Very Happy New Year!

Near the Amazon Boathouse with Sir Anthony Gormley ~ photo: Mountain Goat Tours
Sophie Neville with Sir Antony Gormley near the Amazon boathouse

This Christmas has been marked by a number of amusing cards, emails and comments that have come in from people who remember making the film of Swallows & Amazons in 1973.

David Stott has already sent in his memories of working as Ronald Fraser’s driver at the age of 19 while Peter Walker remembers literally  bumping into him in a pub in Ambleside. Various journalists added their recollections online below an article in the Telegraph. I hope to have gathered enough photographs to post a few more in the new year.

If you can remember anything about the filming of Swallows & Amazons, can recollect going to see it in the cinema when it was first released, or have memories about anyone connected to the movie, add a comment below or contact me on sophie@sophieneville.co.uk.

The Amazon boathouse on Coniston Water
The Amazon boathouse on Coniston Water

I have a list of those who appeared as supporting artists in the film that I would love to add to. Can you help me with more details and full names? It would be awful if I had incorrect spellings.

Kerry Dartisnine ~ Nurse

Tiffany Smith ~ Baby Vicky

Moira Late ~ Mrs Jackson

Brian Robey Jones ~ Mr Jackson

Mr Turner ~ Shopkeeper

Mr Price ~ Native on the Rio jetty

Mrs Price ~ Visitor at Haverthwaite Railway Station

Martin Neville ~ Native on the steamer

George Pattinson ~ Steamboat owner

Stanley Wright ~ Motorboat mechanic

James Stelfox ~ Boat mechanic

Herbert Barton ~ Casual holiday-maker

L. Lucas Dews ~ Man just returned from abroad

Jane Price ~ Girl at Rio

Simon Price ~ Boy at Rio

Tamzin Neville ~ Girl at Rio

Perry Neville ~ Girl at Rio

Pandora Doyle ~ Girl at Rio

Alan Smith ~ Boy at Rio

Jane Grendon ~ Rio visitor

Janet Hadwin ~ Rio visitor

Peggy Drake ~ Rio visitor

William Drake ~ Rio visitor

Mrs Jill Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Lindsay Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Nicola Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Fiona Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Shane Jackson ~ Rio visitor

Zena Khan ~ Rio Visitor

Lorna Khan ~ Lady on the Tern

Sarah Boom ~ Cyclist at Rio

Jack Hadwin ~ Motorcyclist

Kendal Borough Band

Beauty Proctor ~ Polly, the green parrot

The following people worked on the crew of Swallows & Amazons  but I am not sure of their exact job titles:

Gay Lawley-Wakelin, Richard Daniel, John Slater, Lee Apsey, Craig Hillier, Les Philips, Ron Baker, John Pullen, Harry Heeks, Graham Orange, Mike Henley, Joe Ballerino, Ted Elliot, Eddie Cook, John Engelman, John Mills, Ernie Russell, Clive Stewart, Toni Turner, Phyllis B, Pinewood Caterers John and Margaret ……, Robert Wakeling, David Stott. and other Drivers: Browns of Ambleside

Have I left anybody Out?

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‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ ebook is out now

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

Thanks to the encouragement and help of my blog followers and Arthur Ransome enthusiasts around the world, I have managed to put my diaries, letters, old photographs and documents together into a 68,000-word memoir.

s&A book launch 2013 005

“Sometimes extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people. Little girls can find themselves becoming film stars. Long ago, and quite unexpectedly, I found myself appearing in the EMI feature film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons, made for a universal international audience. I played Able-seaman Titty, one of the four Swallows. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I became Titty for a while, wearing thin cotton dresses and elasticated navy blue gym knickers, which the camera crew soon referred to as passion killers. The book was written in 1929 and although the film adaptation was made in the early 1970s it had an ageless quality and has been repeated on television year after year, typically on a Bank Holiday between movies starring Rock Hudson or Doris Day.

