Monthly Archives: August 2012

The dangers of filming ~ 10th July 1973

Claude Whatham showing the 16mm camera to Simon West and Sophie Neville. Sue Merry and Denis Lewiston.

Director Claude Whatham letting Simon West and Sophie Neville handle the 35mm Arriflex. Sue Merry and Denis Lewiston can be seen behind us.

When Suzanna Hamilton brought me the diary she kept during the filming of Swallows and Amazons we had time to reflect on the seven weeks we spent together in the Lake District during that far off summer of 1973.

‘We were beautifully looked after,’ she said. ‘I mean we were really well cared for. Look – Jane took me fell walking.’  Our diaries record that our local driver Jane McGill also went to endless lengths to make things fun for us – ever with safety afore-thought.

Jane Grendon, Sten’s mother and one of our two chaperones who took us fell walking.

She was right. My own mother and Jane Grendon, Sten’s mother, who had both been appointed our official chaperones, worked day and night with very little time to themselves. They had both left younger children at home in Gloucestershire with their husbands, which can’t have been easy. Mum told me that she wrote an article for Woman magazine saying that being a chaperone was ‘Fascinating, Fattening and Fun’ but it must have been exhausting. It would have been quite a trial preventing us from getting sunburnt let alone keeping us entertained.

Daphne Neville, having organised Sophie Neville and Simon West into track-suits, life jackets, sunhats and the safety boat on a cold day on Coniston Water in 1973

When we had to do anything scary or unpleasant during the filming of Swallows and Amazons, such as walk through scratchy brambles, Claude Whatham would assuage any moans by awarding us ‘Danger Money’.  It was a huge encouragement. He gave me £2.00 for being good about diving into the chilly water for the swimming scenes.  It was a lot of money back then. My mother would make a careful note of it whilst we were still in costume.

A list of who had earned Danger Money written by my mother on the back of a Script Revision page

We spent our gains in Ambleside buying presents to take back for the stay-at-homes. I think we might have received a little more after Swallow was nearly mown down by the Windermere Steamer, an incident which had actually been dangerous. I am not sure what Kit and Lesley had been doing to recieve £1 each. They may have just got wet and cold sailing.

After all the rushing about in boats, the risks taken clambouring from one vessel to another and inevitable dangers that we faced out on the water, it was the boredom involved in filming that proved most dangerous; children’s games that went terribly wrong ~

My diary on the filming of the moive 'Swallows and Amazaons' in the Lake District, Cumbria kept in 1973

My diary on the filming of the moive 'Swallows and Amazaons' in the Lake District, Cumbria kept in 1973

My diary on the filming of the moive 'Swallows and Amazaons' in the Lake District, Cumbria kept in 1973

This was the swing in question, strung from a tree on the shores of Coniston Water opposite Peel Island where a couple were living in a wooden caravan. The white Make-up caravan, that had previously been used as a dressing room for Virginia McKenna, and later Ronald Fraser, is parked beside it. It was there that I was sent to lie down.

A snap shot taken earlier in the year of my little sister on the swing at the Unit Base opposite Peel Island ~ photo: Martin Neville

It was a shame that the baseball game ended so abruptly. We really enjoying it and longed to keep playing but Molly realised that it could so easily have been one of us who ended up with a black-eye.

Stephen Grendon, longing to climb a tree whilst in costume

At one stage we all got into whittling wood. Bod Hedges, the property master, made a number of props on location. Different versions of the Amazons’ bows and arrows were carved from hazel on the banks of Coniston Water. He also made forked uprights for the fireplace and various stakes for the charcoal burners’ scene. Suzanna bought a penknife with her Danger Money and became quite a keen carver until the knife slipped. Jean treated the cut finger with such a massive bandage that Claude put a firm stop to any future whittling. It had been the one thing that kept us quite. We were active children yet not allowed to climb trees or get wet. Instead Lesley Bennet plucked away at a tapestry and I painted pictures.

