Classic TV Revisited: The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau

TV opens up a new under world with the undersea exploration of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

Super svelte, French diver with a nasal voice and ready smile.

Distinguishing features
Great big flippers (underwater) and a red woolly hat and glasses (when on deck).

Why was it so memorable?
Few people had ever scuba dived and the Frenchman literally opened their eyes to another world. In the late 60s only the wealthy elite dived or sailed for pleasure.

What was Cousteau’s secret?
He once said: “When you dive, you begin to feel that you’re an angel.” He had the ability to hold an audience with the most simple type of adventurers.

How did he get started?
In 1950 a millionaire gave him money to buy a 400-ton former minesweeper. He named it Calypso, and turned it into a lab.

Then what?
He sailed to the Red Sea in 1952 and shot the first-ever colour footage taken at 150ft down.

How did he become famous?
A bit like Robert Ballard and the Titanic, Cousteau found an ancient Greek wine freighter buried in very old mud off the French coast near Marseille.

The tide had turned, you might say.

A sea change in his career, then?
You could say that.

He hit rock bottom yet became a hero!
Enough, already!

How did he pay for all his adventures?
He wrote books and made TV programmes. He even wrote a 20-volume encyclopedia called The Ocean World Of Jacques Cousteau.

I bet that went down well.
After reading it divers used it for ballast.

Was it an award winner?
No, but his 1956 film The Silent World won the Cannes Film Festival. It was made using his new skin-diving gear he helped invent in 1943.

What was Cousteau’s greatest achievement?
You mean apart from making TV programmes from 1966 to 1994?

Mais oui
Well President Ronald Reagan wasn’t far wrong when he said: “He will be remembered not only as a pioneer in his time but as a dominant figure in world history.”

Did he invade Grenada as well then?
Don’t be facetious. He was an outspoken critic of nuclear waste dumping and oil pollution at sea.

Was he popular worldwide?
Indeed he was. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology invented a song for him.

A sea shanty?
No. It went like this: “He don’t have to come up for air, he’s Jacques, Jacques, Jacques Cousteau. From sea to shining sea, he checks them out for you and me.”

Is he still alive?
No, sadly. Jacques died on June 25, 1997. He continued diving well into his 80s.

Did he have lots of fans?
Yes, he was regularly voted the most popular Frenchman in opinion polls.

Has his legacy endured? Yes. His son Jean-Michel Cousteau is an environmental campaigner.

Do say
“I think Captain Cousteau might be the father of the environmental movement.” (CNN founder Ted Turner).

Don’t say
“I love those bits when he fights Cato in The Pink Panther films.” Or “He was brilliant at doing chin-ups in Superstars.”

And don’t even think about saying
“Didn’t he go en vacances with Mr Hulot?”

Not to be confused with
Insp Clouseau, Brian Jacks, or Jacques Tati.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.