With little prospects, Jack falls in with the equally impoverished Seaton family and meets Jessie Seaton (Susan Jameson) who he falls deeply in love with. Suddenly, a man with a mission, Jack sets about improving his fortunes and, with grim determination, aims to make his mark on life despite the desperate circumstances.
Whilst a show that deals with the political struggles of the 1920s and 1930s and the aftermath of the Great War may not sound particularly captivating, this classic period drama was must-watch TV when first broadcast in 1976.
Such was the popularity of the show that after the third series ended in 1977, the BBC felt compelled to revive the show four years later, with the final series telling the story of Jack Ford as he returns to Britain penniless, after six years spent bootlegging in the US, and follows him as he sets up in London.
Show creator and main writer James Mitchell also wrote three popular tie-in books: When the Boat Comes In, When the Boat Comes In: The Hungry Years and When the Boat Comes In: Upwards.
James Bolam as Jack Ford
James Garbutt as Bill Seaton
Jean Heywood as Bella Seaton
John Nightingale as Tom Seaton
Edward Wilson as Billy Seaton
Malcolm Terris as Matt Headley
Susan Jameson as Jessie Ashton née Seaton
Madelaine Newton as Dolly
Basil Henson as Sir Horatio Manners
Geoffrey Rose as Arthur Ashton
Rosalind Bailey as Sarah Headley née Lytton
William Fox as the Duke of Bedlington
Lois Baxter as Lady Caroline