The dangers of filming ~

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 16mm camera. 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

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