Meeting up with Mate Peggy from the 1974 movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – part three

Lesley Bennett as Peggy in 1974

~Lesley Bennett playing Mate Peggy in 1974 (copyright:StudioCanal)~

When I met up with Lesley Bennett in the Netherlands, she kindly allowed me to take copies of the snaps she took while filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) on location in the Lake District in the summer of 1973.

Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett in life jackets~Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett in 1973 (photo: Lesley Bennett)~

The shot above shows Lesley with Kit Seymour, who played her elder sister Nancy Blackett, wearing blue tracksuits and BOAC life-vests over their costumes. They were sitting on the east shore of Coniston Water waiting to cross over to Peel Island. Lesley is wearing Peggy Blackett’s distinctive red-stocking hat. We never saw the life-jackets inflated. The horrifying thing was that when my father tested one, it didn’t work.

Lesely Bennett's photo of the double decker buses at Bank Ground Farm in 1973~Old London Routemaster buses in 1973 (photo: Lesley Bennett)~

Throughout the seven weeks filming, we children were obliged to continue with our schooling. The law stipulated that we completed at least three hours of lessons a day. These were given to us by a local supply teacher, our tutor Margaret Causey, in the bottom of a converted Routemaster bus. We changed into our costumes on the top deck where there were six bunk beds. My mother made me take a rest after lunch. Lesley, who at thirteen, was a year older than me, was allowed out to play.

The other double-decker bus, seen here parked behind Mrs Lucy Batty’s barn at Bank Ground Farm near Coniston, had been fitted out with tables and was used as a dinning room where the film crew could shelter from the rain. They took their lunch on trays from the caterers’ van manned by chef John Englewood and his assistant Margaret Wells from Pinewood Studios. We only had a few scenes with a large number of film extras, but these were recorded on sunny days when nobody needed to eat in the buses.

Lesley's photo of Jane Grendon at Rio~Behind the scenes in Bowness in 1973 (photo: Lesley Bennett)~

Lesley managed to take this shot of our chaperone, Jane Grendon, dressed in 1929 costume. This was not only fun but enabled her to look after children taking part in the Rio scenes shot at Bowness-on-Windemere while appearing in vision herself.

IMG_4969~Bowness Bandstand in 1973 (photo: Lesley Bennett)~

The Price family ran Oaklands Guesthouse in Ambleside where Lesley and I stayed for the duration of the filming, along with the other children in the cast. Jane Price and her brothers can be seen here with the Kendal Borough Band playing beyond them wearing their own period uniforms. Mr David Watkin Price, who looked quite snazzy in his striped blazer, played the part of the native on the jetty who said, ‘That’s a nice little boat you’ve got there.’ If you do not remember this it’s because the scene was cut from the television version, although it remains in the 40th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray that is widely available. Sadly the bandstand no longer exists and has been replaced by a modern shelter.

Zena Ashberry also took part as a film extra in these scenes when she was a girl. Her maiden name was Khan and although she lived in Cumbria her father originated from the sub-continent. She wrote in saying:

I was nine at the time and my sister was eight. I remember going through an audition – which was really just a panel of three or four men looking at Mum, my sister and me to see if we would be in keeping with the ‘look’ of the film. They seemed very keen on having Mum. My sister, at the time had sandy coloured hair and so was not at all problematic, however I was very dark and because they wanted Mum they said that they could hide ‘it’ by putting me in a white dress and hat! how times have changed…obviously I remember other things too, like feeding the horses which pulled the open carriage and the horse standing on my foot oouuch!, the strange awkwardness of having to act ‘naturally’ whilst being watched through a camera, having to repeatedly carry out the same activity to ensure a good shot – how many times did we throw stones into the lake? The ice-cream tricycle with real ice cream mmmm a treat … being watched by crowds of tourists gathered along the footpath and flower beds. It was a strange and unreal experience, doing what as children we would normally do but doing it in ‘dressy-up’ clothes that weren’t from our own dressy -up box and playing the game with Mum and her friends with total strangers telling us what we should do…just a bit bewildering really, but funny in retrospect.

