The end of our first week’s filming and all was not well ~

Suzanna was ill.  ‘I told Claude that it was because she wouldn’t eat anything,’ my mother said. ‘Oo she was difficult.’ But it can’t have just been that. We’d all got cold filming out on the lake in our flimsy costumes and she went down hill from there. The Producer, Richard Pilbrow, called a unit day off. As it happened the Saturday was a glorious sunny day and it rained on the Sunday, when the crew were originally scheduled to have the day off.

I made the most of it. Mum hardly ever took my sisters and I either shopping or walking when I we were children, but Sten’s mother, Jane Grendon was happy to take us around the craft shops of Ambleside and up into the fells. I am sure it was just what we needed while Mum stayed with Suzanna, and I expect had a snooze herself.  She was the better chaperone on location, where she felt happy and relaxed, Jane was better at taking us hill walking and encouraging us to sing on what could be long mini-bus journeys through the Lake District.

My diary

My diary 19th May page two

The norm when filming on location is to work six days a week, resting on Sundays. This, however, quite often has to be changed to a Saturday as some locations, such as busy town centres, can only be used on Sundays. The Police will only give you clearance for tricky sequences when it’s very quiet.  We didn’t have any gun fights in Swallows and Amazons but when I was a location manager myself on Rockcliffe’s Babies I once had to get everyone out working at 6.00am on a Sunday. We were recording a car chase going the wrong way around the Harrow Road roundabout above Paddington Station in West London with four Policemen employed to stop the traffic. We did have an actor clinging to the bonnet of the baddies’ car by the windscreen wipers. And they were moving.

I look back through my diary and am so touched. Virginia McKenna was incredibly kind to take such an interest in us, bringing Suzanna strawberries and talking us all to the cinema.  I wrote that Garth brought a pocket chess set. I’m afraid I couldn’t spell properly. This was meant to read Gareth. I have known two Gareths in my life.  A  Gloucester Old Spot pig, living in North Wales and Gareth Tandy, our third assistant director. His aunt Jessica Tandy was the famous Hollywood actress who had appeared in Alfred Hitchcock dramas such as The Birds.  In later life she went on to star in Driving Miss Daisy with Morgan Freeman, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Nobody’s Fool with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith.

Gareth had acted in all sorts of things as a boy from Oliver Twist to Dr. Findlay’s Casebook. If I’m not mistaken Swallows and Amazons was his first film as an Assistant Director but he made a career of it, going on to work on amazing moviesthe original Superman, For Your Eyes Only ~ the Bond film with Roger Moore, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Bourne Identity with Matt Damon, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp, Nanny McPhee, with Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, Johnny English Reborn with Rowan Atkinson and is currently the First Assistant Director on A Fantastic Fear of Everything.  

Gareth signed himself  ‘The whipcracker’ in my going-away book. It think this was because it had been his job to get us through costume and make-up and onto the set at the right time but I was left puzzled because he had done this with such charm we had never noticed any whips cracking at all. There must have been. Poor Gareth had been the runner with a walky-talky stopping unwanted traffic, cue-ing various boats and lugging tea urns about, but he did this with good grace and we all loved him. And no wonder, seeing as he’d given us a chess set just because Suzanna was ill in bed.

Sophie Neville with Jane Grendon in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

4 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film crew, Film History, Lake District, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Swallows and Amazons

4 responses to “The end of our first week’s filming and all was not well ~

  1. Clive Moon

    I have watched this film many times with my children and still enjoy it. My love for Arthur Ransome’s books goes back much further. I am really enjoying your diary entries and your account of the filming. Especially as I had always identified with Titty in the books, and found that my eldest daughter did the same, and liked her best in the film.

  2. It is so good to have your feedback.
    It’ll encourage me to keep writting.
    Do let me have any questions you or your family might have about the film.

  3. Peter Leather

    Though somewhat ‘off topic’ I can agree with you about Virginia McKenna. I wrote to her via the Born Free site asking about a location used in filming the ocean scenes with ‘Elsa’ the lioness, and she personally answered my question. Such a dear sweet lady although she must be tremendously busy, she still made time to answer a stranger’s query. Quite like you Sophie!

    • Sophie Neville/S.Williams-Thomas

      She is a very gracious lady! Thank you for your kind e-mail. It is so encouraging to receive positive comments.

      Rushing

      Sophie

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