Monthly Archives: June 2013

40 years today ~ The Log of the Boy Roger comes to light

BW Sten as Roger in Secret Harbour

The Boy Roger in Secret Harbour on Wild Cat Island played by Sten Grendon in 1973

Sten Grendon grew up in the Whiteway Colony near Stroud in Gloucestershire. Partly thinks to the kindness of his teacher, he was spotted by Claude Whatham in 1970 and asked to play young Laurie Lee in the BBC adaptation of ‘Cider with Rosie’, when I was given the part of Eileen Brown.

Sten with Claude Whatham in 1970

Sten Grendon in 1970, after playing Laurie Lee in ‘Cider with Rosie’ for BBC TV with Director Claude Whatham

Sten was eight-and-a-half when he found himself in the Lake District playing Roger in Arthur Ransome’s well-loved story, Swallows & Amazons. His drawing of learning to swim from Peel Island somehow seems to reflect the weather conditions on Coniston Water rather well.

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Whilst on location in Cumbria we usually received tuition from Margaret Causey, but on 29th June 1973 Sten spent the morning with his mother, Jane, writing:

It was raining very hard on Friday. We had our location at Skelwith Fold caravan park. I don’t do lessons with the teacher. I do lessons with Jane. We started our lesson at 9 o’clock when we are doing our lessons it stopped raining so Claude could call the children to come and have a word rehearsal in the caravan. But it started raining again so we had dinner and it stopped so we went to the lily pond which we use as Octopus Lagoon. We started fiming. It was covered with lilies. We filmed on the pond.

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And that was it. A highly accurate account of the day spent recording the scene when the Swallows go up river to look for the Amazon but find themselves thwarted by waterlilies in Octopus Lagoon.

‘Perhaps they are octopuses. Titty read out of a book how they can grab people out of boats.’

‘Shut-up Roger, they’re only flowers.’

BW Sten in Swallow

Sten went on to draw a very detailed picture showing what it was like to make a movie in the Lake District, when the weather was so important to our work.

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When I rang Sten yesterday he grabbed his phone and said,

‘Just a moment, I’ll go into the greenhouse – it’s just started to rain.’

Sten still lives in the hills above Stroud in the Cotswolds. After playing Roger in Swallows & Amazons he appeared in a Weetabix commercial for Claude and an industrial film for Rank as a school boy in a story a-kin to the Seven Ages of Man. A countryman by nature, he left acting behind him and literally moved on. After years spent travelling around France, Spain and Morocco, often fruit-picking or working in vineyards, he used his training at Pershore College of Horticulture to work locally as a gardener. Forty years on he still has the same thick dark hair and sudden smile.

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This year, while Swallows & Amazons (1974) was shown on the big screen in London, Cider with Rosie was shown to a local audience at the Whiteway Village Hall – double helpings of nostalgia for those who were able to re-live their own childhood as well as Laurie Lee’s.

Roger and Mother with the telegram

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Filed under 1973, 1983, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Summer in February

My mother, Daphne Neville, who worked on the crew of  Swallows & Amazons (1974) is appearing in Summer in February, which is now out on DVD. Although she’s a hustler, invitations to take part in both films arrived out of the blue. Here she is 40 years on  with Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper ~

Summer in February

Dan Stevens, Daphne Neville and Dominic Cooper on location in Cornwall

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Bestseller, Cinema, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Filmaking, Lake District, Movie, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

40 years on… I discover a scene about patterans cut from the 1974 movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’

The Swallows make Patterans

Suzanna Hamilton, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West as the Swallows

I have been sent a newspaper clipping dated 15th June 1973, which appears to have been published in The Mirror, a national daily newspaper here in the UK. It describes a scene shot for Swallows & Amazons (1974) that was never used in the finished film and proved something of a discovery for me.

Whilst on their way to visit the charcoal-burners, Captain John shows the crew of the Swallow how to lay a patteran, a secret gypsy sign, usually made from twigs or vegetation, to point the way.  I remember the scene from Arthur Ransome’s book with affection but I  have no recollection of filming this in the Lake District.

Mirror 17th June 1973

~ click on the image to enlarge ~

I do recall that our director, Claude Whatham would take us on a quick run just before shooting a scene so that we would be both energised and genuinely breathless as we delivered our lines. I expect it was his secret way of obtaining natural performances out of us children. Here we can be seen in rehearsal wearing our Harry Potter-like nylon track-suit tops for warmth, while the big old 35mm Panavision camera was tilted down on us. Claude can be seen holding the script we never read. We were much more interested in the patterans.

