What are they doing now? The children who appeared in ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’ ~ the BBC adaptation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’

If you are interested in the cast of the 1974 movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ please see ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’  or the ebook  ‘The Secrets of filming SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’ both by Sophie Neville who played Titty Walker.

If you are interested in the BBC serial of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, originally titled ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever’ please read on.

Coot Club - Caroline Downer, Rosemary Leach and Henry Dimbleby

Caroline Downer, Rosemary Leach and Henry Dimbelby

It is almost thirty years since we made the BBC adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s books Coot Club and The Big Six on the Norfolk Broads.  The eight-part drama serial was filmed over three months during long hot summer of 1983. You can see from our faces how everyone made the whole experience enjoyable. It was ten years after we had made the movie ‘Swallow & Amazons’ but the atmosphere and the camaraderie felt similar.

Caroline Downer with Sophie Neville

Caroline Downer, who played Dorothea with Sophie Neville who played Titty Walker in the 1974 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, seen here in 1983

Caroline Downer, who played Dorothea Callum so professionally, finally took out her plaits for good and returned to school – her real school rather than the boat where she had received lessons whist we were filming. She had done so well, holding her own with a cast made up predominantly of boys by the time we started filming The Big Six. A year or so after the series was broadcast she wrote to me of her plans for the future.  I am ashamed to say that I was so busy working on Doctor Who that I didn’t reply. I can’t think why I tarried. She was far more important to me than Doctor Who. I gather that Caroline now teaches drama. Hopefully she can draw on something of what she learnt during those months in East Anglia spent working with so many great British actors.

Henry Dimbelby while playing Tom Dudgeon in 1983

Henry Dimbelby while playing Tom Dudgeon in 1983

Despite the pressures and stress of filming, nothing flustered Henry Dimbelby. He was easy-going and optimistic – great fun to have around. He had no ambition to act but did such a good job. His parents were wonderful. Instead of going to Devon, where they kept a gaff-rigged boat, they rented a house on the North Coast of Norfolk for their summer holidays so as to be near our locations. I remember driving Caroline and Henry up on a unit day off only to find Jonathan Dimbelby there too, with his wife Bel Mooney who I chatted to when we went for a walk before lunch.  On the kitchen table back at the house was a huge colourful sausage and pasta salad made by Josceline Dimbelby, Henry’s mother. It was the first home-cooked meal I’d had for weeks, and was hugely appreciated.  I was mesmerised by the colours and textures, the whole inventiveness of a salad made for a large family.

While Henry’s grandfather, Richard Dimbelby the World War II correspondent, went into newspapers and his father, David Dimbelby, worked for the BBC as a News reporter, presenter and commentator,  you could say that Henry followed his mother. He trained as a chef – and became an innovative one, producing books on food and appearing on the occasional cookery program. In 2004 he opened Leon, the restaurant in Carnaby Street in central London that specialises in serving seasonal fast-food that is both delicious and good for you.  Founded with Allegra McEvedy and John Vincent, Leon soon became popular. It was awarded ‘Best New Restaurant’ at the Observer Food Monthly Awards six months after opening. I believe Henry and his partners now have a chain of ten outlets and that their recipe books are an inspiration to many.

Coot Club - One of the twins

Either Claire or Sarah Matthews as they appeared in ‘Coot Club’

Claire and Sarah Matthews, the twins who played Port and Starboard in Coot Club, went on to play Eve and Alexandra in the 1984 TV mini series Master of the Game , which starred Angharad Rees, David Suchet and Fernando Allende.  After that, I am not sure. I can only hope they will contact me to let me know if they are still acting and how life has panned out.

Coot Club - The Walpoles

Mrs Julie Walpole (centre) with her daughter, appearing as Extras in the drama

The Walpoles have written in! It was so good to hear from them. Nicholas Walpole, who played Joe, joined the Royal Navy and served on HMS Roebuck from 1989 – 90 as a survey recorder. A friend of his said he was teased mercilessly onboard about his acting background. Many-a-time a chorus of ‘Swallows and Amazons forever’ would ring out when he walked into the Mess. Nik is now married, lives in Coventry and has three grown up children, one of whom wants to act. His mother still enjoys living in rural Norfolk. You can read their comments at the bottom of previous posts.

Coot Club - George Owden

Simon Hawes who played George Owden, seen here in a Health and Safety helmet I made him wear while filming at Horsey Mill in 1983

I am afraid that I haven’t seen Simon Hawes, who played George Owden, or the other boys from Norfolk since we finished filming. They did so well. Playing a baddie isn’t easy even with Make-up and Hair Department straining to help.

