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Out Of This World

Donald Malcolm Campbell (1921-1967) set water speed records of 202.32 mph (1955), 276.33 (1964). In a jet-powered automobile, he set the land speed record of 403.1 mph (1964). The son of Malcolm Campbell, a previous water and land speed record holder, Campbell was said to be obsessed with regaining the water speed record after losing it in 1965. In 1967, against the advice of his racing team, Campbell took Bluebird II out on to Coniston Water in the Cumbrian Lake District.

Although only slight, the waves on the lake were sufficient to flip his craft into the air, killing Campbell. In March 2001, Bluebird was raised from the murky waters. A Times article dated Friday March 9th 2001, details how Marillion played a key part in the recovery:
Pop song that set obsession in train

Bill Smith, a flamboyant Geordie, threw his personality, finances and diving expertise behind the project to raise Campbell’s jet-powered speedboat from its grave. The project began as a summer pursuit for the engineer, who made his fortune from reinforced anti-theft car locks in his native North Shields, and over time it grew into an obsession. He also runs an underwater exploration company, Kiltech Underwater, and talks darkly about locating bodies, bombs and sunken ships.

He recalls how he was looking for a rewarding diving project when he listened to Out of This World, by the Eighties rock band Marillion, about Campbell's exploits. It changed his life.

Four years ago he and his team of divers began mapping and logging the crash site on Coniston Water using sidescan sonar. The support of Gina Campbell, the record-breaker's daughter, encouraged Mr Smith to pursue the recovery.

His team of 16 arrived in Coniston a week ago for the final stages of raising Bluebird. They floated a barge carrying a crane and hydraulics to the crash site. Zaid Al-Obadi and Graham Woodfine, both experienced divers, carried out the early dives, managing to fix strops to the undercarriage.

On the third day they fitted a triangular cradle to the wreck, which had sunk into the silt backwards with its tail mired in mud.

Early this week the salvage experts were able to fix two-ton lift bags to the cables securing Bluebird, ensuring that they were able to lift the craft off the lake bed for the first time in 34 years.
A letter was sent to The Times by Freaks Mailing List contributor Rich Harding, pointing out that Marillion were still very much active, having got a number one in's charts the week before the raising of the wreck, with the per-release edit of This is The Twenty First Century from the band's 12th album Anoraknophobia.

More information regarding the recovery is available from the official site.

Two months after Bluebird was recovered, Campbell's partial remains were discovered and brought to the surface. He was buried in Coniston cemetery on 12th September 2001.

Bluebird was restored to working order by Bill Smith and his team. In 2018, she ran at speeds of up to 150 mph on Loch Fad on the Isle of Bute. It is hope that she can run on Coniston Water, before being placed in the purpose built gallery at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston, to whom she was donated by Gina Campbell. Bill Smith hopes that she will return to the water periodically.

'Everything that she said'
Campbell was virtually estranged from his wife at the time of his death. She was of the opinion that his desire for the water speed record had become a dangerous fixation, and that he had become blind to danger in his desire to regain it. Just before his death, Campbell wrote in his diary that he was sick of his wife's constant badgering about safety and his 'obsession'. Tonia Bern-Campbell, now 64, watched with local people who had seen the fatal crash on January 4, 1967 as the craft emerged from the water. Also present, at the behest of Bill Smith were Steve Hogarth and Steve Rothery, the latter being the official photographer for the event.

You can read h's feelings on this momentous occasion here. Bill Smith the diver is not related to the Bill Smith of Bill Smith Studio's who are responsible for H-era cover designs.

The muffled radio messages
The muffled radio messages that are just about audible in the track are taken from Campbell's final moments, being the messages from him to his team back on the banks of Coniston. Mark Kennedy reports the message was, 'Tango to Base, Tango to Base, complete accident I'm afraid, over.'

Edwin Heusinkveld pointed us at a BBC news story which told how Campbell's last words were saved for posterity. They were "The water's dark green and I can't see a bloody thing. Hallo, the bow is up. I'm going. I'm on my back. I'm gone."

Lyrics: Steve Hogarth & John Helmer

Song Listing

Songs with a link have explanations.

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  1. Who was the main composer of the music (not the lyrics)? Thanks in advance

    1. Nearly everything is written by jamming, so there is no principal writer. It's by the band.


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