Category Archives: Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station

‘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.

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“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

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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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‘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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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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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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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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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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‘Swallows and Amazons’ the opening locations of the 1973 film

Ext : Ulverston Railway Station ~ filmed at The Haverthwaite Railway Station

An article in The Times 1973

A photograph taken for The Times of us all aboard the steam train at Haverthwaite

On the first day a of filming a huge effort was made to ‘dress’ Haverthwaite Railway Station, at the southern end of Windermere, to bring across the feel of a bustling 1929 destination. Local people had been previously fitted with costumes in the Ambleside Church Hall, there was a horse and cart, porter’s trolleys laden with trunks, old bikes, and two period vehicles, which were of great interest to us.  Having stepped down from the steam locomotive we were piled into one, which was open topped, for publicity photographs.  I liked being on the car but thought the photograph was silly, especially since Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett who were playing The Amazons were in their ordinary clothes, rather than period costumes. The result was later published in both The Guardian and Woman’s Realm. Virginia McKenna was interviewed by the journalists while we were hurried away to get on with our lessons. Our tutor taught us Art. I drew the a picture of the motor car.

With Virginia McKenna on the first day of filming

A publicity shot for the film featuring Virginia McKenna, with Kit Seymour, Steven Grendon, Sophie Neville, Lesley Bennett, Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton, taken on the first day of filming and published in the Guardian and other newspapers

The yellow motor used in the film for our taxi was a superb. I can only imagine it was far grander than a real Lakeland taxi would have been. Sten ~ playing Roger ~ hung out of the window as Claude, ‘filmed us driving out of the station, along the platform (?) at top speed,’ as I recorded in my diary.

Director Claude Whatham talking to Virginia McKenna at Haverthwaite Railway Station

Ext: Holly Howe ~ filmed at Bank Ground Farm by Coniston Water

Arriving at Holly Howe in the yellow taxi was truly exciting. It was not filmed the next day, as I think rain set in. Claude waited for good evening light. But I remember the thrill of drawing up outside the farm house in the old car and pulling on my hat as we spilled out and ran past the big farm horses Mr Jackson was leading into the yard. I’m afraid our OOV (out of vision) dialogue was added later.

The screenplay of the 1973 film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ adapted from Arthur Ransome’s book by David Wood

If you ever go to Bank Ground Farm near Coniston, called Holly Howe by Arthur Ransome in his books, you must run down the field to the lake as we did. As soon as you arrive. And at top speed. And you will be filled by the same feeling of elation as we were when we played the Walker children.

Bankground Farm

Steven Grendon, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West at Bankground Farm on Coniston Water in the Lake District

The slope, formed by glacial scouring and subsequent deposits long ago, is steeper than you think.  You soon learn the art of glaumphing, which I became adept at as a child.  What struck me when I returned to Bank Ground Farm in the Spring, this April, was that sadly the great trees have gone from around the old farm gate and the boatsheds by the lake.  They must simply have reached the end of their lives.

Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West with Mr Jackson at Holly Howe~ photo: Daphne Neville

Ext: Peak at Darien ~ filmed by Derwent Water

Most Arthur Ransome devotees will know that the Peak of Darien, so familiar to readers as it appears in two of the illustrations in the book, can not be found below the farm. Mrs Ransome said that you could find it on Windermere. Last April, when I was on an early recce with Nick Barton, CEO of Harbour Picture Productions, we did pass the spot.

A possible Peak in Darien by Lake Windermere

However Richard and Claude chose Friar’s Crag on Derwent Water for the location. I didn’t know it but Christina Hardyment writes in her excellent book, Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint’s Trunk that they had found the very place Ransome had in mind, “without the slightest idea that they were quite right to be doing so.”   She found that Ransome had marked up postcard of Friar’s Peak for the 1930s illustrator Clifford Webb to work from. It feels completely right when you are there, with the iconic view of an island under the towering mountains. It was over this that they added the opening titles.

We children, however, were not there. The shot was taken later on in July. By the time we had been transported from Coniston to Derwent Water for this scheduled scene the sun had gone down.  We’d been delayed by the make-up artist who was determined to tone down the tans we had developed.  This took ages. He used a very small sponge. My mother was frustrated as she thought that this would never have shown up, but he put his foot down with the result that we were ‘late on set’ for the evening shots. Claude Whatham was very cross about it.

Sophie Neville as Titty arriving too late in the day to film at Friar’s Crag on Derwent Water. The island protrayed as Wildcat Island can be seen in the distance ~ photo: Daphne Neville

One of the big secrets of the film ~

One of the big secrets of the film is that the sequence when we run up to the Peak of Darien and first set eyes on the island in the lake was shot under an oak tree in Runnymede. Near the River Thames. We were looking at the director, not an island at all.  It must have been an expensive ‘pick-up shot’, but we enjoyed meeting up again immensely. Claude had made an effort to gather together the same crew members and I was back in my lovely silk dress once more. We knew how to act by then and the joy of being together again shows on our faces.  The result was a scene to set the film off on the right foot.  We were so jubiliant, so excited, that, like swallows, we could have taken flight.