A bad copy of Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fisher Frog, looking not unlike Arthur Ransome himself.

Possibly the biggest danger was getting too fond of the primary objective – catching the bug that is film-making. Richard and Claude still had a few vital scenes to record and yet the weather forecast was bleak.

Richard Pilbrow and Claude Whatham at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water

Producer Richard Pilbrow with Director Claude Whatham in their wet weather gear at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water

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

‘We sailed the length of the lake’ ~ filming on Derwentwater, 9th July 1973

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker with Stephen Grendon as the Boy Roger and Simon West playing Captain John Walker on Derwentwater

Sten Grendon as the Boy Roger, Sophie Neville as Able-seaman Titty and Simon West playing Captain John, Derwentwater in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Monday morning on Derwentwater in the Lake District and we had no lessons. The Cumbrian schools had broken-up for the summer holidays so we were free to play, or as freely as you can be when you are wearing a costume that can not under any circumstances get wet or dirty.

Terry Smith, Sophie Neville and Daphne Neville on location in the Lake District

Behind-the-scenes: wardrobe master Terry Smith with Sophie Neville and her chaperone outside the Make-up caravan on location near Keswick.

Although Claude Whatham was operating with a skeleton crew our wardrobe master Terry Smith was still getting us into the right kit for each scene. My mother said that he either got muddled or distracted at one point as a whole sequence was shot with all of us wearing the wrong costumes. It caused quite a fuss. It would have been expensive in time and money. She thought he had been given the sack, but this doesn’t appear to have been the case.

Simon West, Stephen Grendon and Sophie Neville whilst on location in the Lake District in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

One of the secrets of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is that, on this day, Terry Smith adapted Ronald Fraser’s costume and white colonial pith helmet for our property master Bob Hedges to wear. It was he that fired the cannon on the houseboat.

The secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons in 1973

A boatman working on Derwent Water in 1973

Clive Stewart our boatman with the houseboat and the dinghies, Amazon and Swallow, on Derwentwater in 1973 ~ photo Daphne Neville

Clive Stewart of the Keswick Launch Co. was one of a number of Cumbrian boatman who worked on the support crew for the filming of Swallows and Amazons in 1973. They played a vital role not only ferrying us to the location but acting as safety boats and keeping modern boats out of shot. They were certainly busy once the wind got up on this particular day. Claude Whatham handed over the direction of montage sequence of the Swallows’ first voyage to the island to David Blagden, our sailing director. At last we had the sun and wind for it – if not too much wind. By now were were pretty experienced but the little ship was challenged to the full as wind gusted down from Cat Bells.

Suzanna Hamilton wrote in her diary that, ‘…it was very rough. We thought we were going to do a Chinese jibe but it was OK. We sailed the whole length of the lake.’  What must have been tricky for Simon West was that he had Denis Lewiston, the lighting-cameraman, on board with a 16mm camera, as well as all our clumsy camping equipment. You can see me heaving the crockery basket past the camera on the movie. The result was probably the most exciting sequence in the film, or so my father later declared.

Filming the voyage to the island in Swallow

Jean McGill, our unit nurse and driver, was ever around to scoop us up and keep everyone cheerful when we came in feeling a bit chilly.

Terry Smith and Jean McGill on Derwentwater

Wardrobe master Terry Smith wearign the safety officer’s wetsuit with unit nurse and driver Jean McGill on Derwentwater. Kit Seymour is sitting behind them to their right ~ photo: Daphne Neville

In the evening Richard Pilbrow, his girl-friend Molly Friedel and his assistant Liz Lomax came up to our guesthouse in Ambleside to show us the cine footage they took on the sailing weekend that had been the final audition for our parts. This had taken place in March at sailing town of Burnham-on-Crouch in the Maldon District of Essex when were stayed on board a moored vessel and went out sailing with David Blagden in quite grey, chilly weather. The conditions had been pretty rough then. I remember telling Claude that we ‘helmed like anything’.  I felt terribly embarrassed later when I realised that ‘helmed’ was not exactly what I had meant to say but I don’t think Claude was familiar with sailing terminology at the time.  He would have like the spirit of what I said.