I got the part of Titty because I could play the piano. Although I had no ambition to be an actress, at the age of ten I was cast in a BBC dramatisation of Cider with Rosie. They needed a little girl to accompany the eleven-year-old Laurie Lee when he played his violin at the village concert. I plodded through Oh, Danny Boy at an agonising pace.

‘Do you think you could play a little faster?’ the Director asked.

‘No,’ I said, flatly. ‘These are crotchets, they don’t go any faster.’

Claude Whatham must have remembered my crotchets, for two years later, in March 1973, my father received a letter. It arrived completely out of the blue, from a company called Theatre Projects.

We are at present casting for a film version of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS which Mr Whatham is going to direct. We were wondering if you would be interested in your daughter being considered for one of the parts in this film.

Amazing!”

From ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville

Preview copies of the print version of 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons'Preview copies of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’  at the Cruising Association dinner at the Water’s Edge Bar and Restaurant, Mermaid Marina on the River Hamble.

“This heart-warming memoir is illustrated with colour photographs, most of them taken at the time by Sophie’s family, and contains links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage for readers with browser-enabled tablets. It delivers a double helping of nostalgia for both fans of the era of Arthur Ransome, and the groovy times of the early 70’s.” ~ from the Amazon Kindle description

Map of Derwentwater by Sophie

Also available for other reading devices on Smashwords

Thank you again for all of your time and patience, and to those of you who contributed comments, questions, and aspects of local history on this blog. I would love to know what you think of the book!

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.

Sophie Neville on the pontoon during the filming of 'Swallows and Amazons'
Richard Pilbrow, Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, David Cadwallader and Sophie Neville aged 12 playing Titty. Eddie Collins looks on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Boats of the Norfolk Broads ~

Sailing on the Norfolk Broads

I recently found a family photograph album with pages illustrating holidays spent under sail in the 1930’s.

Breakfast on the Norfolk Broads ~ Easter 1939
Joan with her friends having breakfast on the Norfolk Broads ~ Easter 1939

Not all the black and white photographs are as horizontal or as sharply in focus as one might wish but they show the glorious boats available for hire

Sailing on the Norfolk Broads - Easter 1939

and reflect what fun was had out on the water.

Joan Hampton - Norfolk Broads - Friends1

We were rather shocked by the cigarettes held in the mouths of the young men but Joan is ninety-nine now and still agile.

Martin Neville on the Norfolk Broads
Martin Neville sailing on the Norfolk Broads with friends in the early 1950s

Having sailed on the Broads with friends, my father hired a Hullabaloo boat to take us out when we were little.

Sophie Neville with her sisters on the Norfolk Broads

We went out of season, when boat hire was cheaper. As there was no one on the water my father let me take the helm mile after mile, despite the fact that I was only about seven years old.

Sophie Neville on the Norfolk Broads
Sophie Neville wearing a life jacket c. 1968

 We loved living aboard and were often surrounded by wild geese.

Sophie Neville on the Norfolk Broads

It seems Arthur Ransome, who had fished on the Broads with Titty’s father, Ernest Altounyan, in 1923, also enjoyed cruising in the spring. His biographer, Roger Wardale, said that ‘Both the Ransomes liked to visit the Broads just after Easter, before most of the motor cruisers had started the season and it was the best time of year for birdlife.’ He went on to describe how Arthur Ransome kept a log of his three weeks spent in a Fairway yacht, the essence of which he used to write Coot Club in 1933/34. ‘As well as visiting Roy’s of Wroxham, tying up at Horning Hall Farm and watching the racing boats go by, towing through bridges, mooring beside a Thames barge at Beccles and watching a fisherman catching eels with a bab, there are numerous details that combine to make Coot Club a valuable account of the social and natural history of the Broads as they were more than 70 years ago.’ 

