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

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. My mother, Daphne Neville, who is quite theatrical, probably had Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream on her mind. We both supposed that Titty’s real name was Titania. It was not. It was Mavis.

I thought that the real little girl, Titty Altounyan, was called Titty as a shorter version of Beatrix Potter’s character Mrs Tittlemouse, but Magnus Smith tells me that her name was adopted from 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. I should have just written Titty Walker. Arthur Ransome never wanted her name changed. He was most upset when the BBC altered it to Kitty in 1962, when Susan George played the part. I’ve seen the series and it does feel wrong. 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.

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

Claude shot the scene using two cameras. It would have taken much longer otherwise and the continuity would have been impossible. Eddie Collins the Camera Operator had a 16mm camera in the water with us. He was being steadied by another chap in a full wetsuit. Fitted neoprene was quite an unsual sight then when divers were known as frogmen.

Filming the swimming scene

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

Suzanna Hamilton 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.  And did Terry Smith have a hot water bottle for me?  No.

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.

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

2 responses to ““It was really horrible” ~ filming the swimming scenes for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 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

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