Behind-the-scenes in television and film

BW Filming on Peel Island

When I was a little girl, I was an avid viewer of Blue Peter, BBC Television’s flagship series for children. My favorite items would be profiles that were run from time to time about life behind the scenes at Television Centre. It was only later, whilst working for the BBC as a researcher, that I was told the terrible truth. The set designer Bruce Macadie said that such items were produced when the editor of Blue Peter was unexpectedly let down by a guest or couldn’t think of anything more newsworthy. I didn’t care a hoot. I was interested in how films were made from the age of about nine.

‘What a peculiar girl!’  I hear my friend Nac saying.

The reason was that I had rather a peculiar upbringing. I once described myself in an application for a job as a television director as a ‘Child of the studio floor’. The reason was that in 1969, when I was about eight years old, my mother became an in-vision announcer, reading the regional News and appearing on our crackly black and white set to brightly declare what would be shown that evening.  She worked at the Harlech Television Studios in Cardiff, alongside Martyn Lewis and Liz Carse. She would also descend in an oval wicker basket chair from which she would present a one-woman Children’s programme on called It’s Time For Me. This looked liked magic, and I wanted to know how it was achieved.

‘I was paid the same amount as a short-hand typist.’ The men were paid more than the women and her schedule was gruelling. On top of this she would drive 72 miles to the Cardiff studios in a rusty Mini van. Even though this was replaced she went part-time. Having become an expert on how long script bites took to read in different accents she would ‘whizz down to Bristol’ to read the letters on Any Answers for the producer Carol Stone.

‘But how did the basket come down?’

‘Oh, the rope was attached to a pulley on the studio lighting rig and  lowered  by three prop men.’

Daphne Neville making a radio commercial

My mother working in a radio studio in the 1970’s. Please not the producer’s cigarette and plastic cups.

I would often travel down with my mother to be shown around various studios. I remember sitting behind the Dalek-like cameras watching a live afternoon programme called Women Only being recorded at HTV Bristol. Mum presented it with Jan Leeming and a rotund TV cook called Tony. He had to wear a bright yellow chef’s hat and top so that they would come across as ‘chef’s whites’ rather than weirdo glowing garments on everyone’s black and white television sets. Mum spent ages looking for clothes to wear in vision as she was not allowed to wear either spots or stripes since they were liable to strobe. Dresses made from crimplene were all the rage but (luckily) she was banned from wearing this as TV screens would pick up on any static that it might exude. Sparkling garments were a no-no.

You wouldn’t think that Gloucestershire would be a hot spot for the film industry in the UK but in 1971 I was able to watch a film crew making a drama on location in Slad near Stroud, when I was chosen to play Eileen Brown in the BBC adaption of Laurie Lee’s memoir, Cider with Rosie directed by Claude Whatham. It had nothing to do with luck. I was the only little girl they could find with long hair who could play the piano.

Sophie Neville on the set of Cider with Rosie

Narrowly avoiding a collision with the BBC wardrobe mistress outside Slad village school where BBC TV were filming ‘Cider with Rosie’ in 1971. A tripod, camera cases and scenic props are stacked up by the blackout curtain.

In 1972 I was given a tiny non-speaking part of a ‘Woodchild’ in Arthur of the Britons that was made near Woodchester by HTV.  I had forgotten all about this until I saw a Youtube clip. I gather the serial has become cult viewing in the States.

Filming Arthur of the Britons

‘Arthur of the Britons’ being shot on two 16mm cameras at my parents’ farm in 1972

Around this time the BBC made an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, shot on location in Bath. We went down to be film extras in this and in a BBC drama called Song of Songs.

Sophie with the Panavision

Sophie Neville in 1973 with a 35mm Panavision camera

By the time I was cast as Titty in Swallows & Amazons I was relatively experienced. Later that summer I was in a Weetabix commercial and the next year I was invited to appear on a number of magazine programmes to publicise the movie. I remember being interviewed on Nationwide and profiled at home on Animal Magic.

Watching a television commercial being made in 1973

Watching a television commercial being made in 1973

Inevitably one thing leads to another and I was soon asked to audition for a number of subsequent films. Inflation was roaring at 17% in the mid-1970s and I don’t think any of these were ever made but it was good interview experience. I ended up at Shepperton Studios doing a screen test for a musical version of The Old Curiosity Shop. This was serious stuff, shot on a film stage in Victorian costume. My music teacher spent ages teaching me to sing All I Want is a Room Somewhere but despite endless discussions nothing more came of it. However looking around Shepperton had been amazing. At some stage I had also auditioned at Pinewood Studios. I had been shown around the set of the latest James Bond and even had a go on the swing featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Mum wouldn’t let me tell anyone at school about it, as I might had come across as swanky. But as film studios were not open to the public then it did add to my education.

Sophie and Vic Armstrong in Copter Kids

Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Sophie Neville, Sophie Ward, Vic Armstrong and Michael Balfour in ‘The Copter Kids’ – a movie for CFF shot on location in 1975

Although lanky, and focused on GCSEs, I managed to gain a leading role in an adventure film when I was fifteen. This proved interesting it involved working with stunt men including Vic Armstrong, who later became Harrison Ford’s double. We got to shoot from helicopters. At times the camera literally showed me shooting from a helicopter with a bow and arrow.

Sophie Neville in Crossroads for ATV

Playing Kevin’s sister, Glenda Brownlow’s bridesmaid, in a couple of episodes of ‘Crossroads’, the ATV soap opera that ran for 24 years

And then there was an opportunity to be in Crossroads. What an experience! I was various wedding scenes and the crowds who turned out to watch were unexpected. I was eighteen by then and did it purely for the money. I’ll see if I can find the article I wrote about it for my university magazine. Please let me know the name of the actor playing Kevin. I was meant to be his sister.

