Category Archives: Sophie Neville

Book covers inspired by the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’

Stephen Grendon, Simon west, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton on the cover of the 1974 Puffin edition of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton on the cover of the 1974 Puffin edition of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome

When the EMI/Theatre Projects film of Swallows & Amazons was released forty years ago, Puffin books brought out a paperback featuring the dinghies near Cormorant Island on the front cover. The photograph was taken on Derwentwater at the point in the story soon after Titty has been found to have captured the Amazon. Did you ever have one of these?

Swallows and Amazons ~ Puffin edition, 1984

Nancy and Peggy Blackett are featured on the back cover, hiding in the reeds at the mouth of the Amazon River.  We were invited to a Puffin Club party at the Commonwealth Institute to launch the book. It was re-printed twice in 1974, which might reflect the popularity of the film.

Unbeknownst to me until this afternoon, Heinemann Educational books brought out this cover in 1982.

Swallows & Amazons  Heinemann Educational Books

The photograph would have been shot when we were rehearsing the scene when the Swallows first land at Peel Island on Coniston Water. It was mid-May and I got terribly cold in my thin cotton dress. Suzanna wasn’t feeling well and we all felt a bit tired, as you can see.

Sophie Neville and Simon West on the cover of 'Swallows and Amazons' published by the Daily Mail

Sophie Neville and Simon West on the cover of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ published by the Daily Mail in 2003

Almost thirty years after Richard Pilbrow released the movie, a hardback was produced with a tinted black and white still from the film taken when we were fishing in Shark Bay. We have Arthur Ransome guardians to thank for this. The draft copy had a rather clonky cartoon that they were not happy with. It can be seen by clicking here.

This book cover was advertised every day for a week on the front cover to the Daily Mail and profiled in the magazine as one of their thirty books featured in their Children’s Golden Library collection.

Swallows and Amazons promoted by the Daily Mail

The offer was featured nationally in a television commercial. I saw the advert myself a couple of times and wondered what effect the promotion would have. Simon and I weren’t given any warning and received no remuneration for having our faces spun around in the advertisement, although a box of books arrived unexpectedly at my house. I gave one to the lady who was translating Swallows and Amazons into Chinese.

Swallows and Amazons in the Daily Mail -

This hardback is often available on eBay, where I found this 1992 edition published by Cresset Press. I hadn’t seen it before. Suzanna Hamilton thought the choice of photograph rather bizarre.

'Swallows and Amazons' book cover 1992

I preferred the still from the movie used on the cover of the first VHS tape.

'Swallows and Amazons' on VHS

The cover of the original VHS version of  ‘Swallows & Amazons’

This is probably because it reminded me of the 1970 Puffin book cover that I read as a child and took with me to the Lake District when we started filming in May 1973. I underlined all Titty’s dialogue in pencil.

'Swallows and Amazons' Puffin book cover 1970

The publishers, Red Fox, commissioned an illustration for their cover along the same lines, depicting the characters in the 1974 movie.

Swallows and Amazons book cover by Red Fox

The current designs for Arthur Ransome’s paperbacks are on display at the V&A having won the Book Cover Illustration Award. Association with the movie can hardly be claimed, but hopefully the film will have helped to keep Ransome’s stories on the shelves of bookshops worldwide.

S&A book cover in the V&A

Possibly as a result of this, or perhaps because they just liked the colours of the design and the book, Apple iPad featured the cover on their illuminated advertisements seen around London:

Apple iPad ad featuring Swallows and Amazons

I walked up the steps of Tower Bridge underground station to see Swallow’s flag flying: fabulous!

Apple iPad ad in the London Underground

Robert Thompson has made an online survey including covers of all the children’s books by Arthur Ransome, which you can access by clicking here.

Does anyone know of any other book or audio tape covers that used photographs from the film?  Do add your comments in the box below.

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Bestseller, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Lake District, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

VHS and DVD covers of the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’

The DVD of 'Swallows and Amazons' with a cover based on the 1974 film poster

The current DVD of Swallows & Amazons with a cover based on the 1974 film poster

When the movie Swallows & Amazons was released forty years ago the mere idea of Blu-ray or DVD recordings had not been dreampt of. When my father asked about acquiring a copy of the film he was quoted £450 for a set of 35mm reels designed to be projected on a cinema screen.  The sum was more than I received for working on location, even though I had a lead part. I was, however, sent a copy of the LP brought out to accompany the film. It was narrated by David Wood who wrote the screenplay and included Wilfred Joseph’s full score. You can still buy these online today.

Swallows and Amazons LP

Although we were never informed,  I now discover that at one time you could buy film clips on Supper 8, to project at home. You could probably still find this on eBay.

