Monthly Archives: October 2012

The premiere of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, held at the ABC Shafestbury Avenue on 4th April 1974

 

The Premiere of Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was held at the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue on 4th  April 1974. Can you imagine the shock of finding a picture of myself on the cinema tickets when they arrived in the post?

I didn’t know what to wear.  I wished that we’d been able to put on our costumes but it was clear I had to find an appropriate dress. Sadly I had grown out of the one we bought in Carnaby Street.

Sophie Neville at home in Gloucestershire in April 1974 ~ photo: Martin Neville

Nowadays one would be inundated by offers of designer dresses to model on the red carpet. As it was, my mother bought me green pinafore dress that I agreed would work for an afternoon event. I was not so happy about wearing ballet shoes. Please note these were real ballet shoes and I was now thirteen. I would have preferred court shoes with buckles. Ironically these zoomed out of fashion whilst ballet shoes have been loved by all ever since. My bobbed hair had grown out but Mummy put it in Carmen rollers. I am not sure the result was that successful but I liked it at the time.

The Neville girls modelling the fashions of 1974 ~ photo: Martin Neville

My sisters were terribly brave and wore velvet with their ballet shoes. The dress from Carnaby Street was slightly large for Perry but she coped. At least it was fashionable. Mum bought a blue outfit for herself that was deemed the height of fashion. When I arrived in London I found Suzanna had found a Laura Ashley pinafore whilst the Amazons had both got away with wearing trousers. They looked far more sophisticated.

There was an awful lot of fuss about who should or could come and who couldn’t  Mum had insisted on bringing, not friends of mine, but two of the nuns from my school.

Outside the ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue, London in 1974 ~ photo: Martin Neville

So I went off to my first premiere with my head mistress, Sister Ann-Julian and my house mistress, Sister Allyne. Not very cool in a thirteen year old’s world.  The Exorcist was out at the same time. They made no comment.

Sister Allyne, Daphne Neville, Tamzin Neville and Sophie Neville

In fact Sister Allyne proved the very best person to take. She was a performer herself. I am pretty sure she had been Australia’s foremost flautist.  She must have understood the turmoil in my little head and was undoubtedly praying for me. I would not be surprise to learn that spiritual protection was granted by her presence alone. She would have been an exorcist in her own right – a real one.  Perry remembers that she had been sick in the taxi. It think this was because she didn’t travel much.

Claude Whatham defied any plans my mother might have made by taking the six of us, and only the six of us, out to lunch at a wonderful bistro where we able to order beef-burgers, relax and enjoy ourselves.

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton in Laura Ashley and her mother

There was no red carpet when we arrived at the cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue but rather smart programmes were sold, one of which I still have. Until that point I had no idea that it was to be a Royal Gala held in aid of charity.

I was suddenly acutely aware of how I came across on the big screen. As the film was shown I groaned inwardly. It was like seeing endless photographs of oneself which were not exactly glamorous. I cringed. All Sister Allyne said was how much she enjoyed seeing the owl – a natural history shot that was added after all our hard work and effort on the drama.

The premier – as reported in Cinema TV Today

My mother was terribly impressed by the special guests. Princess Helena Moutafian was present with Earl Compton, chairman of the charity KIDS. I’m afraid I don’t remember meeting them but was interested to hear that she later became patron of the Young ME Sufferers Trust.

We walked down onto the stage with Ronnie Fraser to be presented to the audience. Sadly Virginia McKenna could not be there, although she sent her eldest children – Will and Louise Travers. Bobby Moore, who’d played for England came with his family, as did Mrs Spike Milligan. The Hollywood star  Patricia Neal, who won an Oscar for her leading role in the Paul Newman film Hud and appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s , brought her sweet little girls.  Julie Ege was a lovely Norwegian actress who appeared as Voluptua in Up Pompeii with Frankie Howard. I think Richard Pilbrow might have known her as he had produced the West End version.  She was known as a Bond Girl since she’d appeared in ‘On her Magesty’s Secret Service’ with Diana Rigg when George Lazenby played Bond and Telly Savalas was Bolfeld. We didn’t know any of this but I think having a Bond Girl at your premier was quite the thing.

I have a few precious posters of the film. The colour poster, which hung in the London Underground is still on the cover of some of the DVD’s.  I always quite liked the design, except for the rather jarring colour of my blouse, which for some reason is pink. Far more attractive were the huge sepia posters hung outside cinemas. They were very special. I still have one but it’s enormous and I am unsure what to do with it.

