On 14th June we were back at Ickenthwaite Forest, in Cumbria, to film the sequence when the Swallows visit the Charcoal Burners.
‘He doesn’t look much like a son.’ The real Young Billy was almost indistinguishable from the actor. He seemed to take a wry interest in the filming but what he thought of us, of the crew, I dread to think. We were aliens on his planet. Terribly bossy ones.
Our polystrene coffee cups look so out of place. They were. How much had changed in the art of producing charcoal between 1973 and 1929 when Arthur Ransome set our story?
The Call Sheet for the day scheduled Scene 110 with the adder, but I recorded in my diary that we had completed that the previous day. I must have meant my part in it. The Director, Claude Whatham, was probably using the time to pick-up the shots of Young Billy working with his dampened fire.
Much later, when I asked Claude what made a good director he said, ‘You need to use your time well.’ This probably makes you an employable director, but I think Claude had other assets. We all adored him for one thing, and would do anything for him. We knew that he wanted us to keep going, no matter what happened. Susan really did leave her basket behind at the Charcoal Burners’. When Old Billy called her, she was truly taken aback and sweetly ran to collect it. It’s something that rings true, a natural quality that Claude brought to the film.
The interior of the hut must have been tricky to light. I think we had a real fire burning in the stone grate and Claude was keen for the scene to be atmospherically smoky. The wood smoke itself was fine but the crew were working with smoke guns, since they were more directional and considered more controllable. The acrid fumes produced by their oil canisters choked me but Jack Woolgar was absolutely stoic and kept our attention. I loved drawing with the charcoal. I wish I had drawn him. Apart from the amount of smoke it was lovely inside the mossy wigwam. I could have stayed there quite happily. It was nice and warm.
Albert Clarke, our Stills Photographer, later gave us his unwanted contact sheets to stick in the scrap-books we kept of the filming. Amongst them are these photos he took of the Producer Richard Pilbrow with the charcoal burners of Ickenthwaite Forest.
Audrey Steeley told me that the older chacoal burner is Jack Allonby who lived at Spark bridge, a well known local character. However, Myles Dickinson has written in to say that it is Norman Allonby, Jack’s brother, who lived at Bandrake Head. Audrey thinks the other chap could be Bill Norris, who was an authority on charcoal burning and also from Spark bridge, but that the picture doesn’t look much like him. I think it might be Bill Allonby, Jack’s brother. Does anyone else remember them?
As the Call Sheet decreed, we were scheduled to to move to Bank Ground Farm after lunch to film the receiving of despatches, a scene I look forward to describing in the next post.
You can see photos and read more in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons(1974)’, available online here