Super 8 version of Swallows film

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Sten Grendon as the Swallows sailing on Coniston Water

When home video recorders first came out in the late Seventies I was working for Virginia McKenna. I remember her husband Bill Travers telling me that they had decided to go for Beta rather than VHS.  Almost inevitably Swallows & Amazons was released on VHS, in a big fat box, and came into its own as families snuggled down to watch it at home on rainy afternoons.  There were a number of cover designs:

Ronald Fraser on the cover of the VHS

With Ronald Fraser on the cover of the VHS

This one distributed by Warner Bros. is featured on the international movie data base. Click on the image more information and other cover designs.

Swallows and Amazons VHS 3

Readers have sent in an image of the reverse:

VHSreverse

There have been different versions marketed all over the world. The movie became so popular in the Baltic and Czech Republic that it has been dubbed a number of times:

The Norweigian version

The Norwegian version

For years the DVD has been sold as a double bill with The Railway Children, which was also financed by EMI Films.

Swallows and Amazons and Railway Children DVD   Swallows and Amazons and Railway Chidlren VHS

This is the double-bill released by StudioCanal:

DVD released by StudioCanal

 

In 2008 a DVD of very good quality was released by the Daily Mail, with a picture of me looking like a baby monkey on the wrapper. We were given absolutely no warning. The first I knew of it was a friend ringing up to ask me if I could spare a DVD for his kids, ‘Someone’s swiped the office copy.’

Swallows and Amazons Daily Mail DVD

Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville on the cover of the DVD published by the Daily Mail in March 2008

It was featured on the front cover for seven days, as well as in the magazine. I am often asked if we get massive residuals for distribution rights or when our images are used to promote newspapers but I have never received anything. This version did at least have end credits. There are reviews on Amazon about a DVD that lacked these. I was amazed that anyone even noticed but viewers assured me it was an outrage.

Sophie Neville on the cover of the Daily Mail DVD

I am so glad that the movie can be watched and enjoyed by successive generations of children. The most inspirational cover of all was on that very first boxed VHS, which featured us sailing up Derwentwater:

'Swallows and Amazons' on VHS

The original VHS version of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Does anyone know of any other VHS or DVD covers?  Do add your comments in the box below.

StudioCanal, who own the rights to the film, have a set of stills you can see by clicking here. To see more stills from the film please click here

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Cumbria, David Wood, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Lake District, Movie, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

4th April marks the 40th Anniversary of the release of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

Premier ticket for the Gala of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Premier ticket for the Gala of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

The premier of the feature film Swallows & Amazons was held on 4th April 1974 in Shaftesbury Avenue, in London’s West End.  Those who watch it on television today, or have the DVD, are amazed to hear it was first released almost forty years ago. Please forgive me if you have seen this photos before but it seems quite a date to celebrate.

The ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue in 1974. It is now the Odeon Cinema.

The ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue in 1974. It is now the Odeon Cinema.

The Royal Gala Matinee was held in aid of the charity KIDS, which works with disabled children, young people and their families. The society is still going strong and has been celebrating its own 40th anniversary recently.

sister Allyne, Daphne Neville, Tamzin Neville and Sophie Neville

Arriving by taxi ~ Sister Allyne with Daphne Neville, Tamzin Neville and Sophie Neville

We arrived by taxi with my house mistress, Sister Allyne, and head mistress Sister Ann-Julian, who had travelled up from Wantage in Oxfordshire for the occassion.

Daphne and Sophie next to Exorcist poster

Sophie Neville with Daphne Neville outside the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue in 1974

Of all films, they found The Exorcist was showing at the same cinema. I gazed up at the billing outside the entrance, more interested in seeing the names of Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser with the romantic design of the graphics spelling out Swallows & Amazons.

The premier - in Shaftesbury Avenue

The first thing that happened was that I was whisked off for lunch with the five other children in the cast by Claude Whatham, the director. He chose a bistro where I chose hamburgers and chips. I’m not sure what the rest of my family did, but can only presume they found something to eat.

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton in Laura Ashley and her mother

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton in Laura Ashley and her mother

We arrived at the ABC cinema to find they had already taken their seats in the audience. We met up with Ronald Fraser and Richard Pilbrow, the film producer, who introduced us to Princess Helena Moutafian, Patron of KIDS, who the Earl and Countess of Compton had brought to celebrate the film’s release and help raise funds for the charity. Mummy had instead I made a curtsey to each person I was introduced to. Did this include members of the Press?

Jane Grendon braving the crowds outside the cinema

Jane Grendon braving the crowds outside the cinema

We also met a number of Ladies: Lady Bridport, Lady Onslow, Lady Nelson of Stafford, Lady Harford and others listed below who must have arrived with their children. It was all quite something.

