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Announcing the forthcoming publication of ‘The Making of SWALLOW & AMAZONS’

 

The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS

A preview of the long-awaited paperback published by Classic TV Press

Sophie Neville at home with the S&A flags

by

Sophie Neville who played Titty

It is possible to pre-order a signed copy of this 304 page book, suitable for all ages of reader, with 16 colour plates, and 155 black and white photographs within the text of the large format paperback,

rrp £14.99 please click here or email  classictvpress@live.co.uk

Swallows & Amazons flags for book

‘Forty years after she enchanted film-goers as Titty in Swallows and Amazons, Sophie Neville has found a new audience… telling the behind-the-scenes secrets of the film of Arthur Ransome’s classic novel.’ The Daily Mail  The Making of  Swallows & Amazons ‘…is based on diaries, letters and old photographs which Sophie has turned into a heart-warming account of making the movie, which starred Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser.’

The Telegraph ~ Culture:  ‘Set in the Lake District in 1929, the film follows four young adventurers who sail a dinghy around Lake Coniston, cook for themselves over campfires and sleep in makeshift campsites.’

‘…The occasional chaos and terrible weather during filming contributed to the eventual popularity of the extraordinary and very much loved film.’ The Times

‘The film Swallows & Amazons is 40 years old, but thanks to its careful period evocation, its respect for Arthur Ransome’s original book and the performances of its child actors, it’s become a timeless classic. One of those children was Sophie Neville, who played Titty, and who kept a diary during the filming. That diary, with her adult recollections, is this book. It’s a fascinating insight into filming on location in the Lake District… Classic Boat

 

Sophie Suzanna and Sten

 

‘… The result is compulsive reading as she recalls that cold wet summer, while the camera crew wrapped up warm and she shivered in her skimpy dress as Able Seaman Titty Walker. Sophie brings to life all the many memorable characters who worked on the film and in particular the other children, the Director Claude Whatham who developed a great relationship with his young cast and the stars Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser. Nor are the other young actors forgotten for there are diary contributions from Suzanna Hamilton who played Susan, Stephen Grendon who played the Boy Roger and Kit Seymour who played Nancy Blackett. The text is supported by numerous illustrations showing life on and off the set.’ Roger Wardale, author of Arthur Ransome: Master Storyteller and other books

‘You don’t need to be a Swallows & Amazons fan to enjoy this book – it’s universal!’ Winifred Wilson, Librarian of The Arthur Ransome Society

‘This was a most unusual and interesting book. I picked it up expecting to browse through it, and found myself so drawn in to Sophie Neville’s detailed, amusing and insightful description of film making in the 1970′s that I was unable to put her book down. As Arthur Ransome fans, my family and I have always loved the film, and felt that Sophie Neville was ‘just right’ as Titty. What fun it has been to be introduced to the young twelve year old Sophie with her intelligent awareness of the challenges facing the production crew while she shivered in her cotton dresses. The many photographs and illustrations contribute richly to bringing the 1970s setting to life. Sophie recorded her experiences beautifully, and in so doing, added one more valuable book to the cultural heritage of all Arthur Ransome fans.’ Juliet Calcott, English teacher, South Africa

Lots of photos throughout the book bring the scenes to life – a delightful read.’ Celia Lewis author of An Illustrated Country Year

Mark Forrest Evening Show

To listen to Sophie Neville chatting to Mark Forrest recently on The Evening Show please see her post on the Funnily Enough, the website  or click on his image above and slide the cursor to 02:14:20

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Christian, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Humor, Humour, Lake District, Landscape Photographs, Letters, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, News, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

Where is Rio and were you there in 1973?

A number of people have specifically asked, ‘Where is Rio in Swallows and Amazons?’

The answer is that Rio lies on the eastern shore of Arthur Ransome’s imaginary lake. I have always loved the map in his book, originally drawn by the illustrator  Stephen Spurrier, that was used on dust jacket and frontispieces of the first editions. The Arthur Ransome Literary Estate have given me permission to include a thumb-nail image:

Arthur Ransome

The hardback edition

The Arthur Ransome Trust have made the map into a jigsaw puzzle. You can buy a virtual piece of this map to raise funds for their projects.  If you go to their website and hover your cursor over the jigsaw pieces you can discover a great deal about the locations mentioned in the books with names of all the islands. Please click here and wait for it to load. 