It had been choppy but none of our days had been as rough as David Blagden’s Atlantic crossing, famously made in his tiny orange-hulled 19 foot yacht Willing Griffin.  I wonder if the footage of this still exists?

Richard Pilbrow must put me right on this, but the theory is that he acquired Swallow that weekend. We were told at the London Boat Show that she was originally the all-purpose run-around dinghy built by and for William King & Sons’ boatyard at Burnham-on Crouch in the 1930s.  She has the initials WK carved on her transom. They designed her well – a stable little ship with plenty of room inside and no centre-board to worry about. You can see detailed photographs of her on the Sailing Swallow website.

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‘Four out of six missed him and hit me’ ~ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’, 8th July 1973.

Sten Grendon irriating Ronnie Fraser

Stephen Grendon sitting on top of Ronald Fraser during a break in the filming of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on Derwentwater ~ photo: Daphne Neville

I am sure that as children we could be intensely irritating, especially when we were hanging around with not enough to do. Although we had found our lessons tiresome they’d kept us occupied and out of mischief. It was now a Sunday, right the end of the summer term and the red double-decker school bus was no longer with us. Neither was the large camera box that the crew put Sten in to keep him quiet.

Sten Grendon in the camera box

Stephen Grendon resting between set-ups in the Panavision camera box, wearing the Grip’s cap and eating a bun ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Although  the day was full of essential activity there was no major scene to focus on. It was the last day Ronald Fraser could be with us. Claude Whatham must have had vital shots to pick up so that the scenes set in the houseboat would cut together. It was probably just as well there was no dialogue to record. Ronnie, it has to be said, was a little the worse for wear. Although he managed to play the accordion as Swallow and Amazon sailed into the distance, Uncle Jim was still drunk from the Wrap party two days before.

Diary of a young girl on a film set kept in 1973

Then, as a twelve-year-old I wrote:

“…now and again Captain Flint played his accordion to camera. They told us to lie on the floor. Ronald Fraser started throwing books at Sten. Four out of six missed him and hit me. One hit me in the face and the cover fell off. The others he hit. Then he threw all the parrot’s food over us. Plus the tin. ”  Scandalous!

The diary of a young movie actress

Perhaps I ought to explain that when the parrot’s cage was lowered into Swallow there was no parrot inside. Instead there were four children finding parrot seed that had made its way inside their costumes.

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville in Swallow about to leave Captain Flint’s Houseboat. Property Master Bob Hedges is on deck approaching the cannon. Amazon’s white sail can be seen the other side ~ photo: Daphe Neville

My father was not pleased to hear that Ronnie Fraser had flung books around the cabin, htting me in the face. ‘They were valuable first editions!’

Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West with the parrot's cage

Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West with the parrot’s cage, standing-by to sail away from the Houseboat ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Our little ship still had much work to do. David Blagden was with us, making plans with Claude and Denis Lewiston to film more shots of us sailing in, what we hoped, would be sunny weather.

The Swallows about to lower sail having come alongside Captain Flint's Houseboat

The Swallows about to lower sail having come alongside Captain Flint’s Houseboat ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Claude was desperate to get the shot of us arriving for the first time at the Peak of Darien ~ Friar’s Craig on Derwent Water. He wanted to capture this just before the sun went down. Peter Robb-King, the Make-up Artist was insistent that the tans we had naturally gained over the summer be toned down.  He had no help and preparation time had not been scheduled. Dabbing the four of us with a tiny sponge took ages. I don’t know why he bothered with my legs, as I really hadn’t changed colour, but he was a perfectionist. Mum kept saying that it was getting so dark no one would ever notice. ‘Who’s going to be looking at your legs?’ as Nancy Mitford’s nanny would have said. By the time we were ready the sun had set. Claude missed the chance to film this vital scene. Again. It was the second time we had arrived too late for it to be captured.