What the papers had to say about the film was a different matter. The first time we saw Swallows and Amazons was not at the film the premiere but at ‘The Preview’. This was held at a viewing theatre in London to which I assume journalists were invited. I only wish they’d been asked to bring their children. The cast was re-united, meeting up with various members of the production team, to see the film for the very first time. We were utterly amazed at how sunny everything looked. Denis Lewiston’s insistence that we should wait for clouds to pass, while we shivered, had paid off. It was wonderful to see how the film had been put together. We had not known that Claude would add shots of wildlife, which add so much to the movie. I loved the scene he included of cattle standing in the still lake at dawn.

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Filed under Acting, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

The Film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ as it was promoted in London in 1973 ~

Suzanna Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Leslie Bennett, Simon West and Kit Seymour sailing the streets of London in 'Swallow'

Suzanna Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Leslie Bennett, Simon West and Kit Seymour sailing the streets of London on polystyrene waves. 

Our first major public appearance for the promotion of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was The Lord Mayor’s Show . For the first time since the filming we climbed into our costumes and then into Swallow who had been mounted on low-loader.  Afloat on a float, we made ready to sail through the City of London.

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Lesley Bennett

It must have been early November and was so very cold before we set off that we needed to keep our own coats on. We were anxious this would spoil things for people. I’m sure it would not have made much difference. Did anyone know who we were?  The film hadn’t come out. We were riding on the wave that Arthur Ransome and his books were so well loved by the people of our nation.

Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Lesley Bennett, Simon West, Kit Seymour and Sophie Neville in Swallow. What is the building behind us?

What was fun, if a little odd, was that it was the first time, indeed the only time, that the Swallows and the Amazons had been in a dinghy together. As we were taken through the streets of London passers-by started to wave at us and we waved back. Soon it was waves all round. Being Titty, I had Swallow’s flag to fly. John let Nancy take the tiller.

Kit Seymour, Sophie Neville, Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton together with huge crowds of Londoners ~ photo: Daphne Neville

We were amazed to find huge crowds of people had gathered and that it was all rather fun. I don’t know why but Sten must have joined my mother on the pavement by the time this shot was taken. I can see the back of his head in this next photograph. He is wearing the tartan hat Claude Whatham bought him at Blackpool fun-fair.

Jeremy Fisher Frog was leaping about in front of us, which was rather amazing. With him danced other representatives from the Tales of Beatrix Potter, The Royal Ballet’s wonderful feature film that also came out in 1973/4.  We were marking the 35th anniversary of EMI, whilst bringing the Lake District to London Town, which is something we all could celebrate.

Tamzin Neville meeting Mrs Tittlemouse

Since we didn’t have to talk to anyone, we were able to enjoy being involved in the pageant, which included so many icons of British Life.

I hadn’t met a Pearly Queen before, but there was a whole clan of them in their glorious suits, lovingly embroidered with mother of pearl buttons. I resolved to collect enough to adorn my own jacket. My favorite view was of HM the Queen’s gold state coach pulled by her lovely white horses, six in hand. I’d been to see them at the Royal Mews when we came up for my first interview at Theatre Projects offices in Longacre when I first met our director Claude Whatham.

My mother took a photograph of the Queen’s Drum Horse. Much later she found that he was a stallion, on offer as part of a British Horse Society breeding improvement scheme. He was brought over to service her Irish mare Gerty. The result was a lanky skewbald called Nimrod, an enormous gelding who Andrew Parker Bowles rejected on behalf of the British Army. This proved an error. Like most heavy horses Nimrod was just slow to grow. He eventually became a national dressage champion, although not in our hands.

The Queen’s drum horse who sired our foal, Nimrod

We have one last photograph which shows that the float in front of us depicted an EMI film crew, with 2K lights, a camera and technicians. It is studing this photograph that made  me feel that we were not in Swallow as the transom seems so differnet. I don’t suppose anyone else noticed.

Funnily enough I was in a boat for the Lord Mayor’s Show this year.  We rowed up the Thames in the Lord Mayor’s procession on Saturday 12th November.

I am on the crew of the Drapers’ Barge, Royal Thamesis a 33  foot shallop, which I last rowed on the tideway for the re-creation of Nelson’s funeral covered by Sky TV. You may have seen her taking part as the in the Queen’s Jubilee Pageants. We have been asked to take part in the procession of boats that heralds the Lord Mayor’s Show this coming November.

Sophie Neville rowing The Drapers Barge

The Drapers’ Barge ‘Royal Thamesis’ taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Show

This colour footage shows various aspects of the Lord Mayor’s procession in 1973 including the Queen’s Gold State Coach built in 1762 and a float with Daleks, which must represent Doctor Who, a series I worked on about ten years later when at the BBC.

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Publicity photographs used to promote ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the early 1970s – or how we hated having our photographs taken.

Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville, Virginia McKenna, Simon West and Kit Seymour gathered at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water for a publicity photograph. This one was taken by Daphne Neville.

When a television drama is ready to be transmitted there is a little publicity, but not much. Photographs might be taken for the cover of the Radio Times or a book to accompany the series, there might be a Preview at BAFTA to which journalists from the colour supplements and daily newspapers are invited, but, because the programme can be advertised on air, the actors are not intensively involved in the promotion. A feature film is very different.

Whilst we didn’t mind our photographs being taken while we were acting, and were fine about Mum clicking away with her little instamatic, we all hated having promotional photographs taken for ‘Swallows and Amazons’. They were usually so posed, set up by strangers who had no idea of the story. Virginia McKenna tried to make it fun for us but this is what we all felt about this photo-call:

Virginia McKena, Lesley Bennett, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Simon West, Kit Seymour for 'Swallows and Amazons'

~ How not to set up a publicity shot for a feature film ~

Why were the Amazons at Holly Howe? Why weren’t we with any of the boats? It was all terribly hot and difficult to squint into the sunshine. Only Mrs Batty’s dog seemed to be enjoying the attention.

The glare of the flash bulbs had started on day one. As Suzanna said in her diary, it made us feel ‘right twits.’

Claude Whatham was very good at explaining things to children. Looking back I wish that he had explained why the publicity was so important, but of course this was not his job and he would have been busy setting up the next shot. Certainly once the filming had finished we needed to know how important it was to promote the film. Richard Pilbrow really wanted to make a sequel, particularly an adaptation of Ransome’s twelfth book in the series – ‘Great Northern?’  He loves the Outer Hebrides and has a house on Col. I think we might have been a little keener about publicity shots if we had been told that the out-come could have been going up there for another summer. We would have been able to look forward to the possibility, but I don’t suppose he was at leave to even suggest it.

Journalists were introduced to us and looked after by our unit publicist Brian Doyle.  Brian had worked on Straw Dogs’ in 1971, the thriller that starred Dustin Hoffman, Susan George and Peter Vaughan. Susan George had of course played Titty, or ‘Kitty’ in the black and white BBC adaptation of Swallows and Amazons in the early 1960s. She was now regarded as glamorous sex symbol in British cinema – setting me rather a daunting example. Much easier for Brian to publicise her then me. She had a gorgeous figure with beautiful, thick, blonde, hair. I had what my sister still calls ‘tendrils’ and my mother calls ‘bits’. And was skinny with crooked teeth.

Brian was a lovely man. He had an amazing career, going on to work on films such as Ken Russell’s Valentino with Rudolf Nureyev and Leslie Caron, The Wild Geese, Alien, Educating Rita starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters and the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only – with Roger Moore in the lead role . He even has his name on the credits of one of George Lucas’ Star Wars films.

This was the profile he wrote for me:

Brian adored Children’s literature. His own children came up to stay on location over their half-term and spent hours playing with my sisters, indeed they all appeared together as extras in the scenes shot at Bowness, and can be seen playing on the beach. Sadly Brian died, very suddenly, in 2008. His daughter told me that he left a collection of 35,000 books.

I still have Brian’s announcement:

At this the journalists moved in. From all over the place!

There was a very trendy women’s magazine in the early 1970s called Over 21, which the senior girls at school used to read. My mother was thrilled to find that Celia Brayfield had written a double page feature. I was amazed. I didn’t mind the picture of us gutting fish, but started reading with trepidation.

(If you can read this, I’m afraid page one comes second.)

Over 21 ~ December 1973

I read it, looked up the word etiolated in the dictionary and burst into tears.

Far worse was to come.

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Off to Elstree Studios ~ to dub ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Sophie Neville at Elstree Studios in 1973

The process of editing a film can be terrifying for a director. There is always the prospect of finding a sequence that will not cut together. But working with a good film editor is hugely creative and fulfilling. Problems do arise but great things can happen. Richard Pilbrow says in his new book, A Theatre Project  that he was completely captivated by the process. ‘Moving a few frames from here to there, could change the whole emphasis of a scene.’  On the whole editing is an exciting, yet more relaxing time for the director than having to lead a massive crew out on location. And the actors are never around.

Sadly I never met Michael Bradsell who edited Swallows and Amazons. Like many others on our film crew he’d worked with Claude Whatham before on the movie That’ll be the Day. He went to on edit many great movies; Local Hero for Bill Forsyth and  David Puttman,  Henry V for Kenneth Branagh and Wilde, which starred Stephen Fry. Oh, to think that he hauled my image over his Steenbeck.

