Category Archives: family Entertainment

Meeting up with Peggy Blackett – from the film ‘Swallows & Amazons'(1974)

Lesley Bennett in 1973

When the original feature film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ was made in 1973, Peggy Blackett was played by Lesley Bennett. She can be seen here on location at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water in the Lake District.

For the last thirty-four years, Lesley has been living in the Netherlands. I met up with her for lunch at Schiphol Airport on my way back from sailing Arthur Ransome’s cutter, the Nancy Blackett, through the inland waterways of Zeeland. (Please see the last two previous posts.) I nearly didn’t make the meeting. A man had been arrested for planting a bomb on a train just north of Middleberg, but the authorities must have acted quickly as I wasn’t delayed for long.

Lesley had brought along a blue file of documents and a number of black and white movie stills that she’d been given by Richard Pilbrow, the producer of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) on one of our last days in Ambleside after filming had finished. We could both remember them spread out on a table at the unit hotel so we could each chose the ones we appeared in. I had picked one where Lesley and I are sitting together, our hair bobbed in line with the 1930’s, I wearing a cream silk dress, Lesley in a dark top looking very pretty:

With Virginia McKenna on the first day of filming

~A publicity shot featuring Virginia McKenna, with Kit Seymour, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville, Lesley Bennett, Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton, published in the Guardian and other newspapers~

Lesley’s parents, who lived near Tonbridge in Kent, originally learnt that Theatre Projects were looking for children to take part in the film when the Associate Producer, Neville Thompson, wrote to their local sailing club. Lesley explained that her father, who was very well organised, kept a copy of the letter sent to the Secretary of the club in January 1973.  Plans were made for Lesley to be interviewed for a part with her younger sister Lyn, who sadly fell ill and couldn’t make the audition. The letter contains a mistake that might explain why Lesley ended up playing Peggy when she was thirteen years old.

Lesley got on well with Kit Seymour who ended up playing her elder sister, Nancy Blackett – ‘terror of the seas’. Both girls would sail well and enjoyed being out on the lakes. Lesley told me that the reason why she held her hands between her legs in this photograph is that it was so cold when we were filming on Peel Island.

‘Kit would fold her arms and I’d try to keep my hands warm.’ Although I wore a cardigan in this scene, Swallows had been cold too. I remember thinking that at least the Amazons wore knitted hats. Otherwise their costumes were simple short-sleeved shirts and long shorts with black plymsols, worn without socks.

~Kit Seymour as Captain Nancy and Lesley Bennett as Mate Peggy in 1973~

Lesley told me their hats had been quite a problem – not quite a full-blown movie disaster but a they caused consternation in Consiton. The first scene the Amazons shot was set in the garden of Beckfoot, the Blacketts’ house. Although it does not lie on the ‘Amazon River’ at the northern end of the lake, Brown Howe on the western shore of Coniston Water was used as the location and the crew set up the 35mm Panavision camera, along with reflector boards and enough lighting to bring sunshine to Westmorland. When everyone on the production was ready, Gareth Tandy, the third assistant led the Amazons down to the set wearing red knitted stocking caps – with no bobbles. Beanies were not quite what either the director or producer had expected. Lesley has a photo showing the great discussion that ensued:


~Director Claude Whatham, Producer Richard Pilbrow, 3rd Assistant Director Gareth Tandy, Make-up Artist Peter Robb-King, Hairdresser Ronnie Cogan and Associate Producer Neville Thompson with Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett at Brown Howe on Coniston Water in May 1973 ~

In the end Claude Whatham shot the scene with the girls bare-headed, their hair blowing all over the place, even though it was meant to be ‘dead-calm’ in the story.  This looked natural as they were at home but they needed to look like pirates in every other scene.

~Nancy and Peggy running down to Amazon at the Blackett’s house Beckfoot~

Wooly hats with ‘longer ends’ were knitted locally at some speed. Red is not a good colour on the screen. I remember a couple of bright pink ribbed bobble-hats arrived when we were filming on Peel Island but they were deemed a complete disaster and rejected in favour of scarlet ones originally described by Arthur Ransome even if the colour might look a bit jarring on screen.

