Category Archives: Sophie Neville

Lucy Batty of Bank Ground Farm

Virginia McKenna and Lucy Batty

at Bank Ground Farmhouse, 15th May 1973

We were sad to hear that Lucy Batty has passed away. She was 87. Our thoughts are with her family. She will be fondly remembered by visitors from all over the world who were made so welcome at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water in the Lake District, which she ran as a guest house for many years. It was also used as a film location, becoming known as ‘Holly Howe’ in Richard Pilbrow’s movie, Swallows & Amazons.

Bankground Farm

Bank Ground Farm in the Lake District

I first met Mrs Batty when we filmed in her home back in 1973 and returned to stay with her in 2003 when the BBC asked Suzanna Hamilton and myself if we would appear in Countryfile, which they were filming at Bank Ground Farm with Ben Fogle. It was then that she had time to show me her photo albums. What a life she led! She was very proud of having brought up seven children on the farm, “Two of my own and five that came with my husband,” she explained. “Getting them all off to school in the mornings was such hard work that my in-laws came to help on my first day.They all wanted bread and dripping for breakfast, with sugar sprinkled on top.”

Sophie Neville with Lucy Batty at Bank Ground Farm, Westmorland in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

~ Sophie Neville with Lucy Batty  in 1973~

“A magistrate once asked me what running a B&B entailed. ‘It’s much like looking after cattle,’ I told him. ‘You bring ‘um in, feed ‘um, see they’re bedded down, turn ’em out and muck’um out.’ He flung back his head and roared with laughter.”

She had a great sense of humour. I have a cutting from an article in The News written by Brenda Colton and published on 25th May 1973. It reads:

‘When Mrs Lucy Batty was asked if her house could be used for the setting of the film Swallows and Amazons, with guest star Virginia McKenna, she was delighted. After all, her home, Bank Ground Farm on the east side of Coniston Water, near Brantwood, was the setting chosen by Arthur Ransome for his children’s book Swallows and Amazons.

Mrs Batty thought it a good idea that the story should be filmed in an authentic location, and she felt she should be able to put up with a few cameras and film men for a while. But she just did not realise the scale of a “medium budget” film like this one, or what the production staff could do to her house. It was not the two double-decker buses coming down the path and parking on the farm that she minded, nor the numerous vans, lorries, cars and caravans. It was not even the difficulty of having 80 men and women wandering round the farmhouse carrying equipment here, there and everywhere. But when art director Simon Holland started tearing up her lino and carpet in the kitchen to get to the bare stone floor, she did get a little annoyed. Especially when he removed all the electric sockets, lights and switches, pushed all the kitchen furniture into the larder and whitewashed the newly papered walls.

Have you seen the kitchen?” Mrs Batty said to me. “The larder is piled high with my furniture; and you would not believe the tip my lounge is in. But they are a funny lot. I asked if I could wash the beams in the kitchen for them, and they said ‘Oh no, we want them to look old.’ I have even had to hunt out a lot of old pottery from the cellar for them.

But I have given up now. I have just left them to it.”

What she never knew was that Ian Whittaker the set dresser went on to win an Oscar for set design and received Academy Nominations on three other classic movies.

The News article on Swallows

What I really did not know, until I watched the BBC documentary ‘Country Tracks’, was that Mrs Batty reached the point when she locked out the crew. She explained that when she was originally asked if we could film on her property she did not quite realise the scale of operations and only asked for – or accepted – a location fee of £75. She said that she decided that £75 was not enough, padlocked her front gate and wouldn’t let them back in until they agreed to pay her £1,000. It was a lot of money, more than double the fee I received for acting in the whole movie.

To read a little more about filming of Swallows & Amazons at Bank Ground Farm, please click here.

Sophie Neville holding the horses

Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville & Simon West with Mr Jackson at Holly Howe

For the amusing clip of Lucy Batty being interviewed by Ben Fogle about hosting the film company please click here and fast forward.

Bank Ground Farm the location used for Holly HoweFor Bank Ground Farm’s website please click here

I am looking forward to returning to Bank Ground Farm for the Coniston Regatta on 1st & 2nd August

I am sure many people reading this have their own memories of Mrs Batty who was such a great character. Please do add them to the Comments box below. I feel it would be a tribute to all the hard work and love she put into making Bank Ground available over the decades for so many to enjoy.

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville, trying not to look as tall as she was in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The farmhouse as Holly Howe in 1973

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Cumbria, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

Titty Altounyan

I hope that Titty’s family will not be offended if I re-publish this news clippings. She has become well-loved by many who I know would love to know more about her. The Times used her Christian name of Mavis, but she was always known as Titty.

