Discovering that John Noakes had been offered the role of Captain Flint in the 1974 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Diary kept whilst making the 1974 film of Swallows and Amazons

My diary kept on 17th May 1973 continues…

Making the 1974 movie Swallows and Amazons

What would you wear to go sailing on Coniston Water in May? Arriving at Wild Cat Island was exciting but I got terribly cold. Not with-standing this, a photograph of the scene was used on the cover of a 1973 edition of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

The Passion Killer scenes ~

The crew took delight in referring to my navy blue gym knickers as ‘Passion Killers’. Claude Whatham, the director, had me tuck my dress up into them. I don’t know if he knew it but, as Arthur Ransome said, the real Altounyan girls had done this, since they usually wore dresses in the 1930s rather than shorts. It made me think that I was wearing even less and haunts me still. Soon there was a photograph in The Telegraph of me with my dress tucked up into my knickers. I was never allowed to un-tuck it between takes for fear of spoiling continuity.

Sophie Neville in her thin cotton dress and passion killers in 1973 ~ photo:Daphne Neville

Sailing in thin cotton dresses ~

Emma Porteus, the Costume Designer on Swallows and Amazons was the one listed member of the film crew who we didn’t see much on location. I’d met her at a fitting in London, when I tried on the silk dress and the shoes I wore in the train. She then had my cotton frocks made up, seemly without a thought to the Cumbrian climate. The fact that they were rather short was in keeping with 1970’s fashion, rather than 1929. It was Claude who insisted that we all – boys and girls – wore original 1929 knickers. Mum who found us vests to wear once everyone realised how cold it was out on the water. I had to beg TSuzanna Hamilton in 1984erry, the Wardrobe Master, to let me wear a grey cardigan in subsequent sailing scenes.

Emma Porteus must have either been expensive or busy or both. She became the designer on many of the Bond movies ~ Octopussy, A View to a Kill and the Living Daylights. She worked on Aliens with Sigourney Weaver, Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone and 1984, which starred Suzanna Hamilton with none other than John Hurt and Richard Burton. This was partly made near my home in Gloucestershire ~ Mum visited the set at Hullaverton ~ at the time I was working on the Arthur Ransome book adaptations of  Coot Club and The Big Six on the Norfolk Broads. Of all the costumes worn in movies through the decades Suzanna wore a classic in that film: a workman’s boiler-suit. Not designated by Emma Porteus, of course, but by George Orwell. Nice and comfy for wearing on location.

The terrible royal blue nylon track suits with go-faster stripes that we wore on location in Cumbria were purchased to keep us warm during rehearsals. This was a huge mistake, firstly because they were ineffective in terms of thermal insulation, and secondly because they found their way into the publicity shots. They even featured on the cover of the VHS.  I can remember thinking at the time that these track suits were a misguided purchase (and please note I was aged twelve at the time) but I was so grateful for the meagre warmth I willingly wriggled into the narrow trousers.

Brian Doyle, the Publicity Manager on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in typical cold weather gear on Derwent Water in the Lake District

Dennis the DPO ~ Everyone on the crew was wrapped up warm and well equipped with wet weather gear.  They needed to be.  There was so much hanging around.  While it took a little time to line up a dinghy for a shot, Dennis Lewiston the Director of Photography was very strict about waiting for clouds to pass so that it looked sunshiny, even if it wasn’t that sunny in reality. This could take ages. ‘Takes’ were often snatched between clouds. Looking back, this proved crucial. My memory is of Dennis, in a navy blue raincoat, peering at the sky with a shaded eye glass that he wore habitually around his neck. 

Dennie Lewiston went on to make The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, Ian McKellen and Julian Fellows,  The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Meat Loaf, The Country Girls, starring Sam Neill, Marilyn and Me, Heidi with Patricia Neal, Montana and numerous other TV movies.

Filming the filming ~  I did not know until I read Mum’s letter, above, that John Noakes had been offered a part in Swallows and Amazons or that Blue Peter had been given the chance to document the making of the film. I wonder if John Noakes ever knew this? Biddy Baxter, the editor, was keen on ‘behind the scenes’ items.  Lesley Judd had worn a lovely red dress to make one earlier, in February 1973, about Dad’s Army with Arthur Lowe and John le Mesurier, who happened to be a cousin of Dad’s, but Blue Peter never made it to Cumbria. Instead my father bought 16mm stock for his company’s Bolex and shot a number of reels.  The footage was never sold but not forgotten. I found most of it in 2003 when the BBC included it in the Countryfile documentary presented by Ben Fogle that was re-issued as Big Screen Britain.

Notes on my Diary: It looks as if the food had improved. We had turkey for lunch on location, which was a great treat in the early ’70s, and ‘a super salad supper’ at the guesthouse, which I had evidently enjoyed. Does anyone remember such things being a real treat? 

Translation of my mother’s letter home:

My Darlings = Dad and my sisters

‘Letter to SAJ’ = Sister Ann-Julian, my headmistress. She signed her name SAJ and everyone called her Saj.

When my long hair was cut for the part of Titty we sent the pony-tail back to my form at school so they could thatch the cottages of a model village they were making of medieval Childry. I was really sad to be missing the project.   

Toos = Mum’s nick-name for me.

Ruth = our cleaner from the village who was helping to look after my sisters

B…  = (no idea)

Gertie = Mum’s enormous Irish mare

& co = our moorland ponies

Lupy, Joshua and Blue = our dogs. She must have been a bit homesick.

You can read the whole story of what happened next in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ or the ebook on ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, which includes links to behind-the-scenes cine footage:

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

9 thoughts on “Discovering that John Noakes had been offered the role of Captain Flint in the 1974 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’”

  1. Hello Sophie – I’m Brian Doyle’s daughter, Pandora. The Lake District was wonderful. Dad got me a couple of weeks as an extra. I tried to contact Daphne a few years ago to tell her dad died very suddenly in January 2008 the day after Heath Ledger. That’s a good photo of Brian. I still have stills of you and the other actors and also kept some sort of diary on the same Swallows and Amazons headed paper. I have just come accross your site and will have a closer look. Please let your mum know about Brian. I met you again at The Putney Show with the lovely otters. Pandora.

    1. Dear Pandora, It is so good to hear from you after all these years. I’d love to see your photos. I have a photograph of you appearing as an extra in the Rio scene with my sisters Perry and Tamzin who must also have come up over half-term. It was such a great summer. I still have the publicity Press Release that your Dad wrote about me, only it is so very complimentray that I feel I can’t publish it. I am so sorry to hear that he died suddenly. What a huge loss for you all. Are you still living in London? With love, Sophie

  2. I’m not sure about John Noakes acting in the film but a documentary on its creation by Blue Peter would have been wonderful.

    1. It would have been disastrous to have had John Noakes paying Captain Flint! And probably off-putting to have had the Blue Peter team on location. I’m glad it never happened. Years later, I carried out some research for Blue Peter in South Africa, but that is another story.

      1. I didn’t like to say as much before, but I totally agree about John Noakes. And I hadn’t thought about the disruptive side of a Blue Peter team making a documentary.

          1. Yes, and being Blue Peter they probably wouldn’t have stayed completely in the background; especially if John Noakes had been involved in any way!

              1. At least it never happened and the fun of the filming experience wasn’t spoilt.

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