Category Archives: animal stories

What Sophie is doing next…

This January I am working hard to get fit enough to take part in another sponsored horse ride through the game reserves of South Africa, where I once lived, to raise funds for The Waterberg Trust.

The safari company Ant’s Nest have generously offered to host our party of thirteen British riders and we are paying our own travel costs. Every penny raised in sponsorship will go straight to The Waterberg Trust, a UK registered charity.

50% of funds will be sent to Save the Waterberg Rhino and 50% will support projects that uplift local communities that are run by trusted friends. Each member of our team has been challenged to raise at least £1000 in sponsorship. The Drapers Company have kindly offered to match any funding that I raise personally, so if you can sponsor me your donation will be doubled. Even very small amounts are a huge encouragment and will go along way to improve things in Africa.

please click here for Sophie’s 2018 Justgiving page

OUR PLANS ~

DAY 1 – Riders will be met at Johannesburg airport and driven north to Ant’s Nest Game Reserve deep in the Africa bush where we will meet horses that have been selected for the expedition and set off in search of wildlife.

The Waterberg is home to the third largest population of rhino in South Africa, so their protection on the plateau is vital.

~The Waterberg Trust Riders with white rhino in 2017~

DAY 2 – We will spend the day riding up to Ant’s Hill, viewing game on horseback and looking for a breeding herd of white rhino, along with buffalo, wildebeest and antelope. We’ll return to Ant’s Nest for a talk on the work of ‘Save the Waterberg Rhino’.

DAY 3 – We set off early, riding north through the reserve and along sandy roads to the Waterberg Living Museum to meet Clive Walker, one of South Africa’s leading conservationists who is raising awareness of biodiversity and ecological systems. We may get the chance to see rare golden wildebeest as we ride up to Triple B Ranch were we will spend the night in a traditional farmhouse.

~Clive Walker, founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust~

DAY 4 – We ride down through Triple B Ranch, where they have hippo and over the hills to Lindani game reserve, which will give us another amazing opportunity to see wildlife such as vervet monkey, baboon and warthog, zebra, eland and giraffe.

DAY 5 – This is a long day when we ride to Jembisa, a reserve on the Palala River where the pace will get faster. We hope to find more plains game including giraffe, jackal, warthog and red heartebeest.

DAY 6 – We plan to visit Lapalala Wilderness School, which I have been associated with since 1992 when I became a horse safari guide in the area. The Waterberg Trust has been able to send groups of underprivileged children on a residential course at this eco-school to learn about conservation and the plight of South Africa’s wildlife.

One lesson is about what to do if you find a snake in the house.

The students take their enthusiasm into the community whose support is essential if poaching is to be combated. They are given a local mentor who can help with future issues.

We’ll spend the rest of the day riding across Jembisa where we hope to find hippos and perhaps see crocodile in the river before reaching the furthest point of the ride and grab a few photographs before bidding our horses farewell.

~The Waterberg Trust Challenge riders and back-up team 2017~

DAY 7 –  Riders will visit Lethabo Kids Club in the Township of Leseding who run an excellent ‘Back to School’ project to ensure all local children get into an appropriate school, equipped with uniform, shoes and school bags. We will meet Nurse Grace whose salary is financed by The Waterberg  Trust. The very first school nurse in the area, she has been looking after pupils’ health and issues that detract from their studies. We will also drop in on Kamotsogo community craft project that helps women living with HIV/Aids before leaving for the airport.

~Sophie Neville with students sponsored by The Waterberg Trust in 2017~

I need to get fit as there will be approximately 32–40km’s of riding per day, clocking up a total of 32 long hours in the saddle. It will be an exploratory venture, riding through this beautiful area, now proclaimed a UNESCO biosphere. You can read more about the ride here.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:

Sophie Neville completing The Waterberg Trust Challenge Ride in 2017

If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 

Psalm 139 v 9 & 10 NLT

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Filed under adventure, Africa, animal stories, Autobiography, charity, Christian, Sophie Neville, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

‘Scottish Mussel’, a British movie featuring our tame otters

A British film starring Talulah Riley, Martin Compston, and Joe Thomas of In Betweeners fame, has come out on DVD.  It also features our tame otters. I travelled up to Dunoon in Scotland to help with the scenes that, in the story, entail an injured otter brought into a wildlife conservation centre set in a beautiful location outside Glasgow.

