Very Happy New Year!

Near the Amazon Boathouse with Sir Anthony Gormley ~ photo: Mountain Goat Tours
Sophie Neville with Sir Antony Gormley near the Amazon boathouse

This Christmas has been marked by a number of amusing cards, emails and comments that have come in from people who remember making the film of Swallows & Amazons in 1973.

David Stott has already sent in his memories of working as Ronald Fraser’s driver at the age of 19 while Peter Walker remembers literally  bumping into him in a pub in Ambleside. Various journalists added their recollections online below an article in the Telegraph. I hope to have gathered enough photographs to post a few more in the new year.

If you can remember anything about the filming of Swallows & Amazons, can recollect going to see it in the cinema when it was first released, or have memories about anyone connected to the movie, add a comment below or contact me on sophie@sophieneville.co.uk.

The Amazon boathouse on Coniston Water
The Amazon boathouse on Coniston Water

I have a list of those who appeared as supporting artists in the film that I would love to add to. Can you help me with more details and full names? It would be awful if I had incorrect spellings.

Kerry Dartisnine ~ Nurse

Tiffany Smith ~ Baby Vicky

Moira Late ~ Mrs Jackson

Brian Robey Jones ~ Mr Jackson

Mr Turner ~ Shopkeeper

Mr Price ~ Native on the Rio jetty

Mrs Price ~ Visitor at Haverthwaite Railway Station

Martin Neville ~ Native on the steamer

George Pattinson ~ Steamboat owner

Stanley Wright ~ Motorboat mechanic

James Stelfox ~ Boat mechanic

Herbert Barton ~ Casual holiday-maker

L. Lucas Dews ~ Man just returned from abroad

Jane Price ~ Girl at Rio

Simon Price ~ Boy at Rio

Tamzin Neville ~ Girl at Rio

Perry Neville ~ Girl at Rio

Pandora Doyle ~ Girl at Rio

Alan Smith ~ Boy at Rio

Jane Grendon ~ Rio visitor

Janet Hadwin ~ Rio visitor

Peggy Drake ~ Rio visitor

William Drake ~ Rio visitor

Mrs Jill Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Lindsay Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Nicola Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Fiona Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Shane Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Zena Khan ~ Rio Visitor

Lorna Khan ~ Lady on the Tern

Sarah Boom ~ Cyclist at Rio

Jack Hadwin ~ Motorcyclist

Kendal Borough Band

Beauty Proctor ~ Polly, the green parrot

The following people worked on the crew of Swallows & Amazons  but I am not sure of their exact job titles:

Gay Lawley-Wakelin, Richard Daniel, John Slater, Lee Apsey, Craig Hillier, Les Philips, Ron Baker, John Pullen, Harry Heeks, Graham Orange, Mike Henley, Joe Ballerino, Ted Elliot, Eddie Cook, John Engelman, John Mills, Ernie Russell, Clive Stewart, Toni Turner, Phyllis B, Pinewood Caterers John and Margaret ……, Robert Wakeling, David Stott. and other Drivers: Browns of Ambleside

Have I left anybody Out?

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Memories of filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) from Jane Grendon

Jane Grendon and Sten Grendon
Sten Grendon with his mother Jane Grendon in 1973

When Sten Grendon was given the part of Roger in Swallows & Amazons (1974), his mother Jane Grendon came up to the Lake District with him to work as a chaperone, looking after all the children appearing in the movie.

Jane Grendon opposite Peel Island
Jane Grendon keeping an eye on the children watching ‘Swallows & Amazons’ being filmed on Coniston Water in 1973 – seen here opposite Peel Island

Jane said that before filming began,

‘…one of the very first things we were asked was, ‘can Sten swim?”

‘I know he could doggy paddle. Neville organised swimming lessons at Pitville Pool, Cheltenham which included jumping off the diving boards.  At the time I didn’t know why and I don’t think Sten is a natural in the water and the swimming lessons didn’t prove very successful.  Claude told me – at the end of filming I think, when he gave me a copy of he original script – these lessons were because in the original script Roger was to jump in the water after Uncle Jim walked the plank.’

Jane sent me a copy of the page in question. I had not seen it before:

A page of David Wood's original screenplay: 'Swallow & Amazons' (1974)
A page of David Wood’s original screenplay: ‘Swallow & Amazons’ (1974)

‘There are some personal memories.  An aunt gave  me the book for my birthday and I tried reading it but I hated all the technical boating details and I thought the children rather priggish so I didn’t enjoy it one bit and so was rather downhearted for Sten to be part of a story I hadn’t liked.’

