Monthly Archives: February 2016

Memories of making the original movie of ‘Swallows & Amazons’

The phone in my office rang at about 6.30pm.

“Is that my little Titty?” a voice asked.

“Well…”

“Do you know who I am?”

I had no idea.

“I haven’t seen you since 1973!”

“It’s Jean!” It was Jean McGill ringing from Bowness in Cumbria. She had been our driver and the unit nurse on the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ made in the Lake District from May to July 1973, released a year later in 1974.

Jean our driver and location nurse operating the radio with Sophie Neville ~ photo:Martin Neville

Jean McGill our unit driver and location nurse with Sophie Neville ~ photo:Martin Neville

“I’ve never seen the film,” Jean declared, “but I loved your book about making it.  It brought back such memories.”  I urged her to tell me more. “I remember when Suzanna Hamilton cut her hand whittling wood. It was bleeding like anything. I bandaged it up nicely but the director was horrified and made me take the dressing off again.”  I think this was when we were in the middle of filming on Peel Island. The accident put an end to our wood carving hobby, which was a shame. We’d been using a Swiss Army knife to make our own bows and arrows with Bob Hedges the prop man.

Ronnie Fraser and DoP Denis Lewiston with paper cups of champagne and the call sheet for the next day ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Ronnie Fraser outside the dining bus on location with a paper cup of champagne

” You children persuaded me to go out to dinner with Ronnie Fraser! Why I went, I haven’t the foggiest. He was a rough character – very coarse.” Ronald Fraser was the movie actor playing Captain Flint. “I used to have to drive him to the local hotel in the mornings and order champagne to sober him up.”

“How would champagne have helped to sober him?”

“I don’t know. He told me it would.”

“I think he’d been divorced for a while at the time.”

“I wouldn’t have married him in the first place,” Jean assured me.

Terry Smith and Jean McGill on Derwentwater

Terry Smith wearing the safety officer’s wetsuit with unit nurse and driver Jean McGill

Jean had been taken on as the unit nurse after the first nurse proved rather out of her depth. I thought she was a State Registered Nurse but she corrected me. She had 26 years experience in nursing becoming a hospital sister but was never an SRN. “I was a driver for Browns (of Ambleside)” and as such was paid to work on the film. “I wasn’t paid to be the unit nurse. It didn’t matter, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

I only found out recently that my mother hadn’t been paid to be a chaperone either, despite the responsibility as well as her legal obligations. It was hardly a big budget movie. Like Jean, she was simply thanked with a bouquet of flowers at the end of the filming.

Jean was one of the few local people who worked on the film throughout the seven weeks we were on location. Her local knowledge made all the difference as she knew the roads well, took short cuts to avoid the traffic and knew the best swimming spots when the weather warmed up.

A Day Off in Blackpool

Suzanna Hamliton, Simon West, Claude Whatham Sophie Neville, Kit Seymour, Jean McGill with Daphne Neville (kneeling) Blackpool, 1973

I reminded Jean about the early 1970s – what we ate and how we dressed.  ” I bought a pair of jeans for the first time in my life. It was so hot that I changed into shorts while we were on set. You children took the jeans and stitched a big red heart on the backside.” There was a craze for adding embroidered patches to denim clothing. These were expensive to buy but we persuaded to Sten Grendon’s mother to make red hearts for everyone’s jeans. “It made walking through Ambleside very embarrassing.” Jean sounded as if she was still recovering from the indignity 43 years later. “It mucked me up!”

Jean went on to drive for Mountain Goat Tours in Cumbria and worked in a doctor’s surgery before becoming a registrar for ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’. “I’m a coffin-kicker now,” Jean told me cheerfully. She never worked on another film but kept a copy of the original screenplay and other memorabilia.

Not long after I spoke to her a brown paper package arrived in the post.  It contained an envelope with the writing,

FOR THE ATTENTION OF TITTY

‘Still looking for the photographs. Will send to you when I find them. 43 years old?  It was this tatty when I got same! Jean.’

And this is what the envelope contained:

Original Screenplay of Swallows & Amazons page 1

Here is Jean in her red top talking to my mother in her Donny Osmond hat:

 

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Filed under 1973, Biography, British Film, Entertainment news, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, titty, truelife story, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

Notes for the second edition of ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’

Since Classic TV Press published ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ in 2014, a number of facts have floated to the surface. The most amazing recollection was one that occurred to my mother.

