The day of the green parrot ~ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on the houseboat in 1973

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker on Captain Flint's houseboat

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker aboard Captain Flint’s houseboat on Derwentwater ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Do all children dream of living on a houseboat?  Going out across Derwentwater for tea in Captain Flint’s cabin was fun. He had laid on such a lavish one. It was a feast.

Sophie Neville's diary written whilst filming 'Swallows and Amazons'

We hadn’t actually seen Captain Flint walk the plank at this point, but together as Swallows and Amazons, we could all imagine it.

Suzanna described the afternoon quite differently. Her focus was on the food.

An extract from Suzanna Hamilton’s diary of 25th July 1973

The green parrot had very sharp claws. If my eye’s are watering in this scene it is because they were digging into my shoulder. A piece of foam rubber was slipped under my blouse but it didn’t do much good. He really wasn’t a very tame parrot and had to have a chain around one leg in case he took flight. I was really rather worried he would nip me but ploughed on with the dialogue. If this is convincing it was because I needed to get through my close-ups before I lost part of an ear.

The parrot being taken to the Houseboat

Property Master Bob Hedges with his assistant Terry Wells taking the parrot to Captain Flint’s houseboat in the style of Amazon Pirates ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Despite this concern, I did rather want a parrot of my own. A tame one. Not long after we finished filming my parents came across a green parrot called Chico who was remarkably friendly, a sweet bird who soon came to live with us. He chatted away in Spanish and was good company. I went everywhere with him – even taking him out rowing on the lake.

Roger Lee with our green parrot Chico

Chico, our green parrot, on the shoulder of an old friend called Roger Lee

Tamzin Neville with our parrot Chico

My sister Tamzin with our parrot Chico who like having his neck stroked

I am often asked if Captain Flint’s parrot really did speak. He could certainly talk. I remember something along the lines of , ‘Who’s a pretty boy, then?’ delivered in a broad Lancashire accent. ‘Pieces of Eight’ was beyond his natural vocabulary and was dubbed on later along with music from the accordion. Ronald Fraser couldn’t really play this. Having said that, all music from instruments played on screen is added later so that the sound runs seamlessly no matter how the editor cuts the shots together. The accordion had been muted by Bobby Props.

Did the wishful lines given to Titty by the screen-writer David Wood cast light on my future? Rather unusually for an English child of the 1970’s I had already been to Africa. My family grew coffee on a farm between Arusha and Moshi in Northern Tanzania where I had been the summer before we made Swallows and Amazons.

Sophie Neville, aged 11, with Baroness Reinhild von Bodenhausen and rather a shy Masai warrior at our coffee factory near Usa River in Tanzania in 1972

I did not see forests of green parrots there, although, much later in my life I often saw Meyer’s parrots in the palm trees above our camp in Botswana.  They would clatter about looking for wild dates while I sat painting maps I had made, just as Titty would have done.

The question is ~ did Arthur Ransome ever have a parrot, or was it just a wish?

Macatoo Camp in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

A map by Sophie Neville depicting the area around Macatoo Camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana where you find wild parrots in the trees

4 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Africa, animal stories, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

4 responses to “The day of the green parrot ~ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on the houseboat in 1973

  1. Barry Riddiford

    Thank you again. My wife has an Amazon parrot that is green. She saved for months to buy him from the pet shop & his tiny cage. He’s quite old now but the bond between them is lovely to watch.

  2. Roger Wardale

    I don’t believe Arthur Ransome ever had a parrot. He was into rats and mice and in later life, cats. However his sister Joyce did have a parrot and she did send him feathers, not for pipe cleaners but for fishing flies, He was a gentle man and sent to say not to pull out the feathers but to wait for the moult.

  3. Do you know the origin of Jibber? Did Roger Altounyan have a monkey?

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