Did we feel silly travelling back to Ambleside in full costume? We were cheeky and full of beans one minute, shy the next. It is difficult to reach the balance between becoming confident and being over confident when you are twelve years old. But, we were learning, and we learnt a great deal on those days spent out on the water in the Lake District.

This home-movie footage my mother shot shows the actors and crew relaxing after lunch on the shore of Derwent Water in Cumbria. Suzanna Hamilton, Kit Seymour, Simon West and Sophie Neville wait for Ronald Fraser, playing Captain Flint, who walks down the jetty and leaves for his houseboat with hair stylist Ronnie Cogan and Make-up Artist Peter Robb-King. Sophie Neville can be briefly seen sitting in the motoboat wearing the yellow Donny Osmond hat. Daphne Neville appears at the end presumably having handed her camera to someone else.

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

Amazons in Ambleside ~ 7th July 1973

Kit Seymour, Lesley Bennett and Sophie Neville at the Ambleside Rushbearing Festival in July 1973

Kit Seymour, Lesley Bennett and Sophie Neville at the Ambleside Rushbearing Festival in July 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

What with all the buckets of water being flung about after yesterday’s filming, Mummy had lost Lesley’s ring. It was a gold ring. Since it would not have been appropriate for an Amazon Pirate of 1929, Lesley couldn’t wear it with her costume. Mum slid it onto her little finger to keep it safe for her. It slid off. We looked and looked, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

And what with all the nocturnal pushings-in Graham Ford our production manager, had broken his ankle.  Although we were up and about it became clear that the entire film crew were comatose after the Wrap Party. There was certainly no sign of the director. Since it was also raining, an unexpected day off from filming was called. Instead of heading for Derwent Water we went exploring the Lake District – in different ways. I made a discovery about Rio, or at least the origin of its name.

It seemed normal to have lunch at the Waterhead Hotel. It would be a great treat now. We split up into two groups for the afternoon, which is how I came to explore Rio with the Amazon pirates.

It was so sweet of Gareth and Jean to give us presents. I wonder what happened to the pendant with the cross?  It would be the height of fashion now. I remember Jean explaining that she wanted to give us a little bit of the Lake District to take home. This came in the form of a bedside lamp made out of a chunk of slate. Mine soon had a pink shade on top. I used it for years.

Ambelside Rushbearing Parade

The Ambelside Rushbearing Parade in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The Ambleside Rushbearing Parade was amazing. I can see exactly why Arthur Ransome thought of Rio as the town on Titty’s chart. The festival was like a colourful Rio carnival. Crowds came out to watch as the procession came down the hill. If you click on the snap-shot Mum took above, you will find photographs of what it must have looked like when he was a boy with a brass band and everyone out in their best hats as they walked down to St Mary’s Church.

Ambleside Rush Bearing Christian Ceremony

Again, if you click on the shot of above, you will find details of what happens today. The wonderful photographs on the Visit Cumbria site show rushbearing ceremonies held on Saint’s days at different churches in Cumbria throughout the summer.

Traditionally the children of Ambleside are given a piece of homemade gingerbread if they have carried one of the rushes. We hadn’t done this but we did join in with the hymn and the kind neighbours living nextdoor to Mrs Price and the Oakland Guesthouse gave us some gingerbread for tea.

 a festival celebration associated with the ancient custom of annually replacing the rushes on the earth floors of churches

St Mary's Church Ambleside Rush Bearers' Hymn

This leaflet was indeed ‘retained’, pasted into my scrapbook

We met the Price family at the festival. The two girls where both carrying dressed reeds. You may recognise Mr Price. He  appeared in Swallows and Amazons as the Native who came up to Roger at the jetty in Rio and said, ‘That’s a nice little boat you have there.’ Roger said, ‘Yes.’

