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.

8 Comments

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

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

  1. Pandora Doyle

    A wonderful profile! Brian worked on aprox 100 films. I have many articles he wrote under the heading ‘Brief Encounters’ which consist of little anecdotes and meetings with interesting people, which one day, when time allows, will be compiled into a book.

  2. I am sure the articles would make a wonderful book and sell well! Do you know if Brian wrote a piece about Virginia McKenna or anyone else who worked on ‘Swallows and Amazons’?

  3. Jill goulder

    I’ve been loving your blog but worrying slightly that knowing all the ‘back-stories’ about the shots etc might mar the film for me; but not a BIT of it – re-watched the DVD recently and it was all as ‘real’ as ever, with the background knowledge completely shelved away in my mind. And I’ve just re-watched the Coot Club/ Big Six DVD and am eagerly hoping that you’ll tell us more about that one too. Keep at it, Sophie!

  4. Chris Rosindale

    Hi Sophie, do you know where I could obtain a copy of the Over 21 December 1973 edition? Or maybe send me scans of the Swallows and Amazons film review if you have it?

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