Filming with Swallow and on Peel Island in the Lake District ~ in 1973

If you drive south down the narrow East of Lake road along by Coniston Water, passing Bank Ground Farm, Brantwood and a cottage where Arthur Ransome once lived, you will eventually see Peel Island. It is not that far from the shore.

Richard Pilbrow had permission from the Lake District  National Park for his film crew to gain access and use the fields and woodland opposite Peel Island as a base. One proviso was that our two red double-decker buses had to be swathed with camouflage netting in an attempt to make them less conspicuous. As a result they looked comic – like huge monsters from Doctor Who. In addition to these we had a caravan for Make-up and Hair, the caterers’ mobile kitchen or chuck-wagon, a prop lorry, a lorry belonging to Lee Electric who provided the lighting and huge reflector boards, the Lee Electric generator and the regrettable and very basic mobile loos. I can not remember what kind of vehicle David Cadwallader the Grip used but I half remember a Land Rover. On top of this would be parked our mini-bus, the unit mini-bus, everyone’s cars and the boat trailers. Mum thinks that Terry Smith’s Range Rover could have been orange. ‘He was a very orange man.’

It must have been a bit of an effort to avoid getting the whole entourage in shot when John and I launched Swallow and rowed around to the harbour. You can tell that it was a greyer day than the one before.

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker and Simon West as John Walker  rowing Swallow towards Peel Island on Coniston Water in the Lake District National Park

A temporary jetty made from scaffold and planks had been built out into the water so that we could climb into any boat going to the island without getting wet. It must have been quite something lugging the camera out.  It travelled in a big black wooden box lined with foam rubber, with handles at either end that David had had made. The Panasonic was thus transported by two men like the Arc of the Covenant , holy and revered. Once on the island it would be set on the complex mounting, which enabled it to pan and tilt. This in turn usually sat on sections of track so that moving shots could be achieved.

Denis Lewiston, the Director of Photography, had a Camera Operator but insisted on doing most of the camera work himself. If you watch the scenes of the Swallows making up camp you can see that he must have just followed what Susan and Roger were doing. It has a wonderful, busy natural quality with the result that all one wants to do is to leave real life behind and go camping. I imagine that the scenes when the kettle is being filled were shot in the morning, while I was at my lessons, but I joined them after lunch.

We loved shooting any scene at our camp on the island, especially when we were eating. As I think I have said before, when Suzanna swung her frying pan of buttered eggs she really did burn Roger on the knee. He was very brave about it. It was a heavy pan.

David Cadwallader is still working as a grip, recently operating the crane on the 2011 movie of Jane Eyre, which stars Mia Wasikowska as Jane, Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester and Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax. I’d been reading Jane Eyre on that day in May 1973. It was my set book. My set book for school and the book I read on set. I should have been reading Robinson Crusoe.


Richard Pilbrow has just written from Connecticut to say~

You can read my side of the story, if you care to, in ‘A THEATRE PROJECT’, that you can get from Amazon.UK.

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

19 thoughts on “Filming with Swallow and on Peel Island in the Lake District ~ in 1973”

  1. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to sign-in and comment. It greatly encourages me to keep going. One of the crew members is driving down with four albums of cuttings and photos on Tuesday! and Richard Pilbrow has just written from the States. do let me have your questiosn here. Facebook is difficult to keep tabs on.

  2. Dear Sophie,

    What a treat to discover your website this evening!

    Today is my 28th birthday and I have just watched Swallows and Amazons (for, quite possibly, the hundredth time) with my parents to end the day’s celebrations.

    S&A remains a firm favourite of our family, not least because, like Roger (whom I am often likened too!) I have three siblings with whom I was able to enjoy the film, taking on the roles of the four Walker children.

    We still to this day (my siblings are 30, 25 and 17) repeat line after line from the script and I have often searched the web to find further information of yourself, Simon, Suzanna and Stephen – this site will certainly go some way to satisfying my curiosity!

    Thank you so much, in particular, for sharing your journal entries of your time on location in the lake district – I will be be spending the next few hours reading your older posts!

    With very best wishes and many thanks for making my (birth)day!

    Jonathan Hamilton

    1. It was so good to hear from you!
      Let me know if you have any questions about the making of the film, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
      I’ve been busy but have the next day in the diary ready to include.

  3. Hi there. I came to watch S&A being filmed. It was the charcoal burner’s scene. We walked down from our village Primary School (Satterthwaite) but the scene was actually just down the road from where I lived. So, we probably met all those years ago.

      1. Unfortunately not. I was hoping you might find something in your journal. I remember meeting Virginia (I’ve always adored her and loved all the Born Free story etc) and we were all terrified re-the snake. I can’t remember us doing a project apart from we all had to read Arthur Ransome’s books (as he was the local author) and we did have a school trip to watch the film at the cinema. However, because I used to go up and down through the wood each day, I knew the real charcoal burners who worked in there and so that scene in the film has always felt quite special to me.

              1. The real charcoal burners were the Allonbys – in particular Jack but there was Norman too,

  4. More great reminiscences, thank you Sophie. I have just acquires Richard Pilbrow’s book and look forward to reading his account of the filming.

      1. From a cursory ‘flip through’ it certainly looks interesting. I’m looking forward to starting it soon and will certainly contact him or review it when I’ve finished it.

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