The Price Family of Oaklands Guest House in Ambleside, Cumbria

Mr Price who played the part of the Native in Rio with his family in Ambleside. They ran Oakland’s Guesthouse where we stayed for 9 weeks ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Mrs Price must have worked so hard. She had three children ~ a little boy as well as the girls ~ and a number of students from the Charlotte Mason College of Education staying at the guesthouse while cooking our breakfast and high tea. I expect the demands of the filming, what with drivers coming and going, was a little more that she had originally imagined. No one knew what would be happening next. Although most of the crew were leaving ~ going away from Rio ~ we knew we had to be back on location the next day.

Here is a snippet of footage Mum took of the festival. Blink and you’ll miss me ~

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The Wrap Party ~ trying to film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on 6th July 1973

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker on Derwentwater ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker on Derwentwater ~ photo: Daphne Neville

A letter from my father

Before Jean McGill arrived at the Oaklands Guesthouse in Ambleside, to transport us to the location, a letter arrived. It was from my Daddy who somehow must have found time to post a quick note while taking my sisters to school. We were, indeed, all looking forward to the wrap party to be held that evening. There was much to do before it started. Twelve scenes are listed on the Unit Call Sheet and it was pouring with rain.

Unit Call Sheet for Movie shot on location in the English Lake District

Here we are – it was Ernie Russell who was in charge of the action and support boats. Does anyone knowwhere he is now? The day proved difficult and wet, but everyone was in high spirits. It was the last day for most.

Diary of a young girl acting in a movie

Diary of a young girl acting in a family film

It was a great Wrap party, held at the unit hotel. Suzanna noted that it didn’t start until 10 O’clock. 10pm! Very grown up. It must have been the talk of Ambleside. Mum took off her Donny Osmond hat and wore a long high-collared dress in pink gingham. I wore the brown and black velvet pinafore dress Mummy and Daddy had bought me in Carnaby Street when we went up to London for my first interview with Claude Whatham. Everyone was kind and jolly. For a while the party revolved around us. We enjoyed the dancing so much didn’t want to leave, but it was evident that the adults wanted to start to play. As you can imagine, no one could persuade us to go to bed. Jean McGill saved the evening by organising a conga. Having led a sheltered life I had never danced the conga before and thought it the greatest fun. Luckily the Carnaby Street dress was well designed for the job. We conga-ed around the Kirkstone Foot Hotel with the entire crew. Somehow we ended up conga-ing into her mini-bus and were whisked back to Oaklands before midnight.

The Lady Deerwentwater starring in 'Swallows and Amazons' as Captin Flint's Houseboat

Ronald Fraser as Captain Flint on his houseboat, played by The Lady Derwentwater, with set dresser Ian Whittaker, photographer Albert Clarke and the props guys ~ photo: Daphne Neville

This clip shows Jean McGill (in red) with Sophie Neville (in blue tracksuit top) and Albert Clarke our stills photographer. Our Chaperone, Jane Grendon, is teasing Terry Needham, the second assistant director. Simon West, playing John Walker, stands by Derwentwater in costume. Neville C Thompson (in yellow shirt) smiles at our glamorous tutor Margaret Causey while Graham Ford and others get into a support boat. Actor Ronald Fraser walks towards the lake and waiting boat, followed by hairdresser Ronnie Cogan. You can see Swallow in the background whilst Jean McGill chats to my mother, Daphne Neville who is wearing her yellow, flowery Donny Osmond hat. She originally had a pink flowery version, which Claude admired (and wore himself) but it blew off and sunk to the bottom of the lake.

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Walking the Plank – The Battle of Houseboat Bay, 5th July 1973

Filming on location in Cumbria in 1973 ~ nearly forty years ago.

