‘What was it like?’ ~ adjusting to life at home after filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Newspaper articles about 'Swallows and Amazons' in 1973
A newspaper article by Ernest Chapman that came out in July 1973. The main photo features Ronald Fraser as Captain Flint with Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon, Simon West and Kit Seymour

Being back at home for the summer holidays was lovely. I must have been pretty tired. But, adjusting to real life when articles like this one appeared in Woman’s Realm was tricky. Everyone seemed to be reading about me in their dentist’s surgery.

‘What was it like?’ I was often asked.

How could I begin to describe working like this ~

Sophie Neville with the cast and crew of 'Swallows and Amazons in 1973
The cast and crew of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ filming on the jetty at Rio in 1973

‘Did you have lots of lines to learn?’

How could I explain that this is how we worked on the dialogue?

Filming the movie 'Swallows and Amazons' in 1973
Rehearsing with Claude Whatham out on the lake

‘What were the others like?’

How could I tell people about the whole crew, that I’d had working relationships with so many adults?

Talking to Martin Evans the Gaffer and Terry Smith the wardrobe master while leaning on a lighting stand at Bowness-on-Windermere

Technical questions were much easier to answer than, ‘How did you feel?’  No one wanted to know that most of the time I felt cold.

‘Did you have to wear make-up?’  This was a difficult one, as we didn’t wear conventional make up but my legs were regularly coated in a layer of foundation so as not to appear shockingly white. You can see the smooth effect in the photograph above. Suzanna was amusing about this in her diary. She hated being sponged down with a matt base and sun-bathed whenever she could so as to avoid it in the near future.

‘What did you wear?’

Suzanna drew pictures of the two dresses she wore at Bank Ground Farm. I always rather liked her blue gingham one. Unlike the Duchess of Cambridge I have never worn a yellow dress apart from the sleeveless one I had to climb into to play Titty. It was really too short for 1929. I remember the costume designer, Emma Porteus, confiding in Mum that they would cheat on the length a bit. Hem-lines were very much above the knee in 1973. Arthur Ransome would have turned in is grave. Luckily Titty’s dresses just look a little out-grown.

Suzanna Hamilton's costumes for scenes set at Holly Howe
Suzanna Hamilton’s drawings of her costumes for scenes set at Holly Howe

‘How did they film you sailing?’

Again Suzanna provided wonderful graphics of this. I don’t think I’ve yet published this page of her diary.

Suzanna Hamilton's diary about using a camera pontoon on Coniston Water
Suzanna Hamilton’s diary about using the camera pontoon on Coniston Water. If you click on the picture you should get through to Ben Fogel’s documentary where Claude Whatham describes this in further detail.

‘What was Virginia McKenna like?’

This question was easy. ‘She was lovely.’

The Walker family played by Suzanna Hamilton Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville, Virginnia McKenna and Simon West at Bank Ground Farm in Cumbria
The Walker family played by Suzanna Hamilton Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville, Virginia McKenna and Simon West at Bank Ground Farm in Cumbria

Many years have gone since we sat amongst the daisies at Bank Ground Farm. I am now happy to talk about anything. Do click on the comment box below or go on a Facebook page to ask any questions you might have about the filming of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

You can read more in ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ available online for £2.99

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

17 thoughts on “‘What was it like?’ ~ adjusting to life at home after filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973”

  1. Thank you very much for publishing your memories. I have really enjoyed reading them.
    Can’t wait for Swallows and Amazons Forever.

  2. Sophie – is this the end?
    Thank you! I have enjoyed your insights very much, as I life-long reader of the books (I’m 60 next year!) they have added something (and to the film of course, which I have always felt was a very good attempt – filming people’s favourite books is difficult!)

  3. I must have about 10 Posts to write before the story ends. At this stage we still had a scene to shoot. People have asked me about the food we ate – so I’ll try to find some photos in regard to that first. I must also try to describe working in the sound studio when we dubbed the film.

    Thanks for writing – I’m so glad you are enjoying the Posts. Did you ever see the BBC adaptations of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’?

    1. Sophie – thanks for your response, good to know there is a bit more to look forward to!
      I do have CC & BS on DVD but I have not got around to watching them, now I know you were involved I will make the effort!
      Thanks Again

  4. Dear Sophie,

    Thanks again for your efforts here to share with us such intimacies of a film that is near and dear to so many hearts.

    I have to say, reading your denouement here and the challenges of returning to “normal” life is something I recognize in other productions. It seems to me, that when something special has taken place – something is created that is greater than the sum of its parts – the individual feels, at least for a while, almost incomplete without the whole. The creation lives on in memory of course, and in your case, a wonderful film.

    I am relieved that followers of your tantalizing blog have not yet to go into withdrawal themselves with the promise of more to come. I wondered about sequels and why Swallowdale was not tackled next. I assume Swallows and Amazons was a financial success as well as a critical one?

    I should like to add (on a more technical note) that for those wishing to revisit the movie in North America (or any other region code than #2) my family has had success watching the DVD version of the movie through our computer (yes Sophie we took your advice and sought out the DVD instead of VHS) using the freeware software VLC. It is not encumbered with region code recognition. I find it to be a very elegant piece of software indeed!

    Take good care,

    1. The movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has been extra-ordinary in that it has lived on beyond any of our imaginings. In a while I’ll talk about the promotion of the film. What is of interest is that movies released at the same time have fallen away. I’ve just heard that ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has proved hugely popular in the Czech Republic where it was released on TV in 2011 and shown again this July. You can see a clip on my ‘Swallows and Amazons’ page (see top bar of website).

  5. Hi Sophie,

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts; it’s fascinating to discover all the artifice and the hard work which goes into making films in general, and this has been a real treat. I have a couple of questions about the film, which I’ve been meaning to ask for ages:

    1. Where are they now? Aside from yourself and Suzanna, did any of the others go on to greater things?
    2. Was it a requirement that all of the children who played the Swallows had to have first names which began with S?

    Looking forward to reading about the making of ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever’, which I remember seeing as a teenager when it was first broadcast.

    1. I didn’t realise until I was writing this filmography that all the Swallows’ Christian names began with an S. WE often called each other my our character names when we were in the film – much more so than we referenced in our diaries. Sometimes I still call Zanna ‘Susan’ now, especially if we need to be practical and Susanish.

      I will write about what eveyone went on to do soon.

  6. I, too, have thoroughly enjoyed these blogs, even though I have already read your book ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’. Thank you so much for sharing all these stories and secrets with us. It must have been very strange having to adjust to ‘normal’ life once you got home.

    1. I think it’s bound to have done. Mixing with all those adults, and the other children, would have help immensely; and you all seem to have got on so well together. I’m sure it helped.

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