No one on the production knew anything about knitting or subtle shades of wool and Emma Porteous, the costume designer, was back in London. When the third pair of hats arrived we were all a bit worried about the fatness of the bobble-end, as they didn’t quite match the illustrations in the books, but no one knew what else to do. Time ran out and the producer was forced to compromise. ‘They were warm but prone to flop about,’ Lesley said, ‘and sometimes flopped forward, which looked a bit silly.’ I’d never noticed this but it was captured in one photograph:

~Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett as Nancy and Peggy Blackett on Wild Cat Island in 1973~

Mum was given the pink version of the hats. She kept them for years but no one ever wore them.

To be continued….

 

 

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A Little Bit of Film History

Contact sheet - Sophie Neville with Amazon's anchor

~ Titty with Amazon’s anchor ~

When I first posted an extract from ‘The Secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons’ on a literary website, someone wrote a review assuming it to be a novel. They must have thought that I was some poor creature who had imagined the whole thing. The reviewer considered the plot too far-fetched and fantastical – as you might if it had not been true.

‘You must have been dreaming.’

‘But Captain Flint, there were burglars, you’ve got to believe me.’

Poor Titty! No one ever believed her. Fortunately quite a bit of documentary evidence exists to support the fact that a certain feature film was made in the Lake District in 1973. I do wish I’d kept a copy of the book review though.

Contact sheet - finding Titty in Amazon

~ The Swallows find Titty sleeping in Amazon near Cormorant Island ~

Contact sheet - Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville sailing Amazon

~ Titty and Susan sail Amazon back to Wild Cat Island ~

Contact sheet sailing Swallow & Amazon in 1973

~ Sailing Swallow and Amazon on Derwentwater ~

Contact sheet - sailing Swallow & Amazon on Derwentwater

I was encouraged to collect things as a child, in case they might one day be of value. Back in 1973, I was given a number of black and white photographs and contact sheets of stills taken by Albert Clarke on the set of ‘Swallows & Amazons'(1974) – if you can call Derwentwater a movie set. I pasted some of these in a scrapbook but others remained in a roll that has only recently been returned to me. Each sheet looks roughly like this:

The Making of Swallows & Amazons contact sheet - both boats

The eye is easily tired by looking at the whole set but scanning and editing reveals a little bit of film history in every shot. I can see here that Titty wasn’t letting Amazon’s anchor down, she was hauling it in while Susan was at the helm, with a fair wind in her sails. This must have been quite tricky.

Sophie Neville pulling up Amazons' anchor

You can tell by the numbers above each shot how many were taken and in what sequence. presumably 2003 photographs had been snapped by the time the Swallows found Titty moored near Cormorant Island.

Contact sheet - filming Swallow

~ These bizarre shots show the film crew afloat on their pontoon ~

The photographs below show Virginia McKenna rowing away from Peel Island on Coniston Water in a native canoe with DoP Denis Lewiston and his 35mm camera, which is pretty unique.

One thing is certain, if these contact sheets had not been given to me they would have been thrown out and yet, over time, they have become precious. Do add a comment below if you would like to see more.

It is quite interesting to see which shots were chosen for the press. You can see a few of the action shots used in magazines of the time by clicking here. Newspapers tended to chose photographs akin to portraits as you can see here.

Recent newspaper articles tend to use a black and white film still that was clumsily tinted giving the lake water an unreal and bright blue hue as you find here.

Some of the black and white prints are now held at BFI. StudioCanal hold a vast selection of the best photos in their library and have an on-line shop here. I have included about a hundred behind-the-scenes snaps taken by my parents in the latest edition of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ recently published by The Lutterworth Press, available from libraries, bookshops and online stockists including The Nancy Blackett shop, where proceeds go towards the upkeep of Arthur Ransome’s favourite little ship.

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The Arthur Ransome Jamboree at Pin Mill in Suffolk

Arthur Ransome Pin Mill Jamboree

On Saturday 13th May members of the Nancy Blackett Trust asked me to open the Arthur Ransome Jamboree 2017 at Pin Mill in Suffolk.