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Although she was heralded as Arthur Ransome’s muse, I know that Titty Altounyan had no wish to be famous. If anything she gradually disassociated herself with the character in the books, who struck her as being so good and clever. But it was her name. It was a name I have lived with too, for I played the part of Titty in the film of Swallows & Amazons produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973. Children and adults alike still call me Titty all these years later. Last summer, when I was sailing Swallow, the gaff-rigged dinghy used in the film, someone took this shot of me. It is as if I am still flying Titty’s inspirational flag, which I do with humility and with honour.

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Sophie Neville lowering Swallow’s sail on Ullswater in 2014

Titty Altounyan in 1938

Titty Altounyan with the Ransome’s flotilla on the Norfolk Broads in 1934 (?)

Mrs Ransome wrote to Titty’s mother, Dora Altounyan, from Wroxham. This postcard was kindly shown to us by Ted Alexander who rescued it from certain destruction.

DSCF2137 I thought I was far too fair to play Titty but Mrs Ransome approved.  Despite Ransome’s book illustrations of girls with dark hair, she was most decisive about casting children with English colouring, who did not have black hair. The idea was that anyone watching could easily associate with us.

Sophie Neville receiving a Titty haircut

Hairstylist Ronnie Cogan giving Sophie Neville a Titty hair cut on location

I don’t know if Titty ever saw the film. She might have done. I only hope that we captured the sense of adventure experienced by the Altounyans when they were little and went camping on Peel Island during the weeks when they stayed with their grandparents, Mr and Mrs WG Collingwood, at Lane Head at the northern end of  Coniston Water.

Titty alone on Wildcat Island

Sophie Neville as Titty on Peel Island (c) Studiocanal

Although they are seen wearing shorts as young children I have been told that the Altounyan girls sailed in dresses, which they tucked up into their knickers if they had to wade ashore, much as I did in the film.

BW Sophie Neville in Secret Harbour

Sophie Neville as Titty (c) StudioCanal

The reference to Titty’s name coming from the tale of Mrs Tittlemouse in the article feature in The Times above is incorrect. Titty’s name was based on a character in fairy story Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse by Joseph Jacobs published in 1890. Here is a later edition. Titty ‘never could resist anything in print.’

Titty and Tatty book

 A version of the story published in 1949

With thanks to Roger Wardale who showed me the handwritten letters that Titty sent him. She had the most beautiful writing.

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Filed under Arthur Ransome, Biography, Film Cast, Film History, Lake District, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

The Boy Roger and the invention of the asthma inhaler

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John Franklin-Robins as Young Billy, Sophie Neville as Titty and Sten Grendon as Roger

~ Photo (c) StudioCanal ~

I have been deliberating upon points where fiction touches reality. The most significant in my own life is that the person behind my fictional brother was responsible for saving me from acute misery. Whilst I was an asthmatic, he was behind the invention of the Intal spin inhaler, which bought me instant relief.

I will explain the connection.

It concerns a true story behind the well-loved book of Swallows and Amazons. As you may know, this was written by Arthur Ransome for the children of friends of his, who were staying in the Lake District, after they brought him a pair of red slippers for his forty-fifth birthday in January 1929. He based his main characters, the crew of the Swallow, on these five real Altounyan children.

The character Roger Walker, known when he first started sailing as the Boy Roger, was inspired by Roger Altounyan then about six years old. As a consequence he was obliged to live out his school days under Swallow’s flag, as it where. This may have become tedious, although it was much the same for Sten Grendon who played the part of Roger in the 1974 film. I played his sister Titty.

Altounyan Children - Susie, Taqui, Titty (seated) and Roger

The well-known photograph of the four eldest Altounyan children – Susie, Taqui, Titty (seated) and Roger

Roger is seen here with three of his four sisters, and below as a boy along with Arthur Ransome obviously playing tennis. The story of his family is told  by Jeremy Collingwood in his recent book,  A Lakeland Saga.

Altounyan family with Ransome

Did we depict Roger Walker accurately in the film? May be not! Richard Pilbrow, the producer of Swallows & Amazons  told me that Mrs Ransome was furious that Claude Whatham had cast a boy with dark hair, but she never explained why.

swa_bw_neg_ 002Sten Grendon as Roger Walker with Virginia McKenna playing his mother

~ Photo (c) StudioCanal ~

When Evgenia Ransome visited the location and actually saw Sten running around at Bank Ground Farm she seemed happy enough and said nothing more. Perhaps Virginia McKenna somehow managed to make everything alright.