Our designer Simon Holland was rowing Swallow without his shirt. Producer Richard Pilbrow was hanging on the side of the houseboat clad in denim.  Terry Smith, the wardrobe Master, was busy drying off Ronald Fraser’s wet costume on the aft deck.  The white pith helmet was being touched up by the unit painter.  Unions must have been strict back then.

Director Claude Whatham was making the most of the rare but glorious Lake District weather to complete the scene on the foredeck of the houseboat. The Swallows, the Amazons and their Uncle Jim, who had just been made to walk the plank and was now dripping wet, waited patiently while I delivered Titty’s immortal line: ‘Captain Flint – we’ve got a surprise for you.’ Not quite the same as in Arthur Ransome’s book but it worked well.

War cries from everyone…

Kit Seymour, who was playing Nancy, must have dropped on top of us all.

The cabin of the houseboat had been turned into a dressing room for Ronald Fraser.

A long day’s filming out on the lake.

My mother took a series of photographs showing how the crew managed in the limited space:

Director Claude Whatham in blue demin talks to DoP Denis Lewiston. Terry Needham stands on deck ~ Photo: Daphne Neville

The 16mm camera in the grey punt.

The film crew with Director Claude Whatham talking to Simon West, Lesely Bennett, Ronald Fraser and Stephen Grendon on the foredeck ~ photo: Daphne Neville

I think the chap in the swimming trunks is a boatman from Keswick. Does anyone recognise him?

http://www.amazon.com/Swallows-Amazons-Region-Dinah-Sheridan/dp/B00008IARQ/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1344950585&sr=8-4&keywords=Swallows+and+Amazons+DVD

DoP Denis Lewiston with his assistant camerman, Sue Merry in black Claude Whatham and the film cast ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The 16mm camera was noisy. This would have been the shot taken when I said we just went through the movements.

Molly Pilbrow in the plaid jacket witht he cast and crew on the houseboat ~ photo: Daphne Neville who was acting as chaperone.

And all the time Molly Pilbrow was keeping an eye on the script. I don’t think there was any room for Graham Ford. He was looking after the base camp:

Production Manager Graham Ford in Derwent Water: photo ~ Daphne Neville

It had been a productive day; a battle well fought, the treasure returned.

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The Battle of Houseboat Bay on Derwentwater, 5th July 1973

Battle of Houseboat Bay ~ Sophie Neville as Titty Walker in Swallow

Sophie Neville at Titty Walker in Swallow on Derwentwater in 1973: photo~ Daphne Neville

Sunlight on the water tells the story of my life.  At last the skies cleared and fine weather we had hoped and prayed for settled over the Lake District. It enabled us to film the climax of Arthur Ransome’s adventure set on the high seas of Cumbria. It was the day we went to war. The day the Swallows and the Amazons took on Captain Flint at the Battle of Houseboat Bay.

Suzanna's Diary

An extra page in Suzanna’s Diary for 5th July 1973

‘There won’t be a leeside to him, ‘ said Captain John. ‘The houseboat’ll be lying head to wind. Our plan will be to reach into the bay, and then come head to wind one on each side of him.’ Arthur Ransome wrote. ‘If you’ll lay yourself aboard his starboard side, I’ll bring Swallow up on his port.’

To my everlasting regret, while some of the others managed to yell, ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’ my battle cry was, ‘Kill, kill!’ The script was pretty sketchy. I have the original and the re-writes, not that I saw either on the day.

This is the revised version of David Wood’s screenplay typed up on 16th June ~

And suddenly I was up on the roof of the houseboat with the Siamese flag~

Simon West and Sophie Neville on  Captian Flint's Houseboat

Simon West as Captain John and Sophie Neville as Titty taking Captain Flint’s Houseboat on Derwentwater : photo~ Daphne Neville

We loved capturing Ronald Fraser and of course making him walk the plank. He was very good about it. Here is the shot used for the cover of the 1977  VHS issue of the movie made available in the USA ~

A cover for the 1977 VHS copy of 'Swallows and Amazons' ~ US a version

Actually filming this was tricky. The entire film crew with all their equipment including two cameras, two huge reflector boards and a second costume for Ronald Fraser, had to be accommodated either on the house boat or other craft on the bay in Derwentwater. It was a squash.

