Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the rain at Bank Ground Farm in Cumbria ~ 20th May 1973

It was quite funny when Mrs Batty’s sheep walked into Swallow’s boat shed, lifting our spirits on that rather gloomy wet day on Coniston, but I have no idea if it was caught on film. Can anyone remember seeing a television programme made up of amusing out-takes from movies prior to the 1980s?  I don’t suppose our out-takes were ever kept. It doesn’t matter – seeing them spoils the magic of the story in a way.

Simon West as John Walker taking Swallow out of the boatshed at Holly Howe aided by Suzanna Hamilton, Stephen Grendon and Sophie Neville

I wrote in my diary about playing Consequences in Bank Ground farmhouse. This is the game that Virginia McKenna had introduced us all to and we loved it. This time we seem to have roped in Costume, Hair and Make-up. It seems Emma Porteous, the Costume Designer, was on set with us that wet day in May. I would think that this was when they recorded the scenes inside Holly Howe with Susan and Roger and the wonderful lady who played Mrs Jackson. Someone recently asked why Susan never thanked her for lending her the frying pan, as it seemed out of character. Did she in Arthur Ransome’s book?

Ronnie Cogan was the quiet, gentle man usually clad in a grey tweed jacket, responsible for our hair on Swallows and Amazons.  Foregoing the use of wigs, so very much in use on costume dramas at the time, he simply did up Virginia McKenna’s lovely thick hair, and cut ours, giving the whole movie a classic feel.

Virginia McKenna having her hair put up by Ronnie Cogan ~ photo:Daphne Neville

Years later my mother worked with Ronnie on Diana: Her True Story, the bio-epic of epics based on Andrew Morton’s outrageous book. Serena Scott Thomas played Diana Princess of Wales, David Threlfall was Prince Charles, Anthony Calf had the glorious opportunity to play James Hewitt and my mother was given the role of Diana’s nanny, who hit her on the head with a wooden spoon. Mum said that she later bumped into Ronnie in Oxford Street but heard soon afterwards that he had sadly died. He had a wonderful career and must be hugely missed.  He’d worked on classics such as The Boys from Brazil with Sir Laurence Olivier and A Bridge too Far directed by Richard Attenborough – the Lord Attenborough. That must have been quite something. It starred Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Ryan O’Neal who I am sure would have been pretty concerned about having the standard WWII military haircut. Ronnie also worked for Roland Joffe on The Killing Fields and Kenneth Branagh when he had quite a haircut, the pudding basin, for his monumental film of Shakespeare’s Henry V.  It is funny how things inter-connect. Kenneth Branagh played my great uncle AO Neville in the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Peter Robb-King had been the Chief Make-up Artist on Diana: her True Story. Having worked on movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Stars Wars – Return of the Jedi, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, he is still involved with the most amazing feature films. He has just completed The Cabin in the Woods where he was Sigourney Weaver’s personal make-up artist – and to think! He was once mine.

“But, Sophie – you disappoint me! You didn’t wear any make-up to play Titty.” No, but as we filmed out on the water more and more sun cream became extremely important. If even a tiny bit of us had turned red or peeled the filming would have put in jeopardy. Predicting that we would turn vaguely brown, Peter decided to give us a bit of a tan when scenes where shot out of sequence, as a couple had been that first week.  Peter and Ronnie were also responsible for the continuity of how we looked so that the shots would cut together. My fly-away hair was well monitored. Mum had to wash it every other day. Sten seemed to be forever having his hair trimmed. There are quite a few photographs of this particular activity inprogress.

Sophie Neville looking on as Stephen Grendon’s hair was being cut by Ronnie Cogan ~ photo: Daphne Neville

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, e-publication, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

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