The Great Swim

by Anita Sullivan

based on Gavin Mortimer's biography

Gertrude Ederle


'The Great Swim' tells the story of Channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle and the summer of 1926 when the world caught 'Channelitis'. The nineteen-year old American lived in an era of prohibition, war-debt, flapper-girl scandals and the post-war assertion of women's rights. But women were still regarded as physically unable to compete with men or engage in endurance sports. Could one of the five female athletes attempting to cross The Channel that summer really succeed? What would happen if they did? And what would be the price of failure?

'The Great Swim' is based on Gavin Mortimer's novel. It was directed by Karen Rose of Sweet Talk for the BBC and recorded at Aire Edel London and on location in The English Channel. It was broadcast in September 2010 and starred Emily Bruni with Madeleine Potter as Julia Harpman, Samantha Dakin as Lillian Cannon, Philip Jackson as Bill Burgess and Nathan Osgood, Sam Dale and Nathan Nolan. Sound design by David Thomas.

Duration: 44 minutes.


[1926 on the pier at New York, bustle of embarkation.]

NEWS VOICE   This summer five women will try to swim The English Channel. So far over two hundred men have attempted this feat. Only five men have accomplished it.

[Trudy is surrounded by newsmen.]

JELBERT      Trudy! Fred Abbot, Associated Press. People care saying this is beyond a woman. Can you really do it?

TRUDY        I am very confident. Yes.

JULIA        [NARRATION] Back in 1926, Trudy had set just about every women’s swimming record there was. I'd read all about her. But I'd never seen her swim.

RUTHERFORD   Alex Rutherford, New York Times. Trudy, The Channel beat you last year, how’s this year gonna be different?

POPS       Young man, The Channel never beat my daughter!

JULIA      I was at the top pf my game too. Julia Harpman. The only crime reporter in New York who wasn't one of the boys.

POP         Don’t forget to mention the shop: Ederle’s Meats and Sausages, 101 Amsterdam Avenue!

RUTHERFORD  Sure, Mister Ederle, sure.

JULIA       My husband was Westbrooke Peglar, the sport's colomnist. He was a ig fan of Trudy. Our paper wanted Trudy's exclusive and needed a chaperone. They sent me.

[Ship’s whistle.]

JULIA        All right, fellas! You’ve got your story, got your pictures. Time to jump ship. Unless you got tickets?

RUTHERFORD   Nah. That exclusive’s all yours, Harpman.

JELBERT      And welcome to it!

[The newsmen leave.]

TRUDY        Boy! Am I’m glad they’ve gone.

ARTHUR       Me too.

POPS         Who’s this guy, Julia? That infamous husband of yours?

JULIA        No, no! This is Arthur Sorenson, our photographer.

ARTHUR       You got me for the whole summer. Hope you packed your sea-legs, Mr Ederle!

JULIA        [NARRATION] I watched as Arthur put his subjects at ease.

[Champagne corks pop. Arthur’s camera clicks.]

JULIA        [NARRATION] The champagne helped. Stateside, we had prohibition... but The Bergenaria was a British ship.

ALL          Cheers!

JULIA        [NARRATION] I watched Gertrude. My raw material.

[Gertrude’s big laugh. Camera flash.]

             She was no bathing beauty. She was sturdily built with a broad smile, and a big laugh.
She came over loud, even brash. But Arthur... must have seen something else. He took away the champagne she didn’t want, got her to take off the fox-fur and cloche hat, and... gazing out to sea, Trudy looked younger than nineteen. Hopeful, serious. And vulnerable. Interesting, I remember thinking. But not an angle I could use.


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