Pin Mill from the Water

Although Ransome is remembered for his ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books set in the Lake District he moved to the east coast of Suffolk in 1935 where he set a number of his books in the series. 2017 makes the 80th anniversary of the publication of his inspirational sailing book ‘We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea’.

Sophie Neville with Nancy Blackett

You can actually go aboard the Goblin, since she was modelled on his own favourite little yacht, the Nancy Blackett. I jined her at The Royal Harwich Yacht Club where she was moored alongside Peter Duck one of his other much-loved yachts, named after the book he wrote that begins at Lowestoft. I met up with Octavia Pollock, a feature writer from Country Life and walked down the riverside for supper at the Butt and Oyster in Pin Mill where Ransome himself often ate.

Map of the Jamboree

Soon after leaving unversity, I worked behind the camera on the BBC TV adaptations of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, Ransome’s two books set on the Norfolk Broads. The Coots also visit Beccles in Suffolk. It was the Swallows who made it to Pin Mill and Ransome set his novel ‘Secret Water’ in the Walton Backwaters nearby.

I first went to Pin Mill when The Arthur Ransome Society asked me to give a talk about making this BBC serial entitled, ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’. This year I gave another talk about the cast and signed copies of the new edition of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS and AMAZONS – 1974’.

Pin Mill

~The Orwell at Low tide~

Arthur Ransome’s biographer Professor Hugh Brogan was interviewed by erstwhile BBC reporter Tim Fenton at the Pin Mill Sailing Club where author Julia Jones also spoke about her children’s books.

Sophie Neville opening the Arthur Ransome Jamboree at Pin Mill~ Sophie Neville ~

This VisitEngland event was great fun. There was a geo-caching route along the footpath from Shotley to Pin Mill. Marine artists Claudia Myatt and Christine Bryant hosted drop-in sessions on the riverside where the Rabble Chorus were singing.

Nancy blackett product shop

~Mugs with artwork by Claudia Myatt sold in aid of the Nancy Blackett Trust~

There was an outdoor installation of old Pin Mill images enabling you to look back in time. These were taken by Arthur Ransome himself of the building of his boat Selina King at King’s boatyard nearby. It’s the first public exhibition of these pictures ever seen and will continue to be on show at the Pin Mill Studio.

Pin Mill archive photo

The Pin Mill Studio also hosted an exhibition of photographs from the restoration of Melissa, a barge restored to her former glory by Webb’s boatyard, with additional archive images of Pin Mill from the early 1900s.

The Vintage Mobile Cinema, as seen on BBC Television’s Reel History of Britain, screened unique archive film of Pin Mill and Shotley.

The Nancy Blackett

~The Nancy Blackett in her 85th year~

A Pin Mill ‘Wooden Boat’ race was held along the stream leading down to the river and you could take a ride on the Victorian swing boats on the Common as in years gone by. There was pirates and seafarers fancy dress competition for children and an Arthur Ransome lookalike competition (pipe and moustache!) along with stalls and sideshows from local groups, charities and organisations.

Live music, including shanties from Pin Mill favourites, High Water Mark and a performance of We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by pupils from Holbrook Academy entertained visitors while cream teas, a barbecue and refreshments were served at the Butt and Oyster and Pin Mill Sailing Club.

T-shirts celebrating this special anniversary were sold along with gifts to generate funds for The Nancy Blackett Trust, who celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.

Do let us know if you came along by leaving a comment!

The event has a Facebook page here

To read more please visit the Nancy Blackett website by clicking here.

The Nancy Blackett by Claudia Myatt

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‘Swallows and Amazons’ launch of the 2016 film on DVD and Blu-Ray

The new Harbour Pictures film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ starring Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott and Kelly Macdonald is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.

Saga are giving away one copy on Blu-ray. Please go to the Saga Facebook page and follow the instructions – you just might win the prize draw!

or you can attempt to win a copy by entering their prize draw competition on Twitter, which you can reach by entering the #SwallowsandAmazons into your Twitter search box.

You can order the film from Amazon by clicking here (also available from other outlets).

It makes a great Christmas present.

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‘An A-Z of Cumbria and The Lake District on Film’ has been launched

by Hayloft Publishing, written by David Banning with a forward by Sophie Neville.