To see more about Mum’s career please see her website

8 Comments

Filed under 1973, 1983, Acting, Autobiography, Biography, Film, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Behind-the-scenes in television and film

  1. lys9417

    Thank you for this blog! It’s very enlightening and entertaining…
    Your family certainly appeared in lots of wonderful series and films and it’s such a pleasure to see your behind the scenes photographs! Thanks for sharing them!

    Sadly, “Swallows and Amazons” was never broadcast in France, but I enjoyed the DVDs very much, and your book is a great read!

    “Arthur of the Britons” has gathered a devoted fan following and is a “cult” series in Europe, too (UK, Germany, France, Italy etc…) Were you the “Perry Neville” credited for the “child” of the Wood People?

    • I am so glad to hear you have enjoyed the book about filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ back in 1973. Do please add a review to the Amazon site! It would be hugely appreciated. I don’t have a review from France yet.

      ‘Arthur of the Britons’ was a phenomenon. My sister Tamzin played a Saxon child called Elka in one episode, whilst my sister Perry Neville was rather good as a little Woodchild in another story. My mother appeared with her as a woodperson hidden under a woven hood. I had a non-speaking role, as a Celtic child in another scene. I came across it on You Tube but can’t find it now. The whole series was shot near us in 1972 with some scenes recorded on my parents’ land in rural Gloucestershire, away from the sound of traffic. We spent quite a bit of time on location with Dominic and Shaun Dromgoole who I gather are now in the theatre. It was their father Patrick Dromgoogle who I understand masterminded the series. He had an exceptionally nice wife who became great friends with my mother while we were all on set together. Watching the series now is intriguing as it had such a strong cast. It was ground-breaking at the time. We all thought it hugely romantic and were swept away by the legendary drama, galloping horses and all.

      • lys9417

        I posted a “5 stars” review of your book on Amazon.co.uk…
        Both your sisters were very good in their appearances.The family likeness is so strong I almost believed they were one and the same, till I perused the end credits! They are so very cute and so honest in their acting that they are a pleasure to watch…Elka is such a wonderful character…. and she brought out some hidden depths in Kai. The Saxon children episode is very important for our understanding of his character.
        Was Elka’s wooden doll that kept losing her head your sister’s, or was it a prop? It’s difficult to imagine Elka without it.
        Do your sisters and yourself remember much about filming the series? It is such a beloved series that I’m sure everybody would love to know more about your memories of the filming of the series… Do you remember it? You must have been quite young.
        The appeal of the storylines and the harmony of the cast has not diminished with the passage of time, and your family must be proud of their taking part in it…

        • Thank you very much!
          Have you seen my post about Tamzin’s career, which features a photograph of her with Oliver Tobias?
          https://sophieneville.net/2014/02/07/the-child-star-once-seen-as-the-little-girl-eating-an-ice-cream-in-swallows-amazons-1974/
          Elka’s doll was indeed a prop. I will ask my sisters for memories of filming the series and post up the photos on another blog if you like. There are quite a few old black and white ones. Do let me know the YouTube code ref if you can find the clip in which I appeared. We was aged 11 with longish fair hair, dressed in a simple hessian dress and running up a slope near the village with other children. I can’t remember the title of the episode. Our farm was used for the sequence when all the baddies rush down from the wood and sink in the bog.

          • Thank you for the link about Tamzin’s career. She seems to have had some fun with it! She was a natural! Her “feeding the squirrels” scene is truly funny.

            There are not a lot of episodes featuring girl children. I guess it’s ‘The Wood People’. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZbnZCPU6Ks

            There is a wide shot of all the Wood People in the first few seconds of the episode. One of the girls seems to have long fair hair, but her hood hides her face. There is a quick shot of her at 03:10, and there is a scene involving some of the children beginning at 03:26 till 04:32.
            Are you referring to the race the children enter into to win Arthur’s whistle?
            Perry’s big scene begins on 08:51.

            It must have been very exciting to watch and to be involved in film making on your home turf when you were still so young.
            Did you watch the series during the first 1970’s run? I bet you tried to recognise the locations… it must have been really amusing for your family.

            The episode when the Saxons’ attack is driven back into the bog happens to be the very first of the series: ‘Arthur Is Dead’ ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfIdRpS-0CY ) I suppose they shot scenes out of sequence, and many episodes at the same time.

            It would be really great if your sisters and you could share online some memories and B&W behind-the-scenes photos! There is so little available information about this series that it would be a much appreciated treat.
            THANK YOU so much!

            • Thanks so much for the links.

              I might have been involved in the race but you can see me quite clearly in the scene I am thinking about. I wasn’t wearing a hat. I had forgotten that I was in it so much!

              I’ll see what b/w photos I can find. they are not terribly good, but then they are a little slice of History. I worked with Jack Watson in 1983 and Brian Blessed in about 1987. He is still going strong.

              • lys9417

                Well, I’ll have to look harder, then… I’m not sure there are a lot of scenes with children in the series.
                Thanks for the photos… Many people would be very happy to see those!

                Will you be posting about your 1980’s work along Jack Watson and Brian Blessed?

              • I MIGHT HAVE BEEN A CHILD AT THE SAXON VILLAGE.

                YOU CAN SEE A FEW PICTURES OF ME AND BRIAN BLESSED ON MY CAREER PAGE. HE WAS ALWAYS KISSING US. I’ve WRITTEN MORE ABOUT JACK WATSON IN MY NEXT BOOK, WHICH WILL COME OUT SOON.

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