While I had been at home with my family, Claude Whatham had been busy in the film editing suite putting ‘Swallows and Amazons’ together with Michael Bradsell. They had previously worked together on ‘That’ll be the Day’. Our Continuity supervisor Sue Merry must have known Michael too, as he’d edited Ken Russell’s film ‘The Boyfriend’. Claude found that they definitely needed the sequence when the Walker children run up to the Peak at Darien and see Wild Cat Island for the very first time.
It is the scene that heralds the start of the adventure and indeed the opening titles of the movie. Richard Pilbrow had always wanted it to be shot at Friar’s Craig on Derwent Water. There is a postcard of this headland with notes written on it by Arthur Ransome who labelled it for the first illustrator of the Jonathan Cape edition of the book, and it seemed just right for the Peak of Darien despite being a long way from Bank Ground Farm. Although there had been two attempts made to record the handful of shots needed as the evening light lit up the islands across the water, we had always been held up and reached the spot too late in the day.
Richard must have already been over budget but the money was found to mount a pick-up shoot at Runnymede near Egham in Surrey one Saturday at the beginning of September. We were told that King John signed the Magna Carta under an oak tree there.
We loved the idea of meeting up again. Claude said he made an effort to get as many members of the same crew together as possible so it wouldn’t seem strange but it was a big unit.
The one thing that was striking was how much our hair had grown. We all needed a trim. Sten needed a full hair cut. Luckily Ronnie Cogan was free.
Neville Thompson had even managed to book the same Make-up caravan. It was here that Peter Robb-King the make-up designer toned down our summer tans in an effort to match the skins of the pale Walker children who’d been sitting in the railway compartment with their mother at the beginning of the film.
The ironic thing was that it was Make-up that held us up when we were first failed to record the scene in the Lake District. It took so long for Peter Robb-King to sponge down all four of us with pale foundation that the sun had set before we arrived on location. I can remember my mother hurrying him along, claiming it was ridiculous as it was too dark to see our freckles anyway. I was keen on the importance of continuity and had contradicted her. Claude couldn’t believe how long it had taken us to change. He had been furious when we turned up late but tried hard not to let us think it had been the fault of us children.
There was no Peak of Darien at the farm in Surrey, but a field had been found where we could run up to an oak tree. We just had to pretend we were looking out over the lake.
If you click on the shot below it should take you to a post I wrote on the opening locations of the film. Scroll down and you’ll see the shot of us running down the meadow at Bank Ground farm. This was the shot Claude had to cut from to the sequence that we were currently filming. Scroll right down to the end of the post and you’ll see me on Friar’s crag looking exhausted after a long day’s filming. I am so glad we were not able to continue that day.
Although he had a freelance camera operator in a stripy shirt who we did not know, we met our Director of Photography Denis Lewiston who was setting up the shot with Claude under the oak tree, using a 35mm Arriflex camera on ‘short legs’.
If you click on the photo above you should get to a Post written about a location that was set on Derwentwater near Friar’s Crag – or on part of Friar’s crag that will give you an idea of what the real Peak of Darien would look like. However, the day in September in Egham was hotter than any day we’d experienced in Cumbria. Claude was soon wearing my straw hat.
If you click on the photo above it will take you to the day on 8th July when we had tried and failed to shoot this scene despite rushing around.
Although we look a bit hot and stiff in these photographs that my mother took when we were lining up the shots I think that the movie was probably made by this scene. We had learnt how to magic-up performances by this stage. If you watch the finished film our faces can be seen glowing with excitement. This was also partly because we were happy to be together again, on a sunny day in a lovely place.
I’ve just realised this image of Titty, clutching her school hat as she looked out over an entirely imaginary lake, was the last actual shot recorded. Soon my close-up was ‘in the can’ and ‘a wrap’ was called. It had been the 1003rd slate of the movie. We celebrated with tins of Fanta rather than champagne.
Since the first shot in the compartment of the steam train as it travelled between Haverthwaite Station and Windermere, recorded back in May, I had put on about seven pounds and grown taller than my elder brother and sister.
I can’t help thinking that this photograph is symbolic of the futures we were to step into. Sten Grendon is holding an apple, Suzanna seems to have a framed photograph and I’d been given a roll of camera tape. What Simon West is holding is something of a mystery, but it is tightly clasped.
Soon it was time to go. We changed back into our own clothes and said goodbye.But it wasn’t long before we saw Claude again. Once he’d finished editing the film we were called to the work on the sound. The movie was still in the making.
There are now three editions of the illustrated book on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’, all available from online retailers and libraries worldwide .
You can read the first three chapters for free here:
13 thoughts on “Swallows in Egham ~ a pick-up day, filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973”
Hallo , Sophie !!!
Ahoy, there. What do you think of the web-site? Do you have any questions about the filming?
My mother taught the Amazons to shoot with their bows and arrows made out of hazel sapplings by the prop man, however to of the younger Props men actually shot the arrows that flew over our heads as we hit the ground. They attached them to fishing line and then losed them so that we wouldn’t actually get hit but it was pretty dodgey.
How good that you were in the last shot recorded! The photo of the four of you with your mother and Janew Grendon is perfect.
It may have been taken by one of the cameramen – a professional. Low angle shots are always good but this one captured the spirit. It’s only a shame we weren’t all in costume but then Mum and Jane’s clothes echo the era, showing the film was made in 1973. What were the best films made that year?
Judging by films that were released in 1974, along with Swallows and Amazons, you were in reasonably good company: The Odessa File, The Godfather, Part2, Herbie Rides Again, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; oh, and Carry on Dick. I think Swallows… can hold its head up with any of those!
Oh, and also Mel Brooks’ ‘Blazing Saddles’!
I’m afraid I’ve never seen any of these! I must catch up.
None of them get repeat screenings on TV as often as ‘Swallows and Amazons’!
That’s a point! Because ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) has a ‘U’ certificate, it can be screened anytime, anywhere – one of the few feature films you are permitted to screen to the public outdoors.
I think it’s down to the quality and appeal of the film, as much as its classification.
Children’s films can fill the Daytime schedules.
Very true, but the film still has to grab, and keep, their attention.
Being the adaptation of a classic book, parents will prefer ‘Swallows and Amazons’ to a contemporary adventure film.