‘This is the finest comprehensive guide to the history of movies filmed in Cumbria and the Lake District, since the early twentieth century to the present day… it  will take you on a journey through the filmic landscape of one of the world’s most beautiful places.’

A-Z Cover image

‘You will be able to immerse yourself in the lush green world where Star Wars created an alien landscape or take a trip around Swallows and Amazons country, not to mention joining the ranks of Withnail and I pilgrims or sampling the nostalgic Breif Encounter tea rooms where a tiny piece of grit kick-started an enduring romance.’

To read more, please click here for Cumbria Today or click on this image for a review in the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald:

a-z-book-review

There is also a feature in the Westmoreland Gazette here

review-of-an-a-z-with-a-forward-by-sophie-neville

For more information from Hayloft Publishing, and to buy this book, please click here

Terry Abraham, who made the film Life of a Mountain, writes: There are countless books covering aspects of the most beautiful corner of England but none which reveal little known facts regarding it as a location for filming. David thoroughly and interestingly brings to light the great number of films both large and small that have featured Lakeland on camera. Some less obvious than others but no less absorbing, you may well wish to seek out and visit where productions have captured the scenic delights of Lakeland. David’s book is an engaging and enlightening read and definitely one for the shelf alongside other works celebrating England’s finest landscape.

Be the first to review this book on Amazon.co.uk

David Banning lists ten of the best films made in Cumbria. Please click on these links for the International Movie Database details and film trailers:

Brief Encounter, 1945

The Dambusters, 1955

Swallows and Amazons, 1974

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1981

Brazil, 1985

Withnail & I, 1987

28 Days Later, 2002

Miss Potter, 2006

Sightseers, 2012

Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens, 2015

You can see a shot of Derwent Water at 1.23 mins into the official film trailer for Star Wars after ‘This Christmas’ graphics, here:

 

 

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Launching the second edition of The Secrets of Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)

front-cover-1974

A second edition of the ebook ‘The Secrets of Filming ‘SWALLOWS & AMAZONS'(1974) is now avaialble on Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, itunes, Kobo, and Nook for £2.99 . You can download this free of charge if you already own the first edition.

If you would like a copy but don’t have a Kindle, worry not. We have added a link whereby you can download a free Kindle app. Please go to my Book Page and scroll down for the details.

If you already have a copy of the ebook, contact a Customer Advisor and ask for a free update. You just need to give Kindle the ebook’s ASIN number. The ISBN for all online editions except Kindle is: ISBN 9781311761927

Since being contacted by others who were involved in the filming, I have been able to add a few more anecdotes and images, including this beautiful shot of Virginia McKenna in 1973 kindly sent in by the photographer Philip Hatfield.

virginia-mckenna-photo-by-philip-hatfield

I found a copy of my original contract for the film and when Jean McGill rang from Bowness, a few more secrets floated to the surface.

Sophie Neville and David Wood

CBBCTV’s Cinemaniacs  interviewed the screenwriter David Wood and myself on how the original movie of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was made back in the summer of 1973.  The idea was to use 30 second clips, so please excuse my over-the-top reactions, but you can watch the whole recording below.

‘This has to be one of the most delightful interviews in my recent memory.’ Tim Lewis, USA

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Swallows and Amazons films profiled on BBC South Today

‘Can you be in Cowes at 9.00am tomorrow morning?’ I was asked.

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BBC South Today explained that they’d like to interview me about being in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ back in 1974.

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‘They’re pirates!’ I found Sarah Farmer filming on the Parade.

Sophie Neville with BBC South Today

Seren Hawkes who plays Nancy Blackett in the new movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was with her.

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I was asked what advise I could give Seren about what might happen next.

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All I could say was, ‘Watch the wind and sail with it!’

Sophie Neville with Sarah Farmer and Seren Hawkes

Seren Hawkes, Sarah Farmer and Sophie Neville

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It was great to meet up with the producer Nick Barton, who showed me ‘Swallow’ the RNSA dinghy that also stars in the film.

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I went on to join fans of the film for lunch at the Royal London Yacht Club, where I once gave a talk, before going out on the Solent.

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Telegraph bag

 

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