Sophie Neville with Beanie the Otter

Belinda the Otter with Sophie and Daphne Neville

The romcom is written and directed by Talulah Riley who was keen to use our very energetic young male otter Rudi in a scene where the otter is released back into the wild.  To achieve this on film, without losing him altogether, was quite a feat but he enjoyed himself and the result looks endearing.

When one of the producers asked if I had worked on any other films featuring animals, I had to admit there have been quite a few. We once had a baboon in the studio and I became quite used to filming with trained elephants. I worked with a whole variety of exotic animals on the vet series ‘One by One’ from a pelican to a full grown leopard. In the mid 1980’s I was lucky enough to spend four months on Corfu making the first BBC adaptation of Gerald Durrell’s autobiography ‘My Family and Other Animals’ with Brian Blessed and a huge number of tortoises. As it happens, Rudi appeared in the second series of The Durrells, playing both the male and female otters.

To see more about what the otters have been up to, please go to Daphne Neville’s website here.

You can read about living with tame otters in my book ‘Funnily Enough’ available in the UK here in paperback or on Kindle here

There are more photographs of the otters here

The DVD, which will be released on 3rd October, is available for pre-order here

dphne-nevilles-otter

One of our hand-reared otters who stars in ‘Scottish Mussel’

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Filed under animal stories, British Film, Entertainment news, Film Cast, Film production, Humour, Movie stories, News, Otters, Sophie Neville

‘Man Friday!’ found in the pages of an old copy of Lancashire Life

Virginia McKenna rowing

The 2014 Blu-ray of  ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (c) StudioCanal

Forty two years ago, this shot was taken of Virginia McKenna valiantly playing Man Friday, rowing away from what I had decided was a desert island. We were filming on Coniston Water in the Lake District. She was playing my mother, concerned about leaving a small girl alone as the evening drew in. I’ve been set a copy of Lancashire Life, published in 1974, which describes the filming at length. Quite fun. You can see a still of Man Friday and I cooking Pemmican cakes for supper on the camp fire, top right.

Lancashire Life May 1974 - S&A2 - lr

Being awarded an OBE in 2004 for services to wildlife and the arts, Virginia has since become a national treasure. She will quickly deny this but you will find photographs of her at the National Gallery, along with Suzanna Hamilton, who played her daughter – and my sister, Susan in Swallows & Amazons (1974).

NPG x126895; Stars of the British Screen by Norman Parkinson

‘Stars of the British Screen’ by Norman Parkinson. Virginia McKenna sits bottom centre, Suzanna Hamilton bottom right, either side of Susannah York.

Having just celebrated her 84th birthday Virginia has also been heralded as one who inspires others. I concur. ‘Do one thing at a time,’ was her advice to me, ‘Otherwise you can’t do anything well.’

Virginai McKenna with an Oscar

Virginia has appeared in over thirty feature films, numerous television dramas and many fascinating documentaries. She won a  BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in ‘A Town Like Alice’ and was nominated Best Actress by BAFTA for playing Violette Szabo in the WWII story Carve Her Name With Pride.’. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Joy Adamson inBorn Free’ , which won the composer John Barry two Academy awards. She is still happy to work as an actress, soon to appear in ‘Golden Years’ with Simon Callow and her granddaughter, Lily Travers.

Virginin McKenna with Born Free composer John Barry

Virginia McKenna with ‘Born Free’ composer John Barry

If you interview her now, Virginia is more likely to talk about wildlife than acting. She uses her name to promote kindness. And to stop the slaughter of elephants. One of her latest missions is to urge schools to teach children about conservation. She has recently become patron of  Shropshire Cat Rescue’s Purr project. Arthur Ransome helped finance a similar project himself.

Virginia McKenna in Mail on Saturday 214

2015 marks the thirty-first anniversary of the Born Free Foundation, which Virginia established with her son Will Travers to help big cats and other large mammals held in captivity. She still travels the world to raise awareness and alleviate suffering, drawing on all she learned from George Adamson whilst filming Born Free in Kenya back in 1966, and An Elephant Called Slowly in 1970. You can read more about her work by clicking here.

