Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on Peel Island, Coniston Water ~ in 1973

It seemed that we had another rather wet day in the Lake District, but what they did shoot was excellent. It was the day John and I discovered the Secret Harbour and took Swallow there.  Waiting for the sun must have been worth it to capture those limpid, watery scenes.

The Secret Harbour looks very different over the course of a year.  It is at its most dramatic when the water levels are low and more rocks are exposed, but one thing is certain, it is always a safe haven for a dinghy. I was sad that the sequence in the book where Titty watches a dipper from her rock was never in the film, but then I have never seen a dipper there. I rather think they prefer shallow, fast flowing streams were caddis fly lavae can be found but I am sure that if Arthur Ransome wrote about a dipper there must have been one there in 1929.

Simon West playing John Walker and Sophie Neville as Titty Walker bring Swallow into Secret Harbour on Wildcat Island. Photography by Albert Clarke for Theatre Projects and Anglo EMI’s film ‘Swallows and Amazons’

I’m not sure Albert Clarke achieved horizontality with this particular photograph but it somehow gives one an idea of Titty’s tippy task. Albert was a sweet man. His task was to take stills of the film and for the film.  This must have been tricky as his large format camera clicked. He had to grab shots while not intruding on the sound track. He was later the Stills Photographer on The Hound of the Baskervilles when Ian Richardson played Sherlock Holmes, Return of the Jedi, and Porridge. Porridge, which starred my all-time hero Ronnie Barker, the man who inspired me to go into television production. When I was a nineteen-year-old student I appeared in Charlie Farley and Piggy Malone, a sort of serial within The Two Ronnies, which he directed and appeared in as both anti-hero and baddie. To my great delight, and his surprise, I put on round glasses, a yash-mak,  a Southern American accent and learnt that anything was possible if you really wanted it to happen.

But then some things happen anyway. I never knew that bringing small boat neatly into shore would result in being on the cover of an LP. You can still buy it all these years later from Amazon.  The only question is – Do you have a gramophone or turn-table to play it on?

The mfp Vinyl LP of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with Sophie Neville and Simon West bringing Swallow into her harbour

I can’t believe Terry let me travel in the front on his white Range Rover, let alone change the gears.  I can only think that Simon and I were taken back after the other children had gone home, and can just imagine us swinging around the lanes on that beautiful road back to Ambleside.

Terry Smith was our Wardrobe Master who must have had an annoying day if gas had been leaking into his bus.  He was a distinctive man with curly red hair and strong, freckled arms in charge of our costumes. Goodness knows where he laundered them. Terry went on to work on some amazing costume dramas, movies that included Chariots of Fire, Lady Jane, Willow and Restoration. Mum’s tame otter Bee was auditioned to be in Willow. I’ve written about it in my book Funnily Enough. Mum was most indignant becasue they wanted her otter to wear a tutu. She didn’t know that Terry Smith was to be the Wardrobe Assistant. It might have made a difference. Instead they featured Val Kilmer in dialogue with a possum.

1 Comment

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