Roger Wardale illustrated his book Arthur Ransome Master Stroyteller , using wonderful photographs and sketches by Arthur Ransome, including a very jolly one of the Hullabaloos that had not been published before. Do get hold of a copy of the book, to read the chapter on Coot Club for yourself.

‘How did appearing in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ affect your life?’

Wheetabix commercial
Sophie Neville appearing in a Wheetabix commercial directed by Claude Whatham in 1973

I am often asked what impact Swallows and Amazons has had on my life. Because I had been given the lead in a feature film, it naturally lead to ‘more work’, as any actor would put it. I had not expected this but things seemed to come our way. Sadly not riches, as I was still paid as a child, but it was fun and I learnt a great deal.

Wheetabix Commercial with Claude Whatham looking through the camera
Claude Whatham looking down the 35mm camera, giving direction to Ruth Shields and Percy Baxter, while Perry and Tamzin Neville stand by in the foreground.

I think Claude Whatham must have accepted a contract to direct commercials for Wheetabix even before he finished editing the Arthur Ransome movie, because in the summer of 1973, my sisters and I appeared in three lovely period films – each about 3 minutes long – that he made in Gloucestershire at harvest time.

Wheetabix Commercial with Tamzin and Perry
Girls in a Cotswold cornfiled hearvesting stocks of wheat ~ Photo: Martin Neville

Claude had a cottage near Stephen Grendon’s house in the Cotswolds. The location can not have been far from where we all lived as I recognise some of the Extras, who my mother must have gathered together. I can’t remember Sten being on the set but I have a photograph of our erst-while chaperone Jane Grendon in period costume.

Wheetabix Commercial with Jane Grendon
An unknown gentleman with Daphne Neville and Jane Grendon in Gloucestershire while filming a commercial for Claude Whatham in August 1973

We didn’t actually have to eat breakfast cereal. In my film there was simply a shot of me climbing over a gate to discover a cornfield with the voice track, ‘When I was young…’ over a shot of me  and my brother, played by Nicholas Newman, eating individual grains of corn. This was not in the script. We just did as children do.

Wheetabix Commercial directed by Claude Whatham
Nicholas Newman and Sophie Neville eating grains of wheat.

Claude asked me just to stand in the crop and ended the film with a shot of me spinning around, enjoying the feel the ripe heads of corn as they hit my hands, captured against the low light of the setting sun. It was undirected action. Despite having endless lengths of track, the latest camera mounts and a massive 35mm Claude was letting us behave completely naturally – experimenting with improvised drama without even asking us to improvise.

My mother could not appear in the advertisement herself, as she had already been in a Television commercial for cereal and her agent did not want her to accept ‘Extra work’. She was with Bryan Drew, whose assistant Wendy found Mum featured roles in a wide range of television commercials, which paid very well as the repeat fees were good. I remember her taking me with her to the office in Shaftesbury Avenue when Brian Drew lent back in his chair, casually agreeing to represent me.

Sophie Neville in 1976

I went to a number of interviews – rather than auditions – to appear in feature films that I don’t think were ever made. Under Jim Callaghan Inflation was running at 17% in the mid 1970s and money for movies must have been tight in the UK.  This was probably why Richard Pilbrow couldn’t get the financing for an adaptation of Great Northern? 

When I was fifteen, I decided that the old black and white promotion photographs of me playing Titty wouldn’t do and arranged for my own Spotlight photograph to be taken by an old professional – the husband of rather an unpopular teacher at school. I decided exactly what I would wear and how I would sit. My friends and the teacher were amazed but it did the trick. On the strength of this one photograph, and obviously my experience gained on Swallows and Amazons, I was given the leading role of Liz Peters, an archery champion in a CFF adventure movie titled, The ‘Copter Kids alongside Sophie Ward and Jonathan Scott-Taylor.

