Tag Archives: Virginia McKenna

Questions I’m asked at cinema screenings of Swallows & Amazons (1974)

Over the next few days I am going to be giving Q&A sessions at cinemas screening StudioCanal’s newly restored version of Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (U) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film’s release in 1974.

Ronald Fraser walking the plankSten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows making Ronald Fraser walk the plank. Where are the Amazons?

If you can come, please do bring a question. I am always very interested in those asked by the children. They can be quite difficult to answer:

‘What did it feel like to be alone on the island?’

Titty alone on Wildcat IslandTitty leaving her tent on Wild Cat Island

‘Where you really able to keep the parrot?’

swa_bw_neg_ 021 Kit Seymour with Sophie Neville  and Polly in the Houseboat

‘How long did it take to film?’ is another question I am often asked. The answer is quite complicated.

Then I ask,  ‘Would you like to know about the mistake I made?’

swa_bw_neg_ 043The crew of the Swallow leaving Holly Howe 

I started singing, ‘Adieu and Farewell’, when the sea shanty Spanish Ladies is always sung: ‘Farewell and Adieu…

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies, 
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we’re under orders
For to sail to old England,
And we may ne’er see you fair ladies again.
We’ll rant and we’ll roar, like true British sailors,
We’ll range and we’ll roam all on the salt seas;
Until we strike soundings
In the Channel of old England,
From Ushant to Scilly ’tis thirty-five leagues.

swa_bw_neg_ 042Virginia McKenna watches the Swallows sail from the jetty at Bank Ground Farm on Coniston Water. Can you spot the safety officer – a frogman just visible right of shot?

I noticed that one inconsistency made by the design team was that the swallow flew down our flag whereas it always flies up Swallow’s burgee in Arthur Ransome book illustrations. I count it as a subtle differentiation that I reproduce whenever I draw the crossed flags myself.

Swallows & Amazons flags for book

 

When I was writing ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ I noticed that, while the title of the book is ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the graphic designer working on the film always used an ampersand, making it SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in the 1974 film.

There is another odd thing right at the end of the film, as the credits roll. See if you can spot what it is.

This week there are a number of screenings in Cumbria:

Royalty Cinema Bowness-on-Windermere 6th, 7th August http://bit.ly/1nCooVq

Roxy Cinema Ulverston 6th, 7th August http://bit.ly/1nYKgKn

Zeffirellis Ambleside  6th August (with Sophie Neville Q&A) http://bit.ly/X8BYFU

Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal  7th August (with Sophie Neville Q&A) http://bit.ly/1jTanmg

For details of screenings at PictureHouse cinemas across the UK please click here.

(All photographs on this page are copyright StudioCanal. To see more stills and merchandise available please click here. )

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

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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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Photography, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

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.

DSCF2298

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