More memories of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973 from David Stott

David Stott, the Ambleside lad who worked as a unit driver on the film of  Swallows & Amazons in 1973 after he left college at the age of 19, has written from America:

‘I really enjoyed reliving Swallows & Amazons through your book.’

‘Oh my, what a trip down memory lane it was for me – so much that l had forgotten was rekindled. I cannot believe that it was forty years ago.

‘I think that I started work mid-June, which would fit in with finishing college. From your daily schedule it was when you went back to Coniston with Virginia McKenna on her second visit.’

Map showing film locations around Coniston Water
Map showing film locations around Coniston Water

David remembers the problem of being locked out of Bank Ground Farm by Mrs. Batty.  ‘I really could not blame her as the whole place had been turned into a circus and her house ripped apart.’

‘The first morning I met Richard Pilbrow was in his bedroom for some strange reason and remember thinking, ‘What a total mess. How can anybody live like this?’

‘My main contacts were Neville Thompson (the On-line Producer) and Graham Ford (the Production Manager). They were all based at Kirkstone Foot Hotel that was owned by friends of my parents, Simon and Jane Bateman.  Others stayed at the Waterhead Hotel down by the lake, where I would pick them up and take them to the location.

‘On arrival at the location I remember well the catering van and the breakfast that awaited us.  Having just competed three years studying hotel management at college I was amazed how two people with very limited equipment could produce the number of meals they did.  The washing up was done on a trestle table outside the van with bowls of water carried to location in large milk churns.

Map of film locations on Derwentwater in the Lake District
~ Map of film locations on Derwentwater in the Lake District ~

‘I did not have much contact with you and the other children, as you were under the watchful eye of your Mum and Jean McGill. Jean’s Mum was called Girly McGill and used to run a nursing home in Ambleside. As a child I used to deliver eggs to the home with my Dad.  Jean had a brother who I think everybody called Blondie.

‘Sten was a bit of a handful at times and held up shooting on a number of occasions while he was calmed down. I rather envied Simon West; I wished I had the chance he did to act in a film. To this day I’m a frustrated actor.

‘Dennis Lewiston (the Director of Photography) always seemed to be holding a light meter in the air or perhaps he was warding off the clouds.  I found him a little unapproachable.

‘My recollection of Sue Merry the continuity girl was setting up her folding table and tapping away on a portable typewriter.

‘Ronnie Cogan the hairdresser and I spent hours chatting. Once the shooting started, we had nothing else to do. He was such a nice man.

Map showing some of the film locations around Windermere
Map showing some of the film locations around Windermere

‘I was thrilled when I met Virginia McKenna and had to drive her around. One day I had to drive her to Grange railway station. I was so fascinated by her tales of working with lions in Born Free that I drove slowly to maximise her story-telling time. We almost missed the train and had to run from the car park.

‘One of the wettest days I remember is when the scene of Octopus Lagoon was filmed above Skelwith Fold Caravan Site. I don’t remember the support buses being around that day, but I do remember having to sit in the car for hours on end. Maybe the buses were somewhere else.

‘I know I was invited to the wrap party but cannot remember a thing about it.’

You can read more about the adventures had making Swallows and Amazons here

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

16 thoughts on “More memories of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973 from David Stott”

  1. What a fantastic site this is, Sophie, with such a wealth of information on the making of the film. It’s a real labour of love and it’s obvious that you are heart and soul in it. I never find it less than very interesting. Here is something just as unusual and interesting. A seller on eBay is selling an original 35mm five reel Technicolor cinema print of “Swallows and Amazons”. I’ve never seen it on eBay before, although I did buy the original 35mm three minute Technicolor sound trailer on there some years ago in excellent condition for only a tenner. This print of the complete film is also in excellent condition and is a real collectors item. Where he got it from is anybody’s guess. A bit too expensive for me, and you would need a 35mm sound projector to show it on. But it would be ideal for some Arthur Ransome or Swallows and Amazons type society to buy and to put on a real film show with, perhaps to raise funds or money for a charity, if they could find a cinema to show it that hadn’t already gone digital. Here below is the link to it. Have a look and see what you think about it.

    1. Dear David,

      I am so glad you are enjoying this site. It is really good of you to take the time to send feedback.

      I thought it would be interesting to include these memories of David Stott’s since he was a local Lakeland lad. Sadly he has no photographs, but Jane Grendon is busy looking for hers.

      I did see the 35mm film available on eBay, but didn’t make a bid. Interestingly they set it at the same price that it would have cost in 1974. My father was tempted to buy a copy, but it was just too terribly expensive. We had no idea then that VHS or DVDs would become widely available. I am sure that watching the real film in a cinema would be far better than the digital version.

      1. Yes, film will always beat digital. I’ve heard horror stories from all over the country about poorly presented digital films…wrong aspect ratio and so on…but many cinemas didn’t want to go digital, apart from the expense of installing the new digital projectors, which I’ve been told cost over £70,000. However, as from December last year, the distributors stopped sending out 35mm film prints, so for the cinemas, it was then digital or nothing.

        I saw my first digital presentation of a feature film last September when I was invited by Bobby Henrey to the Regal, Tenbury Wells, to attend the launch of his autobiography and a special digital screening of his classic 1948 film “The Fallen Idol” and a right mess they made of the screening, in front of Bobby himself, who had come all the way over from Greenwich, Connecticut, for the occasion. Although the picture and sound were clear enough, the 4 x 3 image was wrongly stretched out to 6 x 3, making everyone look broad and fat. It looked awful and I complained at the time and tried to get them to adjust the picture, but they didn’t seem to know what to do. They later told me that the DVD was received that way and that was the way they showed it.

        I later learned that the real reason was because the default setting on modern digital projectors is 1.75:1 and 2.35:1 wide screen and they are not set up to show the old 1.33:1 or 4 x 3 ratio films. So if you show an old 4 x 3 film on them such as “The Fallen Idol” or “Swallows and Amazons”, it will be automatically stretched out in wide screen, distorting the image. An experienced service engineer could be brought in to take the projector to pieces and adjust it to play 4 x 3, but it would be too much trouble to do that if the film was only going to be shown once. Besides, I reckon that if they’re only going to show DVDs in cinemas from now on, well, I can stay home and watch a DVD. If you click on the link below and scroll down the page, you will see an image of how “The Fallen Idol” was shown at the Regal.

        1. Sadly that is what happened when Swallows & amazons was screened last March in Greenwich.

          If you watch it on a domestic screen I find the DVD distributed by the Daily Mail is good quality. You can buy them cheaply on eBay.

          1. Terrible, Sophie. But I’m not surprised. Thankfully, I bought my DVD of “Swallows and Amazons” some years ago now, and it always gets shown properly on my equipment, you can bank on that. Actually, I bought it twice. The first one issued by Optimum Releasing was a beautifully clear transfer from a pristine print, but for some reason, the “Swallows and Amazons Forever” logo and all the cast and credits were missing off the end. It took Optimum a while to release a complete version, but they did in the end and I bought that version, too.

            1. I feel that Optimum Releasing should allow customers to swap their copies with the missing credits for the real deal. Musically it is the best bit of the film.

              I love the end shot that they role the credits over. It was actually borrowed from an earlier scene when the Amazons sail off up the lake to escape Uncle Jim’s fury over the firework – after the Swallows first spot them. The Swallows give chase and end up in Rio. You can tell by the costumes we are wearing. Peggy’s shirt changes colour and I am suddenly back in the grey cardigan and spotty dress. You could call it an error in continuity. The reality was that Claude wanted to end with an ariel shot of us sailing away from the houseboat but never got the weather for it. I’m so glad. It would have not been in keeping with the rest of the film.

              1. I don’t know if they’d accept a return at this late date, Sophie. I bought the creditless version in December, 2006, and the revised version in July, 2011. I think I’ll keep both in my collection, as you never know, the first version might become a collector’s item and certainly can be kept as a version where we can see you all sailing away at the end without the credits over the top of you. Very interesting information about the filming of that end scene. I wish your book was available as a traditional printed book, because I don’t have one of those Kindle devices. Odd, though, I feel sure I saw a photo on here of a pile of the books on a table somewhere.

      2. It’s some time since I watched the ending of the version with no credits on, Sophie. But I’ll take a look at it tomorrow and report back. No, I don’t have an I-pad or a mobile phone or anything like that, as I’ve never had any need for one. I wonder if Jerry Johns at the Polperro Heritage Press in Worcester would be interested in publishing your book in physical form. He did such a marvelous job with Bobby Henrey’s book, it’s worth a try. There would be plenty of time to publish it as a hardcopy book before the April deadline. You can find his email address by Googling Polperro Heritage Press. Your book and Bobby’s book is the kind of thing they publish.

      3. Hi, Sophie,
        I’ve just taken a look at the ending on the earlier DVD without the credits on and Amazon sails past the camera first, followed some distance behind by Swallow.

  2. Does it have the shot of Swallow sailing after Amazon? Without the credits on? I might have to borrow it one day for legal reasons!

    Do you have an IPad or similar device? If so, you can upload a free Kindle reading app. I provide the official link on my website.

    The good thing about the Kindle version of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ is that most of the photos are in colour and you can play the home-movie clips – when you have internet access.

    However, I do have a few proof copies of the print version with b/w photos. It would be wonderful to be able launch this on 4th April, the 40th anniversary of the premier. In the meantime I am sending out copies to those keen to write book reviews.

  3. I have just watched the film for the first time in many years and spotted a small error in continuity. When John sets off for Dixons’ Farm he has the milk can complete with lid, but when he is walking/running up the field to the farm the lid id missing.

  4. What a fascinating time David Stott had! I love all these extra bits of reminiscences. Please keep them coming, Sophie.

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