Tag Archives: Virginia McKenna

Come to watch StudioCanal’s newly restored Swallows and Amazons (1974) at Hackney PictureHouse

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StudioCanal, who distribute the 1974 feature film of Swallows & Amazons (U), have a huge treat in store for film fans:

40th Anniversary Restoration of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS, starring Virginia McKenna and based on Arthur Ransome’s classic novel, will be released on brand new Special Edition DVD and first ever Blu-ray release on 4th August! Pre-order your copy here: amzn.to/1pmF7fe.  Special anniversary screenings will be taking place – ” 

Hackney Picture House drawing

The Hackney PictureHouse will host the first London screening with Q&A by me, Sophie Neville, on Thursday 31st July at 11.00am. Please click here for details.   Do join us!

Hackney Picture House exterior

 

It has been a difficult secret to keep. Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and I were interviewed for the DVD extras, which I believe also feature Christina Hardyment exploring the film locations this summer while imparting information about Arthur Ransome who drew on his own childhood holidays in the Lake District to add detail and authenticity to the original story.

The 16mm behind-the-scenes footage that my parents took when they were with us on location back in 1973 was handed over to the technicians to use in the extras package. I haven’t seen the finished version yet, although I did record a commentary to explain what was going on.

StudioCanal DVD cover

 

What do you think of the cover?

Hope to see you at some of the screenings! Let me know if you can come.

There will also be a number in Cumbria this August.  Please go to Sophie’s Events Page for details.

To read the press release please click here.

 

 

 

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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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The cutting room floor

Members of the Arthur Ransome Group have recently raised questions about what ‘fell onto the cutting room floor’ after we shot the movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in the English Lake District in 1973.

‘I have always had the feeling that the Amazon’s role in the 1974 film was very much secondary to the Swallows.’ Stephen O’Brien posted.  ‘This was probably down to much of the Amazon’s footage ending up on the cutting room floor. What do you think?’

The answer is that there were few scenes excluded from the film.

BW Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville

Virginia McKenna as Mrs Walker with Sophie Neville as Titty

One featured Virginia McKenna and Mrs Battys clock, which can still be found at Bank Ground Farm, our location used for Holly Howe. It was shot on the second morning and I fear that our director Claude Whatham might have taken it out because my own performance was rather stilted. I had quite a bit to say, most of which was really rather bizarre:

15th May deatil of outtake

The pages of my diary written on 15th May 1973

15th May detail  page two

The only other scene from Swallows & Amazons that I know was excluded was when the Swallows lay patterans on their way to visit the charcoal burners. The location was in a beautiful spot up above Derwentwater, the dialogue was straight from Arthur Ransome’s book and our performances would have been fluent by the time we shot the sequence. BW The Swallows make Patterans

 Suzanna Hamilton, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West as the Swallows

I can only expect that when the movie came in over-length these scenes were cut as the action was not exciting and had no influence on the plot.

In the original script the Amazons do not really appear until page 41 – which would equate to nearly half-way into the the film. I thought that there might have been one or two shots of the Amazons sailing that were never used, because there was  a day spent filming on Derwentwater when Kit and Lesley who played Nancy and Peggy weren’t feeling very well but I’ve checked the script and nothing that they said was excluded. Not one word. Perhaps David Wood who dramatised the book could somehow have increased the Amazons’ parts. However, as Janet Means points out:

‘…in the book we find out more about what the Swallows think but only about what the Amazons do. There is little about the Amazons except when the Swallows are present too (hiding Amazon in the reeds and Nancy berating Peggy for losing Amazon when Titty’s made off with her). There’s lots about the Swallows without the Amazons.’ 

One scene in the DVD of the film actually gets cut out of the television version. The clue is that it comes just before this photo was taken in Bowness-on-Windermere for Lancashire Life kindly sent to be by Stephen Sykes of Hill Top near Haverthwaite.

Lancashire Life May 1974 - S&A - Contents photo only Sten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows in Rio

There are a few scenes in the screenplay that were never actually shot, but that’s on a different tack. To read more, please see: The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons.

Dennis Lewiston, director of Photography on 'Swallows and Amazons'  ~photo:Richard Pilbrow

Denis Lewiston, director of Photography on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow, taken on Derwentwater in Cumbria, 1973

Our sad news is that Denis Lewiston, the brilliant  Director of Photography on Swallows & Amazons (1974),  died recently. After a long and fulfilling career he will be remembered fondly and admired for the numerous films he made, seeking excellence with every sequence.