Virginia McKenna onthe cover of Saga Magazine

Virginia has written about her career and conservation work in a number of books including Into the Blue and an autobiography entitled The Life in My Years available online from the Born Free shop.

Sophie Neville with Virginia McKenna in about 2001

Sophie Neville with Virginia McKenna in about 2001

42 years ago we were filming with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm in the Lake District.

To read the sections of my diary on filming Swallows & Amazons on Peel Island, please click here.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, animal stories, Biography, British Film, charity, Cumbria, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking

The oddest thing happened whilst filming at Beccles Post Office ~

Henry Dimbleby, Rosemary Leach, Caroline Downer, Richard Walton with Sarah and Calire Matthews in 'Coot Club'

Henry Dimbleby, Rosemary Leach, Caroline Downer, Richard Walton with Sarah and Claire Matthews in ‘Coot Club’

If there was a sequence we all enjoyed putting together more than any other, whilst filming Arthur Ransome’s ‘Coot Club’, it was the scene when Williams the pug dog is weighted on the scales outside Beccles Post Office. This was shot on dry land in the market place of a village in Norfolk, whose name I am afraid I don’t remember – you will have to remind me in the comments below.

Coot Club ~ Jane

Either Claire or Sarah Matthews with Joe Water’s secretary Jane

In the story, Port and Starboard surprise the crew of the Teasle by arriving unexpectedly on the back of a motorbike, having hitched rides across Norfolk on a series of historic craft including the Albion.  Andrew Morgan, our Director was keen to end the scene with a high shot of the bustling market town, portraying East Anglian life as it was in the early 1930’s.

Director Andrew Morgan with film carmeraman Alec Curtis and his assistant and designer Brue McCaddie. Production Managers Peter Markham and Liz Mace stand below

Director Andrew Morgan with film cameraman Alec Curtis and his assistant and designer Bruce McCaddie. Production Managers Peter Markham and Liz Mace stand below

Apart from creating the Post Office so beautifully that we were convinced it had always been there, Bruce McCaddie our designer had television ariels taken off houses and yellow lines on the roads obliterated. He also commissioned his Prop Buyer, Dave Privett, to find a number of period vehicles that could be driven through the town.

Coot Club - Dave Privett

BBC Prop Buyer David Privett ~ photo taken at a later date

Our Producer Joe Waters was keen on what was refered to in television as production value. ‘Always put your money in front of the camera’, he told me. David Privet did that for him, going to endless trouble to source steam rollers and hay wagons, charabangs and river cruisers to bring life and colour to a period drama. I learnt later when we all worked together on ‘My Family and Other Animals’ shot on location in Corfu what a complete perfectionist Dave was.

Coot Club - The sheep

Caroline Downer, Sarah Matthews and Henry Dimbleby waiting for the shot to be set up. The camera was on top the mobile generator from Fenners behind them.

Busy crowd scenes are rewarding and look wonderful on screen, but they do take a while to set up. All the drivers had to have short back-and-sides haircuts and change into period costumes. On top of the motor-cycle and side car, which Port and Starboard arrived in, Dave had found a 1929 delivery lorry and several bicycles aswell as vintage motorcars. We also had various passers-by and towns people dressed in costume, armed as you’d expect with shopping baskets or prams. This was all pretty much as you’d expect. I’m not sure who decided that we should add a herd of sheep, but we also had sheep. Black-faced sheep to add a bit of rural life. The idea was they they would be driven through the market square at the end of the scene. Bruce sensibly had portable wooden fencing out-of-vision between the houses so they couldn’t escape.

Coot Club - Rosemary Leach in Beccles

Henry Dimbleby, Richard Walton, Claire and Sarah Matthews, Caroline Downer and Rosemary Leach with the delivery lorry outside the Post Office.

Our leading lady, Rosemary Leach, took up her position outside the Post Office with the children, and we set up to go for a take with all the vehicles in their start positions. As you can see from the low light in my photographs we were getting to the end of a long day. Everyone on the crew was tired, tempers were getting short and the twins were the only ones left with any energy. But the camera turned over and the Director shouted, ‘Action!’  The vehicles set off. There was then the curious sound of heavy rain. Sheep came not walking but galloping into the market square.