Simon Hodkin's collection

An early letter Ransome wrote a fan of the book

Arthur Ransome told his readers that they would need to go and find the places mentioned in the books themselves. Most people think that if you compare his lake with Windermere there is only one option for the town of Rio.

Rio Bay ~ Steam boat

Photograph taken by Martin Neville 1973 showing Windermere skiffs and George Pattinson in his steamboat ‘Elizabeth’. The old green boathouse can be seen beyond the town jetty.

Bowness-on-Windermere in the English Lake District was used as the location for ‘the native settlement of Rio’ in the film of Swallows & Amazons produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973 and now distributed by StudioCanal, who have a shot of the town on their website here.

Bowness in 2014 photo John Burgess

Photograph of the town jetty at Bowness taken in June 2014 by John Burgess

Today the Bowness lakeside looks a little different, although the skiffs are still pulled up on the beach.

Martin Neville on Jetty in Rio

 My father admiring the traditional boats

The old green boathouses have been replaced by a modern development but you can still walk along the town jetty, as the Swallows did, and even catch a native steamer down to the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway where the opening scenes of the film were shot.

DSCF9379

MV Swan on Windermere today, seen from Lakeside Railway Station.

The secret known to a few people is that the chandlers shop where the Swallows bought grog and rope for the lighthouse tree is actually in Windermere town.

The Swallows in Woodland Road, Windermere in 1973

The Swallows in Woodland Road, Windermere – now a barber’s shop

This is what the location looks like nowadays:

Woodland Road, Windermere

Woodland Road, Windermere

John, Susan and Titty can then be seen walking past the Stags Head Hotel in Church Street, Bowness-on-Windermere, which was ‘dressed’ with a pony and trap and vintage cars to emulate 1929 when the book was written. Click on the image to see the same view today:

John Susan and Titty walking past the hotel

John, Susan and Titty walking past the Old England Hotel. The Stags Head Hotel lies just beyond them in Church Street

This is how Church Street looks today.  Please click on this image for the source.

Rio - Stags Head Hotel today

If you go to explore the location, do send in more photos.

Rio - walking past the Stags Head Hotel

The Swallows in Church Street in 1973

To read more about filming in Bowness in 1973 please click here.

Rio Bay ~ newspaper article

Evening Post 11th June 1973. Please click on the photo for more news cuttings

Where you there?

We’d love to hear from anyone who took part in the filming. The entire Kendall Borough Band came along, someone brought a pony and trap, others arrived with period vehicles including a motorcycle. A man arrived with three donkeys and a number of local people took part, appearing as film extras. Do contact us in the comments box below.

If a new film adaptation is made,  the producer has told me it may now be too difficult to use Bowness. It’s busy place in the summer months. The village of Coniston might be an alternative. What do you think?

Meanwhile here are the lyrics to the sea shanty Titty loved, Away Rio. The tune was incorporated into the film score.

O, the anchor is weighed, and the sails they are set,
Away, Rio!
The maids that we’re leaving we’ll never forget,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

So man the good capstan, and run it around,
Away, Rio!
We’ll heave up the anchor to this jolly sound,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

We’ve a jolly good ship, and a jolly good crew,
Away, Rio!
A jolly good mate, and a good skipper, too,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

We’ll sing as we heave to the maidens we leave,
Away, Rio!
And you who are listening, good-bye to you,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

Come heave up the anchor, let’s get it aweigh,
Away, Rio!
It’s got a firm grip, so heave steady, I say,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

Heave with a will, and heave long and strong,
Away, Rio!
Sing a good chorus, for ’tis a good song,

Traditional – Lyrics from Iron Men & Wooden Ships, by Frank Shay

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Cinema, Cumbria, Film, Film History, Lake District, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ ebook is out now

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

Thanks to the encouragement and help of my blog followers and Arthur Ransome enthusiasts around the world, I have managed to put my diaries, letters, old photographs and documents together into a 68,000-word memoir.

s&A book launch 2013 005

“Sometimes extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people. Little girls can find themselves becoming film stars. Long ago, and quite unexpectedly, I found myself appearing in the EMI feature film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons, made for a universal international audience. I played Able-seaman Titty, one of the four Swallows. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I became Titty for a while, wearing thin cotton dresses and elasticated navy blue gym knickers, which the camera crew soon referred to as passion killers. The book was written in 1929 and although the film adaptation was made in the early 1970s it had an ageless quality and has been repeated on television year after year, typically on a Bank Holiday between movies starring Rock Hudson or Doris Day.