To see some of the shots Denis set up for the film of Swallows & Amazons,  please click here for the BFI site.

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Your questions about Swallows & Amazons

Sophie Neville with Suzanna Hamilton on Coniston Water in Falcon ~ photo: Gordon Bourne

~ Sophie Neville with Suzanna Hamilton on Coniston Water in 2003 ~ photo: Gordon Bourne

‘How did Titty capture the Amazon?’

What did Swallows and Amazons wear?

The Swallows and the Amazons – where are they now?

These are some of the many questions that people type into search-engines. Members of The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have also had questions:

Dan Ford asked, ‘I think I heard it said that the four Swallows and two Amazons all wore life-jackets under their clothes whilst filming.  If that is so, they were very well concealed, so were they specially made for this use?’

We didn’t wear life jackets under our costumes, we only ever wore buoyancy aids when travelling out to the location. Last time I went out rowing on Coniston Water I didn’t wear a life-jacket either, which was very naughty.

Chris Roisndale asked: ‘What became of ‘Amazon’ from the film?  Is she still in existence like ‘Swallow’?

Amazon on Coniston 2003

Amazon at Bank Ground in 2003 ~ photo: Geraint Lewis

Suzanna Hamilton and I went out on Coniston Water in Amazon in 2003 when the BBC invited us to Bank Ground Farm to appear in Countryfile with Ben Fogle. We met her owners who live in Kent. I gather she was the same dinghy used to play Amazon in the 1963 BBC serial of Swallows and Amazons made when Arthur Ransome was still around to comment. Her owner told me, ‘She was built locally on Windermere sometime in the 1930.’

Amazon sailing

Amazon under sail while filming Countryfile in 2003 ~ photo: Geraint Lewis

Duncan Hall writes, ‘Just before Roger finds the camp, I’m fairly sure I can see a chimney in the background (somebody last said that it was a tree stump but it doesn’t look like a tree stump) – did you film any “on island” sequences on the mainland? Also – I know Rampsholme on Derwent Water was used for some “Wild Cat Island in the distance” shots, but it was mostly Peel Island. Did any Windermere islands get used for Wild Cat Island locations?

The Boy Roger was definitely on Peel Island when he was looking for the camping place. I remember he got rather scratched by brambles.  I can see what does look like a chimney in the background but it would have been a stump.

Some of the scenes set on Wild Cat Island were indeed shot on the mainland. This was because there is no light house tree on Peel Island. I don’t think there was one in Ransome’s day. We filmed the light house tree scenes on two different promontories near Friar’s Crag overlooking Derwentwater and the Houseboat Bay. For a description of one location  please click here.

Falcon with Amazon in Secret Harbour: photo Geraint Lewis

‘Peggy Blackett’ & ‘Amazon’ in Secret Harbour on Peel Island: photo Geraint Lewis

Chris Clarke has asked, ‘Were any of you allowed to keep props from the film set as a souvenir? For example, were the Amazons allowed to keep their red hats?’

A number of red hats were made and I think the Amazons may have been able to keep one each. Their hats were initially bright pink, but my mother was insistent they should be red and others were knitted locally. She tried to get ones made more like a finely knitted woolen hat of mine that would have been much more in keeping with Ransome’s original sketches. However this picture was not known of back then and the Wardrobe Master, and the Director went with the design of the ones you see on the screen. Fully enough the caps do look a bit pink in Mum’s faded photo.

Virginia McKenna with us at Bank Ground1

The Amazons in their red caps, sitting with the Walker Family at Holly Howe ~ a scene neither in the book or film of Swallows & Amazons: photo: Daphne Neville

I still have a bow, two arrows with green feathers and a pair of flags used for rehearsal props. I was given one of the pink hats but it meant nothing. I didn’t keep any of my costumes, but Caroline Downer who played Dorothea says that she still has the buttercup yellow dress she wore in either ‘Coot Club’ or ‘The Big Six’.

Scores of people have asked, ‘Where was Swallows & Amazons filmed?’

One of the secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons is that while most of the film was shot on Coniston Water, we also filmed with the dinghies to Derwentwater, Windermere, Elterwater and rather a smelly lily pond.