Sophie Neville in The 'Copter Kids
Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Sophie Neville, Daphne Neville and Sophie Ward in a family adventure movie called ‘The Copter Kids’, 1976

This time my mother played our mother, wearing her red mac and rather tight jeans. Derek Fowlds played our father, an oil prospecting helicopter pilot. At the time he was only really well-known as ‘Mr Derek’, the straight guy for Basil Brush. I was actually asked at the audition whether I thought that girls my age would find him attractive. I was too polite to say that we all prefered Basil. Basil Brush was a fox puppet, but so enormously amusing and spontaneous, he was adored by the whole nation. What happened during the filming was that we all fell in love with the stunt men, Vic Armstrong and Marc Boyle, who were acting in their own right as the Baker Brother baddies. How could we not? Vic spent years playing Harrison Ford’s double. He was the real Indiana Jones. His numerous film credits include Thor, Robin Hood, The Golden Compass, Charlie’s Angels and Empire of the Sun. He is currently working as the stunt coordinator on Jack Ryan, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner. Marc Boyle worked on Star Wars – return of the Jedi, Batman and Alien 3, as well as supervising the stunts on the Bond movie Licence to Kill.

Derek Fowlds went on to do incredibly well, famous for playing Bernard alongside (or under) the late Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne in the classic BBC TV comedies Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister that ran from 1980-1988 and are still adored. Sophie Ward, who played my sister Jill, was so very beautiful that she became a top model, the face of Laura Ashley, before she was sixteen and has never stopped working as an actress, starring in films such as The Young Sherlock Holmes and the TV movie of Joanna Trollop’s novel The Village Affair. Recently, she appeared as Lady Ellen Hoxley in Land Girls and as Rosie Miller in Secret State.

A star-studded cast, but should you rush off to order a DVD of The Copter Kids? Please don’t. It was a dreadful film. One of the stage school children who appeared in the crowd scenes floored me by asking, ‘What’s it like being a film star?’ I became self-conscious, which killed the sparkle and enthusiasm I needed for the role of teenage heroine. And I didn’t even shoot very well. You would be appalled. It was probably only made because being a charity, CFF  – The Childrens Film Foundation,  did have a bit of money in the coffers. A little bit. I was paid so meagerly that Bryan Drew waivered his agent’s commission.

Swallows in Egham ~ a pick-up day, filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Walker children dressed as they arrived at Holly Howe at the start of their holiday in the Lake District
Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville playing the Walker children, as they arrived at Holly Howe at the start of their summer holiday in the Lake District ~ photo: Daphne Neville

While I had been at home with my family, Claude Whatham had been busy in the film editing suite putting ‘Swallows and Amazons’ together with Michael Bradsell.  They had previously worked together on ‘That’ll be the Day’.  Our Continuity supervisor Sue Merry must have known Michael too, as he’d edited Ken Russell’s film ‘The Boyfriend’.  Claude found that they definitely needed the sequence when the Walker children run up to the Peak at Darien and see Wild Cat Island for the very first time.

It is the scene that heralds the start of the adventure and indeed the opening titles of the movie. Richard Pilbrow had always wanted it to be shot at Friar’s Craig on Derwent Water.  There is a postcard of this headland with notes written on it by Arthur Ransome who labelled it for the first illustrator of the Jonathan Cape edition of the book, and it seemed just right for the Peak of Darien despite being a long way from Bank Ground Farm.  Although there had been two attempts made to record the handful of shots needed as the evening light lit up the islands across the water, we had always been held up and reached the spot too late in the day.

Richard must have already been over budget but the money was found to mount a pick-up shoot at Runnymede near Egham in Surrey one Saturday at the beginning of September. We were told that King John signed the Magna Carta under an oak tree there.

 

We loved the idea of meeting up again. Claude said he made an effort to get as many members of the same crew together as possible so it wouldn’t seem strange but it was a big unit.

Sophie Neville with Sten Grendon, Jane Grendon, Claude Whatham and Neville Thompson
Sophie Neville looks on as Stephen Grendon organises his costume helped by Jane Grendon with Claude Whatham and Neville C Thompson.

