Sunday, April 21, 2024

From Docker to Dunstone

Norah Docker’s yacht, Shemara, has found a saviour in Charles Dunstone


When spendaholics Sir Bernard and Lady Docker took ownership of a 65-metre yacht, the Shemara, in the 1950s, little did they know that it would ultimately become part of their nemesis. The very same boat – after languishing for many years – has now been fully restored and is now in the ownership of the telecommunications titan Sir Charles Dunstone.


The restored Shemara takes to the waves
The restored Shemara takes to the waves
Lady Docker visiting the Shemara in 1977
Lady Docker visiting the Shemara in 1977
The vessel's current owner Sir Charles Dunstone has spent vast sums on a comprehensive refurbishment and refit
The vessel’s current owner Sir Charles Dunstone has spent vast sums on a comprehensive refurbishment and refit

Launched in Southampton in 1938, the Shemara was built by Thorneycroft and subsequently commandeered for us as an anti-submarine training ship by the Royal Navy during the Second World War.


After buying the Shemara, the “gracelessly gaudy” Dockers used it for many a lavish party and their guests ranged from King Farouk of Egypt to 45 miners from Yorkshire. During their visit Lady Docker danced for them and afterwards told the press: “We had a riotous day”.


The Shemara was indeed an extravagance and cost the couple an extraordinary £250 per week to maintain at a time when the average wage for men was just £2 per week. Sadly, though, for champagne loving Lady Docker, her days on the Shemara came to an end in 1965 when her husband – ousted from the board of Daimler because of his excessive overuse of company funds for his and his wife’s pleasure – was forced to put the vessel up for sale for £600,000 as his wealth subsided.


Ultimately the desperate Dockers sold the Shemara for just £290,000 to the reclusive property tycoon Harry Hyams. The Centre Point developer used the Shemara on a number of Mediterranean cruises but largely left it languishing in Lowestoft. His crew were said to prepare lunch everyday in case he arrived but he rarely did. Amongst those that subsequently chartered it were the crooked media proprietor Robert Maxwell and in 1970, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor considered buying the boat.


Last refitted in 1992, the Shemara was sold to Sir Charles Dunstone circa 2011 and in 2013 a large-scale refurbishment and refit began on the vessel under the direction of Trimline Superyacht Interiors. Completed earlier this year, the Shemara has once again been returned to her former glory.


Now the pride of sailing aficionado Dunstone’s fleet, the Shemara is once again resplendent. Though Sir Bernard and Lady Docker would be proud of its new look, we somehow doubt the “Chipping Norton set” member and billionaire Dunstone will be following their lead and inviting any miners onboard.



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    1. I hope he’s done it up slightly more tastefully than the Dockers, who were ghastly. I went aborad her in Jersey, where they lived for a time. Vulgarity personified …

      • Why not accept that the Dockers were FUN people, Michael. Unlike the likes of today’s “celebrities”, they added colour to society. Their cars were legendary, they entertained and they didn’t give a stuff about what anyone thought of them. If only we had people like that today. Cheer up man.

        • Well said Fiona ,I couldn’t agree more with you, why are stuffy people so quick to criticise people like the dockers who were obviously fun to be around ,good for them I say Richard

      • The Dockers were friends of my parents. Michael: It’s rude to speak ill of the dead and I can tell you they were fun and friendly. Why did you go aboard if you didn’t like them?

    2. My old pal Rupert Deen was a contemporary at Harrow with Nora Docker’s son Lance Callingham; Rupert lived in a world of great privilege in Beaulieu in the ‘ heyday ‘ of Sir Bernard and Lady Docker; Shemara used to ‘ steam ‘ around from Monte Carlo to Beaulieu on a daily basis, with a uniformed crew of thirty eight, for lunch served at a vast table on the after deck. The Deen family pretty well owned.Beaulieu at that time. Just look at the scale of the deck and picture the scene!

      I’m sure that the Dockers had their shortcomings; but they were an inspiration to many as Sir Bernard was a truly ‘ old fashioned ‘ Captain of Industry and my father and grandfather drove Daimler at that time; how much better the than the current crop of egomaniacs that run our vital companies……..what about the Pantone 281 colours that adorned the office flooring of the head office, and paintwork of the fleet of cars at the Royal Bank of Scotland not to mention the logos on their gear sticks….and the xissed the money away…….want me to go on?

      Michael, they probably found you tiresome, but why don’t you enlarge on your encounter with the Dockers, as it might help to build a picture as to why you were there……….same for you Harry as you seem a champion of the Dockers

      Martin Ellis Jones

    3. Norah Docker was as common as muck and that’s hence why the phrase “a Lady Docker” refers to women who are pretentious. She got herself banned from Monaco and died in poverty as she squandered the wealth she acquired through her social climbing. Why would anyone look up to this ridiculous woman?

    4. From the Café de Paris to the Great Western in Paddington. Having made a fascinating journey between the two. Enough said I think……!

    5. Norah Royce Turner (Lady Docker) was definitely born on the wrong side of the ‘tracks’ as far as society was concerned. Therefore as a young girl her dreams of becoming part of the ‘Season’ were well and truly dreams. She used her looks and sexuality to help her on to the social ladder. So she got a job at the Café de Paris as a dance hostess. The rest as they say, is history. But she was not a Lady….!!