I remember that when I saw Henry V at the Curzon Cinema in Mayfair, in 1989, there was something terribly wrong with the projection. The lip-sync was out. Kenneth Branagh’s voice was delivered after his lips started moving. It was most off-putting. I knew all about lip-sync because I had been involved in dubbing movies since I was twelve. For, it was back in 1973, when Claude Whatham was working on the sound track for Swallows and Amazons that, rather unusually, I was summons to the EMI Elstreee Studios.

Sophie Neville at the EMI Elstree Studios in 1973

Visiting Elstree Studios was exciting. I remember meeting the Dubbing Mixer and being there with the other Swallows, but I don’t think we saw anyone else in the cast. Suzanna came along with her nine-year-old cousin who was called Seymour – a very bright boy who was wearing stripey canvas trousers like a deck chair. Mummy had bought me a smart new dress that was the height of fashion. Looking at the photograph I rather wish she hadn’t bothered.

We were led into a huge dubbing theater hung with long black drapes around a high white screen. Claude explained that he needed to re-record our dialogue for various sequences. This was because the original soundtrack had been spoilt by the sound of motorboats, car horns or simply the wind. At first we were handed dubbing scripts, but it was difficult to look at them as well as the screen. As we could still remember our lines we didn’t need them. Instead, we stood in front of microphones on spindly stands and sung out the words we knew as sections of the film were projected. To help up a thick black cue-line would pass across the scene. When it hit one side it was time to start speaking. This was to ensure that our voices would be in sync with out lips. It could help, it could be off-putting. In the end we just went for it naturally. After each ‘take’ the film would be re-wound and we would go-again. There is a scene in at the Amazon Boathouse when John scrunches up the Amazon’s message and throws it in the water. It amused us to see this in reverse.

The post-syncing was a chance to improve on our performances and diction. Some time was spent in re-recording our sea shanty, Adieu and Farewell to you Fair Spanish Ladies. I made a mistake here that I have always regretted. Instead of singing sweetly and true I went for volume, which was not only unnecessary, but disastrous. It is acceptable on the film when you can see I am singing out on the water but sounds horrid on the LP. We had no idea at the time that EMI were going to bring out an album to accompany the movie, but they did.

Jack Woolgar as Old Billy confronting Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Stephen Grendon as the Swallows who were visiting the charcoal burners.

The one line that I simply could not replicate was the dialogue Titty delivered when saying goodbye to the charcoal burners: ‘Thank you so much for letting us see your lovely serpent.’  We went over it again and again, but Jack Woolgar wasn’t at the dubbing studio and I couldn’t do it without looking at him. The charm and sincerity of the moment was not something I could reproduce. In the end Claude said he just had to use the original despite the sound of the roaring wind.

After we had left sound effects would have been added. Richard Pilbrow said that, ‘Bill Rowe was our masterful sound mixer, working magic with birdsong, a rustle of leaves, a broken twig – all the tiniest details that went into making the story spring to life.’ When I watch the film of Swallows and Amazons now I so admire the technique of using sound to illustrate the soaring of Titty’s imagination. The storm bell on Robinson Crusoe’s ship heralds the roaring wind and lends reality to scene when I play the shipwrecked sailor, dragging my parched body towards the island campsite. You can hear parrots and monkeys in the palm trees. I am sure Arthur Ransome would have approved.

Bill Rowe, I read, was the director of Post Production and Sound at Elstree Studios until he died at the age of sixty in 1992.  He’d worked on an amazing number of movies winning an Oscar for The Last Emperor and BAFTAs for The Killing Fields, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Alien with nominations for Chariots of Fire, A Clockwork Orange, The Mission and Batman. And to think, we had been playing Hide and Seek behind his sound drapes.

Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton at the helm of Swallow with Stephen Grendon in the bows, while Sophie Neville looks on from the shore of Peel Island, where she has been left alone with the telescope. Sound of Swallow’s moving parts was added later by the dubbing editor Bill Rowe at Elstree Studios.

One thing that really worried me was that I saw Swallow lying outside Elstree Studios. She looked forlorn, a ship out of water. Looking back on it they must have needed her to record sound effects.  I was concerned that we would not see her again, but we did. The next time we Swallows gathered was to publicize the film. We found ourselves climbing aboard Swallows again, albeit in a very different location from the Lake District. And this I will write about in my next post.

Later in life, when I worked in television production, I spent many months at Elstree Studios at Borehamwood. However these were the BBC Studios on the other side of the road where we recorded endless episodes of  Eastenders and the wartime romance Bluebell, programmes that were never post-synced. I’d drive past the old EMI/ATV Studios and never breathe a word that I’d worked there once as an actress.

Sophie Neville, in striped top, on the BBC Studio Director’s Course at the BBC Elstree Studios, Borehamwood in 1990

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, David Wood, 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