Zena Ashberry's photo of Rio

~filming in Bowness in 1973 (photo: Zena Khan)~

Zena kept this photo which shows the ice cream seller, Jane Grendon in her blue costume, possibly her daughter Jo Grendon in turquoise shorts and Michael Grendon along with the 35mm Panavision camera and film crew on the jetty where Swallow is moored to the right of frame. I don’t know who the lady in red can be – but do write in if you know!

For previous posts about filming in Bowness-on-Windermere that day, please click here

You can read more in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons(1974)’, which can be ordered from your local library.

If you enjoy ebooks, similar publication is available from all stockist for £2.99, including Amazon Kindle.

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

17 thoughts on “Meeting up with Mate Peggy from the 1974 movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – part three”

    1. Thanks so much for all your re-blogging and retweeting! It is hugely appreciated. Have you managed to get a copy of the ebook or paperback on ‘ The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) ? You can order a copy from your local library.

      1. It’s an absolute pleasure! I have got your book and I am throughly enjoying your magical Swallows tales I can’t put it down. It truly is heart-warming a lovely memoir about childhood adventure.

  1. Sophie

    Just dipped back into your wonderfull site. Have read the piece on Leslie and its heartening to know that she has changed little.
    Have you written a similar piece on Kit?
    You may want to know that I first saw the film while I was a junior projectionist. I went on to a career spanning 40 years in international film distribution. The remains one of my top ten films even to this day.

      1. Ah Sophie

        I worked for 20th Century Fox…Polygram..and United International Pictures which distributed Universal, Paramount and Dreamworks films.

        I had a good career and witnessed the good the bad and the ugly during my travels.

        Somewhere I have the LP record and a poster of the film. I was 17 at the time

        1. Dear David, I am hoping to bring out a third edition of my ebook on ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ and would love to include the comments you have posted on this blog. Would that be OK? Do let me know if you have more to add. I’m not sure when I’ll do this – possibly not until the 50th anniversary in April 2024, but I’m keeping a running collection of things to add. I’m not sure if we will bring out a 3rd edition of the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons'(1974) but its a possibility. Many people send in their memories, which have become a little bit of film history in themselves.

          1. Dear Sophie,

            I would be honoured to have you include any of my ramblings!
            The film means a lot to me and has done so since 1974.

            From memory I can recall that the film was released over the Easter school holidays in 1974. Its just been helped as I have found a press ad online and it lists South London unusually running the film first on April 14.
            At that time most films were released in waves and for the London region which was split into North and South. The North would be the first week and the South the second.
            I believe the film was supported by The Lion at Worlds End…the documentary that Virginia and Bill Travers made with George Adamson about returning an African lion to the wild.
            I know I ran the film again either in 1975 or 76 as an afternoon matinee only with a Kung Fu adult programme in the evenings.

            It made me revisit the books…which I still read ( currently dipping in and out of an old hard back edition of Pigeon Post ) but I believe I had only read one during my childhood which I think was Swallowdale.

            I also embarked on a number of holidays in the lakes because of the film. That first year I camped on a farm at Torver on the west side of Coniston.

            The reason I include it in my top ten is simple. It is pure story telling that takes the viewer on an adventure.
            You do not notice the individual aspects of film making you just become engrossed in the story.
            And that is what a good film should do.

            I watched it again just last week on a streaming service…It makes me smile ….what more can I say.

              1. Sophie, I will see what I can find. I will contact my old head projectionist to see if he has anything.

                Meanwhile I will email the press ad I found.

  2. All these recollections and, particularly the behind-the-scenes photos, together with your own reminiscences, Sophie, make the film come even more alive somehow! Thank you to you both for sharing them with us in these three blog posts.

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