Battle of Houseboat Bay ~ The film crew on Derwentwater

The film crew on Captin Flint’s Houseboat on Derwentwater. Ronald Fraser, with a rope around his chest, can just be seen between the reflector boards: photo~ Daphne Neville

The good thing was that by now we were all pretty experienced with the procedure of getting out to what amounted to an inaccessible location with no lavatories – and certainly no room for tea urns.

Battle of Houseboat Bay ~ The film crew record Captin Flint walking the plank

Director Claude Whatham stands on the plank whilst Bobby Sitwell and DoP Denis Lewiston prepare the 35mm Panavision camera on board the Houseboat: Photo~ Daphne Neville

My mother recorded quite a bit of 8mm cine footage that day, showing life behind the scenes ~

The scraggy looking man alone in a glass fibre boat with a paddle was the chap who drove the mobile lavatories from one location to another and yet managed to persuade the girls of Ambleside that he was producing the film.

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Being a cormorant ~ filming more swimming scenes for Swallows and Amazons on 4th July 1973

Stephen Gredon as Roger Walker being taught to swim by Suzanna Hamilton playing his elder sister Susan Walker on location at Peel Island on Coniston in 1973

Roger still couldn’t swim, but he was trying to. Very hard.  The production manager had kindly scheduled the second of our swimming scenes as late in the summer as possible. The weather was warmer – we’d elected to go bathing in a river up near Rydal Water on our day off – but it was still pretty chilly out on Coniston.

Whilst we tried to acclimatise by running around in our swimming costumes the crew were all in their thick coats as you can see from this home movie footage shot by my mother. We had bought her 8mm camera by saving up Green Shield stamps. (Can you remember collecting Green Shield stamps from petrol stations? They were an icon of the early 1970s all by themselves.) I remember someone on the crew calling out ‘Second unit!’ as Mum lifted what looked like a grey and white toy to her face. It was a bit noisy so she was not able to record during a take. You only see us before and after the sequences in the film, but her footage shows quite a few of the members of the crew – all smoking away, even when they were trying to warm us up after each sequence. You can watch Jean McGill, from Cumbria, our unit nurse who was dressed in red popping Dextrose into our mouths and giving us hot drinks to warm us up. Jean made Gareth Tandy, the third assistant, who was aged about 18, wear a sun hat because he had previously suffered from sun stroke. David Blagden can be glimpsed as one of the only other men with short hair.

The camera pontoon must have been left up on Derwentwater. Claude was obliged to shoot these scenes from what we called the camera punt, which was smaller but quite useful. Richard Pilbrow sent me a picture. He has included others in a new book that he has written about his career, including a section on the making of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ called ‘A Theatre Project’

Claude Whatham and his crew on the camera punt

First assistant David Bracknell, director Claude Whatham, grip David Cadwallader and DoP Dennis Lewiston (seated) with three local boatmen ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow

Do please let me know if you can tell me the names of the three Cumbrian boatmen featured in this photograph who helped us. Others are featured in the home-movie footage. They all look like pirates. Real ones.

Goodness knows that Health and Safety would say about that punt today. The DoP managed to get two sizeable electric lights, on stands, into a boat already overloaded with personel and expensive equipment. You can see for yourself. Were these ‘Filler’ lights powered by portable batteries?  The Lee Electric generator was on the shore. I was in the water. Busy being a cormorant.

We had an interesting afternoon filming with both dinghies. At one point we had the camera with us in Swallow. I found these photographs of us on the internet.

Sophie Neville, Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton

I was given the honour of clapping the clapper-board and calling out, ‘Shot 600, Take one!’ for a close-up of Suzanna Hamilton.