I got the part of Titty because I could play the piano. Although I had no ambition to be an actress, at the age of ten I was cast in a BBC dramatisation of Cider with Rosie. They needed a little girl to accompany the eleven-year-old Laurie Lee when he played his violin at the village concert. I plodded through Oh, Danny Boy at an agonising pace.

‘Do you think you could play a little faster?’ the Director asked.

‘No,’ I said, flatly. ‘These are crotchets, they don’t go any faster.’

Claude Whatham must have remembered my crotchets, for two years later, in March 1973, my father received a letter. It arrived completely out of the blue, from a company called Theatre Projects.

We are at present casting for a film version of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS which Mr Whatham is going to direct. We were wondering if you would be interested in your daughter being considered for one of the parts in this film.

Amazing!”

From ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville

Preview copies of the print version of 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons'Preview copies of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’  at the Cruising Association dinner at the Water’s Edge Bar and Restaurant, Mermaid Marina on the River Hamble.

“This heart-warming memoir is illustrated with colour photographs, most of them taken at the time by Sophie’s family, and contains links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage for readers with browser-enabled tablets. It delivers a double helping of nostalgia for both fans of the era of Arthur Ransome, and the groovy times of the early 70′s.” ~ from the Amazon Kindle description

Map of Derwentwater by Sophie

Also available for other reading devices on Smashwords

Thank you again for all of your time and patience, and to those of you who contributed comments, questions, and aspects of local history on this blog. I would love to know what you think of the book!

If you would like a copy but don’t have a Kindle, worry not. We have added a link whereby you can download a free Kindle app. Please go to my Book Page and scroll down for the details.

Sophie Neville on the pontoon during the filming of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Richard Pilbrow, Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, David Cadwallader and Sophie Neville aged 12 playing Titty. Eddie Collins looks on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

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News from Hill Top, where Arthur Ransome once lived

Hill Top - Panorama 16-lr

It seems that not a week goes by without Arthur Ransome’s name being mentioned in the national press. Today the news is of Hill Top, the 17th century farmhouse at Ealingsheath, a tiny hamlet near Haverthwaite in Cumbria, where Arthur and Evgenia Ransome lived in the 1960s enjoying the lovely view across the Lakeland fells.

Hill Top - P1020151-lr

In the Epilogue to Arthur Ransome’s autobiography, Rupert Hart-Davis wrote: ‘In 1960 the Ransomes bought the little derelict farmhouse in the Lakes which they had rented for the last four years as a holiday cottage. Repairs and alternations took longer than expected, and it was not until November 1963 that they moved into their home, Hill Top, Haverthwaite, near Newby Bridge. They both loved the house, and the buzzards, redstarts and deer by which it seemed to be surrounded… ‘ He celebrated his eightieth birthday there, although by then ‘…he was confined to a wheel chair on the upper floor of the house.’

Hill Top - P1020161-lr

The present owners, Stephen and Janine Sykes, who bought Hill Top in 2012, have just finished converting the garage/barn-end into a holiday cottage. You can read the story in the Mail Online today entitled: ‘A home full of Swallows & Amazons…’ and, as they say, is a good base for exploring the locations described in book and used in the 1974 movie, which the Mail describes as, ‘A perfect adventure.’ I describe doing so myself in previous posts.