Local newspaper cutting of Patterran rehearsal

Claude loved running. When he retired from film making he would regularly run around Anglesey in North Wales, where he lived, covering miles each day even in his early eighties.  I have always been more excited about galumphing, the art of running down hill, taking leaps as you go to cover more ground.  Arthur Ransome must have tried this as a boy on holiday in the Lake District as he has the Swallows galumphing like anything at this stage in the story, on their way back from visiting the charcoal-burners. They get so carried away that some of them miss the patterans that had been so carefully laid on their way up the hill. There must simply have not been enough time to include this detail in the finished movie. I wonder if the original footage still exists.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

“40 years on…” Speaking on BBC Radio Cumbria on Friday 14th June

Local article on Swallows and Amazons written in 1973

What is happening now? Not sure, but a number of people who love the Lake District have expressed an interest in what was happening there forty years ago today.

On Friday 14th June Sophie Neville was interviewed by Mike Zeller on BBC Radio Cumbria’s Breakfast Programme at 7.20am and again at 8.50am. 

Hillary Warwick from Bolton-le-Sands near Carnforth rang in to say that her grandma owned the green parrot, telling us that he was called ‘Beauty’. They used the £25 appearance fee to buy him a new cage.  Hilary’s gran, Elizabeth Proctor, had been quite a character. She’d walk around Kendal with Beauty on her shoulder. He was known to be a one-woman bird and Hilary was quite impressed that I managed to stroke him and keep him on my shoulder as he was liable to nip. She was quite wary of him!

Do you live in the Lake District?

Did you take part in the film in anyway?

If so do write in using the comments box below!

Local article on Swallows

~ click on the image to enlarge ~

Here is another newspaper article from 1973 that mentions Lakeland people involved in the filming forty years ago, including a photograph of Mrs Lucy Batty and her grandson Peter and Margaret Causey who taught the children in the movie, pictured below with Lesley Bennett, Kit Seymour, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Mark Hedges – who didn’t appear in the movie but came up over half-term as his Dad, Bob Hedges was working as the property master.

Virginia McKenna is photographed above talking to Ian Whittaker, the set dresser who went on to win a number of Oscars.

The News article on Swallows

An extract from this article of Brenda Colton’s reads:

‘When Mrs Lucy Batty was asked if her house could be used for the setting of the film Swallows and Amazons, with guest star Virginia McKenna, she was delighted. After all, her home, Bank Ground Farm on the east side of Coniston Water, near Brantwood, was the setting chosen by Arthur Ransome for his children’s book Swallows and Amazons.

Mrs Batty thought it a good idea that the story should be filmed in an authentic location, and she felt she should be able to put up with a few cameras and film men for a while. But she just did not realise the scale of a “medium budget” film like this one, or what the production staff could do to her house. It was not the two double-decker buses coming down the path and parking on the farm that she minded, nor the numerous vans, lorries, cars and caravans. It was not even the difficulty of having 80 men and women wandering round the farmhouse carrying equipment here, there and everywhere. But when art director Simon Holland started tearing up her lino and carpet in the kitchen to get to the bare stone floor, she did get a little annoyed. Especially when he removed all the electric sockets, lights and switches, pushed all the kitchen furniture into the larder and whitewashed the newly papered walls.

Have you seen the kitchen?” Mrs Batty said to me. “The larder is piled high with my furniture; and you would not believe the tip my lounge is in. But they are a funny lot. I asked if I could wash the beams in the kitchen for them, and they said ‘Oh no, we want them to look old.’ I have even had to hunt out a lot of old pottery from the cellar for them.

But I have given up now. I have just left them to it.”

~ From The News, Friday 25th May, 1973 ~

 Bank Ground Farm is very much smarter today ~ Click here for their website

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Auditioning for parts in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ back in 1973

The final audition for 'Swallows & Amazons' in March 1973

The final audition for ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in March 1973 ~ a wet weekend sailing in Burnham-on-Crouch without parents.

This summer thousands of children aged between six and fourteen have been auditioning for parts in the new adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s inspirational book ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I have been introduced to quite a few of the girls interested in playing Titty. Their parents often ask what the audition process was like for us, back in 1973, long before the advent of email and Youtube when casting directors only ever worked in Hollywood.

