Collecting coastal litter on the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on the Solent

The Race for Reading is going well and my litter picking is bearing results.

Schoolreaders is such a great charity. I’m one of their author supporters along with Joanna Trollop and Sophie Kinsella. They have been incredibly supportive, tweeting:

@Sophie_Neville has been an absolute star of #RacefoReading this year! Not only has she collected a massive amount of #litter from our coastlines she’s raised over £550 to support children’s #literacy via #Schoolreaders, which she hopes to get match funded!

An improvement can be seen as I walk the coast collecting plastic pollution, but change is slow. In the last few decades, micro plastics have got everywhere. I list some of the weirdest things I’ve found in the past here.

Orange and green that should not be seen

Day 21 – of my personal challenge

U is for Unbelievable how much litter there is in Britain

Unless each one of us do something useful, we’ll be burrowing through unbearable rubbish. I embark on an uplifting walk of about 12.5kms, up and down the river, collecting useless plastic before it is washed into the unforgiving sea.

It’s not unusual for litter to last for decades. You can see some of the elderly items I’ve found by the coast here.

Day 22 –

V is for Victory

I walk vigilantly along the tideline, through the sand dunes, along the verdant estuary where flotsam gathers, and into town finding very small pieces as I cover 6.5kms.

Day 23 –

W is for Why Worry?

Why use a dog poo bag if you are going to leave it in the countryside? It is worrying. They do not decompose and have been known to kill animals attracted to grain in the dog poo. Foals have died. A vet found 20 dog poo bags in the stomach of a deer.

I wander through tide wrack finding a number of dog poo bags washed up by the sea. How many kill dolphins? I return via the windswept sand dunes crossing an ancient midden or rubbish dump. 4 km + 9km = 13km walked today.

W is for Waterhaul – I use this old feed bucket for collecting litter but it is better to take a bag when it’s windy. You need a strong one that can take broken glass. Waterhaul are making beach clean bags out of old sails and are up-cyling amazing things out of discarded fishing net. You can find their website here.

Day 24

X is for sea Xs – I find a huge number along the coast – the result of torn fishing net being shredded and discarded at sea. It is too costly to mend or dispose of them on land. Theses strands of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) are known as sea-kisses when an X is formed by the knot. Please collect any and report your findings to Marine Management.

PVC fishing net purposely shredded and discarded at sea

I stop for a rest to look back on what’s been achieved, appreciating all the encouragement I’ve been given.

Rebecca Holmes left a message saying: “only 3.5km” only this only that. NO, it’s not only. It’s brilliant, every single step counts.

Liz Downs Wow. This is the first I’ve heard of this. What an achievement 👏💖

Stephen Green Such a worthwhile cause, I commend you Sophie well done, I don’t know where you get the energy from.

Sophie Neville collecting marine plastic on the r4r2022

Day 25

Y is for Yucky

Are young people to blame or drivers? If you take a lane running alongside your local river, you soon notice that most roadside litter is made up of the bright packaging of things that are bad for people: tobacco, sweets, over flavoured snacks, drugs, sugary carbonated drinks and alcohol. Somehow the caffeine fails to give people the energy to take their rubbish to a bin.

I took part in Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean when we counted cans collected and found twice as many alcohol containers as soft drinks. The highways of Britain are lined with tins and bottles that have been in people’s mouths. What are the consequences?

I walk 1.3km along our tidal river within the National Park, collecting a couple of large bottles that would have been hazardous if flung from a vehicle. These are added to my glass recycling bin, which has become embarrassingly full. I have a container of old oil I do not know how to dispose of. There are two 25 litre drums of chemicals, a car bumper and a metal table lurking in the estuary. I’ve reported them to the Council twice but nothing has been done.

I feel discouraged but am delighted to announce that a colleague from Litter Pickers of The New Forest, renown for covering a huge distance, has signed up for the Race for Reading 2022 and will be picking up the baton. Another volunteer promises to help me extract the fly-tipping and take it to the dump.