Please note that Simon West, (to the right in the top photo) was wearing a tie that matched exactly with the floral print of his shirt. This was the height of fashion in 1974, something I have yet to see revived or replicated. Suzanna and I both wore pinafore dresses. These have not experienced a revival either, although Suzanna’s Laura Ashley print would be considered a treasured vintage piece. My mother was horrified that Ronald Fraser had his collar button undone, but I think that was a nod to trendy-ness. He also wore a badge in support of the charity pinned to his lapel. Badges were all the rage at the time and collected by all.

The premier - reported in Cinema TV Today

The premier of Arthur Ransome’s story ‘Swallows & Amazons’ – reported by Cinema TV Today in 1974

As you can see, we met Bobby Moore, the Hollywood actress Patricia Neal, the Norwegian Bond Girl Julie Ege and Spike Milligans’ family. Will Travers, now the CEO of the charity Born Free, came to represent his mother, Virginia McKenna who sadly couldn’t be with us.

A commemorative programme was being sold with a sepia version of the film poster on the cover:

Premier ticket application form

Inside there were several pages about those who appeared in the film. I still have a copy:

Virginia McKenna, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon and Ronald Fraser appearing in the centre pages of the film premier programme

Virginia McKenna, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon and Ronald Fraser appearing in the centre pages of the film premier programme

The opposite page:

Simon West, Kit Seymour, Ronald Fraser, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton with half of Stephen Grendon on the second page

Simon West, Kit Seymour, Ronald Fraser, with Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Lesley Bennett also appearing in the action photo onboard the houseboat.

It wasn’t until years later that I was shown copies of the stills used to advertise the film inside cinemas.

Sophie Neville with Swallow outside the Bluebird Cafe on Coniston Water

Sophie Neville holding the original publicity photograph found on eBay ~ photo: Kitty Faulkner

The original film posters, which once hung in the London Underground, have become collector’s items, valued at about £240 each on eBay. Studiocanal, who now own the film rights, have a selection of posters available as framed prints if you click here.

This was the version used as an advertisement in the Sunday Times forty years ago.

Kit Seymour, Lesley Bennett, Simon West, Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon, Ronald Fraser and Virginia McKenna on the Newspaper advertisment for 'Swallows and Amazons' released in Apirl 1974

Kit Seymour, Lesley Bennett, Simon West, Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon, Ronald Fraser and Virginia McKenna on the Newspaper advertisement for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ released in April 1974

You probably know that ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ is currently available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle and for other e-readers via Smashwords. It has been described by one reviewer on Amazon as the equivalent of DVD Extras, as it explains how we made the movie in the Lake District, back in the summer of 1973, as well as how the film was promoted and received in the UK. Hopefully the paperback and hardback versions will be out soon, but the ebook is unique in that it gives links to behind-the-scenes footage shot on location by my parents.

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

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

If you enjoyed watching ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on ITV3 last weekend

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

If you would like to know how the movie of Swallows & Amazons was made and know where the real locations can be found, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ is currently available as an ebook on Amazon and Smashwords for £2.56.  The paperback and hardback will be launched soon to mark the 40th anniversary of the film’s release.

Do you know where the Peak of Darien can be found? photo: Roger Wardale

Do you know where the Peak of Darien can be found?

The book, which is suitable for any age group, is based on the diary that I kept when I played the part of Titty Walker in 1973. It is illustrated with behind-the-scenes photographs and memorabilia such as one of the tickets to the Royal Gala premier in Shaftesbury Avenue held on 4th April 2014. You will also find out what the actors who played the Walker family ~ the Swallows ~ are doing now.

The joy of the ebook is that it includes a number of home-movie clips that my parents took of life behind the scenes that you can play wherever you have internet access.

Classi Boat magazine Books ~ Feb 2014

A review of the ebook in Classic Boat magazine ~ Feburary 2014

If you have any questions about making the film, please add them to the comments below, and I will get back to you.

Richard Kay's column in Daily Mail Friday Nov 22nd1

A review of ‘the Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ in Richard Kay’s column in the Daily Mail ~

There were rather over-excited headlines in the Times and Telegraph when the ebook was launched in November, but they only spoke of the legendary drinking of Ronald Fraser. Please don’t worry – there is nothing X-rated about the book – it is just the price one pays for half a page in a daily newspaper, especially since it came out on a Saturday.

The Times Sat 23 Nov 20131

The ebook has been doing well in the Amazon charts. At the time of writing it is Number 3 in ‘Stage and Theatre’.