Hill Top - Panorama 20-lr

Stephen Sykes says, ‘ The picture used was actually of “The Pavilion” – a games room. It’s now impossible to believe, but it was converted from a very substantial former kennel (600sf).’
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Hill Top - P1020200-lr
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‘We demolished another kennel of 1,000sf (now a courtyard garden) and we’re just finishing the conversion of another to an office/store room! We’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money in “de-kennelling” Hill Top and returning it to domestic use! Needless to say, the guest accommodation, “The Cottage at Hill Top”, forms a self-contained part of Hill Top itself.’
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Hill Top - P1020342-lr
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Stephen added, ‘Cumbria Life are coming to photograph Hill Top today for a feature in their Christmas issue.’ The house certainly looks wonderful.
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‘We’re just in the process of creating a website, in the meantime we’re marketing through Lakelovers.’ Stephen and Janine are more than happy to take direct bookings – please ring: 01539 531 452. The last three digits of their phone number are the same as in Ransome’s time.  They offer a 10% discount to TARS members.
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Stephen Sykes is  an investment analyst and author of The Last Witness who studied astrophysics at UCL in the days when men were landing on the moon.  He previously wrote to tell me that they have a number of old photographs and , ‘… a collection of most books by and about Arthur Ransome.  Obviously, we’ve made it our job to learn much about the Ransomes and… visited the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds to look through Arthur Ransome Collection where there are dozens of photographs of Hill Top from the late 1950s to c. 1963. I now have digital copies of most of these, including a number of good quality colour slides of Arthur and Evgenia. I guess it’s rather unusual for someone to find a treasure trove of photos of their house from half a century ago and see how its then famous owner transformed it!
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‘Astonishingly, the Lake District National Park Authority indicated that they had absolutely no interest in the Ransome connection and even moaned that if Hill Top were to become a “tourist attraction” it would merely create traffic problems!’ Stephen added.
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When I last passed Hill Top with Mountain Goat no one else was using the lane that runs in front of the house even though it is not so very far from the southern end of Lake Windermere and the Haverthwaite Railway Station where the steam train comes in and the Windermere steamers dock.
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Dave Guest of BBC North West Tonight presented an item on Hill Top that went out on 6th November. The BBC liked it so much it was broadcast nationwide on BBC Breakfast at 7.50am on Thursday 7th November.
Meanwhile the sale of Esthwaite Water, where Ransome loved to fish, seems to have gone global. This article has appeared in the Indian press: click here for the Bangalore Mirror.
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Swallows & Amazons ~ broadcast recently on ITV3

Behind-the-scenes while filming 'Swallows & Amazons' in 1973

Behind-the-scenes while filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973

Swallows & Amazons was broadcast recently on ITV3.

If you would like to know more about how the film was made you can find the details on this site.

Do leave any questions in the comments box below.

They will be answered by Sophie Neville who played Titty.

To read about our first day’s filming at Haverthwaite Railway Station click here and keep reading.

Sophie Neville having her hair cut on location for the part of Titty Walker in 1973

Sophie Neville having her hair cut on location for the part of Titty Walker in 1973

Do you know what lake we were on in the photograph below?  We were busy loading urns of tea into a run-around boat to take out to the film crew who might have been on Cormorant Island. If you click on the photo you will get to the page of my diary, kept in June 1973, which describes this day.

Wardrobe Master Terry Smith and Sophie Neville in her costume to play Titty. But what is the name of the boatman? Doers anybody know?

Wardrobe Master Terry Smith and Sophie Neville in her costume to play Titty. But what is the name of the boatman? Does anybody know?

There are still many questions about the making of the movie that remain unanswered.

A journalist on Peel Island

Does anyone know the name of this journalist who visited us on Peel Island?

This shot was taken while setting up the scene at Peel Island when Captain Flint brings Sammy the Policeman to question the Swallows.  If you click on the photo you will find the photograph that the journalist ended up with. Titty’s hand is still on Captain Flint’s arm.

Making a movie is very different from watching one. Here is a record of Titty rehearsing the shot when she moves the camping equipment for fear of a tidal wave. It was a cold day on Coniston Water. The jersey came off when they went for a take.

Sophie Neville with 35mm Panavision Camera

Here you can see Lesley Bennett playing Peggy Blackett careening Amazon at Beckfoot. The same 35mm Panavision camera was focused on Kit Seymour, playing Captain Nancy.

Beckfoot

Lesley Bennett as Peggy: Claude Whatham directing the scene with Kit Seymour

The location used for Beckfoot and the Amazon boathouse can be found at Brown Howe on the western bank of  Coniston Water. If you click on the photograph of Peggy you can read more about what happened that day.