Day 26

Z is for Zonked. I’m getting tired but zoom along the shore zealously collecting muddy rubbish and tiny pieces of litter covering 4.1km.

Z is for Zero plastic waste. I sign up for The Big Plastic Count. We have to stop producing so much single use plastic. I’m told that a truckload of rubbish enters the sea every second of everyday. I will continue to pick pieces up from the coast but we have to stop it getting into the sea.

I log my fitness to find I have covered over 78 miles on the Race for Reading 2022. I’ve only collected one wheely bin of litter, a tub of glass bottles and another of tin cans but the coast is clear.

Sophie Neville - an author supporter of Schoolreaders

Thanks to my generous sponsors, I’ve raised £445 for School Readers so far. My company will double any money I can raise in sponsorship, so any donations given to School Readers via my Justgiving page will be doubled.

Schoolreaders is a children’s literacy charity which provides volunteers to partner primary schools nationwide to listen to children read. Even before Covid 19, 1 in 4 children left primary school unable to read properly1. Currently, our dedicated volunteers support over 7,000 children every week with one-to-one reading support, boosting their reading ability, fluency, comprehension and enjoyment.

Why Schoolreaders is needed:

  1. Inequalities in literacy levels have widened since the pandemic. 5-7 year old disadvantaged pupils are 7 months behind non-disadvantaged peers2
  2. One in seven adults (7 million people) have poor literacy and are unable to fill in a job application form, read a medicine label or understand written instructions. This can affect their mental health, contribute to unemployment, homelessness and crime – 48% of UK prisoners have reading ages of 11 or under.3
  3. Illiteracy costs the UK economy nearly £40 billion every year.4
  4. More than 10% of primary schools in England have registered with Schoolreaders to help their pupils catch up on vital reading skills.

For a full list of items I’ve found on beach cleans, please click here.

N is for Never give up – you can still join the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on r4r2022

No regrets! It’s not too late to register for the Race for Reading.

I’ve been going slowly but nothing is stopping me. My quest is to collect litter and marine plastic as I walk along the coast of the UK to raise funds for the charity Schoolreaders.

As you can see on my earlier posts, I’ve been using the alphabet as a theme.

N is for Nothing changes unless we take action

Day 14 – Another nice walk along the estuary into the small town of Newport collecting numerous wrappers and a noxious nappy dropped by numbskulls.

I walk another 3km later, cleaning the high tide line along the beach finding, amongst the rope and fishing line, a spoon, a sock and five poo bags. Why dog owners use tennis balls is a mystery. They contain lead and can choke large dogs.

Rubbish - old tennis balls
Old tennis balls and shredded fishing net

O is for Obviously old things get outdated or ousted and litter becomes an ordinary occurrence rather than an outrage.

Day 15 – I only cover 2 kms following the coastal path to a lifeboat station but collect three old socks, a pair of knickers and half a bucket of litter. I later search the tide line for flotsam and mainly find dog poo bags and obsolete fishing line while covering another 3.5kms.

P is for Plastic

Day 16 – I plod past a harbour collecting picnic litter, pondering on the fact I’ve probably covered 2 kms. Later I pace the tide line for 3.7kms returning with a heavy bucketful of party rubbish: plastic packaging, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic straws and 6-pack plastic that litters the coast. I find plenty of plastic cotton bud stalks, panty liners and packets of condoms along the shore – an indication of sewage entering the sea. PVC rope and polystyrene discarded by the fishing industry is common.

Plastic, polystyrene and PVC

Patience is needed. PPE, party poppers, plasters and ear plugs fill me with fury. I prefer picking up paddles, pegs, paintbrushes, pens and pencils since there’s a possibility they were simply lost. There’s a litter-picking prize for finding pairs of pants.