Lymington Times 4th Jan 2014

A preview of what the book holds in store can be watched here:

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ – the book trailer

Very many thanks to all those who have left customer reviews on Amazon. It is always exciting to find out how the book has impacted others, especially those who love the Arthur Ransome books.

To read more reviews please click here

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Bestseller, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Dinghy sailing, e-publication, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Kindle, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, News, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

Behind-the-scenes in film and television – part two

Love in a Cold Climate

The composer Julian Slade with Daphne Neville – who was playing Lady Kroseig - & Sophie Neville on location at Swinbrook Church, filming of ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ for LWT in 1978.

One way or another, much of my childhood and teenage years were spent hanging around on film sets. When I was fifteen I had the opportunity to work as a film editor’s assistant for Tony Woollard when he was editing Abide With Me, an adaptation of Winifred Foley’s childhood memoir, which was directed for BBC Television by Moira Armstrong. At the age of nineteen I found myself working for a prop buyer on a Saturday Night Thriller called Dark Secret that LWT, London Weekend Television, were making at my parents’ house. I was struck by how nice the technicians were.

Sophie Neville aged 19

Our house was often used as a location. You can’t hear the noise of traffic there. For some reason this always involved hose pipes (to provide water for the location caterers) and parking a huge number of vehicles. Our house was turned into a restaurant for Dark Secret, and then became known as a love nest, for the BBC costume drama House of Elliot which amused my father.

Our house used for the set of the 'House of Elliot'

‘House of Elliot’ being shot on location at my parent’s house in Gloucestershire. They brought in Edwardian furniture and dressing props.

My mother thought the best way to occupy us children during school holidays was to send us filming. I was forever driving my little sisters to one location or another. Call times could be hideously early.

Children appearing in 'Tenko'

On the set of the BBC drama serial ‘Tenko’ based on the true stories of civilian internees during WWII

My sisters weren’t always so sure about this but they were well paid, which was one thing.

Tamzin Neville in 'Tenko'

A continuity photograph taken on the set of ‘Tenko’ in about 1981 near Bournemouth in Dorset. Stephanie Beauchamp is in the striped dress.

Appearing as supporting artists in Tenko, the BBC serial about female internees in the Far East during WWII, was hateful. Apart from the fact that the location catering was good, it made one feel exactly like a prisoner of war, or rather a female civilian internees. Dressed in rags with our hair filled with grease, we were unable to move far or even sit down anywhere except in the filthy sand of the prison camp. The only good thing was that we were allowed to sunbathe, albeit in costume. What I did gain was the opportunity to watch a film crew in action day after day. It was all good experience for a girl who was soon to become a film runner herself.

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Filed under Acting, Autobiography, Film, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, truelife story, Uncategorized

Behind-the-scenes in television and film

BW Filming on Peel Island

When I was a little girl, I was an avid viewer of Blue Peter, BBC Television’s flagship series for children. My favorite items would be profiles that were run from time to time about life behind the scenes at Television Centre. It was only later, whilst working for the BBC as a researcher, that I was told the terrible truth. The set designer Bruce Macadie said that such items were produced when the editor of Blue Peter was unexpectedly let down by a guest or couldn’t think of anything more newsworthy. I didn’t care a hoot. I was interested in how films were made from the age of about nine.

‘What a peculiar girl!’  I hear my friend Nac saying.

The reason was that I had rather a peculiar upbringing. I once described myself in an application for a job as a television director as a ‘Child of the studio floor’. The reason was that in 1969, when I was about eight years old, my mother became an in-vision announcer, reading the regional News and appearing on our crackly black and white set to brightly declare what would be shown that evening.  She worked at the Harlech Television Studios in Cardiff, alongside Martyn Lewis and Liz Carse. She would also descend in an oval wicker basket chair from which she would present a one-woman Children’s programme on called It’s Time For Me. This looked liked magic, and I wanted to know how it was achieved.

‘I was paid the same amount as a short-hand typist.’ The men were paid more than the women and her schedule was gruelling. On top of this she would drive 72 miles to the Cardiff studios in a rusty Mini van. Even though this was replaced she went part-time. Having become an expert on how long script bites took to read in different accents she would ‘whizz down to Bristol’ to read the letters on Any Answers for the producer Carol Stone.

‘But how did the basket come down?’

‘Oh, the rope was attached to a pulley on the studio lighting rig and  lowered  by three prop men.’

Daphne Neville making a radio commercial

My mother working in a radio studio in the 1970′s. Please not the producer’s cigarette and plastic cups.