Amazon Boathouse

Kit Seymour playing Nancy Blackett and Lesley Bennett playing Peggy Blackett

If you would like to get future posts, please click the Follow button at the bottom of the side-bar.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

Magazine articles written about ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1974

Kit Seymour, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville, Lesley Bennett, Virginia McKenna, Simon West Suzanna Hamilton and the station master of the Haverthwaite Steam Railway in Westmorland, appearing in the April edition of Homes and Garden 1974

Newspapers are read one day and on the kitchen floor the next. Back in 1974 they might have been used to wrap up fish and chips. Either way, an article in the ‘paper is soon forgotten. Not so a feature in a magazine. They tend to hang around in hotel foyers and doctor’s surgeries for waiting to have their pages turned for months, if not years.  The judgement they cast on our movie was important.

Director Claude Whatham and Producer Richard Pilbrow on location in the summer of 1973 in the Lake District

To my surprise I found an article about how we spent the summer of 1973 in ‘Homes and Garden’ magazine.

Photographs featuring Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon, Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour in the EMI film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

What amazed me was that the black and white photographs taken on the film set had been colour tinted. Please forgive my scanning – the pages were stuck in albums long ago and the  images blur at the edge.

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville on location at Bank Ground Farm in Cumbria

Surely she was the journalist also known by her married name of Elspeth Huxley, the author who had written The Flame Trees of Thika and so many other books?  She wasn’t quite right in saying the film was shot entirely on location in the Lake District, but still. She was not to know about our day at Runnymede.

Simon West, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton appearing in The Tatler

Virginia McKenna in an article in Films Illustrated, April 1974

We were in both Punch and The Sunday People. My mother saved them all, scratching lines alongside the paragraphs in which I was mentioned.

and The Tablet.

What’s On and the News of the World:

Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett sailing Amazon on Derwentwater

The April addition of the film fan magazine Photoplay, which featured Steve McQueen on the cover. It cost 20p in those days.

and a publishing magazine I hadn’t heard of called Smith’s Trade News ~

Virginia McKenna eating a banana with Claude Whatham outside the catering bus with quite a good photo of Swallow wired to the camera pontoon

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In search of our old film locations

Peel Island on Coniston Water ~ photo: Sophie Neville 2012

On a wet but beautiful day in Cumbria we set off on a quest to find some of the locations used in Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 film of Swallows and Amazons.

To my delight our journey started with a drive down through the streets of Rio (Bowness) and along the east shore of Windermere to Haverthwaite Railway Station at the southern end of the lake (or Antarctica as Titty labeled the region). It was here that we spent our very first day filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ back in 1973. I had not been there since.

The driver of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam locomotive

We had a chat to the train driver who explained that they now run six journeys a day. From Haverthwaite the steam locomotives run alongside the River Leven to Lakeside Station. From here you can take a native steamer back up to Rio (the Bowness pier) or to the Far North (Ambleside, which is the town at the head of the lake where we lived whilst filming in that long distant summer when I was twelve years old.)

Talking to the train driver just as we did in 1973

Whilst we used engine number 2073 in the movie, this steam locomotive 42085 was built in 1951. It uses about two tons of coal a day but it utterly magnificent.  The driver probably uses rather a lot of steam oil too.  It’s a smell I relish, familiar since childhood days spent on steamboats. I remember it from the SBA steamboat rally held on Windermere in 1991, which I describe in Funnily Enough.

Steam Locomotives Forever!

Curiously, Haverthwaite Railway Station looked cleaner and shinier than when we used it as a film location in 1973. I can only suppose it was still in the process of being restored back then, when Simon Holland our set designer cluttered it up with push bikes and luggage trolleys.  Much to our surprise, the yellow taxi we were transported in during the filming was actually driven along the platform.

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway

We climbed aboard the train and I explored, as Titty would have done, discovering people seated inside from far distant lands.

Inside the carridge of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite train

David Wood’s screenplay for the film of Swallows and Amazons, directed by Claude Whatham, opens to find the Walker family cooped up in a railway carriage compartment as they travel north for their holidays.

With Virginia McKenna at the Haverwaite Railway Station

Viginia McKenna at the Haverthwaite Railway Station in Cumbria soon after it re-opened in May 1973. Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Lesley Bennet, Kit Seymour and Sophie Neville are with her. The carridge with compartments is in the background ~ photo: Daphne Neville

We saw this distinctive carriage in a siding as we steamed down the valley. Funnily enough when I reached home, later the next day, I came across a photograph on the internet I had never seen before. It was of Virginia McKenna, playing Mrs Walker, reading a magazine inside the compartment. Strangely it turned up when I Googled my own name – Sophie Neville.