Amazon with Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle making a documentary about the locations used for Swallows & Amazons (1974)

~ photograph: Geraint Lewis who will be representing the Arthur Ransome Trust at a number of country fairs this summer ~ please click here for details

If you would like o sail the Swallow please click here for details

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Swallows and Amazons mugs

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For some time now, I’ve had a Swallows and Amazons mug at home, which I use to keep my pens in. Featuring the design of the Jonathan Cape book jacket, it was given to me by Scruffie Buchanan who stocked the full set of Arthur Ransome mugs in her shop in Malta, aptly called The Museum of Childhood. I treasure it as a part of mine.

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Not long ago I was presented with this handsome mug from Hill Top cottage at Ealinghearth, by Stephen and Janine Sykes when they showed me around the Ransome’s last home, which they have been restoring in the Lake District.

The Swallow is moored in Secret Harbour

I’ve just discovered that it is possible to buy mugs depicting scenes from the film of Swallows & Amazons (1974)

Captain Flint walks the plank

There are various scenes, but if you want to drink to Captain Flint walking the plank, you can.

Swallows & Amazons film poster on a mug

My favourite design shows the film poster of Swallows & Amazons, which comes in two ways.

Swallows & Amazons poster on a mug

There are a variety of other stills from the film to chose from. These mugs and other movie merchandise such as mouse-mats, jigsaw puzzles and framed prints can be purchased from StudioCanal, the film’s distributors, who have an online shop.

Please let me know if you know of any other Swallows & Amazons mugs and where they can be found in the comments below.

 

 

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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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More memories of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973 from David Stott

David Stott, the Ambleside lad who worked as a unit driver on the film of  Swallows & Amazons in 1973 after he left college at the age of 19, has written from America:

‘I really enjoyed reliving Swallows & Amazons through your book.’

‘Oh my, what a trip down memory lane it was for me – so much that l had forgotten was rekindled. I cannot believe that it was forty years ago.

‘I think that I started work (on the film in) mid-June, which would fit in with finishing college. From your daily schedule it was when you went back to Coniston with Virgina McKenna on her second visit.’

Map showing film locations around Coniston Water

Map showing film locations around Coniston Water

David remembers the problem of being locked out of Bank Ground Farm by Mrs. Batty.  ‘I really could not blame her as the whole place had been turned into a circus and her house ripped apart.’

‘The first morning I met Richard Pilbrow was in his bedroom for some strange reason and remember thinking, ‘What a total mess. How can anybody live like this?’

‘My main contacts were Neville Thompson (the On-line Producer) and Graham Ford (the Production Manager). They were all based at Kirkstone Foot Hotel that was owned by friends of my parents, Simon and Jane Bateman.  Others stayed at the Waterhead Hotel down by the lake, where I would pick them up and take them to the location.

‘On arrival at the location I remember well the catering van and the breakfast that awaited us.  Having just competed three years studying hotel management at college I was amazed how two people with very limited equipment could produce the number of meals they did.  The washing up was done on a trestle table outside the van with bowls of water carried to location in large milk churns.

Map of film locations on Derwentwater in the Lake District

~ Map of film locations on Derwentwater in the Lake District ~

‘I did not have much contact with you and the other children, as you were under the watchful eye of your Mum and Jean McGill. Jean’s Mum was called Girly McGill and used to run a nursing home in Ambleside. As a child I used to deliver eggs to the home with my Dad.  Jean had a brother who I think everybody called Blondie.

‘Sten was a bit of a handful at times and held up shooting on a number of occasions while he was calmed down. I rather envied Simon West; I wished I had the chance he did to act in a film. To this day I’m a frustrated actor.

‘Dennis Lewiston (the Director of Photography) always seemed to be holding a light meter in the air or perhaps he was warding off the clouds.  I found him a little unapproachable.

‘My recollection of Sue Merry the continuity girl was setting up her folding table and tapping away on a portable typewriter.

‘Ronnie Cogan the hairdresser and I spent hours chatting. Once the shooting started, we had nothing else to do. He was such a nice man.

‘I was thrilled when I met Virginia McKenna and had to drive her around. One day I had to drive her to Grange railway station. I was so fascinated by her tales of working with lions in Born Free that I drove slowly to maximise her story-telling time. We almost missed the train and had to run from the car park.

‘One of the wettest days I remember is when the scene of Octopus Lagoon was filmed above Skelwith Fold Caravan Site. I don’t remember the support buses being around that day, but I do remember having to sit in the car for hours on end. Maybe the buses were somewhere else.