‘The letter inviting you to come for an interview for a part in the film was addressed to your father. He was working abroad when it arrived. I never, ever opened his mail but something urged me to open that one envelope. It was a good thing I did as he was away for three weeks and we would have missed the opportunity altogether.’  She was amazed by the contents and replied at once, sending a photograph to Theatre Projects. I think it was this rather miserable one of me wearing a Laura Ashley dress.

Sophie Neville  wearing Laura Ashley in 1972

Sophie Neville in 1972

A date was made to meet the director. I now remember that I was taken up to Long Acre in the West End to meet Claude Whatham very soon after Dad arrived back from his business trip. We walked through Soho and visited a Chinese grocery store on the way home.

 

Daphne Neville presenting 'Women Only'1

Daphne Neville on HTV in 1973

‘I was never paid to work on the set as chaperone,’ Mum told me. ‘Neither was Jane. We were just happy that our expenses were covered but it ended up costing me quite a bit as I had to travel back to Bristol to work now and again.’ She was working for HTV as a television presenter alongside Jan Leeming, who is currently appearing on ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’. For the photo of them both on an HTV West show, please click here

Jean McGill said she didn’t get paid for acting as the Unit Nurse, as far as she could remember, ‘But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.’

Nurse with Baby Vicky, the ship's baby

Kerry Darbishire playing Nurse

The most exciting thing was meeting Kerry Darbyshire, who played Vicky’s nurse, at Zeffirelli’s cinema in Ambleside for the 40th Anniversary screening of the film. I learnt to my horror that I had mis-spelt her name in the credits I gave the actors. All I had to go on was her signature in the back of my copy of the hardback book of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ where I’d collected autographs.

Signatures of the rest of the cast and crew of 'Swallows and Amazons' in the back of my Jonathan Cape edition of Arthur Ransome's book

Kerry Darbishire’s signature

Kerry laughed, telling me, ‘I should have had more legible handwriting.’ She  appeared in the film quite a bit. ‘It was a pity I wasn’t able to bring my own child. She was the exact same age and colouring as the little girl they found to play baby Vicky.’ Kerry was with us in the compartment of the train on day one of the shoot. ‘I found it very difficult to laugh with you when the train went into the tunnel.’ I couldn’t think what she meant at first but it was the laughter that followed Virginia McKenna’s line: ‘He’d say, “Just look at that scenery”.’ at the moment the train goes into a dark tunnel. ‘You children found it no problem at all, but I couldn’t laugh. I was too shy.’ Zeffirelli’s are next screening ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) at 7.30pm on 2nd March.

I never knew the name of the snake wrangler – who brought the charcoal burners’ adder along, but Ken Foster wrote in recently to say it was his father, John Foster whose family farmed near Satterthwaite. He was once employed as an assistant at the fresh-water biology research establishment at Windermere and became a biological specimen supplier. You can read more about his unusual occupation here

To read more about the day the adder arrived on location, please click here.

Charcoal Burners' Adder

John Foster & the charcoal burners’ adder

Simon West, who played Captain John, remembered that Claude Whatham often used to take us for a quick run before going for a take. It freshened us up and was appropriate when we had to run into shot, slightly out of breath.

One little girl wrote to tell me how she pulls her dress over her knees just as I did when I played Titty, as I got rather cold in a scene when were were first sailing Swallow to the island.

Sophie Neville with Terry Needham and the unit radio at Derwentwater ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Sophie Neville with Terry Needham

George Marshall, the veteran film accountant, assured me we had a very talented film crew. Mark Birmingham, a film producer currently working on the bio-pic of Noel Coward, knew quite a few of the individuals working on ‘Swallows & Amazons’ and told me of the amazing careers they went on to lead. ‘Your Best Boy, Denis Carrigan, went on to run Sherperton Studios.’ Denis worked closely with Ridley Scott who made many great films there. ‘Sadly one of the other electricians died when he grabbed a live cable.’

Other people have written with interesting stories relating to the film locations.

Swallows & Amazons filmography - ebook_html_m52e3dc61

‘The shop in Woodland Road was my grandfather Tom Kirkbride’s cobblers shop from 1930s to 1956,’ Brian Salisbury wrote. ‘After he retired, the wooden building became Stan Cropper’s sweet shop doing a roaring trade with the boys at St Mary’s Boys School just along the road and the newly built Droomer Estate.’  This was the shop where we bought rope for the Light House Tree that is now a barber’s in Windermere. To read more about this location and others in Windermere, please click here

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Daphne Neville, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West after the last shot was taken.

Daphne Neville, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Autobiography, Biography, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, e-publication, Emi film, Entertainment news, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Film production, filmography, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, titty, truelife story, Uncategorized, Vintage Film, Zanna Hamilton