I would often travel down with my mother to be shown around various studios. I remember sitting behind the Dalek-like cameras watching a live afternoon programme called Women Only being recorded at HTV Bristol. Mum presented it with Jan Leeming and a rotund TV cook called Tony. He had to wear a bright yellow chef’s hat and top so that they would come across as ‘chef’s whites’ rather than weirdo glowing garments on everyone’s black and white television sets. Mum spent ages looking for clothes to wear in vision as she was not allowed to wear either spots or stripes since they were liable to strobe. Dresses made from crimplene were all the rage but (luckily) she was banned from wearing this as TV screens would pick up on any static that it might exude. Sparkling garments were a no-no.

You wouldn’t think that Gloucestershire would be a hot spot for the film industry in the UK but in 1971 I was able to watch a film crew making a drama on location in Slad near Stroud, when I was chosen to play Eileen Brown in the BBC adaption of Laurie Lee’s memoir, Cider with Rosie directed by Claude Whatham. It had nothing to do with luck. I was the only little girl they could find with long hair who could play the piano.

Sophie Neville on the set of Cider with Rosie

Narrowly avoiding a collision with the BBC wardrobe mistress outside Slad village school where BBC TV were filming ‘Cider with Rosie’ in 1971. A tripod, camera cases and scenic props are stacked up by the blackout curtain.

In 1972 I was given a tiny non-speaking part of a ‘Woodchild’ in Arthur of the Britons that was made near Woodchester by HTV.  I had forgotten all about this until I saw a Youtube clip. I gather the serial has become cult viewing in the States.

Filming Arthur of the Britons

‘Arthur of the Britons’ being shot on two 16mm cameras at my parents’ farm in 1972

Around this time the BBC made an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, shot on location in Bath. We went down to be film extras in this and in a BBC drama called Song of Songs.

Sophie with the Panavision

Sophie Neville in 1973 with a 35mm Panavision camera

By the time I was cast as Titty in Swallows & Amazons I was relatively experienced. Later that summer I was in a Weetabix commercial and the next year I was invited to appear on a number of magazine programmes to publicise the movie. I remember being interviewed on Nationwide and profiled at home on Animal Magic.

Watching a television commercial being made in 1973

Watching a television commercial being made in 1973

Inevitably one thing leads to another and I was soon asked to audition for a number of subsequent films. Inflation was roaring at 17% in the mid-1970s and I don’t think any of these were ever made but it was good interview experience. I ended up at Shepperton Studios doing a screen test for a musical version of The Old Curiosity Shop. This was serious stuff, shot on a film stage in Victorian costume. My music teacher spent ages teaching me to sing All I Want is a Room Somewhere but despite endless discussions nothing more came of it. However looking around Shepperton had been amazing. At some stage I had also auditioned at Pinewood Studios. I had been shown around the set of the latest James Bond and even had a go on the swing featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Mum wouldn’t let me tell anyone at school about it, as I might had come across as swanky. But as film studios were not open to the public then it did add to my education.

Sophie and Vic Armstrong in Copter Kids

Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Sophie Neville, Sophie Ward, Vic Armstrong and Michael Balfour in ‘The Copter Kids’ – a movie for CFF shot on location in 1975

Although lanky, and focused on GCSEs, I managed to gain a leading role in an adventure film when I was fifteen. This proved interesting it involved working with stunt men including Vic Armstrong, who later became Harrison Ford’s double. We got to shoot from helicopters. At times the camera literally showed me shooting from a helicopter with a bow and arrow.

Sophie Neville in Crossroads for ATV

Playing Kevin’s sister, Glenda Brownlow’s bridesmaid, in a couple of episodes of ‘Crossroads’, the ATV soap opera that ran for 24 years

And then there was an opportunity to be in Crossroads. What an experience! I was various wedding scenes and the crowds who turned out to watch were unexpected. I was eighteen by then and did it purely for the money. I’ll see if I can find the article I wrote about it for my university magazine. Please let me know the name of the actor playing Kevin. I was meant to be his sister.

To see more about Mum’s career please see her website

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Filed under 1973, 1983, Acting, Autobiography, Biography, Film, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

Captain Flint’s Houseboat revisited

DSCF7742

SY Gondola on Coniston Water today

When people see the Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston today, in all her re-built glory, she seems rather plush to have been cast by Arthur Ransome as Captain Flint’s houseboat. The main reason for assuming that she was used as the model for the illustrations is because Arthur Ransome grabbed a post card of the Gondola and drew on it to give the first illustrators of Swallows and Amazons some idea of his vision. However Ransome’s biographer Roger Wardale tells me it was a former steamer on Windermere that he had in mind: the S.L Esperance .  

Houseboat  bay in 1963

Esperance in Rayrigg Bay, Windemere ~ photographed by Martin Neville in about 1963

When I was first taken up to the Lake District in 1963 my father found what he thought was houseboat bay on Windermere and took this shot of a vessel that must be SL Esperance. She does look very like the first professional drawing submitted to illustrate Swallows and Amazons.