Jane and her husband lived deep in the Cotswold countryside, at the rural Whiteway community, near Stroud in Gloucestershire. As I recollect, they had both qualified as teachers.

‘At the time of casting and during all the arrangements we had no phone at home and had to rely on a neighbour and the production team used to hold on while Ros came and fetched me!  They must have really been fed up as it must have taken 10 minutes or so sometimes for me to get to the phone!’

Jane hadn’t imagined that she would end up in costume herself, if only for a day. She looked wonderful.

Jane Grendon and the bus
Jane Grendon in 1929 costume whilst filming the Rio scenes for ‘Swallows & Amazons’ at Bowness-on-Windermer in 1973

‘…. so there I was – a naïve, country girl flung into this alien world of a film unit.  I was like a fish out of water!  But I think it came out in your account that I related to you children better than I did to the adults around.’

Jane’s husband Michael was able to bring Sten’s sister, their little daughter Jo, up to watch the filming over half-term.

Jane Grendon with Martin Neville
Jane Grendon with Martin Neville, taking part in a Weetabix commercial shot on location near Bisley in the Cotswolds in 1973

That summer Jane appeared in costume once more when Claude Whatham asked if Sten Grendon could also appear in a commercial he was directing for Weetabix, back in Gloucestershire at harvest time. This time she found herself on location not far from her own home and was always smiling.

Jane still lives the same house. Her husband Michael has retired from teaching and they have just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Sophie Neville with Jane Grendon in 1973
Sophie Neville with Jane Grendon, filming at Runnymede in September 1973

Stories from one of the unit drivers on ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) ~ part two

Chris Stott - unit driver on S&A

~ David Stott aged 19, far right ~

David Stott has emailed me, sending a photo of himself with his friends in the summer of 1973:

‘It was taken at college just before l started work on Swallows and Amazons… I am the one on the right with the yellow sweater. Love the hairstyles.  Fashion-wise it was the era of Crimplene, as evident in my friend Pauline’s dress.  I remember I wore a brown Crimplene jacket when I was driving the unit car.’

For the last twenty-six years David has been the resident proprietor at the Crossways Hotel near Willmington, a beautiful Georgian restaurant with rooms in East Sussex near Glynebourne, which makes the perfect place to stay if you are lucky enough to get tickets for the opera.

David recently added more tales of impro-parrot-y to the comments:

‘I also remember the incident when Ronnie Fraser sang “Drunken Sailor”. I delivered him back to location from a very drunken session at The Lodore Swiss Hotel, dragging him from the bar. He was not a pretty sight. Was it that the same afternoon that he had to fall into the lake? My memory is a little sketchy, but l seem to remember he was pretty far gone on that occasion as well.’

Ronald Fraser as Captain Flint in 'Swallows & Amazons' (1974)
Ronald Fraser as Captain Flint in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

‘My neighbour Mrs. Dora Capstick was employed to show Captain Flint how to play the accordion. Of course I think the music was dubbed at a later date.’  I can only suppose that she taught him how to play the sea shanty, What shall we do with the drunken sailor? since that is what he was playing in the shot at the end of the film.

‘I had forgotten the name of the parrot lady, Mrs. Proctor, she lived in a cottage in one of the old yards in Kendal. I was scared to death of Beauty and I don’t know how you could bear to have him on your shoulder.

‘I vaguely remember your mother and I was friendly with Jean McGill the unit nurse who was another local Ambleside Girl.’

Jean our driver and unit nurse operating the radio with Sophie Neville ~ photo:Martin Neville
Jean McGill our unit nurse operating the radio with Sophie Neville ~ photo:Martin Neville

‘I was friendly with some of the production assistants but cannot remember their names.  Quiet a few hours were spent on the double-decker buses that were used on location.

‘Another memory I have is having to wait for the London train to collect the rushes then get them back to the Kirkstone Foot Hotel for an evening screening and felt very privileged when l was allowed to stay and watch them.’

Graham Ford giving Mick a cake
Outside the double-decker bus: Production Manager Graham Ford giving scenic painter Mick Guyett a Birthday cake just before filming ended in July 1973. Who else is in the photo?

Does anyone else remember helping to make the movie Swallows & Amazons, or coming to watch the filming in 1973? Please do add your memories in the comments box below.

