Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, The

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents




The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau ran from 1968 to 1976.

About Jacques Cousteau:

Jacques Cousteau is television's most celebrated maker and presenter of documentaries about the underwater world. Setting the standard for such programmes for decades to come, he had a profound influence upon succeeding generations of television documentary-makers around the world.

Cousteau was the virtual creator of the underwater documentary, having helped to develop the world's first aqualung diving apparatus in 1943, while a lieutenant in the French Navy, and having pioneered the process of underwater television. The aqualung afforded divers a freedom underwater that they had never hitherto enjoyed and the arrival of equipment to film underwater scenes opened the door to the documentary makers for the first time (he also had a hand in the development of the bathyscaphe, which allowed divers to descend to great depths).

Founder of the French Navy's Undersea Research Group in 1946, Cousteau became commander of the research ship Calypso (a converted minesweeper) in 1950 and most of his epoch-making films were subsequently made with this vessel as his base of operations (he made a total of some 30 voyages in all). Cousteau's early films were made for the cinema and he earned Oscars for The Silent World, The Golden Fish and World Without Sun, as well as other top awards, such as the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Later documentaries were made for television, and such series as Under the Sea, The World About Us and The Cousteau Odyssey consistently attracted large audiences when shown in the United Kingdom. The World of Jacques Cousteau, first broadcast in 1966, proved internationally successful, running for some eight years (retitled The Undersea World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau) and drawing fascinated audiences of millions all around the globe. When this series ended in 1976 he concentrated on one-off specials on selected subjects (titles including Oasis in Space, The Cousteau Amazon and Cousteau Mississippi).

The appeal of Cousteau's films was not limited to the subject matter, for Cousteau's narrative, delivered in his distinctive nasal unremittingly French accent, was part of the character of his work. His narration was occasionally humorous and tended to personalize the species under discussion, with fish being described as "cheeky" or "courageous". The inclusion of members of his family, his wife Simone and his two sons (one of whom later died) in his films also added a humanizing touch. Such an approach did much to rouse awareness of the richness of life beneath the waves and underlined the responsibility mankind had towards other species.

The winner of numerous accolades and awards over the years, Cousteau is also respected as a outspoken commentator on a range of environmental issues, particularly noted for his uncompromising stand on such matters as nuclear waste and oil pollution. He has also written numerous books based on his research and was until 1988 director of the Oceanic Museum of Monaco (a similar institution opened in Paris in 1989 failed to prosper and closed its doors two years later).

-David Pickering




Dunaway, Philip, and George De Kay, editors. Turning Point. New York: Random House, 1958.

Madsen, Axel. Cousteau: An Unauthorized Biography. New York: Beaufort, 1986.

Wagner, Frederick. Famous Underwater Adventurers. New York: Dodd, 1962.

Who talked about this show

Chuck Fries

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Chuck Fries on working with Jacques Cousteau on The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

Walon Green

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Walon Green on shooting The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
Walon Green on his interaction with Jacques Cousteau while filming The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and on their travels

Lalo Schifrin

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Lalo Schifrin on composing for The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

John Soh

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John Soh on how he came to edit The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on the challenges of editing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on problems he had synching the dailies for The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on working directly with Jacques Cousteau on editing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on the challenge of telling a story with the raw footage of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on creating a story from the raw footage of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and on the characterization of Cousteau himself on the series
John Soh on going on expeditions with Jacques Cousteau for The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on Jacques Cousteau's on-camera persona on The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on the rhythm of editing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
John Soh on the challenge of editing hundreds of hours of raw footage into an episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

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