Virginia McKenna playing Mary Walker, mother of the Swallows in the EMI feature film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ made in 1973

The train is not included in Arthur Ransome’s book of Swallows and Amazons, written in 1929, but he does feature locomotives in his later novels, notably Pigeon Post. I clearly remember filming the BBC adaptation of Coot Club at what must have been The Poppy Line, a steam railway in north Norfolk when Henry Dimbley, playing Tom Dudgeon, jumped aboard the moving train and met Dick and Dorothea.

Peter Walker of Mountain Goat with Sophie Neville at Lakeside Station, Windermere.

I jumped off the train at the Lakeside Station to meet up with Peter Walker of Mountain Goat. Peter has carefully researched and put together a Swallows and Amazons tour, exploring ‘High Greenland’, the ‘Forest’ and ‘High Hills’ to discover the places where Arthur Ransome lived. We set off in search of the places where he fished, wrote, and drank beer.  It was fascinating – and proved an excellent way to spend a day in the Lake District despite the rain.

'Native shipping'

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The diary I kept whilst filming Swallows and Amazons… with a day off spent exploring Cumbria with my family

It was Sunday and a much needed, formal day off for the crew of Swallows and Amazons. It was also a day of rest for the ‘Artistes’ as Claude Whatham, the Director called us.  The crew called us ‘Saucepans’. Saucepan lids : kids.  It is Cockney rhyming slang. There was a lot of that about in Ambleside that year.

Sophie Neville with her mother on a scenic railway in Cumbria during a break in the filming of Swallows and Amazons in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

My parents were still in bed, exhausted on that Sunday morning.  To keep me busy Mum had me writing letters to my Headmistress, Sister Ann-Julian and to my Housemistress, Sister Allyne. Amazing!  I wrote them.

My father’s idea of a day out in Westmorland was to drive over the hills and up the Hard Knott Pass taking car rugs, a picnic and his volcano. This is a brilliant item of equipment with which you can boil enough water to make a cup of tea using an old newspaper. I am sure I’ve read that Arthur Ransome had one…  I think my mother just pulled on her Charlotte Mason College of Education sweatshirt and came too.

The highlight of the day was a trip on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, through the National Park to the coast and back. You can still do this today. The historic line was opened in 1875 to ferry iron ore from the mine near Boot to the coast at Ravensglass by steam locomotive. They say that nowadays:

“Four steam locomotives are currently in regular service, ranging from River Irt, the oldest working 15″ gauge locomotive in the world, to Northern Rock, one of the most powerful. The locomotives names, with one obvious exception, are those of the local rivers, the Esk, Mite and Irt, the last mentioned flowing from Wastwater just a few miles away from the railway.”

My father has always loved steam.  He’s also rather enjoyed using the self-timer on his camera.

The Nevilles in the Lake District in 1973

I am guessing that we sitting on part of the Hard Knott Roman Fort near Boot with the fells behind.  Built between AD120 and AD138 at the Eskdale end of the Hard Knott Pass it must have been one of the furthermost outposts of the Roman Empire. As children we had grown up on a diet of Frankie Howard, dressed in a Roman tunic, telling us ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’. I didn’t know until this week that it was Richard Pilbrow who brought this production from New York to the West End, where the play that he produced ran for two years.

The hotel I mention was the Kirskstone Foot Hotel, at the top of Lake Windermere, in Ambleside where Richard Pilbrow and the senior members of the film crew were staying. Mum must have left her camera there.

Tamzin Neville and Daphne Neville in 1973

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, e-publication, Family Life, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

A letter from behind the scenes on the third day of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Last night I sat on the floor of the loft, where I have my computer, looking for old newspaper clippings and photographs of the Haverthwaite Railway Station.  Along with an article from The Times and a shot of us looking up at the steam engine, I found letters that my mother had written, in the Lake District, to my father who was at home in Gloucestershire with my two younger sisters.

Mum kept her letters, my diaries and scrap books in what must have been a smart carrier bag from Carnaby Street. She had bought a very expensive velvet dress for me there when we first went up to London to meet Claude Whatham, the director of Swallows and Amazons for my first interview back in April.