Stephen Spurrier's unused illustration of Swallow sailing past Captain Flint's houseboat

Stephen Spurrier’s unused illustration of Swallow sailing past Captain Flint’s houseboat

Arthur Ransome’s terse note reads: ‘The ass has forgotten the mast’. Today the Esperance is lying at the Steamboat Museum on Windermere, where I went to visit her with Nick Barton in 2011. Built at Rutherglen in 1869 she is nearly 65 foot long with a 10 foot beam.

Esperance at the Windermere Steamboat Museum

SL Esperance at the Windermere Steamboat Museum in 2011

She did not always have such a traditional appearance. Roger Wardale kindly sent me this photograph showing what she looked like in the 1930s.

'Esperance' in the 1930s when she was owned by Sir Oliver Scott.

‘Esperance’ in the 1930s when she was owned by Sir Oliver Scott.

The cabin has since been removed from her rear end.

DSCF7695

SY Esperance at the Windermere Steamboat Museum in 2011

SY Esperance now looks more like this illustration – or could do. Although she has a setting for a mast the reality is that she has seven windows, whereas Clifford Webb’s illustration shows her with only six.

Clifford Webb's illustration of Captain Flint's houseboat

Clifford Webb’s illustration of Captain Flint’s houseboat

I have no idea if anyone could film aboard her today when safety regulations are so strict.

Claude Whatham discussing plans with sailing director David Blagden (in the white hat) and Richard Pilbrow on the aft deck of the houseboat with Molly Pilbrow looking on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Claude Whatham took advantage of the larger cabin windows in the Lady Derwentwater whilst filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Back in 1973 Richard Pilbrow was obliged to use the Lady Derwentwater, still owned by the Keswick Launch Co. She has quite a different stern from the illustrations but was licensed to carry 90 passengers, which must have allowed him to take a seventy-strong film crew on board. At least she was given a mast. You can envisage Ronald Fraser, as Captain Flint, angrily stamping out the firework on the roof.

One advantage of the Lady Derwentwater was that the windows of her cabin enabled the director to get a good view of the lake, which he made use of when Captain John rowed over from Peel Island to visit Captain Flint and pass on the charcoal burners’ warning.  She couldn’t be moved to another lake, but Derwentwater is surrounded by such dramatic fells that the director, Claude Whatham used this to his advantage. A postcard of Friar’s Crag near Keswick was used by Ransome to give his illustrator an idea of what the Peak of Darien was like, even though he had originally based this on the rocky promontory at Waterhead on Windermere. Roger Wardale tells me the Ransomes would sail there in Swallow and stop for tea before heading back south.

Sophie Neville at the Windermere Steamboat Museum

Sophie Neville at the Windermere Steamboat Museum

Was the Gondola so very different? Ransome had known her since spending his own childhood holidays on Coniston, when she was in service.  While staying at Nibthwaite he became a good friend of the Captain, or so the story goes. Back in 1973 the Gondola looked like this – her roof too curved to run along, her bow rising up a little too dramatically to accommodate the foredeck of a retired pirate busy writing up his devilish crimes while his a cannon lies glinting in the sunlight, ready to fire.

Was this the houseboat Arthur Ransome had in mind? ~ photograph taken by Martin Neville in 1973

Photograph of the Gondola on Coniston Water taken by Martin Neville in 1973

To read more about Esperance, please click here

For more about the Steamboat Museum with a photograph of Esperance, please click here

To read more, from another perspective please click here

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Adaptations of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ discussed in the Independent on Sunday by Jonathan Brown

Author Arthur Ransome loathed BBC’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’, his diaries reveal

A new adaptation of the classic is coming, but its author called the 1960s version ‘a ghastly mess’

Sunday 16 February 2014

When the BBC announced plans to recreate the classic outdoor children’s sailing adventure Swallows and Amazons it was hailed as a blockbusting antidote to the health and safety culture of the mollycoddled video-game generation. Filming of the new version of the 1930s Lake District adventure is due to begin later this summer with big stars including Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens already linked to the project.

However, previously unread diaries of its creator, Arthur Ransome, reveal that the author considered the corporation’s last attempt to bring his much-loved story to life to be a “ghastly mess” marred by “dreadful ham” acting. The diaries reveal how Ransome clashed repeatedly with BBC executives in the early 1960s when the BBC commissioned a six-part dramatisation for television, starring Susan George, then aged 12, as Kitty (changed from the original Titty) Walker.

