folder Filed in England, Isle of Man, London, Stories
First record for Beatles, first jingle for a ferryboat
Sixties songwriter who penned both changed the course of history
AS Media access_time 7 min read

Working for the Isle of Man Government and its tourism industry led eventually to a summons from the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, the lifeline of the island and the oldest continually operating passenger shipping company in the world. The ferry service had started in 1830 but was running out of steam after 150 years ploughing across the Irish Sea.

The ferry firm knew they had to improve their marketing to compete with a new rival ferry and an expanding Manx airline. The changing holiday market was no longer British beaches in British summers – it was the Costas, Viva Espana and the Chicken Dance for folks who couldn’t dance sober.

The Steam Packet sailors were being left astern by world tourist trends. They didn’t have leggy trolley dollies to welcome you aboard, just hairy-arsed seafarers wearing Guernsey-knit sweaters and, in a few cases, looking a bit like Popeye the sailor man. But they excelled in the level of seamanship needed to keep going in an Irish Sea Force 9 storm when often the Steam Packet’s boats were the only ones at sea at that time. The crew were kind to green-faced and puking passengers and adept in power hosing the scene of any “oral mishaps”. 

It was an efficient, no-frills service with an unblemished record stretching across 150 years. That should be at the heart of any new PR and marketing campaign. Stick with your strengths, sailors. Simples.

With the help of a cartoonist mate, I invented a cartoonish seafarer character named Steam Packet Jack to emphasise the traditions and reliability of the ferry service. “Steam Packet Jack – he’ll get you out and he’ll get you back”   A “visual” Jack and his message could appear in brochures, newspaper ads and TV commercials – maybe, even painted on the sides of the ferries?

Radio commercials would need a jingle to carry the message and the best jingle writer in Europe lived, with his untold wealth from pop song royalties, in low tax Isle of Man. Mitch Murray and his wife Grazina were low key residents, but visitors to their home were greeted with the strains of The Ballard of Bonnie and Clyde” when they pressed the front doorbell.

I phoned him from London to ask for his help on a jingle for Steam Packet Jack. By the end of the afternoon, we had a happy, catchy jingle with a hint of a traditional sea shanty. It took only about the same time as the sailing from Liverpool Pier Head to Douglas Harbour. Brilliant. What a genius and all done over the phone, as I tweaked the lyrics and Mitch tinkled with his home keyboard/ukulele. Words and music, job done…how do you do it, over the phone. Who needs Abbey Road Studios?

The 1963 recording vetoed by songwriter Mitch Murray. 30 years later it is included on The Beatles Anthology 1 album. Many fans said they preferred Gerry and the Pacemakers version.

Abbey Road Studios in North London was where, in 1963, the Beatles were trying to find the right song to become their first-ever release. The Beatles record producer, George Martin wanted Mitch Murray’s How Do You Do It composition as the group’s first single, but Lennon and McCartney wanted to write what would have been their first hit song together.

‘When you can write a song as good as this, then you can record your own songs. Until then, you are doing this.” George Martin, record producer for The Beatles

Martin insisted, adding: ‘When you can write a song as good as this, then you can record your own songs. Until then, you are doing this.” Reluctantly, the Beatles agreed to record the song. But, the resultant track was vetoed by Murray as he thought it suitable only for B side. Gerry and the Pacemakers took their version to number one in the UK and number 9 in the States.

Mitch was 22 when he started songwriting and Sixties pop stars like Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers and The Tremeloes enjoyed big hits from his unique Sixties Sound. Tony Christie had number one hits, including I Did What I Did for Maria. Georgie Fame had a huge hit with Bonnie and Clyde, while Paper Lace also went to number one with Billy Don’t Be A Hero.

“Simple lyrics, simple melodies – just simple music that was easy to remember.” Gerry Marsden, pop singer, was born on September 24, 1942. He died of a heart infection on January 3, 2021, aged 78 – the launch day of Ancestry Stories that included the story of his first number one record.

Just as important for the Steam Packet and me, Mitch Murray’s amazing creativity helped the company to achieve its highest passenger figures for decades.1979 had shown a strong passenger spike, as thousands of visitors with Manx connections returned to celebrate the island’s Millennium, 1,000 years of continuous parliament, dating back to Viking rulers.

The increased awareness and promoting specialist activity holidays kept up the momentum in successive years. However, it wasn’t the cars and passengers that were producing vast profits. It was the company’s monopoly of freight traffic.

Steam Packet freight profits were up to three times higher than those of any of the 23 other ferry firms in Europe as the Manx Government discovered when they were asked to help fund new ferries. It was a publicly quoted company in the Isle of Man and many Manx families had a few Steam Packet shares to top up the pension fund or pay towards that autumn holiday in Majorca – on direct island-to-island charter flights.

It wasn’t very long after that a prying UK bank spotted the potential for a quick buck and it made a multi-million-pound offer in UK sterling… then sold on to Banco Espirito Santa, the biggest bank in Portugal that eventually sank in a storm of money laundering and corruption claims in the 1990s.

Boost yourself with a nice new jingle, by all means, but best avoid looking too much like the legendary goose that lays the golden egg to corporate pirates. And, that’s how the little island lost its golden egg forever and gained an enduring link to the legendary Beatles.

Now, meet the Real Steam Packet Jack
There really was a “Steam Packet Jack” – but Capt Jack Woods, who joined the IOM Steam Packet in 1968 as a second mate, promoted to chief officer in 1970 then joining Esso before returning to Manx waters in 1978 – the year Terry and Mitch produced the advertising jingle. But, Capt Woods was with the new roll-on, roll-off ferry rival, Manx Line for the next five years before the ferry firms merged. He retired in 1999 and died in 2019, aged 78. Capt William Whiteway, the author’s father in law, served on Arctic convoys and Steam Packet boats.


Lennon & McCartney became the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century, creating 162 of the best-known and most loved tracks, including 104 number one hits in the UK and USA. Paul has had 194 compositions in the charts and is worth £800M.

Mitch Murray got a CBE for services to music and continued his idyll in the Isle of Man, with his £millions of earnings regularly topped-up by performance royalties including some from the How do You Do It track. It was eventually included on the Beatles Anthology album 30 years later.

The Isle of Man government force-rescued the Steam Packet ferry firm in an agreed purchase from the successor bank of its previous owner. Handing over £124M a government spokesman said: “at least the money comes back here now.”  As was the case, before the old sailors at the helm went all jingly in the 1970s and raised the profile and profits.

Mitch Murray’s life in pop and Manx residency has been commemorated in postage stamps by the Isle of Man Post Office. Issued from 2020, they have proved to be a money-spinning enterprise for the free-spirited Manx nation.

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