The one thing that was striking was how much our hair had grown. We all needed a trim. Sten needed a full hair cut. Luckily Ronnie Cogan was free.

Stephen Grendon playing Roger Walker having his hair cut by Ronnie Cogan

Neville Thompson had even managed to book the same Make-up caravan. It was here that Peter Robb-King the make-up designer toned down our summer tans in an effort to match the skins of the pale Walker children who’d been sitting in the railway compartment with their mother at the beginning of the film.

Photograph of movie hair-stylist Ronnie Cogan giving a boy a short back and sides hair cut
Ronnie Cogan giving Sten Grendon a hair-cut. I was in the Make-up caravan beyond.

The ironic thing was that it was Make-up that held us up when we were first failed to record the scene in the Lake District. It took so long for Peter Robb-King to sponge down all four of us with pale foundation that the sun had set before we arrived on location. I can remember my mother hurrying him along, claiming it was ridiculous as it was too dark to see our freckles anyway. I was keen on the importance of continuity and had contradicted her. Claude couldn’t believe how long it had taken us to change. He had been furious when we turned up late but tried hard not to let us think it had been the fault of us children.

Simon West playing John Walker and Suzanna Hamilton as Susan Walker
Simon West playing John Walker and Suzanna Hamilton as Susan Walker

There was no Peak of Darien at the farm in Surrey, but a field had been found where we could run up to an oak tree. We just had to pretend we were looking out over the lake.

If you click on the shot below it should take you to a post I wrote on the opening locations of the film. Scroll down and you’ll see the shot of us running down the meadow at Bank Ground farm. This was the shot Claude had to cut from to the sequence that we were currently filming. Scroll right down to the end of the post and you’ll see me on Friar’s crag looking exhausted after a long day’s filming. I am so glad we were not able to continue that day.

Director Claude Whatham with Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West. Producer Richard Pilbow looks on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Although he had a freelance camera operator in a stripey shirt who we did not know, we met our Director of Photography Denis Lewiston who was setting up the shot with Claude under the oak tree, using a 35mm Arriflex camera on ‘short legs’.

If you click on the photo above you should get to a Post written about a location that was set on Derwentwater near Friar’s Crag – or on part of Friar’s crag that will give you an idea of what the real Peak of Darien would look like. However, the day in September in Egham was hotter than any day we’d experienced in Cumbria. Claude was soon wearing my straw hat.

DoP Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West with Gordon Hayman behind the 35mm Arriflex Camera ~ photo: D.Neville

If you click on the photo above it will take you to the day on 8th July when we had tried and failed to shoot this scene despite rushing around.

Although we look a bit hot and stiff in these photographs that my mother took when we were lining up the shots I think that the movie was probably made by this scene. We had learnt how to magic-up performances by this stage. If you watch the finished film our faces can be seen glowing with excitement. This was also partly because we were happy to be together again, on a sunny day in a lovely place.

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker with Gordon Hayman, Denis Lewiston and Claude Whatham behind the camera

I’ve just realised this image of Titty, clutching her school hat as she looked out over an entirely imaginary lake, was the last actual shot recorded. Soon my close-up was ‘in the can’ and ‘a wrap’ was called. It had been the 1003rd slate of the movie. We celebrated with tins of Fanta rather than champagne.

Since the first shot in the compartment of the steam train as it travelled between Haverthwaite Station and Windemere , recorded back in May, I had put on about seven pounds and grown taller than my elder brother and sister.

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

I can’t help thinking that this photograph is symbolic of the futures we were to step into. Sten Grendon is holding an apple, Suzanna seems to have a framed photograph and I’d been given a roll of camera tape. What Simon West is holding is something of a mystery, but it is tightly clasped.

Simon West writing his address for me on a scrap of paper

Soon it was time to go. We changed back into our own clothes and said goodbye.But it wasn’t long before we saw Claude again. Once he’d finished editing the film we were called to the work on the sound. The movie was still in the making.

