene with a police car and two officers that was filmed in the car park at the end of Sea Cliff Road. 

Police car parked on its own in Sea Cliff Road Car Park, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 4.
Police car parked on its own in Sea Cliff Road Car Park, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 4, 3min 32sec.

There are also some different establishing shots of the South Bay, including one of the Hispaniola pirate ship. 

The Hispaniola with Scarborough Spa, beach huts and Clock Cafe in background. From All at Sea Episode 4.
The Hispaniola with Scarborough Spa, beach huts and Clock Café in background. Still image from All at Sea Episode 4, 10min 43sec.

A short scene takes place on the beach, in front of Coney Island, in which Alison enlists a group of younger children to help her, Charlie and Ben fill a wheelbarrow with sand. When they move off to the right, the beach looks reasonably busy which might have made it difficult to film there, but if those younger children were (as I expect) locals or tourists, they must have been absolutely thrilled at being filmed for TV. When the camera faces Foreshore Road, you can see people walking past the railings who seem interested at what is going on - presumably they have noticed the film crew on the beach.


I was rather disappointed by the fifth episode, Biscuits, written by Joe Hepworth. Scarborough featured only momentarily, but it was the writing that disappointed me the most. The characters behave in irritating ways in this episode and this doesn't result in much comedy. Mum is preparing for a party she is going to hold for her former netball team. She is clearly rather stressed about this. Dad is trying to calm her down, but his advice (taken from a book) is only annoying her. When she discovers that two of the fancy biscuits she has bought have gone missing, she blames Charlie. For the rest of the episode, Charlie tries to clear his name (he is adamant that it wasn't him) and causes more problems in the process. The problem with this plot is that Charlie has done many worse things in previous episodes and so it isn't exactly a "travesty of justice" that he is being blamed for biscuit theft. When he attempts to catch the real thief, I wasn't willing him to succeed and if he had succeeded or failed I wouldn't have minded either way; neither result would seem satisfying. As it turns out, the ending doesn't hinge on this dilemma, instead it presents an enjoyable visual joke that is the result of something Charlie has been doing to try and catch the thief. Before we get to the ending though, there is much to endure, not least Hannah who is more obnoxious than ever; having to help Mum with the party and rushing to get away for a party she actually wants to go to, she forces canapés on guests before deciding to tip them directly into the outside bin. Hannah and Charlie certainly deserve what happens at the end, but everyone in the B&B receives the same fate which doesn't seem fair. This episode presented an opportunity to spoof the crime genre, which could have resulted in funnier scenes, but I suppose that type of humour might only satisfy the adults watching. Interestingly, I remember a headline from the Scarborough Evening News in the mid 2000s, something like "Biscuit Thief Strikes Again" which was about someone who was going in and out of the towns B&Bs and stealing biscuits. I wonder if that's where the idea for the episode came from or whether it's just a coincidence, either way I'm not sure anyone could successfully build upon the headline "Biscuit Thief Strikes Again", it's too funny to begin with.

Episode Five filming locations: There is only one Scarborough scene in this episode, although it is split into two parts. Charlie tells Ben to keep an eye on one of the guests and he catches up with him near the Futurist Cinema, at the bottom of the steps that lead to St Nicholas Street.

Man reading and walking towards camera, Foreshore Road in Scarborough with Futurist Cinema and Coney Island and castle in background. From All at Sea Series 1 Episode 5.
Foreshore Road in Scarborough with Futurist Cinema and Coney Island and castle in background. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 5, 17min 6sec.

Episode six, Carwash, written by Madeleine Brettingham is certainly better than its forerunner. The plot style is similar in that it involves Charlie and his friends making a mess, trying to rectify it and making even more of a mess. However, the characters are less annoying in this episode, and the things that go wrong feel more like a natural progression. The episode has three storylines. Louie's storyline feels like an attempt to replicate the success of the fruit tart scenes in episode four, but the idea isn't as strong. However, Hannah's storyline is an interesting and original one in which Mum spends time with Carol (the girl who was hired as a babysitter in episode two) and when Hannah finds out, she becomes jealous of this new friendship. The climax of the main storyline is very funny with the children trying to maintain their innocence despite the increasing amount of evidence against them. There are some great cheeky lines from Charlie as well as a visually impressive finish in a scrapyard. 

Episode Six filming locations: Sea Cliff Road is revealing itself as a popular filming location for the series - this is where the car washing takes place. 

Three children washing a car on Sea Cliff Road, Scarborough. From All at Sea Series 1 Episode 6.
Ben, Charlie and Alison washing a car on Sea Cliff Road, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 6, 13min 30sec.


The café in Stockport is used again in this episode. There is also a brief scene in which Ben makes a call from a phone box on the seafront. He runs from here to his friends on Sea Cliff Road (an impressive distance!)

Sandside, Scarborough with Grand Hotel in the background and red phone box in the foreground. From All at Sea Series 1 Episode 6.
Ben running down the street, Sandside, Scarborough. Still image from All at Sea Series 1 Episode 6, 22min 51sec.

I think that's a fairly comprehensive overview of the first six episodes. Only another 20 to go! I intend to watch the remaining seven episodes of the first series soon and write about those. I think I will leave series two until next year as I am slightly concerned that watching so much kids TV might rewire my brain and render all other television too challenging. Apart from episode five, I have quite enjoyed watching this first batch of episodes.


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