For me, the process was pretty quick. I had worked for the Director, Claude Whatham before, when I had a small part in the BBC film of Laurie Lee’s book, ‘Cider with Rosie’. After meeting Claude again at an interview held at Richard Pilbrow’s  Theatre Project’s offices in Long Acre on a sunny day in March 1973, I was invited to go to Burnham-on-Crouch for a sailing weekend that was to constitute the final audition. This proved something of an endurance test. It was miles from where we lived. The weather was awful with driving rain and rough seas. The only warm piece of clothing I had was a knitted hat. We slept in cabins aboard a permanently moored Scout Boat with flowery orange curtains. There were no parents around to boost our moral. The sailing was challenging and I felt bitterly cold.

Our producer Richard Pilbrow bought his two children, Abigail and Fred. With him was Neville Thompson, director Claude Whatham, and David Blagden who was to be the sailing director. He told us that he had read ‘Swallows and Amazons’ forty-two times, which sounded daunting. I had read all the books but could not see myself as Titty. She had thick dark hair in all the pictures and I was bossy – far more like Mate Susan. We didn’t read from a script. We weren’t asked to improvise or act out a scene.  There was no film-test, but 8mm movie footage was taken.  I wonder if it still exists.

Out of an initial 1,800 who applied, twenty-two children were short-listed for the six parts of the Swallows and the Amazons. While there were only two or three boys up for the role of Roger there were five girls auditioning to play Titty. At one stage Claude had a chat with all five of us in our cabin, all the Tittys. The others were all so sweet that I didn’t think I stood a chance. I was undeniably gangly and felt that I kept saying the wrong thing.

‘Did you take the helm?’

‘Oh, we all helmed like any-thing.’

One of the other girls auditioning for Titty looked incredibly together. She had pretty, fashionable clothes and would make a point of brushing her hair and wearing jewelry, just as Mummy would have liked me to have done. While I was used to boats my sailing wasn’t up to much. I was completely in awe of Kit Seymour’s seamanship and how the fast she got the dinghies to whizz through the driving rain.

BW the cast at Euston Station May 1973

A photograph taken for the Evening Standard of the cast at Euston Station on their way to the Lake District, before haircuts. Suzanna said, ‘We all felt right twits.’

A decision must have been made pretty quickly as all local education authorities demanded at least six weeks to process our licences to work on a film. It was 1973, casting time must have been scarce and I’m afraid the children finally cast all ended up coming from the south of England: Middlesex, Berkshire, Gloucestershire and London. None of us went to stage schools or had theatrical agents, apart from Suzanna Hamilton who went to the Anna Scher after-school Drama Club in Islington.  But before we knew it our hair was cut, transporting us back to 1929 and we were out on Lake Windermere realising the dream.

BW Wearing Life Jackets in the Safety Boat - trimmed

The Swallows, wearing ex-BOAC buoyancy aids, on Coniston Water

‘Did you have a pushy Mum?’ I am asked.

‘Oh, yes!’ She was brought up reading Noel Streatfield’s  ‘Ballet Shoes’, longed to act herself and so was keen for me to be in ‘Cider with Rosie’. She made the effort to take me along to a drama club and to a huge audition in the Stroud Subscription Rooms, however I only got the little part of Elieen Brown was because I could play the piano. My mother did force me to take my music to the third audition, which of course enabled me to out-shine the others. I was not a hugely talented pianist and ended up having to practice for eight hours a day before I could master the accompaniment to ‘Oh, Danny Boy’ featured in the film. It was shear hard work that won through in the end.

We were all lucky to be the right age at the right time. I was perhaps the most fortunate because at twelve I was really too tall for the part of Titty. I was a year older and a good two inches taller than Simon West who played my elder brother, but Claude must have known that he could cheat this on-screen.

Oxford Mail Wednesday June 20th 1973

‘Are you glad you did it?’

Yes, it was fun – wonderful to spend a summer in the Lake District. A chance grabbed. I had not been yearning to act but took a great interest in how the movie was made. In the end the experience set me up for something of a career in television behind the camera and gave me the confidence to a number of things that might otherwise have remained a dream.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, adventure, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ at Bowness-on-Windermere in 1973

BW Rowing to Rio

Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West, Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville rowing ‘Swallow’ into Rio Bay ~ or Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District

Swallows and Amazons [DVD]

On 7th June 1973 the seventy-strong crew busy making the movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ arrived at Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria to film the scenes when the Swallows decide to explore Rio, the native settlement due north east of Wildcat  Island. The weather was glorious.

I have just been sent a scrap-book that contains a clipping from the Evening News, when reporter Terry Bromley joined the film crew for a day. He lists many of the forty or so local people who either appeared as supporting artists in the scenes or provided action props such as vintage cars and traditional boats. Everyone, including the drivers and boatmen were dressed in costumes from 1929 ~ 44 years before 1973.

