Ronald Fraser arrives in the Lake District to play Captain Flint ~ in 1973

Sophie Neville and Simon West with Ronald Fraser playing Captain Flint
Sophie Neville, Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton with Ronald Fraser playing Captain Flint in the 1973 film of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Ronald Fraser! veteran of World War II movies who had won an award for playing Basil Allenby-Johnson in The Misfits had arrived on the shore of Coniston Water. Curiously so had two Stand-ins. A short lady for me, with dark hair,  and a lady with blonde hair for Suzanna. I have blonde hair and Suzanna is dark, but that is how it was. The other four actors didn’t have stand-ins, which seemed odd.  Simon West and Stephen Grendon, the two boys were younger than us, so that seemed odder. And we were some way into the filming. However the ladies were very excited about coming over to Peel Island. They sat in our positions and read our lines back to Ronald Fraser whilst the scene at the camp site was lit, and returned to stand-in for us later when his close-ups were shot. Somehow they managed to do this in scanty summer clothing dispite the brewing storm.

My stand-in. I liked her very much and was most interested in her tapestry, since I was doing one myself. Lots of the men in the crew were interested in her tapestry too. They hadn’t noticed mine.

Our stand-ins got a lot of help from the crew as they went from boat to shore. We didn’t really, but then we were used to it and had to wear life-jackets. Mummy didn’t wear a life jacket, but she has always been surprising good at getting in and out of boats too.

My mother’s present day comment on the whole matter of my stand-in is concise: ‘I don’t think she was invited. I think she just turned up. Most unsuitable for a children’s film.’

Enthused by our Stand-in, Lesely Bennett and I went into Ambleside that evening to buy more wool for our own tapestries.

The poor production team. I think the recording of our scene with Captain Flint on Peel Island went well, and that Claude Whatham the Director was happy with the result, but my diary reports how a Force 8 gale came in. The Call Sheet for 20th June documents how truly unpredictable the weather was. We had a ‘Fine Weather Call’, an ‘Alternative Dull Weather Call’, ‘Rain Cover’ in the Houseboat cabin and a pencilled-in end-plan entitled ‘Peel Island’.  Richard Pilbrow, the Producer, had a 1970s embroidered patch sewn to his jeans which read: THE DECISION IS MAYBE AND THAT’S FINAL.

The Call Sheet that never-was for 20th June 1973. We ended up on Peel Island.

In Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons there is a dramatic storm with lashing rain. We were rather disappointed that it was not included in David Wood’s screenplay. It could have been shot that afternoon, but this was not to be. I can remember Mum saying, ‘You can’t have everything.’

The day that ended up on the cover of a puzzel promoting the movie.

What had been good about the 20th June was that we, the Swallows and the Amazons, were all together, not sailing but on Peel Island, with the novelty of working with Ronald Fraser for the first time. Kit Seymour, who played Nancy Blacket and Lesley Bennett in the role of her sister Peggy, had been so patient, waiting day after day for their scenes with their Uncle Jim to come up. They were stuck having endless lessons with Mrs Causey in the red double-decker bus most of the time. But the fact that they were on Stand-by was hugely helpful to the Production Manager who had to wrestle with the film schedule and Call Sheets.

As it was the storm blew hard but cleared the dull-weather clouds and the next day was glorious, one to remember forever…

You can read more in the paperback or ebook here:

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

20 thoughts on “Ronald Fraser arrives in the Lake District to play Captain Flint ~ in 1973”

  1. Like a number of people, I suspect, I watch each ‘episode’ after you write about it. I noticed Kit Seymour blinking pretty much incessantly in every shot in the Flint on WCI scene. Was she having contact lens reaction or a form of nerves or . . .?

  2. I don’t know why Kit was blinking. She didn’t wear contact lenses and would not have been nervous. We may have had more lights out on Peel Island than earlier in the season. As you know, it is quite dark under the trees where our tents were pitched. Lee Electric somehow managed to bring over and power enough lights to bring in the sunshine. These can not be seen on most photographs but you can get an idea from the shots my mother took when Virginia McKenna was being Man Friday. I had grown used to them by this time and enjoyed the warmth they produced.

  3. Something else I didn’t know about Swallows and Amazons: I had no idea that you had stand-ins! Even for only a brief time.
    Ronald Fraser, from what I’ve heard and read, was a real character, an actor of the old school!

    1. A local artist called Joni was cast as Virginia McKenna’s stand in. They did look remarkably similar. The idea was that she might be used for long-shots but this was never necessary. Joni stood-in for Suzanna instead.

      1. For actual shooting in the film? If so, it was done very well. I’ve never noticed anything unusual.

              1. That does make a lot of sense, and leaves the rest of you free to do something else.

    1. Well, although perhaps not as exciting as filming, from what you say school work was an important part of the day’s timetable and had to be done.

        1. Stand-ins were probably essential then. Otherwise a lot of time could be wasted with the film crew being inactive, and money lost, I suppose.

        1. Ps. On the subject of stand-ins, I have always been very impressed that Ronald Fraser walked the plank and went in the water himself, rather than insist on a stand-in (or stunt double).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: