Captain Ken #25 - "What's it all about, Alfie?"

Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd.   Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.

A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.  

In the 25th article of the Captain Ken articles that we have reproduced here on the PONLHeritage site, Captain Owen goes back to his Alfred Holt cargo ship days and talks about the company, its Liverpool connection and the music of the 1960s.  

This article was first published in the church magazine in June 2023.

The recent enthusiasm for Liverpool's Eurovision brought back many happy memories.  We never imagined, that the time would come when Liverpool would become far more famous for its music than its shipping.  The main reason for this was that, in the immediate post war period, the BBC were not so enthusiastic about current American Rock and Roll, but the musicians and crews on the Atlantic passenger liners were keen to introduce it. 

Although the Beatles started their music in Liverpool, it was in the dockland area of Hamburg they became well known.  John Lennon's father himself was in the Merchant Navy. 

However, it was in the late sixties, when Liverpool shipping was at its peak, when the Blue Funnel and Ocean group were still based there.  We were the main carriers to and from the Far East, and so extremely important for the British economy. 

Two of our companies, the Blue Funnel Line and the Glen Line, had been running to China for a hundred years, and we were keen to continue the trade despite many difficulties posed by the worsening political situation in China.  Once the Cultural Revolution was in full force, our crews' conditions became very difficult indeed.  We were often required to attend gatherings ashore and wave our copies of Mao's little red books, before some poor local soul was taken off to be executed. 

I had in fact been enticed into one of these rallies myself when chief officer of the Autolycus.  When I asked the agent accompanying me what the accused was guilty of, he replied, 'He is a Capitalist,' to which I replied, 'Well so am I. I think we'd better leave,' and we did. 

The management of our Company were very understanding and appreciative of our tolerance. One of our ships, the 'Glengarry' of London, commanded by Canadian Bob Paterson, had endured a particularly rough time of which our management was well aware. When the ship returned to London everyone, being relieved, was of course anxious to go home on leave but were quite astonished to be told, "You are not returning The Dorchester home you are booked into the Dorchester Hotel where your wives or girlfriends are already awaiting you.' Also joining them were the Chairman, Sir John Nicholson (also at the time Chairman of the Institute of Bankers, and Chairman of the Institute of Chartered Accountants) and also Mr George Holt head of Alfred Holt and Company, affectionately known in Liverpool as 'Alfie Holt'. But the big thank you and surprise was yet to come. 

The top of the bill at the evening cabaret was Cilla Black, and she announced that she was dedicating her top song to the boys of the 'Glengarry', adding, "Only they will know what I'm talking about." It was 'What's it all about, Alfie?'

(This article was first published in the June 2023 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

For further articles in this series:

Captain Ken Owen has kindly provided us with a new series of articles which will be published on a regular basis here.  If you are interested in reading other articles that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to