‘Cut!’ yelled the Director. The vehicles came to a halt. Bruce and his prop men sprung up, ready with the hurdles. The sheep took one look at them and panicked further. The Dave Privett rushed in to help. There was no where for the sheep to go. They ended up following each other, running round and around a large black motor in the middle of the square. Dave was pinned against the rear bumper. He couldn’t move. The sheep kept on running, round and round. Alec Curtis, having a dry sense of humour, kept the camera running too. The whole sequence was caught on film.

Ricky King, Dave Privett, Peter Markham and Mary Soan filming 'Coot Club', or trying to

Ricky King, Dave Privett, Peter Markham and Mary Soan filming ‘Coot Club’, or trying to

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Filed under 1983, Acting, animal stories, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Film, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Humour, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

With a parrot on my shoulder ~

At about this time we were given a green parrot from South America called Chico. I must have written to Kit and Suzanna telling them about him as this Nancy-ish letter came winging back.

Animal Magic1

Robin Hellier (in yellow) working with a 16mm film camera and his crew from BBC Bristol. I am sitting at the head of the table. Tamzin has our parrot on her shoulder.

Chico was wonderfully tame and came everywhere, chatting away in Spanish. He was much more affectionate – and less of a treat – than the parrot with a Lancastrian accent who played Polly in Captain Flint’s cabin. One minute he’d be sitting on Tamzin’s shoulder, the next, he’d be on mine.

Filming Animal Magic

Sophie, Perry and Tamzin Neville appearing in short film shot on 16mm for ‘Animal Magic’ being produced for the BBC NHU by Robin Hellier (in yellow sweater).

We didn’t always have tea with a parrot, but once the film of Swallows and Amazons was on general release I was often invited to appear on radio or television. This usually entailed going to a studio to appear on a magazine programme such as Points West or  Nationwide. However, Robin Hellier, who had just begun working for the BBC on Animal Magic, was thrilled to hear that I really did have a green parrot and brought a film crew from Bristol to our house. He took a shot of me rowing down the lake with my parrot, in the summer of 1974, which was used to fill endless small gaps in the schedules.

Animal Magic with our donkeys1

Robin Hellier directing a sequence featuring Sophie Neville, her parrot Chico and Lucy and Leonard the donkeys with Daphne Neville and Tamzin Neville

Although the focus of the item was a profile of  my role in Swallows and Amazons, the aim must have been to get as many animals on the programme as possible since they also featured our donkeys having their feet trimmed. The faithful parrot was still on my shoulder.

Animal Magic with our donkeys

Leonard and Lucy the donkeys, Tamzin, Daphne and Sophie (in green) with Chico the parrot, standing-by for Robin Hellier who was speaking to our farrier Graham Williams. You can see how much taller I had grown in a year.

I thought Robin Hellier was a brilliant director, far better than Claude Whatham at letting us know what he wanted to achieve. I was able to tell Robin this when I found myself working with him in South Africa twenty-two years later. He laughed, admitting that it was the very first film he ever directed.  Being conscientious, he took the trouble to write to let me know when it was to be broadcast, although I can’t remember ever seeing it go out.

Animal Magic

Children’s television was watched by everyone I knew in the 1970s. Letters poured in. My mother loved getting them. The volume was such that I think she had to answer some of them for me.

A fan letter2

A fan letter3

A fan letter4

And over the years the letters have kept coming.

A fan letter73

These came from a girl I corresponded with for years.  My friends at university were amazed to find letters arriving addressed to Titty, but they were always charming. I appreciated them more and more as the years went by.

A fan letter74

My mother only wrote me one proper letter while I was away at boarding school. It was to tell me that Chico had died. He spent so much time flying free that he caught a virus off wild birds and could not be saved. I was utterly inconsolable.

Animal Magic continued to featured through our childhood until 1982, when I started working at BBC Television myself. Johnny Morris, who presented the series, became a legend in his own time and is remembered with great affection.

and there is more ~

A WildFilm History interview of Robin Hellier can be viewed on this link:

http://www.wildfilmhistory.org/oh/44/clip/975/section/357/Robin+Hellier%3A+Reflections+on+a+career+at+the+BBC+Natural+History+Unit.html

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Filed under animal stories, Autobiography, Biography, Claude Whatham, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Letters, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

The day of the green parrot ~ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on the houseboat in 1973

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker on Captain Flint's houseboat

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker aboard Captain Flint’s houseboat on Derwentwater ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Do all children dream of living on a houseboat?  Going out across Derwentwater for tea in Captain Flint’s cabin was fun. He had laid on such a lavish one. It was a feast.

