Claude Whatham, the film director whose work never dated

Claude and Virginia at the railway station

Claude Whatham & Virginia McKenna

I had no idea how prolific Claude Whatham was until I read his obituary. But can the facts in this be correct? It states that he had been commissioned to paint murals by the young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret in their rooms at Windsor Castle in 1940 after their pictures had been removed for safe-keeping during the Blitz. They couldn’t bear the idea of bare walls and asked if he could paint something cheerful. As Claude was  born in 1927 I thought he must have been to young but he was in his first year at art college. You can see images of the murals and read his own version of how this came to pass if you click here.

Claude Whatham at Egham

Claude Whatham in 1973

All I can tell you is that Claude Whatham simply had the self-confidence to succeed.  After working for a short time as a production designer he became a director at the age of about thirty – evolving his craft in the early years of television. Single minded and determined, yet usually coming across as relaxed, he moved into directing movies in 1972 with That’ll Be The Day starring David Essex, Ringo Starr and Robert Lindsay, followed by Swallows & Amazons in 1973 when he was forty-six.

I’d met him in 1971 when he directed the first BBC adaptation of Laurie Lee’s memoir, Cider with Rosie, for which he received a BAFTA nomination. It was made where the book is set at the village of Slad in the Cotswolds, about seven miles from where I grew up. Claude also had a cottage in the nearby hamlet of Camp,  near Bisley, also near Stroud in Gloucestershire.

Claude in my hat in Egham 1

Claude Whatham directing the title sequence of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on location in Surrey with Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and his camera crew

Claude loved taking his clothes off. It was almost indicative of his style. He wasn’t shy. If you look at what he was wearing you will see that his clothes were both on trend at the time and would still be fashionable today. He would wear Levi jeans, deck shoes or sailing boots and a Parka coat with a fur-lined hood in wet weather. As for headgear, I only ever saw him wearing other people’s hats.

Claude Whatham directing a commercial

Claude Whatham directing a TV commercial

Claude was always happy working outside. Problems did not seem to phase him. I worked with him on location in Gloucestershire, Surrey and Cumbria, visiting him on set in the Yorkshire Dales when he was filming the movie All Creatures Great and Small based on the life of the vet James Herriot, that starred Anthony Hopkins and Simon Ward. I was sorry when I heard that he gained a reputation at the BBC for being too detailed and pernickety in the studio. I expect it frustrated him.

Claude Whatham in 1973

Claude’s period films are marked by their enduring quality, they have not dated. I was glad to read that he had happy memories of filming Swallows & Amazons:

Claude Whatham profiled by Tom E Parkinson

Claude Whatham profiled by Tom E Parkinson in the Oldham Evening Chronicle 18th April 1974

For a full list of Claude’s film and television credits please click here

6 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

6 responses to “Claude Whatham, the film director whose work never dated

  1. Brian Crawley

    My wife recently found a jigsaw puzzle of a camping scene from the Swallows and Amazons film in our archive. We both very much enjoyed doing it in this dreadful weather we’ve been experiencing. I have a couple of photographs of it but don’t know how to attach them.

  2. Well done! You could send the photos on an attachment to my email: sophie@sophieneville.co.uk

  3. That’s a really good newspaper cutting.

  4. Robert M.

    I think I have a copy of Cider with Rosie somewhere. Long overdue to rewatch it and the efforts of the director and at least 2 actors from Swallows and Amazons before they were famous!

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