With a parrot on my shoulder ~

At about this time we were given a green parrot from South America called Chico. I must have written to Kit and Suzanna telling them about him as this Nancy-ish letter came winging back.

Animal Magic1

Robin Hellier (in yellow) working with a 16mm film camera and his crew from BBC Bristol. I am sitting at the head of the table. Tamzin has our parrot on her shoulder.

Chico was wonderfully tame and came everywhere, chatting away in Spanish. He was much more affectionate – and less of a treat – than the parrot with a Lancastrian accent who played Polly in Captain Flint’s cabin. One minute he’d be sitting on Tamzin’s shoulder, the next, he’d be on mine.

Filming Animal Magic

Sophie, Perry and Tamzin Neville appearing in short film shot on 16mm for ‘Animal Magic’ being produced for the BBC NHU by Robin Hellier (in yellow sweater).

We didn’t always have tea with a parrot, but once the film of Swallows and Amazons was on general release I was often invited to appear on radio or television. This usually entailed going to a studio to appear on a magazine programme such as Points West or  Nationwide. However, Robin Hellier, who had just begun working for the BBC on Animal Magic, was thrilled to hear that I really did have a green parrot and brought a film crew from Bristol to our house. He took a shot of me rowing down the lake with my parrot, in the summer of 1974, which was used to fill endless small gaps in the schedules.

Animal Magic with our donkeys1

Robin Hellier directing a sequence featuring Sophie Neville, her parrot Chico and Lucy and Leonard the donkeys with Daphne Neville and Tamzin Neville

Although the focus of the item was a profile of  my role in Swallows and Amazons, the aim must have been to get as many animals on the programme as possible since they also featured our donkeys having their feet trimmed. The faithful parrot was still on my shoulder.

Animal Magic with our donkeys

Leonard and Lucy the donkeys, Tamzin, Daphne and Sophie (in green) with Chico the parrot, standing-by for Robin Hellier who was speaking to our farrier Graham Williams. You can see how much taller I had grown in a year.

I thought Robin Hellier was a brilliant director, far better than Claude Whatham at letting us know what he wanted to achieve. I was able to tell Robin this when I found myself working with him in South Africa twenty-two years later. He laughed, admitting that it was the very first film he ever directed.  Being conscientious, he took the trouble to write to let me know when it was to be broadcast, although I can’t remember ever seeing it go out.

Animal Magic

Children’s television was watched by everyone I knew in the 1970s. Letters poured in. My mother loved getting them. The volume was such that I think she had to answer some of them for me.

A fan letter2

A fan letter3

A fan letter4

And over the years the letters have kept coming.

A fan letter73

These came from a girl I corresponded with for years.  My friends at university were amazed to find letters arriving addressed to Titty, but they were always charming. I appreciated them more and more as the years went by.

A fan letter74

My mother only wrote me one proper letter while I was away at boarding school. It was to tell me that Chico had died. He spent so much time flying free that he caught a virus off wild birds and could not be saved. I was utterly inconsolable.

Animal Magic continued to featured through our childhood until 1982, when I started working at BBC Television myself. Johnny Morris, who presented the series, became a legend in his own time and is remembered with great affection.

and there is more ~

A WildFilm History interview of Robin Hellier can be viewed on this link:

http://www.wildfilmhistory.org/oh/44/clip/975/section/357/Robin+Hellier%3A+Reflections+on+a+career+at+the+BBC+Natural+History+Unit.html

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Filed under animal stories, Autobiography, Biography, Claude Whatham, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Letters, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

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