Coot Club - The baddies

I would love to know what Richard Walton and Mark Page are doing now. If by any chance you know them, please encourage them to add a comment below.

Richard Walton who played Dick Callum, walking barefoot in the field behind the station

Richard Walton who played Dick Callum, walking barefoot in a field behind the station

We spent long days together, often out on the water.  Someone once explained to me that when you are camping and gadding about in boats, generally leading an Arthur Ramsome style life, you tend to laugh more. As a result more  endocrines get released into your system, relationships are forged and bonds made. It has to be said that the boy who made us laugh more than anyone else on the film crew was Jake Coppard, who played Pete, the shortest of the Death and Glory boys.  Although the character he played could be serious Jake was always finding something amusing or someone to imitate.  Sam Kelly got on with him particularly well, helping him through the scene when Pete falls in.

Coot Club - Jake Coppard

Jake was such a talented actor. I gather he went on to appear as Charlie in a television drama directed  by Tony Virgo called Travellers by Night (1985) , which featured Neil Morrissey who became so well known when the comedy series Men Behaving Badly proved a success. The lead role of Mrs Baker in Travellers of the Night was played by Jo Rowbottom who, by coincidence, had played Katie Leigh, Simon West’s mother in Sam and the River back in 1975.

 

27 Comments

Filed under 1983, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie stories, truelife story

27 responses to “What are they doing now? The children who appeared in ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’ ~ the BBC adaptation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’

  1. Elizabeth Jolley

    Horrible that Jake’s life ended that way & so short. I loved him as Pete, always my favorite of the D&G boys. Thanks for sharing so much about these wonderful films!

    • I wept for his parents – I remember his mother as being exceptionaly nice, coming over to see us on location with Jake’s baby sister in the front basket of her bike.

      Many Norfolk boys lost their lives to WWI before they reached 17. I lost two school friends to motorbike accidents when they were young. Some lads just never grow old.

  2. phil dence

    Sad to hear about Jake, we always thought he was the best actor of the DandG’S. Currently sitting in the garden,the sun puts you in the mood for a Ransome read. Thank you for the read, always a pleasure.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. It keeps me going! Do let me know if you have any questions about the series. I haven’t written about Jack Watson or the Albion yet but rather lack photos.

  3. Barry Riddiford

    Brilliant blog. I was always surprised that none of the child actors went further with their acting. They were all very good.
    Thank you again

    • Jake Coppard showed huge potential. He could have gone to the top – certainly as a character actor. I don’t either Richard Walton or Henry Dimbelby ever wanted to act. They were just in ‘Coot Club’ for fun. I only hope the work experience aspect served them in later life.

  4. Thank you for all this interesting information, Sophie. I’m sorry that we won’t be seeing most of the characters again, but things move on so quickly. I’m sorry about Jake and I’m going to look up Henry D.’s cookbooks. I’ve been listening to the Swallows and Amazons series from audible.com and have arrived at Missee Lee, which means I’m almost finished, sadly. I was so happy to find your blog on the films and to find out more about them. I’m still reading your first book, which has been delayed by other stuff, but I’ll get around to finishing it as well. I wish your books and all the Swallows and Amazon books could be made into films. They are so much more fun than those films coming out these days. Thanks again!

    • I am so glad you are enjoying the blog. Do let me have any questions you might have. I have separate blogs for the other books. this is the one for ‘Funnily Enough’. I’m currently running a series on Mum and her work in television, as it’s quite fun and links to a website I’ve been setting up for her. She is the only person I know who likes seeing dreadful photographs of herself. http://funnily-enough.blogspot.co.uk/.

      • I had to smile when I read your comment about your mother. One of the things that I liked so much when I first saw your blog was your mother with the otters. She reminds me of my own mother of English ancestry who would have loved to have lived your mother’s life on the farm (too shy to be an actress). She enjoyed having ducks and chickens, etc. even in urban areas. And I am wondering if dealing with chronic fatigue left you with chemical sensitivities. I don’t know why it would, but people can sometimes be affected. Chemical sensitivities are one of my biggest problems and have ultimately changed my life. Your mom is wonderful and I’ve enjoyed all the pics of her dressed up for her roles!

        • My mother loves her ducks. She only has wild mallards now but feeds them twice a day. I think I have always been sensitive to inhalants -news print, cleaning fluids containing bleach and general pollution but also pollen, dust mites and spores of mould in the atmosphere. The interiors of musty boats are not good. However I am grateful that I am not allergic to foods and that my skin does not react except in cases of a real over-load. It was lovely filming on the Norfolk Broads. I have always thrived when working outside – and loved living in southern Africa where I found I was not allergic to the pollen. I lived in arid areas free from mould and found people dipped their horses and dogs, which killed the invisible mites.

