On Saturday 26th September at 3.00pm the original film of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was screened at the Riverside cinema in Woodbridge, Suffolk as part of their celebration of ‘100 Years of Film’.
I was on stage to answer questions about how we made the film after the screening. Swallow, the dinghy we used on the movie was rigged up outside the cinema and admired by many.
Back in April, I was invited to a similar screening of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) also held to raise funds for the up-keep of Arthur Ransome’s yacht Nancy Blackett. As the film ended I was invited up on stage to answer questions about how it was made. Marc Grimston sent a list of these, so I could answer them here for those unable to get cinema seats.
As a child were you like Titty? In 1973, I was aged twelve and at five-foot two, was really too old and too tall for the role of Titty but it was easy enough to pretend to be nine years old. I was on-screen a great deal so it probably a good thing that I was old enough to cope with long filming days. I thought I was much more like Mate Susan but perhaps that made it easier for me to play Titty.
How many tried for the role of Titty? About 1,800 children originally auditioned for the six parts in ‘Swallows & Amazons’. Claude Whatham, the director, wrote inviting me to an interview. In the end there were five girls up for the part of Titty. You can read more about the final audition here.
Sophie Neville on stage with Peter Willis, President of the Nancy Blackett Trust
Had you read the books before? I had read most of the books in the series and loved them, so it was very easy to take on the part. We never had to sit down and learn lines because we knew what to say from reading the book.
Sophie Neville taking about Swallows & Amazons
Were they any disasters during filming? Swallow’s mast broke!
How did you stay safe with the snake? It was a real adder, but quite a tame one. I think they lowered its metabolism by keeping it cool.
How did they make the lion noises? It was a recording of a real lion.
How did you capture their boat? In one take!
How did they film the night scenes? We shot many of them inside Mrs Batty’s barn.
Sophie Neville with Swallow’s flag
When you filmed the approach to the houseboat it seamed as if Amazon was coming in fast, was she? Yes, she hit it quite hard!
How long did it take to film? Forty five days! We were up in the Lake District for about seven weeks.
Do you still have the parrot? I don’t. The green parrot belonged to Mrs Proctor of Kendal where the residents were terrified of him.
What happened to Amazon? She is owned by a family living in Kent who love sailing her in the lakes. She was the same Amazon as used in the BBC serial of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ made in 1962, when Susan George played Titty.
Have you been back to the island? Yes! I last returned with Nick Barton who is planning a new film adaptation of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.
Are there adaptations of any other Swallows and Amazon books? Yes, in 1983 I was able to work on the BBC serialisation of ‘Coot Club and The Big Six’, starring Rosemary Leach, Colin Baker, Henry Dimbleby and Julian Fellowes as one of the Hullabaloos. It was my job to cast the children and look after them during the three weeks we spent on location, which was great fun.
Click here for further details: Riverside Cinema in Woodbridge