Sophie Neville saying goodbye to director Claude Whatham

The 50th Day ~ making the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’, 11th July 1973

Producer Richard Pilbrow with Neville C Thompson on Derwentwater in the Lake District in 1973
Producer Richard Pilbrow with production associate Neville C Thompson on Derwentwater in the Lake District in 1973

This photograph of Richard and Neville sitting on the deck of Captian Flint’s houseboat in the pouring rain must epitomise the struggles they went through to work around the weather and bring ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in on budget.

It was Claude Whatham’s dream to end the movie with an aerial shot of Swallow and Amazon sailing away from Captian Flint’s houseboat.  He had a helicopter pilot standing-by with a special cameraman, but it wasn’t to be. He needed bright sunshine for the shot to cut with our farewell sequence after the battle. We waited three days but the weather was too dull and wet to film anything useful.  I’m so glad.  Claude ended up freezing the simple shot that captures Arthur Ransome’s book completely. It was used on the front of one of the first VHS copies of the movie.

'Swallows and Amazons' on VHS
The Amazons, played by Kit Seymour, Lesley Bennet and the Swallows, played by Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and Stephen Grendon on the cover of the original VHS version of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

I’m afraid we hung about the very nice Water Head Hotel in Ambleside getting bored and precocious, or so the evidence suggests. Since John and Margaret, our location caterers, had returned to Pinewood Studios, we were taken to the hotel resturant for lunch.

We loved that cinema in Ambleside. Was it the same then as Zeffirellis, the cinema in Compston Road operating today?  The adults must have found it a good means of keeping us peacefully entertained, but then again they were all film-makers, who loved movies. Zanna didn’t come to the cinema that afternoon. She walked four miles up Wanstell Pike with Jane Grendon.

Albert Clarke, the stills photographer on the film crew, had given us contact sheets of the black and white photographs that he had taken during the filming. I spent my time at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel, where Claude and Richard were  staying, with a tube of Copydex ~ or ‘rubber solution glue’, as they kept saying on Blue Peter,  sticking the tiny photographs into the scrap books that I had been keeping.

The Real Charcoal Burners a contact sheet

Richard Pilbrow kindly let us choose large 10’x 8′ versions of the photographs, which we are able to take home to our families. I kept mine all these years, never using them for anything, but treasuring them as a memory of those happy, fulfilling days spent in Cumbria in 1973.

Black and White photograph of a waterfall in the Lake District
‘It’s Niagara!’ Titty declared. ‘We could get a barrel and bounce down it.’
Sten Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and Sophie Neville as the Swallows on their way to visit the charcoal burners

30th June 1973 – Finding our photographs in the Daily Express

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The secret was out; ‘his anecdotes which are many, o u t r a g e o u s, and largely unrepeatable.’ Whilst we had been busy filming on a smelly lily pond the ‘joker’s joker’ had been languishing in the bar of the Kirkstone Foot Hotel just outside Ambleside saying that, ‘he was a lousy lover but loved to practice.’ Oh deary me.  Worse was to come.

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‘…baby, you’ve got to be a bit dotty.’ At least we were described as ‘bright and vivacious’.

 

David Blagden, our sailing director, had a small part of a prison officer in the movie Kidnapped, that we went to watch at the local cinema. It starred Michael Caine, Trevor Howard and Lawrence Douglas, with Jack Hawkins, Donald Pleasence and Gordon Jackson, but sadly not Ronald Fraser. He was still in the bar.

Suzanna Hamilton’s perspective on the day is not so very different but it is in purple.

Mediculs. A sure sign that our movie was over-schedule and over budget, with nothing much anyone could do about it but keep going. We still had to capture the houseboat. And make that splendid gentleman walk the plank.

The distinguished actor Ronald Fraser fishing with Kit Seymour, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West, Sophie Neville and Stephen Grendon whilst filming on location in the Lake District ~ photo: Daphne Neville