It was now 16th May 1973, the third day of filming ~

1970′s English food ~

The food at the guest house was talking its toll. Not a good idea to feed children on packet soups and baked beans in the days when 35mm film stock was so extremely expensive.  No one realised why, but the ingredients made Sten hyper- active, or as my mother put it, ‘causing a little hoo hah.’  A visiting  journalist wrote,‘By the end of the day Roger, aged seven, had mown down the entire film crew using a hammer as a mock machine gun. He had fallen down several times and emerged with grazed knees all splattered with mud.’

Location catering ~

Suzanna Hamilton, who was playing Susan, simply refused to eat the revolting food.  Mum said,  “I couldn’t get her to eat anything.” Location catering is excellent now – exquisite – but back in the early 1970′s it could be pretty basic canteen food produced on location from a ‘chuck wagon’. We’d queue up for a tray of meat and two veg, which was usually consumed in a red London double-decker converted into a dining bus with the old scratchy seats either side of Formica tables. There were no salads, no fruit, just a working man’s lunch with coffee in plastic cups and paste sandwiches provided later with tea. The tea was good.

Pinewood location catering ~ Suzanna Hamilton pearing into the chuck wagon ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The fruit bowl in our bus ~

Mum started to order fruit for us and we relished it.   It was a huge treat back then to have bananas or melon, oranges and grapes.  A bowl sat in our bus where we had our lessons on more Formica tables downstairs. The upper deck was used by Terry the Wardrobe Master as as our changing room. It also had bunk beds. Mum soon made us rest in these after lunch. I don’t think she could pin down the Amazons easily but she made me use them. I know I objected at first but I must have needed to lie down and rest properly, especially when it was cold.

Molly and Richard Pilbrow

Molly and Richard Pilbrow on location with the two red London Double Decker buses where coffee was being served ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The film crew ~

Apart from Sue Merry the ‘Continuity Girl’ the film crew consisted entirely of men, forty-five of them. I include the Hair and Make-up Designers, the Wardrobe Master, the Art Director, Set Dresser, Propmen and Carpenters, Sound Recordist and Boom Operator, the Director of Photography, Camera Operator, Focus Puller and Grips with the Electricians from Lee Electric who looked after the lights and generators, Lorry Drivers and Sailing Director, the Director, three Assistant Directors and the Production Associate and Producer. I think there might have been a Film Accountant and Location Manager. Being a feature film we had a permanent Stills Photographer and a Publicity Manager.  And this was a small crew as Terry seemed to cope without Wardrobe Assistants or Dressers. They all knew each other pretty well from being on previous movies. I have a list of where they had digs in Ambleside. It’s quite interesting to see who shared with who.  Whenever we needed boats up to six local boatmen could also join the queue for the chuck wagon – and the mobile loos.  Mum wouldn’t let me use them. They were looked after by a ratty looking chap who later managed to persuade one of the Ambleside girls that he was the film’s Producer.

Neville  Thompson, who was effectively the on-line Producer, had a production secretary called Sally Shewing, but she must have been stuck in the production office as we never saw her.  Molly Friedel, Richard Pilbrow’s girl friend and assistant, was often on location. We adored her.  She was American, tall with long brown hair and always had time for us. I remember her working on the lighting design for the next Rolling Stones Concert by the shore of Lake Coniston while we milled about, playing on the rocks.

We had our tutor, Mrs Causey and a wonderful mini-bus driver called Jean McGill. She had been a top British Airways air hostess but had returned to Cumbria to look after her ailing mother and was driving us around the area she so loved to keep busy. As soon as my mother found out that she was also a qualified nursing sister she made sure that Jean was taken on as the official location nurse, which was great as it meant she could be around the whole time and we never had to wait for the bus. We found we soon needed a nurse too. Someone was always hurting themselves.

Jean McGill, our driver and location nurse, operating the radio with Sophie Neville ~ photo:Martin Neville

So in all, with our chaperones there were usually about six women around as well as journalists, friends and relatives who came to watch. It was a huge circus with often eighty people milling about. Certianly the Call Sheet asks the caterers to provide lunch for seventy on normal days. It would be much more when we had crowd scenes such as when we explored Rio.