Ransome, then in declining health, was living in virtual retirement in his remote Cumbrian cottage Hill Top overlooking the spectacular Rusland valley with his wife Evgenia – the former secretary to Leon Trotsky, whom he met while working as a foreign correspondent and spying for Britain in revolutionary Russia. It was a spartan existence, often with no electricity or running water.

In a series of brusque entries at odds with his generally affable demeanour, he describes how he repeatedly fought with BBC executives over attempts to introduce two new characters – Ernie and Sam – to the story. Both he and his wife attempted to rewrite the script after concluding that one episode was “bad beyond belief”.

At his home Hill Top with his wife, Evgenia

At his home Hill Top with his wife, Evgenia

“I have agreed to Genia’s proposal that we shall wash our hands of the film leaving it to Mr Walls [of the BBC] to play the farceur as much as he likes. They may be right in thinking that vulgar ham acting is what the T.V. gapers want,” he wrote in July 1962.

Ransome was particularly unimpressed with the performance of popular British actor John Paul as Captain Flint – the character linked this time to Dan Stevens, and said to be based on Ransome himself – describing it as “dreadful HAM”.

On attending a screening at the Hammer Theatre in Wardour Street, central London in October 1962, he concluded: “Saw the ghastly mess they have made of poor old Swallows and Amazons … MacCullogh [his friend Derek MacCullogh, former head of children's broadcasting at the BBC who was also known as the presenter Uncle Mac] did not come possibly to avoid trouble with his employers.” It was eventually broadcast the following year.

Stephen Sykes now owns Hill Top and has restored the Ransomes’ former home. He is also helping transcribe the author’s sparsely detailed diaries from his years at Hill Top, which are kept at Leeds University’s Brotherton Library. Sykes said the writer received £3,500 for agreeing to the BBC broadcast – a considerable amount of money. “He was clearly making a very good living out of the rights to Swallows and Amazons. This was his baby and he had obviously pored over it. It is a very leanly written story and it was pretty clear it was written by a journalist because of its clarity, because there is nothing extraneous,” he said.

“He is extremely protective of his own work. He felt he didn’t want a word changing, and that he had honed the story down and it was what it was,” he added.

Susan George, who played Kitty

Susan George, who played Kitty

Swallows and Amazons was first published in 1930. It recounts the adventures of the children from two families who while away an idyllic summer getting into scrapes sailing their dinghies across Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. As well as the television series, many theatrical and musical adaptations have been staged, and the story was made into a film in 1974 staring Ronald Fraser and Sophie Neville.

When the latest project was announced in 2011, head of BBC Films Christine Langan said it would seek to encapsulate a forgotten era of childhood adventure “from the pre-health and safety generation”.

Producer Nick Barton of Harbour Pictures, which is collaborating on the film with the BBC, the Arthur Ransome Society and the author’s literary estate, said it had not been decided yet whether the children would be shown sailing without their life jackets.

But he said viewers could expect to experience the full majesty of the book’s setting. “The lakes and the mountains are very big and we are keen to recreate that grandeur of the scenery in the film,” he said. A spokeswoman for BBC Films said: “The film is still in development.”

To see a copy of the original article online, please click here

To contact Stephen Sykes at Hill Top, the Ransome’s last home, please click here

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Claude Whatham, the film director whose work never dated

Claude and Virginia at the railway station

Claude Whatham & Virginia McKenna

I had no idea how prolific Claude Whatham was until I read his obituary. But can the facts in this be correct? It states that he had been commissioned to paint murals by the young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret in their rooms at Windsor Castle in 1940 after their pictures had been removed for safe-keeping during the Blitz. They couldn’t bear the idea of bare walls and asked if he could paint something cheerful. As Claude was  born in 1927 I thought he must have been to young but he was in his first year at art college. You can see images of the murals and read his own version of how this came to pass if you click here.

Claude Whatham at Egham

Claude Whatham in 1973

All I can tell you is that Claude Whatham simply had the self-confidence to succeed.  After working for a short time as a production designer he became a director at the age of about thirty – evolving his craft in the early years of television. Single minded and determined, yet usually coming across as relaxed, he moved into directing movies in 1972 with That’ll Be The Day starring David Essex, Ringo Starr and Robert Lindsay, followed by Swallows & Amazons in 1973 when he was forty-six.

I’d met him in 1971 when he directed the first BBC adaptation of Laurie Lee’s memoir, Cider with Rosie, for which he received a BAFTA nomination. It was made where the book is set at the village of Slad in the Cotswolds, about seven miles from where I grew up. Claude also had a cottage in the nearby hamlet of Camp,  near Bisley, also near Stroud in Gloucestershire.