    6. An ex-boyfirend and life long friend, the late Bill (David) Brown once told me he visited the Dockers on a boat they had (probably The Shemara) and whilst waiting for them appear was given a tour by the butler. Having noticed a drum kit (base drum, snare, cymbals etc) on a raised plinth in the boat’s dining-room, he asked the butler whether there was a resident band. In tones reminiscent of the immortal Jeeves, the butler replied, ‘No, but, when her ladyship has had a few gins, she likes to give a performance’.

      That must have been a remarkable sight.

    7. As a member of Deen family we used to go to lunch on the Shemara . There was always the Eton College GP on board , always drunk . Yes we did own a good swathe of Beaulieu but sadly disbursed in the 70’s when Rupert father , mine the eldest and the whole of that generation had died .

    8. I was privileged to have been Norah Dockers personal hairdresser for over ten years, often joining the family on Shemara for long stays in distant ports and enjoying the waterskiing which both Bernard and Nora were very competent at especially after a Bulls blood at 11am. My most memorable trip was after the sale to Harry Hyams the returning from the Pool of London to St Helier, at precisely 1830 the TOWER BRIDGE lifted her roadway as in a salute as the ship manoeuvred under control of a Thames pilot into mid stream her siren echoing through the vacant empty wharf storage buildings in that area at that time we passed under as if in salute to the owner and master and the end of the Docker era.It was a very moving experience up on the bridge for best part of the 24 hour to Jersey. I congratulate Sir Charles Dunstan on his wisdom to purchase and renovate Shemara it may well have been costly but in her previous heyday no expense was spared to keep Shemara in tip top condition, rebuilding a legend and with it the nostalgia will have been challenging i wish him and his family many happy hours of sailing and enjoyment , i have seen the promotional film of the renovation and the new fitted ship bringing back many personal memories of my stays on board .Congratulations to everyone involved.ddada

    9. I worked for Lady Docker´s son Lance and his wife Lynn for 3 years (1977 – 1980) in Mallorca when Lady Docker also lived there. Lance taught me how to water ski and Lady Docker was at the house every weekend. Sadly none of them are no longer with us. Never a dull moment. I still live in Mallorca

      • I also stayed with Lynne and lance while I was working with friends of theres in 1969, they had 2 children Butch and Craig they would have been about 5 yrs and 1 yr at the time a lovely couple, I still have photos of the children on the little cove near there house

      • Worked for Lynn, looking after Butch and Craig for just over a year after Lynne worked for her and loved Lady Docker. She was a sweetie and adored her boys.

      • Hi Lynne, I am researching the life of Norah Docker it is good to read something from somebody who had a nice word to say about her. I’d like to talk to you about your memories, would you agree? Peter Harkness ([email protected])

        • Lance was living with a woman called Debbie,I can`t remember whether they were married or not,on a little yacht moored in the Club de Mar yacht club in Majorca last time I saw him which would have been in about 1994-95..He still had a beautiful little vintage Riva speedboat.We went over to Formentera and he taught me to waterski behind the Riva…..Deborah was like a younger version of Lady Docker,a mother substitute for Lance perhaps–the interior of their yacht was a riot of acrylic zebra and faux leopard fur…is Debbie still alive?……She would be about 70 now I think (2021).

        • I worked with Lance in a couple of Bars he bought in Plaza Mediterráneo off Plaza Gomila Palma. Mallorca, from 1984 onwards ..

          Lance moved to Formentera & Died there in November 1994. I believe his 2nd wife Debbie moved back to the Leeds area with her boyfriend Dennis .. Not heard anything since.

    10. Fascinating. Apart from filling the “society pages” of the newspapers of the day, I wonder if Lady Docker ever did anything useful in her life.

      I think the wally Rupert James above, is confusing Beaulieu in Hampshire with Beaulieu in Hampshire.

    11. I have a 12ft motor launch that was once a tender to Shamara. Cold moulded ply construction Has original air cooled ARONA single cylinder engine. Needs restoration but would sell for £3500.00

    12. My grandfather, Leslie Charles Williams, was one of the Dockers’ chefs on the Shemara. My Gran told us the parties were always gaudy and extravagant on board.

    13. My grandmothers maiden name was Docker and was cousin to Sir Bernard but they never met, so i must be Sir Bernards last surviving relative albeit distant.

    14. We were holidaying on Formentera in 1992 and met Lance and Debbie. What fun we had Lance would swim from his boat in the morning berthed in the bay (unpaid mooring fees they say) to start the day with a refreshment. He would swim back to the boat after lunch for a siesta and return early evening for drinks with Debbie and Dennis. Georgina was on school hols and staying at a hotel at the harbour. We went to Ibiza for a day trip the boat Captained by Lance with a vodka in hand. Lunch lasted several hours and we returned to Formentera in the dark. Our children had the use of Lance’s windsurf board and there was a beautiful Italian motor boat (turquoise leather upholstery) in for repair. I recall Lance was missing from the bars one day and Debbie said he had flown to London for the day. He arrived back that night in denim shirt, shorts and sandals – he had been to meet the family banker to top up funds. We did have a few discussions about how best to rob the bank boat that arrived weekly. Then he would put his clothes in a plastic bag, tie it round his neck and jump off the harbour wall and swim out to his boat.
      This was a holiday I won’t ever forget.

    15. The fabulous Lady Docker, you couldn’t make the story of her life up, the memory of the Dockers and the light they brought to a dull post war Britain. will never be out shone.


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