Questions I am asked about being in Swallows & Amazons

Sophie Neville - a portrait by Sylvain Guenot

I am always interested by the questions I am asked on the making the feature film of the 1974 film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’, in which I played the part of Titty  when I was twelve years old.

Did you have to wear make-up?

What did you do about school?

Did you still live in a tent?

These are some of the questions I’ve been asked recently by a journalist:

How different do you think your life would have been if you had not been in Swallows & Amazons?  I am not an actress but working on Swallows & Amazons, as well as a subsequent adventure movie called The Copter Kids, gave me enough experience to gain a graduate placement at the BBC and work behind the scenes on interesting television dramas including the adaptations of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, written of course by Arthur Ransome.  Funnily enough, it was only when I was producing a documentary in Cumbria that anyone recognised me as Titty.

How different do you think your life would have been without the publicity that the film has brought you? While publicity generated by the film did not count one jot amongst my peers in television production, it does help me as an author since fans of the film appreciate the books I’ve written and often invite me to give talks.

Sophie Neville

Do people expect you to be an expert on Arthur Ransome? Are you?  I’ve just been elected President of The Arthur Ransome Society, which is a great honour. Although I have read many biographies about Arthur Ransome and grew up reading his series of twelve Swallows and Amazons books, I only claim unique knowledge of the 1974 film and the BBC series ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, which I worked on as an adult over nine months in 1983.

There is huge interest in how these adaptations of the well-loved stories were made, especially since both are being restored and re-leased on DVD this summer. Being a landscape movie, Richard Pilbrow’s movie of Swallows & Amazons looks amazing on the big screen will be shown in cinemas from July in celebration of its 40th Anniversary.

Sophie Neville - a portrait by Sylvain Guenot - May 2014 JPG

Are you surprised that there’s still such an interest in the film?  The film of Swallows & Amazons has gained in popularity over the years. This seems unusual but parents, and now grandparents, want their children to see the same film they loved growing up. They trust it as a baby-sitting DVD.

I hope its popularity has kept Arthur Ransome on the shelves of bookshops as they are truly inspirational. Together, the film and books seem to have figure-headed a ‘Swallows and Amazons lifestyle’ advocated in magazines, along with camping and picnic food, themes for weddings, knit-wear and even cat-walk fashion. ‘Very Swallows and Amazons…’ is the often used phrase, alongside a black and white photograph of me as a little girl, heaving on an oar.

Tomboy style icons in the Telegraph Magazine

Telegraph Magazine

Are you surprised that you are still so involved in it?  I wasn’t much involved until we clubbed together to buy Swallow, the original dinghy used in the film. After displaying her glorious new coat of varnish at the London Boat Show in 2011 there has been an endless stream of requests to know more about how the film was made. Looking back through my diaries there were a surprising number of film-making secrets. I’ve only just remembered the funniest one.

Sophie Neville - a portrait by Sylvain Guenot taken 2014

What’s it like to be famous?  This is the most difficult question as I always dreaded becoming celebrity. We all loathed publicity as children and found projecting ourselves excruciating. I now wish that it had been explained to us that it was part of our work to sell the film as I could have understood the need for that. Instead I felt desperately self-conscious about appearing on television or radio,  especially as I wasn’t a glamorous actress and didn’t want to be one.  It’s my character that is well-known. Titty is loved worldwide. Forty years on, I am still receiving fan mail, more so than ever since the advent of social media. I have just received a sweet tweet saying:  hello titty :o) the family are enjoying the book, thank you. We have watched the film, conservative estimate, 20 times.

If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments blog below.

To read Sallie Eden’s review of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ please click here

Portrait photographs by Sylvain Guenot

from Country Life, July 6th 2010

from Country Life, July 6th 2010

 

4 Comments

Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cinema, Film, Film History, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Questions I am asked about being in Swallows & Amazons

  1. Richard Brittain

    I have a question for you: What other Swallows and Amazons books were your personal favourites, or would you have liked perhaps to make into a film ?
    I’m very fond of ‘Winter Holiday’ myself, although the lake freezing solid might be as unlikely to really happen as the endless British sunshine in the summer stories.

    • As a child my favourite was ‘Missee Lee’. I was interested in the cultural aspects and loved the way it brought out Nancy’s character. Wouldn’t it make a great film? Imagine sailing a junk! It might actually be easier to film than an adventure based in the English Lake District.

  2. Chris Clarke

    Sophie – were any of you allowed to keep props from the film set as a souvenir? For example, were the Amazons allowed to keep their red hats?

    • A number of red hats were made and I think the Amazons may have been able to keep one each. Their red hats were initially bright pink, but my mother was insistent they should be red and others were knitted locally. She tried to get ones made more like a finely knitted woolen hat of mine that would have been much more in keeping with the original sketch. However this picture was not known of back then and the Wardrobe Master, and possibly the director went with the design of the ones you see on the screen.

      I still have a bow, two arrows and flags used a rehearsal props. I was given one of the pink hats but I gave it away. I didn’t keep any of my costumes, but Caroline Downer who played Dorothea says that she still has the buttercup yellow dress she wore in either ‘Coot Club’ or ‘The Big Six’.

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