Newspaper article on Rio

The caption reads: “Susan and Titty rush past some of the local extras in a scene filmed on Bowness jetty.”

Newspaper article on Rio 6

“Below, Mrs Jill Jackson, of Kendal, takes her family, Fiona, 9, Lindsay, 13, Nicola, 9 and Shane,11, for a donkey ride.”

Newspaper article on Rio 3

“Four jovial extras from Ambleside with other members of the cast. They are Stanley Wright who plays a motorboat mechanic, Herbert Barton (casual holiday maker), James Stelfox (boat mechanic) and L.Lucas Dews (a man just returned from abroad).”  They were dressed by Wardrobe Master Terry Smith, while other period details were organised by the Art Director Simon Holland, his Set Dresser Ian Whittacker and crew of prop men lead by Bob Hedges.

Newspaper article on Rio 31

“Sarah Boom of Bowness with a period cycle, a member of the Kendal Borough Band and a member of the Ambleside Players, Mrs Peggy Drake, with her 13-year-old son William.”  I know that the Kendal Band wore their own, original 1020’s uniforms as they played in the bandstand.

Newspaper article on Rio 5

The caption reads:  ‘Janet Hadwin and her father, Jack Hadwin, stand by an Austin car and BSA motor cycle of the period.’ The photograph below shows Sophie Neville, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sten Grendon in a pony trap during a break in the filming.

For a full list of actors and supporting artists who were involved in the filming please see the second edition of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, published by The Lutterworth Press, which can be purchased on-line or ordered from your local library.

If you would like to see more behind-the-scenes photos and home movie footage taken in Bowness on 7th June 1973 please go to earlier posts:

https://sophieneville.net/2012/01/02/away-to-rio-or-bowness-on-windermere-to-film-swallows-and-amazons-in-1973-part-one/

and

https://sophieneville.net/2012/01/05/away-to-rio-part-two/

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Cumbria, 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

Aboard the ‘Nancy Blackett’

Sophie Neville aboard the Nancy Blackett at Buckler's HardA few days ago I was able to grab a chance and sail a yacht once owned by Arthur Ransome called the Nancy Blackett, ‘The best little ship I ever owned.’

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Nancy had been brought up from her birth at Woolverstone on the River Orwell in Suffolk to Buckler’s Hard on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire for The Arthur Ransome Society International Annual General Meeting held at Brockenhurst College near by.

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Apart from being Arthur Ranomse’s model for the Goblin in two of his books in the Swallows and Amazons series ~ We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water ~ the Nancy Blackett has recently appeared in Sally Potter’s feature film Ginger and Rosa.

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I went to visit her when she was open to visitors at the Boat yard at Bucklers Hard on Sunday 26th May.

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We emerged having wondered how Arthur Ransome managed to fit himself into the heads, which are right in the bows. Apparently he used to sit there smoking his pipe. How his wife squeezed herself in I do not know – she was 6’3″ tall.

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On the morning of 27th May we had a quick look around the historic village of Bucklers Hard,

Sophie Neville at the Mast Builder's Hotel at Buckler's Hard

including the Master Builder’s Hotel,

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before finding Nancy at the marina.

Sophie Neville aboard the Nancy Blackett

After climbing into our life-jackets, we left the mooring and motored down the Beaulieu River.

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Once we reached the Solent, our sails were hoisted and we were sailing towards the Isle of Wight.

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Peter Willis, Chairman of the Nancy Blackett Trust was with us.

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It was exciting to take the helm as we made our way up to Lymington on a broad reach at about 4 knots, at first against, then with the tide.

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Having left at about 10.00am we reached the Royal Lymington Yacht Club soon after 3.00pm and moored up for the night.

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We had enjoyed perfect conditions and the most wonderful experience.

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Nancy’s crew then welcomed aboard sailors from the Royal Lymington Yacht Club who were keen to see around her.

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If you would like to sail the Nancy Blackett do visit her website and join the trust. The next meeting will be on Saturday 6th July when Sophie Neville has been asked to give a talk on ‘Filming ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ in Norfolk’.

The Nancy Blackett by Claudia Myatt

The Nancy Blackett was recently profiled on BBC 1 by Coutryfile when Matt Baker went out on her first sail of the season.

Here is a compilation of the programme made up by the Nancy Blackett Trust:

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Filed under adventure, Arthur Ransome, Film, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story