Sophie Neville's diary written whilst filming 'Swallows and Amazons'

We hadn’t actually seen Captain Flint walk the plank at this point, but together as Swallows and Amazons, we could all imagine it.

Suzanna described the afternoon quite differently. Her focus was on the food.

An extract from Suzanna Hamilton’s diary of 25th July 1973

The green parrot had very sharp claws. If my eye’s are watering in this scene it is because they were digging into my shoulder. A piece of foam rubber was slipped under my blouse but it didn’t do much good. He really wasn’t a very tame parrot and had to have a chain around one leg in case he took flight. I was really rather worried he would nip me but ploughed on with the dialogue. If this is convincing it was because I needed to get through my close-ups before I lost part of an ear.

The parrot being taken to the Houseboat

Property Master Bob Hedges with his assistant Terry Wells taking the parrot to Captain Flint’s houseboat in the style of Amazon Pirates ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Despite this concern, I did rather want a parrot of my own. A tame one. Not long after we finished filming my parents came across a green parrot called Chico who was remarkably friendly, a sweet bird who soon came to live with us. He chatted away in Spanish and was good company. I went everywhere with him – even taking him out rowing on the lake.

Roger Lee with our green parrot Chico

Chico, our green parrot, on the shoulder of an old friend called Roger Lee

Tamzin Neville with our parrot Chico

My sister Tamzin with our parrot Chico who like having his neck stroked

I am often asked if Captain Flint’s parrot really did speak. He could certainly talk. I remember something along the lines of , ‘Who’s a pretty boy, then?’ delivered in a broad Lancashire accent. ‘Pieces of Eight’ was beyond his natural vocabulary and was dubbed on later along with music from the accordion. Ronald Fraser couldn’t really play this. Having said that, all music from instruments played on screen is added later so that the sound runs seamlessly no matter how the editor cuts the shots together. The accordion had been muted by Bobby Props.

Did the wishful lines given to Titty by the screen-writer David Wood cast light on my future? Rather unusually for an English child of the 1970’s I had already been to Africa. My family grew coffee on a farm between Arusha and Moshi in Northern Tanzania where I had been the summer before we made Swallows and Amazons.

Sophie Neville, aged 11, with Baroness Reinhild von Bodenhausen and rather a shy Masai warrior at our coffee factory near Usa River in Tanzania in 1972

I did not see forests of green parrots there, although, much later in my life I often saw Meyer’s parrots in the palm trees above our camp in Botswana.  They would clatter about looking for wild dates while I sat painting maps I had made, just as Titty would have done.

The question is ~ did Arthur Ransome ever have a parrot, or was it just a wish?

Macatoo Camp in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

A map by Sophie Neville depicting the area around Macatoo Camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana where you find wild parrots in the trees

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Africa, animal stories, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

New Bestsellers from Sophie Neville ~

 Since promoting my books at the London Book Fair 2012, great things have been happening ~ we have made it into the rank of ‘Bestselling Books’.

Funnily Enough has raced up the charts, and at the time of writing is in the upper Top Ten for Humour, Parenting & Families, and Self-Help!

~ Please see my ‘News’ page for stories ~

Ride the Wings of Morning is selling well. It is about the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ type of lifestyle that I led in Southern Africa after leaving the BBC. It is a book of letters, illustrated with sketches and maps that are in keeping with the inheritance Titty left me. Richard Pilbrow, the Producer of the movie Swallows and Amazons has kindly reviewed it ~ please see Reviews page

Ride the Wings of Morning by Sophie Neville

NOW AVAILABLE IN HARDBACK AND PAPERBACK FROM LULU.COM 

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Filed under adventure, Africa, animal stories, Bestseller, Biography, Christian, e-publication, Family Life, Filmaking, Humor, Kindle, Letters, Memoir, Movie stories, Otters, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story, wildlife art