          • I hate that you’re sensitive, but I’m not completely surprised with your history. I’m not allergic to most foods, but have problems with perfumes and other chemicals. The Norfolk Broads do look very special. And your mother’s ducks are WILD mallards! Your memories will always be very special to you.

  5. Claire Payne

    Hello Sophie… it’s Claire was Matthews now Payne here! I played Port in Coot Club. Stumbled upon your site by accident after some friends on facebook posted up the video cover as a joke 🙂 Googled to find more piccies, and lo and behold, here you were. 🙂 Lovely reading. So nice to make contact.

  6. Nostalgic reading about what seemed to all of us as an enchanted summer resulting in a charming series. Amy, aged 8, the eldest of my and David’s 7 grandchildren was completely entranced by the DVD of Swallows and Amazons Forever which she watched all through in my house recently. Henry’s 3 children are not quite old enough for it yet but I expect George, his 6 year old, will soon be as gripped.

    • I gave the DVD to all our great-nieces this Christmas – a joint present for 7 girls aged 2 to 15! Revelation Films tell me it is one of their top 10 best selling DVDs. I’m not surprised. Of all the drama series I worked on at the BBC it has to be the one I want to watch again. It hasn’t dated. The Chairman of the Nancy Blackett Trust, who David met last summer, is trying to persuade me to write about it – I am racking my brain for memories, wishing I kept a dairy at the time.

      • A vivid memory I have is of how thrilled Henry was by all he could eat from the location catering van. This, combined with a growth spurt, kept the wardrobe person continuakky enlarging his costumes.

        • The catering was fabulous. Paul Higton, he wardrobe assistant who looked after Henry, was most amusing. He is now the costume designer on the long-running daytime drama ‘Doctors’. Susannah Buxton who designed the costumes for ‘Coot Club’ has been winning all sorts of awards for her work on ‘Downton Abbey’ ~ http://www.susannahbuxton.co.uk/

  7. Marcus Darkmoor

    I heard that the BBC had obtained the rights to ALL of the Arthur Ransome books a couple of years ago (2013 I think?). Any news on if / when they will make any more of them? And will you be involved? It would be nice if you were, first as Titty in the 1970’s film, then as crew in the 1980’s…Here’s hoping it won’t be too long before the beeb does something good and produces all of the books 🙂

  8. Janet

    I have four children, the youngest being 30 and the eldest now 42, who all loved watching Swallows and Amazons on the VHS recording I made. The youngest loved the part where Julian Fellows would say ‘push off pronto’. I still have the recording of the series, and think I will watch it!

    • It’s worth getting hold of a copy of the new re-mastered DVD of both the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons and ‘Coot Club’ & ‘The Big Six’ made with Julian Fellowes in 1983. You can always order them from the library, or on line. I have the links on my Swallows and Amazon page on this website. They make good presents.

  9. Richard (Rick) Walton

    Hi Sophie, my daughter found this site and forwarded the link to me. It’s great to read what everyone has been up to. I’m now living in LA but get back to Norfolk every few years to visit family and friends. My kids are now nearly grown up but did enjoy watching “S&A Forever!” when they were young.
    All the best.
    Richard Walton

    • Dear Richard,
      How very good to hear from you. I have been in touch with Caroline and Henry, the twins, Nicholas Walpole, Mark Page and Dean Harkness – as well as Sarah Crowden and Julian Fellowes but didn’t know where you are. What are you doing in LA?
      I have been appointed President of The Arthur Ransome Society, and was urged by fans of his books to write about how we made the film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1974. I’ve brought it out as an ebook called ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ and am currently working on the 2nd edition of the paperback. It’s virtually sold out on Amazon. I was persuaded to give a talk on how we made ‘Coot Club’, which I also wrote about on my blog. Please tell me if there is anything I should add or change.
      I now live on the south coast of England but it would be great to meet up if you are ever over. The girls and I keep meaning to meet for lunch in London. They are very well and we keep in touch on Facebook.
      Hoping all is well with you and your family. I became very fond of your mother. I’ll never forget her description of how she coped, or failed to, when she developed tonsilitus when you were small.
      Love
      Sophie
      sophie@sophieneville.co.uk

  10. Thanks for liking Time to Remember! I love your blog and all the stories of what happened to everyone. The reference to food and cookery especially caught my eye! It’s one of my passions in life and I so admire anyone who can turn food into a living!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s