Suzanna Hamilton as Susan Walker sailing Swallow on Coniston Water in 1973

‘The worse possible kinds of natives’… Tourists were beginning to arrive for their summer holidays in the Lake District and we still had quite a bit more to film.

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West sailing Swallow in 1973

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

‘They’re Pirates!’ ~ secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons on 3rd July 1973

Captian Flint on the houseboat with Swallow

Roanld Fraser playing Captin Flint on his houseboat with Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West in Swallow on Derwentwater, 1973

It was found on e-bay, a hand-coloured print that must have been used to publicise the movie in cinema foyers. It has to be one of my favorite stills, bought by someone who kindly brought it to Coniston Water on the day in April 2011 when we re-launched Swallow beside the pier at the Bluebird Cafe. Everyone was facsinated. I’d never seen it before but it has memories of a good day, spent not on Coniston but further north on Derwentwater.

When Richard Pilbrow’s movie of Swallows and Amazons was first shown on British television in 1977 a trailer was made by ITV to advertise it. This started with the shot of me saying, ‘They’re pirates!’  People loved that trailer. Everyone was going around saying, ‘They’re pirates!’ If it was my best performance the reason was that I had been lying on a red ant’s nest – and they were biting. The other secret is that that lighthouse tree is not a tree. Not one that was growing. It was a big log that Bobby Props had stuck in the ground making the ants very angry indeed.

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker in Swallows and Amazons

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker in the ITV trailer for the movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when it was first shown on television in 1977

This was the second location for ‘Lookout Point on Wild Cat Island’.  It was on a promentary that overlooks the bay where the houseboat was moored on Derwentwater. There were bushes but no sadly big pine trees. The log was planted so that our director Claude Whatham could get what is called a two-shot of the Swallows watching Nancy sail past Captain Flint’s houseboat, while Peggy raises the skull and crossbones. As we were keeping low the height of the lighthouse tree was not an issue. So, the secret of Wild Cat Island is that it was filmed in three different places as well as being depicted in the opening titles as Rampsholme, an island on Derwentwater. I think this is faithful in that Arthur Ransome indicated by using anotated postcards that wanted the fells that one would see from Castle Hill as a backdrop for his story.  In her book, In the footsteps of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’   Claire Kendall-Price provides a wonderful map and guide showing how you could walk from Keswick to find some of the locations. We didn’t use Blake Holme on Windermere at all even though Arthur Ransome had invisaged the camp fire as being there. Richard told us it had become a real camp site by 1973 with caravans on the nearest shore.

The Swallows at the Lighthouse tree Lookout point

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Stephen Grendon as the Swallows at the Lookout Point on Wild Cat Island

Just prior to this scene when we spot the Amazons for the first time, I was working on the chart while Susan was sewing a button onto Roger’s shirt. The needle stuck into him as he flung himself down on the grass beneath the lighthouse tree. Since needles are small you can hardly see what is happening but I think it is a detail that Arthur Ransome would have appreicated. I wonder if the same sort of thing had happened to him as a child? He used his memories of Annie Swainson throwing him across her lap to darn his knickerbokers whilst they on him, just as Mary Swainson frequently has to darn Roger’s shorts after sliding down the Knickerbockerbreaker rockface in Swallowdale. Claire Kendall-Price discribes this and where it all happened beautifully.

Stephen Grendon as Roger having a button sewn back on by Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker in the previous scene.

Here is the diary entry I kept for that day in the Lake District ~

Suzanna’s diary is more susinct ~

I don’t know why she felt depressed. Perhaps it was the ants. She was on more of them than me and they were not waving. They were very angry.

Sophie Neville with Swallow outside the Bluebird Cafe on Coniston Water

Sophie Neville in 2011 holding the original photograph in front of the newly restored dinghy at the Bluebird Cafe on Coniston Water. If you look carefully you can see that Swallow is being inspected by a modern day pirate ~ photo: Kitty Faulkner

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Landscape Photographs, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story