Stephen Grendon playing Roger

Sten Gredon playing Roger in 1973

~ Photo (c) StudioCanal ~

What I didn’t know until recently was that Roger Altounyan was an asthmatic. He was specifically allergic to guinea pigs.

About ten years ago I met Dr Bill Frankland, a former POW to the Japanese who became a Harley Street allergist. He is often on television, becoming  renown for still working at the age of nearly 103. Bill told me that Roger Altounyan had been a good friend of his. They’d worked together at Intal. I’d had known that Roger had been in the RAF during World War II, but not that he had qualified as a doctor and become an allergist. Bill told me that he used his knowledge of propellers to develop the Intal spin-inhaler and effectively treat asthma.

Roger was specifically intolerant to guinea pigs and would routinely experiment on himself. He would not have been allowed to do this by today’s regulations, which some say would have held back the testing definitely.  I gather from reading Rodney Dingle’s biography that the model inhaler that he made with a piece of hose pipe worked well, whilst the prototype made professionally did not. If you use an inhaler you will hear that the propeller has to be able wiggle in order for the medication to be successfully diffused into the patient’s mouth and lungs. The discovery was portrayed by David Suchet in a documentary entitled Hair Soup.

Dr Roger Altounyan

Dr Roger Altounyan

I was allergic to feathers as a child and prone to horrific asthma attacks, not from parrot’s feathers but old pillows and eider-downs. I may owe my life to Roger and his spin-inhaler. The medication certainly helped me enormously and has always given me to the peace of mind that it will give me relief if I do get wheezy.

Dr Bill Frankland

Dr Bill Frankland celebrating his 100th Birthday in 2012 with Sophie Neville

Dr Frankland gave me a set of photos taken at Roger Altounyan’s going-away party in Cumbria when he took his family and friends up Coniston Water on the Gondola. He said that Roger insisted on smoking a pipe even though he was reliant on oxygen and explained that the experimentation was partly responsible for his early death in 1987.

 Further reading: Roger: The Life and Distinguished Achievements of Dr Roger Altounyan, by Rodney Dingle. It is difficult to get hold of but Kirkland Books in Kendal have a copy.

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Very Happy Christmas from Sophie

Ride the Wings of Morning - Lulu paperback_html_mdc1541

Hoping you find time to relax with a good book

*******

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Filed under adventure, Africa, Humor, Humour, Sophie Neville, Travel, wildlife art

More behind the scenes footage of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

We have just found another reel of 16mm home movie footage shot, not on location in the Lake District, but at Runneymede near Egham in Surrey. It captures the essence of a hot day in September 1973 when we were re-called for pick-up shots after the main body of the film of Swallows & Amazons had already been edited.

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Ronnie Cogan trimming Sophie Neville’s hair for the part of Titty in September 1973

The clip opens with the film hairstylist Ronnie Cogan cutting my hair. It had been a good six weeks since I had last played Titty in front of the camera and I needed a trim to restore it to the same length it had been on 14th May when we had first started filming on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite railway. Suzanna Hamilton’s thick dark hair had grown a great deal, as had Sten Grendon’s.

Cutting Sten's hair

Sophie Neville watching Ronnie Cogan cut Sten Grendon’s hair.

Peter Robb-King the Make-up artist had been toning down out complections inside the same Make-up caravan we’d used while on location for seven weeks in Cumbria. I remember it had orange flowery curtains, a pattern much in vogue at the time.

Sophie Neville with Sten Grendon, Jane Grendon, Claude Whatham and Neville Thompson

Sophie Neville looks on as Stephen Grendon organises his costume helped by Jane Grendon with Claude Whatham and Neville C Thompson.

Neville C Thompson, the Associate Producer, who was wearing a red shirt that day, seemed happy to be back on location. The film director, Claude Whatham was working, as I will always remember him, in a pair of navy blue shorts and sailing shoes. I loved putting on the school hat and silk dress I’d worn in the train but was difficult for the boys to climb into their woolen costumes on such a bright sunny day.

Theatre Projects Call Sheet for 'Swallows and Amazons'

Richard Pilbrow, the Producer, who you can see wearing a white stripy cheese-cloth shirt so typical of the early 1970’s, seemed rather on edge. Bringing a camera crew along for what amounted to three shots must have been expensive, stretching his budget to the limit.

Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham and Simon West with Richard Pilbrow in the foreground ~photo:Daphne Neville

Gordon Hayman with a 35mm Ariss camera, Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham and Simon West, with Richard Pilbrow in the foreground ~photo:Daphne Neville

The oak tree, under which the 35mm Arriflex camera was set, was chosen to represent the Peak of Darien from which we looked out over an imaginary lake to an imaginary island. The finished movie cuts from the Walker children’s faces to a shot taken of Derwentwater at sunset with the opening title graphics superimposed over what is in reality Blakeholme, or Wild Cat Island as it is called in Arthur Ransome’s world.

Opening Titles

Denis Lewiston, the Director of Photography, was working with the Cameraman Gordon Hayman, using reflector boards to light our faces. At one stage he had me standing on a cream coloured blanket to reflect light from below. You can see it in this shot:

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker with Gordon Hayman, Denis Lewiston and Claude Whatham behind the camera

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker with Gordon Hayman, Denis Lewiston and Claude Whatham behind the camera

What I had forgotten was that two little girls came along that day to stand-in for us when the shot was being lined up. You can see them in the home-movie footage, one wearing a pale blouse with puffed sleeves.

Claude was very keen on running. He often took us for a short run before going for a shot to aerate our minds and freshen up our faces. In the story we had run down the hill from Holly Howe, so he had us running quite far before we landed on the marks that the cameraman had given us so that we’d be in focus. We had no dialogue, but the expressions on our faces were crucial to engaging the audience.

Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and the cameramen

Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and the cameramen

You see a few other people on location, not least Sten’s mother, Jane Grendon, my little sister, Molly Pilbrow and a few others who were watching. My mother had been taking the footage.

Daphne Neville with Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West

Daphne Neville with Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West

To read about this day from another angle, please click here to visit an earlier post with a few more photos.

On Friday 21st November 2014, I was invited to talk about the making of Swallows & Amazons on the CBBC movie show with David Wood, who wrote the screenplay. I’ll let you know when this will be broadcast. While I was at Novel Entertainment I met Dexter Fletcher and Bonny Langford as well as Justin Johnson from the British Film Institute who is an adviser on the series of 6 x 30 minute programmes..

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

Raising Swallow’s flag higher

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For some time now we have been doing a variety of things to raise interest in Arthur Ransome and his books, particularly the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series originally written for children.

The Royal London Yacht Club recently hosted a Swallows and Amazons weekend for the combined yacht clubs of Cowes on the Isle of Wight and in doing so raised quite a bit of money for charity.

Sophie Neville talking in Cowes

Sophie Neville giving a talk on ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’

Glenridding Sailing Centre in Cumbria have been running Swallows & Amazons Adventure Days on Ullswater and promise to hold more in 2015 . SailRansome have made Swallow, the original clinker built dinghy used in the film, available for families to use there. I took her out in August.

Sophie Neville sailing Swallow

Swallow, the dinghy used in the 1974 film on Ullswater this summer

We’ve been using the Draper’s shallop to teach children how to row on the River Lee under the auspices of Countryside Live. We have now taught hundreds of children most of whom have never been in a boat before. The idea is to inspire them to join the Sea Scouts or a local rowing or canoeing club.

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Countryside Live at Lee Valley 2014

Another boat you can sail is the Nancy Blackett portrayed as Goblin from We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water. It only costs £15 a year to join the Nancy Blackett Trust. This is wonderful for anyone living near the Orwell as Ransome once did.

The Arthur Ransome Society, known as TARS, is welcoming new members to its six regional branches. Next year an international gathering is being planned in East Anglia over the May Bank Holiday when we hope to be able to take short trips on the wherry Albion and visit Hunter’s yard to meet Teasel, Titmouse, Dreadnaught and Death and Glory ~ the boats used in the BBC dramatisation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, when the Albion played Sir Garnet skippered by Jack Watson. Revelation Films have digitally remastered the series, which they have available as a new release entitled ‘Swallows & Amazons Forever!’  I’ve been asked to give a talk on how the BBC serial was made.

I’ve been promoting StudioCanal’s re-release of the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons on Radio Cumbria, Premier Radio, Lakeland Radio and Channel 5’s live TV programme The Wright Stuff. There’s a lot going on in the media with recent pictorials in Country Life, The Lady and Cotswold Life magazines as well as newspapers and colour supplements.

Sophie Neville Q&A in Kendal

Q&A with a large cinema audience in Kendal this August

We brought the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons back to cinemas in London, Ambleside, Kendal and to Hastings on Pirate Day. I took Captain Flint’s trunk along and wore a tricorn hat only to be told by one little boy in the audience, ‘I hate pirates. They are my enemies.’  Other children asked,  ‘Did you enjoy being in the film?’ and ‘Were the spiders in your tent real?’

