‘We sailed the whole length of the lake’ ~ filming on Derwentwater in 1973

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

Stephen Grendon as the Boy Roger, Sophie Neville as Able-seaman Titty and Simon West playing Captain John Walker beside 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 free 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 Daphne Neville 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 and 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 dosen’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 sun 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, 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 then acting as safety boats and also 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 crocery 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 really been the final audition for our parts. This had taken place in March at the great sailing town of Burnham-on-Crouch in the Maldon District of Essex when were stayed onboard 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 embarrased 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 aquired 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 initals 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.

5 Comments

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

5 responses to “‘We sailed the whole length of the lake’ ~ filming on Derwentwater in 1973

  1. Jill Goulder

    More absolute gems, Sophie – I rush to open every new post, despite the terrible wifi here in rural Turkey!

  2. Jill Goulder

    It’s been EXTREMELY hot, incl at night, but now when we rise at 5 it’s pretty chilly. For riding across Turkey you’ll need a steed who likes mountains; the Taurus mountains and especially the Goksu valley are stunning.
    Keep up the good film-history work!

  3. Sophie, re the Derwentwater boatman (1973)… I was taking a group on our Ten Lakes Tour today and we happened to be having a cruise on Derwentwater. So, armed with your photo of the ‘Cedric the mystery man’, I made a few enquiries with the boatmen of the Keswick Launch Co. His name is Clive Stewart and two of the staff remember him from his time on the boats in the 70’s. Apparently he was popular with the ladies! He now lives in the Penrith area.

    • Sophie Neville/S.Williams-Thomas

      Thank you so much! I’ve added the details. I think perhaps he might have been one for the ladies. I wonder who ironed his orange shirt?

      There are a few other Cumbrian boatman who appear in other photos. I wonder if anyone of them will write in?

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