The male:female ratio on crews is very different today. There are often more women than men, perhaps not on movies but certainly on BBC drama crews. It was already different by 1983 when Richard and Molly Pilbrow came to visit us on the location of  Coot Club in Norfolk, where there were about equal numbers of men and women on set. It made for a better, family atmosphere, certainly more appropriate with so many children involved.  Since he still held the rights to Arthur Ransome’s series of Swallows and Amazons books, Richard was the Executive Producer on the BBC serial Joe Waters produced. It was so good to see him again. I gather he is still going strong having just been awarded the Knights of Illumination Lifetime Recognition Award for more than 50 years of work in theatre lighting.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, e-publication, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Letters, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

The clock is, indeed, still on the mantelpiece at Bank Ground Farm

It is aways wonderful to hear how the film of Swallows and Amazons has effected people’s lives.  I have just had such an interesting e-mail from Australia that I asked if I could post hit here. I only wish that Claude Whatham was alive to read it.

Did anyone else know about the the clock on the mantelpiece at Bank Ground Farm?

                                                                          then                                                                       now
Dear Sophie,
I can not tell you how much I am enjoying your website. I’ve searched for scraps of material regarding the making of Swallows and Amazons for decades, but you post more information in one day than I gleaned in a lifetime. It’s a fabulous insight, and one I really appreciate.
I became a film-maker largely because of Swallows and Amazons. I’ve written a small piece about this, which is going to be published in a promo for one of my film-making books. As a nine year old, I stumbled across Wild Cat Island just days after seeing the film. I was so thrilled to be standing where the film had been made, and so excited to see how clever use of the camera could exaggerate the feeling of a location and capture the magic of performance, that I set out to discover everything I could about film. It was a life-changing moment.
My daughters (5 and 7) adore Titty, and we are all impressed by your acting. I’ve directed my girls in a couple of things, and I know they gained confidence from having seen you perform. When Tabitha, my eldest daughter, saw the film for the first time, she burst into tears at the end. It was a release of pure joy, and is testament to the quality of the film.
I live in Australia now, but returned to the island in 2010 with Tabitha and Harriet (rowing all the way from the other end of the lake). We stayed at Bank Ground Farm. This months we went back and were lucky enough to sail Swallow into the Secret Harbour. It was a windy October day, and quite a frantic sail, but I can honestly say it was one of the highlights of my life.
When reading your recent post about set dressing at Bank Ground Farm, I wondered if you’d noticed that the clock on the mantlepiece is still there. It’s on the other mantlepiece, I believe, but it is still there. I have no idea whether it is a prop that was left behind, or whether the film-makers used the clock that belonged to the farm.
Thanks again.
Best wishes,
Chris
Christopher Kenworthy
Our set designer or ‘Art Director’ on Swallows and Amazons was Simon Holland. He worked tirelessly with his assistant Ian Whittaker and team of Prop men, making every effort to use absolutely authentic props and set dressing. It must have involved quite a bit of research. Holly Howe, for instnace would not have had mains electricity or back in 1929, so he made sure oil lamps were on set. These would have been modified by the Sparks so that it looked as if they lit the room in those evening scenes when we were busy packing.
The people of the Lake District still remember Simon asking if he could buy old tins of food. It seemed such an unusual request. When it came to making labels for the cans of ‘Pemmican’ he painted them himself ~
Art Director Simon Holland

Art Director Simon Holland painting labels for cans of Pemican on Mrs Batty’s lawn at Bank Ground Farm in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Simon had worked as the set dresser on the thriller Callan starring Edward Woodward, that we all saw in 1974. He had earlier been the Art Director on Bartleby, which featured Paul Scholfield with John McEnery in the title role Swallows and Amazons must have been one of his first features. He was only thirty-two that summer of 1973.
Simon Holland went to to work on well known movies such as Equus, Greystoke, Quadrophenia, The Sleeping Dictionary set in Sarawakand Tales of the Riverbank which starred Stephen Fry as the Owl and Miranda Hart as Miss March. He sadly died in 2010 at the age of 70 but will be remembered fondly by us all.
I have found the entry that Suzanna wrote in her diary at this time when we were filming at Bank Ground Farm. She drew a picture of the blue and white checked dress she wore and drescribed an interview with a reporter.

This is the newspaper clipping that Suzanna stuck in her dairy that featured Virginnia McKenna and the six of us children in one of the old motors that Simon Holland found to dress the Railway Platform set at Haverthwaite Station on the first day of filming.

A clipping from The Guardian Newspaper 15th May 1973

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Letters, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story