‘I know I was invited to the wrap party but cannot remember a thing about it.’

Map showing some of the film locations around Windermere

Map showing some of the film locations around Windermere

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Autobiography, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

A unit driver on the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ has written in with his memories of 1973

View from Bank Ground 2
A comment from someone who worked on the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973 ~
l had just finished my three years at college and was at a loose end before l started my working life. I was living in Ambleside at the heart of the English Lake District where Arthur Ransome’s children’s story “Swallows and Amazons” was being filmed at the time. I landed myself a job working for the film unit. I was full of my own importance as l was driving the stars and director of the film.
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Virginia McKenna playing Mrs Walker

Virginia McKenna playing Mrs Walker at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water

The stars were Virginia McKenna of “Born Free” fame and Ronald Fraser. I was reminded of this period of my life when l read the headline ‘X-RATED antics of Swallows and Amazons’ in The Times. The title related to the release of an e-book by Sophie Neville one of the child actors in the film. Sophie was 12 at the time and I was 19.

Sophie recalls how Ronnie (Ronald Fraser) was always drunk. Well this is not strictly true. In the morning Ronnie was reasonably sober and for this reason the director Claude Whatham would try and get most of the shooting with Ronnie in the can before the lunch hour came around when l would be summoned to take him to the nearest hostelry. Ronnie would then order his own concoction “The Fraser’. I cannot for the life of me remember what it consisted of, but believe you me these disappeared at a rapid rate of knots down Captain Flint’s (his character’s) throat. By the time the liquid lunch came to an end l would have to bundle him into the back of the car and deposit him back on set, much to the dismay of the producer Richard Pilbrow and the director Claude Whatham. Afternoon shooting was often a disaster when Ronnie was involved and l’m sure he frightened the children from time to time.

Well if the children were sometimes scared by Uncle Jim, as Captain Flint is known, then l was scared of the parrot that Uncle Jim had on his boat. The first day that I had to collect the parrot the old lady who owned him travelled with him to the location on Derwent Water. However she soon became bored with all the hanging around and after that she entrusted me with the parrot. Now birds are not really my thing and I really did not like handling him. He would travel to the location in an old shopping bag with a zipper, where l would hand him over and he would be placed in his cage. This was all well and good, then came the day that was so wet they did not use him, but instead he stayed in the production office at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel where the crew were hanging out. I was told he was in the bathroom, l expected him to be in his travel bag, but no he was sat on the edge of the bathtub looking at me. By this time he hated being put in the bag it took me all my time with a towel to catch him, finally after being scratched and bitten I got him home to his Mum.

The hardest thing to stomach was the fact that the parrot was paid more per day than l was.

David Stott

One of the daily unit call sheets issued on 'Swallows & Amazons' (1974)

One of the daily unit call sheets issued on ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

I replied:

Thank you so much for writing in, David. Your story about the green parrot had me roaring with laughter. I am told that he was a male parrot called Beauty, who belonged to Mrs Proctor of Kendal. Her grand-daughter rang in when I was interviewed on Radio Cumbria recently. She told me that her gran, old Mrs Proctor could do anything with him, and was well know for walking around Kendal with him sitting on her arm.  I don’t think anyone else dared get close. Since I played the part of Titty, I had to have him sitting on my shoulder in the cabin of the houseboat, while delivering the most important lines in the film. We were then meant to leap about singing, What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? This was a bit ironic since Ronnie was half-plastered by then. He was pretty permanently pickled. In the penultimate shot of the film, while pretending to play the accordion, he was still drunk from the Wrap Party 36 hours before. The parrot was not invited to the party but did receive a fee of £25 for appearing in the film. His owner used this to buy him a bigger cage.

Daily Express Article

I don’t know who thought up the ‘X-rated’ headline at the Times (which was absurd) but a reporter from the Daily Express provided the receipt for ‘The Fraser’ in 1973 – I have the clipping (above). Geoffrey Mather wrote: ‘A Fraser is a drink of his own invention. It consists of a large vodka with a kiss of lime and a ton of ice, topped up with soda in a large glass’. We all bought the copies of the newspaper in Ambleside. My mother was horrified as instead of being a story about making the film it was a half-page article about Ronnie’s antics in the bar of the Kirkstone Foot Hotel on Windermere.

Daily Express Article page two

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Lesley Bennett, Simon West, Sten Grendon and Kit Seymour with Ronald Fraser. Who is operating the boat?

 

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