A day off in Blackpool ~ whilst filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

A Day Off in Blackpool
Suzanna Hamliton, Simon West, Claude Whatham, Sophie Neville, Kit Seymour, Jean McGill with Daphne Neville kneeling at Blackpool funfair in 1973

Apart from referring to us as The Swallows and The Amazons, our director Claude Whatham always called us his artistes – ‘My art-istes!’ This was, of course, because far from being trained actors we were just the children who made up his cast.

It was Saturday morning on 16th June 1973 and a day off from filming. We’d all been working hard. Instead of resting, Claude took us all to Blackpool, the famous holiday destination of the north west. None of us had ever been before. It was a great treat and hugely exciting. I can remember choosing the clothes I would wear, and putting on a shell necklace Daddy had brought back from Africa, for the occasion.

A complete contrast to camping and sailing in the wilds of Westmorland, Blackpool proved a day trip to remember.

It must have taken more than an hour-and-a-half to travel from Ambleside to the Blackpool promenade in those days. Jean McGill, our friend and driver, drove us down in the unit mini-bus. We were joined for the day by Ronnie Cogan, the hairdresser on the film crew, and of course Mum and Jane came as our parents and legal chaperones. I’m pretty sure Ronnie smoked the whole way there and back, but we all adored him and were thrilled he wanted to come too.

Blackpool funfari 1973
Claude Whatham with Stephen Grendon and Daphne Neville with Leseley Bennett

16th June ~ my diary page two

Lesley Bennett with Claude Whatham at Blackpool~ photo: Daphne Neville

I think Claude must have liked fun-fairs. Before Swallows and Amazons he directed That’ll be the Day, a rock and roll movie produced by David Puttman, set at a fun fair of the 1950s. It starred David Essex and Ringo Starr with Billy Fury singing “A Thousand Stars”, “Long Live Rock”, “That’s All Right Mama” and “What Did I Say”. Claude gave me the LP, which I played again and again.

We did it all. I was most impressed – and terrified out of my wits – by the big dipper but have always loved going in a pony and trap and racing donkeys. Looking back it seems we took a number of risks. What EMI’s insurance company would have said I do not know. Falling off a donkey could have cost quite a few expensive filming days but then EMI did own the circus we went to. There we saw true artistes, with snakes and crocodiles. The mind boggles.

We were exhilarated by the whole experience. Whilst it was tiring, it energised us, bringing us together as a family, all looking up to Claude as our father figure. He had two children of his own, but they must have been at college by then. Paul had been about sixteen when we made Cider with Rosie – Mum remembers him as a curly haired boy talking to his father about the casting. He sadly died in a motor cycle accident driving home from Oxford Polytechnic when he was only about nineteen. Claude never got over it. I weep for him, even now.

Jean McGill, Jane Grendon, Stephen Grendon, Kit Seymour, Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham, Simon West, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Ronnie Cogan~ photo: Daphne Neville

You can read more about our antics here:

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

11 thoughts on “A day off in Blackpool ~ whilst filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973”

  1. It looks to me like a great example of team bonding — keep these lovely pics coming. So evocative!

  2. Oh, completly. Team building before it was invented, showing Claude Whatham had the energy and natural charm of a good leader.

    Thank you for your comment on which is hardly a post about ‘Swallows and Amazons’, although of course the books are all about team bonding, aren’t they?

  3. Roger Rudman. April 7th
    It has been very interesting to follow you in Swallows and Amazons.
    I had the pleasure of meeting you at Swallows relaunch last year.
    What happend to the other three? do you keep in touch

    1. Thank you for taking the trouble to write in.

      As it happenes, received an e-mail from Suzanna Hamilton yesterday, but sadly I have not seen either Simon West, Stephen Grendon or the Amazons since the Premier of the film in 1974.

  4. I only just chanced on these blogs. I’ve also just watched the “Behind the Scenes” footage on YouTube. Both are brilliant and, for me, inspiring.
    My gran lived in Windermere most of her life and the Lakes have a huge place in my heart.
    I moved from Blackpool to Grimsby 10 years ago and married the woman who caused the move last year. I have taken Anna (my wife) to the Lakes a few times and we are now saving to move to Cumbria.
    It is the original film, books and your blogs that keep me going on my quest to move.
    Thank you so much for sharing your memories. It is very generous of you.

  5. A great day out! Just what Blackpool was made for. As Roger Wardale said above, a great team building exercise.

      1. Just a small point: as someone living not too far from Blackpool for over 50 years, far from being in the north east, Blackpool is the holiday capital of the north WEST!! I laughed out loud for a long time when I read this.

      2. Ah, I see Blackpool has been reinstated to its correct geographical area! Thank you, Sophie.

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