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

The opening titles ~

I would have to check with Richard Pilbrow to be certain but I think that Simon Holland, the Art Director, penned the SWALLOWS and AMAZONS graphics for the opening titles.  I remember a discussion about the font type. A very fashionable script used on the poster of the film was favoured. I said that I thought they ought to use the handwritten capitals that Clifford Webb had penned on the map in the opening cover of the book and copied by Simon Holland (and me) on our chart. This was chosen.

Click on this image to see the poster of the film

The ’70′s font, above, had been used for the  titles of  Lionel Jefferie’s movie The Railway Children, which starred Jenny Agutter. As a viewer I felt that this soon dated it, whilst Swallows and Amazons sailed onto our television screens in the 1980′s and 1990′s, indeed into the 21st century, without being spoilt by what became most unfashionable graphics. Of course now that particular retro font is all the rage.  For sometime a DVD has beeen available which gives you both films.

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‘Swallows and Amazons’ the screenplay of the 1973 film, adapted from Arthur Ransome’s book by David Wood

The screenplay~

Arthur Ransome’s book was adapted for the big screen by David Wood.  The first time I saw this script was early in 2011 when my mother pulled it from the back of a wardrobe. It’s really only now that I fully appreciate how beautifully it was crafted.

The opening scenes ~

Talking to the engine driver at the Haverthwaite Railway Station on the first day of filming 'Swallows and Amazons' in 1973  (Photo: Daphne Neville)

Talking to the engine driver at the Haverthwaite Railway Station on the first day of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The film opens with a shot of a steam train passing through Cumbria. This does not feature in the book but was a powerful first image and good way of introducing the Walker family, setting the period and the very Englishness of travelling up to the Lake District for the summer holidays. It was a wonder that this was possible; The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway , with it’s restored steam train, had only been open and running for two weeks ~ on 2nd May 1973 to be precise. It was a private concern run by a bunch of enthusiasts on the old Furness Railway branch line. The engine was a Fairburn 2-6-4 tank locomotive of 84 tons, of approximately 1930s vintage, standard guage and coloured black-berry black

Swallows Script page 1

The origianl screenplay of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ adapted from Arthur Ransome’s immortal book by David Wood in 1973

~ The crossings out were made by my mother, in the tradition of marking a scene that has been recorded ~

Swallows Script page 2

The original screenplay of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ adapted by David Wood for Theatre Projects in 1973

What I never knew until I read the third scene today was that we added quite a bit of dialogue. I can’t remember if it was improvised or given to me by Claude but I said quite a bit more than was scripted, and recoded the fact in my diary.

notes to the text ~ Mrs Price was the lady who owned and ran our guest house. Our tutor, Margaret Causey, taught us in a converted red London double decker bus.

Swallows Diary 14th May page two

I took note of my dialogue in the pages of my diary. Here it was supplimentary to the script

Swallows Diary 14th May page three

The railway carriage ~

Claude Whatham was keen to shoot the film in ‘story order’ as much as possible as he thought this would be easiest for us to comprehend. INT.RAILWAY CARRIAGE. DAY was, however, a difficult scene to execute. Once the railway carriage contained movie lights, the director, a huge 35mm Panavision camera, the cameraman and assistant, with microphones and an assistant sound recordist there wasn’t any room for me.  When it came round to the shots of me I had to give my lines to imaginary family members. They were no longer there – the camera had taken their place. It also got extremely hot.

Virginia McKenna, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Kit Seymour, Lesley Bennett and Sophie Neville at the Haverwaite Railway Station in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Story order ~

I look back on all this now and feel our opening performances, so vital to capture the audiences attention, were understandably rather wooden. Later on, when I was directing films that featured children I tried to schedule unimportant, ‘running around scenes’, which were easy for them, so that they could get used to working with the crew before tight close-ups were required.  I found that even six year-olds were unfazed by recording scenes out of story order, in fact they were probably less disorientated than the adults.

Continuity ~

With Virginia McKenna’s magazine, our picnic and Susan’s tapestry the matter of continuity in this scene was important. We greatly enjoyed learning about this technicality, so vital if the shots that make up the scene are to cut together smoothly. Numerous Polaroid shots were involved, which was exciting as these cameras had not been around for long and we enjoyed watching the photographs develope.  We did our best to be helpful and keep an eye on the picnic, but somehow it all went wrong. The continuity in this opening scene is out. This probably because Sue Merry, the Continuity Girl could not get in –  into the railway carriage, that is. There was simply no room for her.

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, e-publication, 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