“It was really horrible” ~ filming the swimming scenes for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ ~ 24th May 1973

bw Susan teaching Roger to Swim
Sten Grendon as Roger Walker being taught to swim by Suzanna Hamilton playing his elder sister Susan Walker on location at Peel Island on Coniston Water in 1973

“…it was really horrible,” I told Tim Devlin, of The Times. “We had to run into the water and enjoy it. It was icy. I had to try to be a cormorant with my feet  in the air. Then I had to step water as Susan taught Roger to swim.  We were in for about three minutes and they had to do two takes of the scene. It was horrible.”   This was the day when we shot the swimming scenes ~

24th May 1973

24th May 19731

24th May 19732

The first scene of the day was actually was the one when Titty emerged from her tent in her pyjamas, wiped the dew off the top of a large biscuit tin and started writing her diary. I always regret writing Titania Walker on the cover but I had been contracted to play the part of TITANIA WALKER. My mother, Daphne Neville, who is quite theatrical, loved Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and encouraged me to write out the full name, but I do wish I had simply labelled by notebook ‘Ship’s Log’.

bw Susan and Titty in their tent
Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan with Sophie Neville as Titty busy writing the ship’s log

I am told that the real little girl who inspired my character, Titty Altounyan, was given the nickname after reading a horrible story of mousey death entitled Titty mouse and Tatty mouse’  from English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs.  Her family called her Titty mouse, then Titty for short. People were concerned that I would be teased for being associated with a name like Titty, but I never was. It’s a sweet name. However, it seems Arthur Ransome did not object when the BBC altered it to Kitty in 1962, when Susan George played the part. When the 2016 version of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was made Titty became Tatty and the press had a field day.

Titty and Tatty book

Our knitted swimming costumes, with their little legs were a real novelty to us. I do wish mine hadn’t been red. It was such a cold, grey day I went blue. I remember the entire crew were clad in overcoats – even parkers with fur lined hoods. Looking back it was silly to have gone ahead with the scene in May. Child cruelty.

35m Panasonic, Eddie Collins the Camera Operator in (wet suit), Dennis Lewiston the DOP (in cap) Claude Whatham the Director (in waders) on Peel Island, Coniston Water ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow

The director, Claude Whatham shot the scene using two cameras. The continuity would have been impossible otherwise. Eddie Collins the camera operator had a 16mm camera in the water with us. He was being steadied by another chap in a full wet-suit. Fitted neoprene was quite an unusual sight back then when divers were known as frogmen.

Filming the swimming scene
Eddie Collins operating the 16mm camera to capture the pearl diving scene ~photo: Richard Pilbrow

Suzanna Hamilton, who played Susan, did well but it simply wasn’t possible to pretend we were enjoying ourselves.  My rictus smile was not convincing. Later on in the summer the Lake District became so hot that we begged to be taken swimming in rivers on our day off. I wish we had re-shot the scene in July with an underwater camera capturing my pearl diving antics. I was a good swimmer. I still love snorkelling – but only in warm seas. As it was, I had to be extracted from Coniston Water by Eddie’s frogman. I’d almost passed out.

Sophie Neville in 1973 attempting to strangle Terry Smith the Wardrobe Master on ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Quite a few people almost learnt how cold we had been for themselves later that day in May. The boats used to ferry us back and forward to the island were blue Dorys with outboard motors. You don’t want to have too much weight in the bows of those boats. Water can come in very quickly.

You can read the whole story here:

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

13 thoughts on ““It was really horrible” ~ filming the swimming scenes for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ ~ 24th May 1973”

  1. You’re right, it was a horrible day. Sadly, at the time there seemed no option. We were on a very tight budget, the scene was essential and we had no idea if the sun would ever come out! As I said at the time: “Kids, I’m SO Sorry!” Richard Pilbrow, Producer

      1. Yes, I discovered that years ago by swimming off the coast of Lincolnshire in what seemed like freezing temperatures; ‘swim hard’ was the instructor’s exact command! Very pleased none of you caught hypothermia!

          1. Although there wasn’t really any ice it felt like that off Mablethorpe all those years ago (mid-1960s); I can well empathise with you.

  2. Having worked in the film industry some years ago, I remember having set dressers position plastic daffodils in long grass to make a scene that was meant to be February and was in fact June! The actors in Victorian costume were baking and spending as long as possible under the white film camera umbrellas and using a batch of battery fans we had bought at the petrol station to try and keep their make-up stable for the scene!

      1. Oh dear, I’ll look forward to hearing about that later! We had a particularly hot summer filming that Thomas Hardy picture, the film in the camera was at risk of ‘pinking’ on a few days. This is where the film cassette becomes too hot and colours the film. I remember it all too well!

          1. It was a film about Thomas Hardy’s life, called ‘Hardy’s Country.’ It took around two years to make, filming and post producti

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