OMG great great granddad!

Admiral Fisher and Sir Winston Churchill at the Admiralty 1914 Copyright: R.Fisher

Admiral Fisher and Sir Winston Churchill at the Admiralty 1914 Copyright: R.Fisher - Credit: Copyright: R.Fisher

Penelope Fisher is looking for help to tell the story of an illustrious ancestor who created the modern Royal Navy, inspired Winston Churchill and first used the abbreviation OMG

Penelope Fisher Picture: Gail Fogerty

Penelope Fisher Picture: Gail Fogerty - Credit: Gail Fogerty

When your great great grandfather was the First Sea Lord of the British Admiralty and mentor to Winston Churchill, you know he has a story to tell. When you discover that he also invented a worldwide expression of awe, omg!

Norfolk film-maker Penelope Fisher wants to tell the story of Admiral John Fisher of Kilverstone Hall, near Thetford. Known as Jacky, he is considered the second most important figure in the British Royal Naval history after Horatio Nelson.

“As I grew up I became fascinated with this enormous character,” said Penelope.

She has been intrigued by him since she was 11 and set a school family tree project. “I was amazed at what he had achieved,” says Penelope. “I wanted to know more.”

Jacky Fisher is credited with creating the modern British Navy and was mentor to a young Winston Churchill. Sir Winston said of him: “No-one who has not experienced it has any idea of the passion of the old lion.”

Jacky Fisher’s Royal Navy career spanned more than 60 years, beginning as a cadet in a Navy of wooden sailing ships and cannons and ending as Admiral and First Sea Lord with the organisation equipped with battlecruisers, submarines, torpedo destroyer ships and the first aircraft carriers. He was a details man too, introducing daily baked bread on board ships – replacing the beetle-infested hard biscuits he ate as a young recruit.

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Born in 1841 in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, he was just six when he was sent to live with his grandfather in London. At 13 he joined the Navy as a cadet. It was a tough life. He saw eight men flogged on his first day and at 18 almost suffocated beneath the dead bodies of fellow sailors during the Chinese Opium Wars. He never forgot the horror.

But by the next year he was captain of his own ship and his meteoric rise took him to Commander in Chief of the Navy in 1903 and First Sea Lord in 1904. He retired on his 69th birthday, but rejoined as First Sea Lord at the start of the First World War, working with First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill.

Jacky was in his 70s when he wrote to Churchill including the first known use of omg. He is also credited with coining the phrase “Buggins’ turn” to describe appointing people by rotation or seniority rather than merit, which he saw as a problem in the navy.

“I didn’t know the OMG story when I started researching his life,” said Penelope. “It was only much later, in my early 20s, that I came across the letter from Jacky to Churchill in 1917 in which he uses the abbreviation ‘OMG’ for ‘Oh My God.’ Jacky was a fantastic wordsmith and renowned for his letter writing.”

By then he had been made Baron Fisher of Kilverstone. The Norfolk estate had been owned by his friend, Josiah Vavasseur who, having no children, gave it to Jacky’s son and his heirs.

Penelope moved to Kilverstone, where her grandparents lived, when she was 13 and went to Riddlesworth Hall School, near Diss. At the time Kilverstone was also a wildlife park. “My grandfather John Fisher and his second wife Rosamund built the wildlife park specialising in South American animals. It was well known for Falabella miniature ponies, one of the smallest breeds of horse in the world.”

Now Penelope has set up her own company, Trident Films, to make a film of Jacky’s life and hopes to shoot part of it at Kilverstone Hall where her parents still live. She has always loved films and watched so many old movies as a child she says she thought the world used to be black and white. She, her husband and their three young children divide their time between Kilverstone and Surrey, where her husband is a doctor.

She is seeking investors for Sea Lord. The script is written and Penelope said filming could begin this year, depending on money, casting and social distancing.

It will focus on eight months of Jacky Fisher’s life, from October 1914 to May 1915. Together Jacky and Winston ruled the Admiralty at the start of the First World War but their relationship ended in disaster. Jacky favoured attacking Germany’s northern coastline over Churchill’s Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Empire in present-day Turkey. Half a million died in Gallipoli, from both sides, but it was the Allies who had to withdraw, defeated. Both men resigned and their friendship never recovered.

When he died, 100 years ago, his funeral was held in Westminster Abbey. He is buried at Kilverstone Hall. u

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