Outside the red double-decker dining bus at tea time. Kit Seymour and Suzanna Hamilton can be spotted.
Outside the red double-decker dining bus at tea time. Kit Seymour and Suzanna Hamilton can be spotted along with Mick and various film unit drivers

A unit driver on the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ has written in with his memories of 1973

View from Bank Ground 2
A comment from someone who worked on the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973 ~
l had just finished my three years at college and was at a loose end before l started my working life. I was living in Ambleside at the heart of the English Lake District where Arthur Ransome’s children’s story “Swallows and Amazons” was being filmed at the time. I landed myself a job working for the film unit. I was full of my own importance as l was driving the stars and director of the film.
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Virginia McKenna playing Mrs Walker
Virginia McKenna playing Mrs Walker at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water

The stars were Virginia McKenna of “Born Free” fame and Ronald Fraser. I was reminded of this period of my life when l read the headline ‘X-RATED antics of Swallows and Amazons’ in The Times. The title related to the release of an e-book by Sophie Neville one of the child actors in the film. Sophie was 12 at the time and I was 19.

Sophie recalls how Ronnie (Ronald Fraser) was always drunk. Well this is not strictly true. In the morning Ronnie was reasonably sober and for this reason the director Claude Whatham would try and get most of the shooting with Ronnie in the can before the lunch hour came around when I would be summoned to take him to the nearest hostelry. Ronnie would then order his own concoction “The Fraser’. I cannot for the life of me remember what it consisted of, but believe you me these disappeared at a rapid rate of knots down Captain Flint’s (his character’s) throat. By the time the liquid lunch came to an end l would have to bundle him into the back of the car and deposit him back on set, much to the dismay of the producer Richard Pilbrow and the director Claude Whatham. Afternoon shooting was often a disaster when Ronnie was involved and I’m sure he frightened the children from time to time.

Well if the children were sometimes scared by Uncle Jim, as Captain Flint is known, then l was scared of the parrot that Uncle Jim had on his boat. The first day that I had to collect the parrot the old lady who owned him travelled with him to the location on Derwent Water. However she soon became bored with all the hanging around and after that she entrusted me with the parrot. Now birds are not really my thing and I really did not like handling him. He would travel to the location in an old shopping bag with a zipper, where l would hand him over and he would be placed in his cage. This was all well and good, then came the day that was so wet they did not use him, but instead he stayed in the production office at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel where the crew were hanging out. I was told he was in the bathroom, l expected him to be in his travel bag, but no he was sat on the edge of the bathtub looking at me. By this time he hated being put in the bag it took me all my time with a towel to catch him, finally after being scratched and bitten I got him home to his Mum.

The hardest thing to stomach was the fact that the parrot was paid more per day than l was.

David Stott

One of the daily unit call sheets issued on 'Swallows & Amazons' (1974)
One of the daily unit call sheets issued on ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

I replied:

Thank you so much for writing in, David. Your story about the green parrot had me roaring with laughter. I am told that he was a male parrot called Beauty, who belonged to Mrs Proctor of Kendal. Her grand-daughter rang in when I was interviewed on Radio Cumbria recently. She told me that her gran, old Mrs Proctor could do anything with him, and was well know for walking around Kendal with him sitting on her arm.  I don’t think anyone else dared get close. Since I played the part of Titty, I had to have him sitting on my shoulder in the cabin of the houseboat, while delivering the most important lines in the film. We were then meant to leap about singing, What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? This was a bit ironic since Ronnie was half-plastered by then. He was pretty permanently pickled. In the penultimate shot of the film, while pretending to play the accordion, he was still drunk from the Wrap Party 36 hours before. The parrot was not invited to the party but did receive a fee of £25 for appearing in the film. His owner used this to buy him a bigger cage.

Daily Express Article

I don’t know who thought up the ‘X-rated’ headline at the Times (which was absurd) but a reporter from the Daily Express provided the receipt for ‘The Fraser’ in 1973 – I have the clipping (above). Geoffrey Mather wrote: ‘A Fraser is a drink of his own invention. It consists of a large vodka with a kiss of lime and a ton of ice, topped up with soda in a large glass’. We all bought the copies of the newspaper in Ambleside. My mother was horrified as instead of being a story about making the film it was a half-page article about Ronnie’s antics in the bar of the Kirkstone Foot Hotel on Windermere.

Daily Express Article page two
Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Lesley Bennett, Simon West, Sten Grendon and Kit Seymour with Ronald Fraser. Who is operating the boat?

 

‘Don’t all child actors get into drink and drugs?’

Outside the ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue at the premier of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1974.  The nuns were amused to find ‘The Exorcist’ was on at the same time.

An editor at the Sunday Telegraph magazine asked me recently,

‘Don’t all child actors get into drink and drugs?’

Not I, said the fly. I’m afraid I was far too Swallows and Amazons-ish and sensible. And I lived deep in the countryside, out of the reach of dealers  looking for kids with a little bit of money.

Sophie Neville in Secret Harbour2
Simon West working with Claude Whatham in 1973

Simon West told me that spent the money he earned from appearing in films and television on sailing dinghies. It was a good investment. At the age of about fifteen he won the British Championships in what must have been the new fibreglass model of Optimist. Until that time they had been constructed of plywood.

Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West sailing Swallow on Derwentwater
Suzanna Hamilton looking at her scar while sailing Swallow with Simon West

I remember that Suzanna Hamilton spent the extra cash she was given from being brave about swimming in Coniston Water on a Swiss Army penknife.  I had never seen one before.  She cut her finger so badly making arrows from hazel saplings with the Property Master that the director banned her from using it. I was rather envious of her scar.

Suzanna wrote to tell me:

‘I wasn’t allowed to spend much of my money until I bought an extremely good oboe. A few pounds (were spent) on some budgies (one lovely male named Ransome and one named Rio – a flighty female).  She was a bad influence and they both flew out the window in the end. Ransome used to sit on my head very happily when I only had him.’
Stephen Grendon playing Roger
Sten Grendon aged eight, as Roger Walker

We really didn’t earn that much back in 1973, but all children dream of what they could did if they had a little bit of cash. Sten Grendon told me that he spent some of his first BBC fee on a bike. All he wanted to do with his earning from appearing in Swallows & Amazons was to buy the biggest Lego set in the world. His father found one for £20 and put the rest into a savings account.

Any money I made from being in films was immediately locked up in Barclay’s Unicorn Unit Trusts. My riding teacher tried to persuade Mum to let me buy a decent horse I could use to compete with. A very beautiful Palamino was offered. This wasn’t a bad idea, as I would have gained skills and confidence, although I couldn’t see myself as a British Champion.

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‘The real Queen Bess didn’t grow up on Sydney Harbour’

Instead I eventually spent my savings on a ticket to Australia where I took a boat up Sydney Harbour and I learnt to dive on the Great Barrier Reef.

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Sophie Neville (right) diving off the east coast of Australia

I had just finished directing a drama-documentary that featured children at a west London school. Whilst we were busy filming in the art room a teacher rushed in to tell us not to let anyone go outside. Drug addicts had been mugging kids crossing the playing fields for their dinner money.  I was obliged to pay the eleven-year-olds who took the lead roles by sending their parents a decent set of professional photographs. Paying them in cash was too risky.

Sophie Neville directing a sequence with BBC cameraman Lorraine Smith
Sophie Neville directing a sequence with BBC cameraman Lorraine Smith

Unveiling a plaque to Arthur Ransome at Rugby School

Sophie Neville unveiling a plaque to commemorate Arthur Ransome at Rugby School
President-elect of The Arthur Ransome Society at Rugby School

I had always wondered what it would feel like to pull a cord that unveiled a commemorative plaque.  The truth is that it does not take long, but is jolly tricky for the press to photograph when the plaque is made of glass. For one moment, some thought that Arthur Ransome’s second name had been spelled incorrectly but Michell (with no T) had been a family friend.

Sophie Neville having unveiled the plaque to Arthur Ransome at Rugby School

The line-drawing is a copy of one of his illustrations from the first of his twelve well-loved ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books, which so influenced my life, encouraging me to read, draw, sail and explore wild places.

To read more about this and the speeches please click here

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Neville Chamberlain carved his name into the top of this table top

What had not occurred to me was just how many well known and inspirational people had either also been pupils at Rugby or taught there.  My own education was expanded as we were shown around the school.

Lewis Caroll
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson otherwise known as Lewis Carroll

We found Lewis Carroll’s plaque along with many others in the chapel ~

Lewis Carroll

Rupert Brooks, poet of the First World War who died in 1915 ~

Rupert Brooke

I think Arthur Ransome would have appreciated the simple line-drawing of Amazon, been pleased by the fact that he was referred to as a correspondent, rather than a journalist, and would be happy with the position. This is at the top of the stairs, directly opposite the Temple Reading Room, which I think you can see at the left of this photograph. I gather he didn’t like the rugger pitch much. It was on this field that they first picked up the ball and ran with it.

Rugby

To read the excellent article in the Rugby and Lutterworth Observer please click here.

Sophie Neville at Rugby School
Sophie Neville beneath the portrait of Dr Matthew Arnold at Rugby School