When we were in Kendal, the curator of the Museum of Lakeland Life gave a talk to the cinema audience bringing along the actual red slippers given to Arthur Ransome by the Altounyan children in 1929 which inspired him to write Swallows and Amazons.

Swallows & Amazons on the Houseboat

An offical still from the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (c) StudioCanal

Some schools have Swallows and Amazons as a set book. I was invited to give a talk at Walhampton School who claim a ‘Swallows and Amazons ethos’. They aspire to giving their pupils as much of an exciting outdoor education as possible with sailing and exploring on the curriculum. School House magazine backs this up saying, ‘There is a distinct ‘Swallows and Amazons’ spirit that burns brightly here.’

The Arthur Ransome Trust have a range of exhibitions, displays and resource materials. Do check out their website and future events. Meanwhile All Things Ransome have been quietly offering a veritable library of information along with a media vault. The Arthur Ransome Society has a large library of books in Dumfries where the 2016 IAGM will be held.

Swallow on Coniston

Swallow sailing from Wild Cat Island (C) StudioCanal

 

What could you do to keep Ransome’s writing on book shop shelves?

Could you organise an event at your local sailing club? Or request a screening of newly restored version of the film at your local cinema?  One is being planned in Oxford with hopefully another at Wolverstone.  PictureHouse cinemas are particularly open to the idea of screening classic family films.

I am planning ‘An Arthur Ransome Day’ at my local Waterstones and another at our library. How can we make this special and attract people off the street?

Do add your ideas to the comments below.

 

Easy things you can do right now to help promote the books:

Request a book or DVD from your local library.

Add a review to on-line sites. This leads to increased marketing of books, audio books or DVDs.

Click here for Books by Arthur Ransome on Amazon UK

Add a comment about the DVD of the film. Click here for StudioCanal’s new DVD on Amazon UK

Click here for the Amazon UK site for the DVD of the BBC serial of ‘Coot Club and The Big Six’ 

Other ideas:

Join The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook. They always have  lively discussions.

There are a number of Twitter sites you can follow.

Contact BBC TV to ask for your favourite TV or radio programmes on Arthur Ransome or his books to be repeated: Click here for the site.

 

 

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Filed under Arthur Ransome, Cinema, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Film, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

Comments on ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’

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This post comes with a huge thank you to readers who have taken the trouble to write in, send emails or add reviews on Amazon about ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’

Filming on Peel Island in 1973

Sophie Neville and Sten Grendon filming on Peel Island in 1973

‘I very much enjoyed reading about all the background and stories of what is one of mine and my children’s favourite films.’ David Hambelton, Oxford

Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennet as the Amazon Pirates

Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennet as the Amazon Pirates

‘…an absolutely fascinating account…about a film we all thought we knew so well. Like so many members of The Arthur Ransome Society I am an utter devotee… I’m finding the background to filming quite fascinating, and if I had thought it possible, yours is the book I have always longed for to exist. I’ve been absorbed in it ever since it arrived, forcing myself to take it slowly and not gobble it up in one go. Of course I’ll be back to it soon, dodging back and forth in tune with your narrative, indenifying particular scenes.’ Jeremy Gibson, Witney

Simon West and Sophie Neville in Swallow

Simon West as John and Sophie Neville as Titty in Swallow

‘If you liked the film, you MUST read this book. “Titty” is enthralling, and the story of the film is almost as exciting as the real story by Arthur Ransome. Essential reading for devotees.’ Chloe Randall, Scotland

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Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West on Peel Island

Children still ask me questions that never occurred to me:

‘How did it feel to be on the island by yourself?’  Alex aged 7.  The truth of course is that I was never on the island by myself. Perhaps I should have been left there for a while so I could experience it. I would have relished the chance.

DoP Denis Lewiston and Director Claude Whatham

DoP Denis Lewiston and Director Claude Whatham in Coniston Water

Another boy asked, ‘How did you do the water?’

This took my breath away for a second. ‘How did we do the water? The water was real, and it was very cold,’ I replied, explaining that we actually shot the film on four different lakes in Cumbria, all of which you can discover for yourself.

Have your children any questions? I’d love to hear them.

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Coniston Water

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Coniston Water

For more reviews of The Making of Swallows & Amazons on Amazon, please click here.

To see more still from the film that can be purchased as framed prints or on mugs etc please click here for StudioCanal’s website.

To find out more about The Arthur Ransome Society please click here

Brenda Bruce as Mrs Dixon with Claude Whatham

Brenda Bruce as Mrs Dixon with Claude Whatham at Tent Lodge Cottages

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cumbria, Film, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Letters, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton