From ‘Swallows & Amazons’ to ‘The Invisible Woman’

Daphne Neville in about 1973
Daphne Neville in about 1973

My mother, Daphne, started working as a television presenter for Harlech Television in Cardiff.  By 1973 Mum was working at the HTV studios in Bristol two days a week, presenting an afternoon programme called Women Only with Jan Leeming, and doing a bit of radio work for the BBC. Occasionally she appeared on other shows.

Mum appearing as a member of the Salvation Army on 'The Dick Emery Show'
Mum appearing as a member of the Salvation Army on ‘The Dick Emery Show’

While my father’s life was influenced by Arthur Ransome, my mother drew inspiration from the author Noel Streatfield and her novel Ballet Shoes, the story of three little girls who went on the stage. Before her own three daughters were old enough to read she was dreaming dreams. Since she worked at the HTV studios in Bristol, it was natural enough for us to take part in their drama productions that were being made locally.

Daphne Neville in 'Arthur of the Britons' HTV
Daphne Neville appearing with Tamzin Neville and Shaun Dromgoole in the HTV drama ‘Arthur of the Britons’ in 1972. I am not sure who the bearded man is.

When I was offered the part of Titty in Swallows & Amazons, Mum somehow managed to take enough leave to come up to the Lake District and work on the film as a chaperone, although she had to return to Bristol for two HTV commitments. She missed some of the best scenes, and some of our worst moments.

‘You owed your life to Simon West, of course.’

‘Did I?’

‘Oh, yes. Simon was such a good sailor. He was totally reliable.’ She was thinking of the scene when Swallow was meant to narrowly avoid colliding with the Windermere steamer, the Tern, when we only just avoided a terrible accident.

‘You would have gone under the Tern if Simon hadn’t been so calm and controlled. He would never have got into the situation himself, he would have gone about much sooner but was waiting for Claude to give him the cue over the Motorola radio. Claude was too late. He had no idea about boats.’

My mother returned from working in Bristol to find my father, Martin, was not happy about how things were being handled when we were on the water. They stayed up, talking all night, making what must have been one of the first ever risk assessments.

‘Quite a few things changed after that.’ You can tell from studying old call sheets.

‘The ridiculous thing was having to strap the kids into life jackets to go to Peel Island, which was not risky at all. Martin and I then discovered they were BOAC rejects.’

newspaper cutting of cast in life jackets
Lesley Bennett, Simon West, Kit Seymour, Sophie Neville, Sten Grendon and Suzanna Hamilton on Coniston Water 1973

Simon told me that he really couldn’t remember much about being in Swallows & Amazons. Looking back on it all, he reckoned that if I had talked through each day with Mum it would have reinforced memories. My diaries, which were certainly more detailed than those kept by the other Swallows, were supplemented by Mum’s photos, taken on a daily basis and looked at repeatedly. You have seen them all. They have that early Seventies tint to them.

Daphne Neville in 'Diagnosis Murder'
Daphne Neville in the 1975 film ‘Diagnosis Murder’ with Christopher Lee

Meanwhile my mother’s own memories are coloured by how things have changed over the last forty years, the other films she has been in the actors she has met.

‘Ronnie Fraser was perfectly nice. He was treated like a star and kept very much apart from us. He behaved like a star. Now stars have PAs, but he didn’t!’

Mum went on to appear in all sorts of movies. If you don’t blink, you can see her as a Victorian Lady in The Invisible Woman  – Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Charles Dickens, soon to be released in cinemas.

For more photos of Daphne Neville in character roles, please click here

Daphne Neville in 'The Invisible Woman'
Daphne Neville in costume for ‘The Invisible Woman’ 2013

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

10 thoughts on “From ‘Swallows & Amazons’ to ‘The Invisible Woman’”

  1. Now that I think of it, I’ve probably seen alot of Daphne Neville’s work these many years. A quick look at IMDb confirms that. Just imagine – she was the mother in The Phoenix and the Carpet! I have every intention of seeing The Invisible Woman as soon as it comes my way! Nice comment too on Simon West’s sailing abilities. He did make it look easy on screen!

    1. I could write a bit about ‘The Pheonix and the Carpet’ in the next post. I gather Arthur Ransome admired E Nesbit and was inspired by her work. I loved hearing this as the film of S&A was really made with ‘Railway Children’ money, on the back of its box-office success. S&A was of course alter distributed on a VHS with ‘The Railway Children’.

      Let me know if you have any questions for Mum. I could get her to come and talk to TARS one day, if appropriate.

      1. I will definitely take a look (or a 2nd look) at some of the items in your mother’s credits. I’m intrigued by the shot of her in a nun’s habit to say the least! And it would be great to read your take on E. Nesbit, The Phoenix & Carpet, the Railway Children connection, etc. And while you’re at it, please start jotting down any recollections you have of working on My Family and Other Animals, a favourite of mine!

        1. OK – I’ll post the connection next. Not what you might think.

          I certainly have lots of photos of filming ‘My Family and Other Animals’ with Brian blessed and Hannah Gordon in 1987. It is more difficult to write about as they remade it, but the amazing thing was that Gerald Durrell was able to come out when we were on Corfu. I’ll see what I can do in due course. Please let me know if you have any questions about it.

  2. I remember The Phoenix and the Carpet but had completely forgotten your mother was ‘The Mother’ in it. I shall look for ‘The Invisible Woman’.

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