Claude in my hat in Egham 1

Claude Whatham directing the title sequence of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on location in Surrey with Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and his camera crew

Claude loved taking his clothes off. It was almost indicative of his style. He wasn’t shy. If you look at what he was wearing you will see that his clothes were both on trend at the time and would still be fashionable today. He would wear Levi jeans, deck shoes or sailing boots and a parker coat with a fur-lined hood in wet weather. As for headgear, I only ever saw him wearing other people’s hats.

Claude Whatham directing a commercial

Claude Whatham directing a TV commercial

Claude was always happy working outside. Problems did not seem to phase him. I worked with him on location in Gloucestershire, Surrey and Cumbria, visiting him on set in the Yorkshire Dales when he was filming the movie All Creatures Great and Small based on the life of the vet James Herriot, that starred Anthony Hopkins and Simon Ward. I was sorry when I heard that he gained a reputation at the BBC for being too detailed and pernickety in the studio. I expect it frustrated him.

Claude Whatham in 1973

Claude’s period films are marked by their enduring quality, they have not dated. I was glad to read that he had happy memories of filming Swallows & Amazons:

Claude Whatham profiled by Tom E Parkinson

Claude Whatham profiled by Tom E Parkinson in the Oldham Evening Chronicle 18th April 1974

For a full list of Claude’s film and television credits please click here

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The child star, once seen as the little girl eating an ice cream in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

 Tamzin in pink and and Perry in yellow eating ice creams whilst appearing as film extras in 'Swallows & Amazons'. Kit Seymour and Jane Grendon stand behind them.

Tamzin eating ice cream in a pink dress whilst appearing as a film extra in ‘Swallows & Amazons’. Kit Seymour and Jane Grendon stand behind her.

It is with some bemusement that I see myself described as a child star in newspapers.  I only appeared in two feature films before I grew too tall to do more. It was the little girl here seen eating ice-cream in a pink dress, when she appeared as a film extra in Swallows & Amazons, who became a much brighter starlet than I.

Wheetabix Commercial with Tamzin Neville and Percy Baxter

Tamzin appearing with Percy Baxter in a Weetabix advert directed by Claude Whatham in 1973

My sister Tamzin enchanted directors who cast her in one role after another. Her career started in 1972 when she was given the lead role of Elka in an episode of Arthur of the Britons opposite Oliver Tobias who played King Arthur. He later introduced her as his co-star. By this time he was known as The Studhaving starred opposite Joan Collins in the movie of her sister Jackie Collins’ racy novel.

Tamzin in Arthur of the Britons

No one asked Tamzin if she could ride. It was a good thing that she could as she was soon cantering up and down the hills on a massive horse, whilst clutching that medieval  doll. You can watch a bit on Youtube. Arthur of the Britons had the most prestigious cast: Brian Blessed, Martin Jarvis, Tom Baker, Catherine Schell, Iain Cuthbertson, Peter Firth, Heather Wright, Michael Gambon and Peter Bowles all appeared in the drama series, some of which was filmed on my parents’ farm. I remember Jack Watson leaping down the bank above our house. Tamzin played most of her scenes opposite  Michael Gothard, who became famous for playing the villain Locque  in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.

Daphne Neville in The Pheonix and the Carpet

Tamzin was then cast as Anthea in the 1976 BBC adaptation of of E Nesbit’s classic story The Phoenix and the Carpet. I’ve just read that it was a story much admired by Arthur Ransome.

While Mum enjoyed playing the part of Mother, Tamzin’s brother Cyril was played by Gary Russell, who after appearing as Dick in the BBC series of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five,  grew up to become a writer and script editor on Doctor Who. I last saw him at a book launch at the Imperial War Museum.

DSCF0092-001

Sophie Neville with Gary Russell in London in 2012

Here he is with Tamzin in the 1970s:

As she was used to appearing on television, Tamzin wrote in to Blue Peter and soon appeared on the show. She was also featured on Animal Magic and a number of other magazine programmes.

Tamzin soon had another lead role, that of the young Linda in the ITV production of Nancy Mitford’s semi-autobiographical novel Love in a Cold Climate. While Judi Dench and Michael Aldridge starred as her parents, her brother Matt was played by Max Harris who had the role of her brother Robert in The Phoenix and the Carpet. Tamzin can been seen on the trailer wearing a red dressing-gown in the Hons’ cupboard, looking dreamy in a tam o’shanter and jumping a white Arab over a Cotswold stone wall, whilst riding side-saddle.

She went on to take leading roles in episodes of A Play for Today, Crown Court and Screen Two. Ironically she was expelled from Drama College after Mum persuaded her to work professionally one summer vacation. At that, she tossed her head and went on to occupy time more gainfully.

She won’t believe me, but Tamzin is a most amusing writer.  You can see for yourself. Her letters are  featured in Ride the Wings of Morning.

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