Day 17 –

Q is for quayside

but as that is now clean, I walk up the estuary into a quaint market town. It’s quiet but I find a lot of wrappers, covering 3.9kms as I collect a bucketful of litter. The skate park posed quite a challenge. The drains there wash straight into the estuary.

After lunch, I set out across the sand dunes finding a quantity of drink cans and glass bottles left by camp fires. The 20 bottles are heavy to lug back.

filling my bucket with picnic litter

I’ve learnt a lot since collecting litter. You see what’s happening from the underside of society. Alcohol containers are often discarded from high vehicles , rural drug taking is rife and fishing vessels are shredding nets at sea. The arterial roads of Britain are strewn with rat-infested litter loaded with human DNA. It’s surprising we are not threatened by a more serious pandemic.

Day 18 –

R is for re-cycling on the Race for Reading

I have been putting bottles or clean drink cans in the recycling bins but most coastal plastic needs to go to landfill. I scan the mudflats for ancient litter including heinous broken glass covering about 2.5km.

Day 19 –

S is for Sunshine

Silvery skies lift my spirit as I search the seashore for seven kilometers without seeing much flotsam. We seem to be making progress. If people see no rubbish they are less likely to drop litter.

Day 20 –

T is for tidying

I retrace my tracks traversing three kilometers to town coming across little litter. Two more kilometers with the dog and I’m tired but happy. Another two kilometers in the evening take us to a running total of 55 miles covered litter-picking so far. Logging my progress with the Race for Reading has been motivational.

Sophie Neville on Schoolreaders Race for Reading 2022 – photo by Caspar aged 7

If you would like to sponsor me on the Race for Reading 2022, I have a Justgiving page here and there are alternative ways of donating to the charity here.

Each donation will be matched by my company, and then again by SchoolReaders matched funding, so if you can donate £5 it will be magnified to £20.

Every small amount is an encouragement and will make a difference, enabling slow readers to catch up at school and gain a love for books.

You can hear about the work of the charity here:

Titty’s Tooth in The Times

Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville – trying to row with her mouth shut.

The indignity of being toothless still rankles but I now have a full set.

You can find the whole story on The Nancy Blackett Trust website

It’s possible to spot the gap by watching the film trailer for the 1974 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with further information on the International movie data base also seen here:

Sophie Neville, aged 12, without tooth. Suzanna Hamilton, aged 12, with beautiful teeth.

A letter from Japan – from the man who met Titty Altounyan in Coniston

Yoichiro Yamada from Japan with Titty Altounyan and her husband in Coniston in 1985

Dear Ms. Neville,

I am writing to you for the first time, having found that you are the president of Arthur Ransome Society. Attached is a photo I took with Titty and her husband at their bungalow by the Coniston Water in 1985.

My name is Yoichiro Yamada. I have been with the foreign ministry of Japan since 1984. I am currently teaching at a university (and will return to the ministry next year). 

I have held this photo in my album for 36 years now. It looks glossy because it is a digital photo of the original one. 

I have cherished the memory of meeting Titty and her husband, but have never written to anyone about it before. When I was around 12-13 years old, I was fascinated by Arthur Ransome stories. I read all the volumes in the Japanese translation. Since then, I wanted to live in the U.K. some time in the future. My dream came true when I entered the foreign ministry and was sent to Beaconsfield (RAEC Center) for language training in Russian. 

Taking advantage of that opportunity, I went to the Lake District, and after some luck, met Titty and her husband in 1985. I believe I was the only Japanese to have done so.

By coincidence, I have recently come to know about your society. I saw some photos of Ms. Mavis Altounyan (including those of her wedding), and was immediately convinced that it’s the same two persons that I met in 1985. I thought that I should write to you.

The original photo is in my father’s house, which has become vacant because he recently began to live in a pensioners’ home. So I cannot make a better copy of the original photo unless I go to that house by myself (which I intend to do this summer). I believe that in the same album there still remains a sheet of paper on which Titty made an autograph “Titty A.B.” for me (or perhaps “Titi A.B”…I cannot remember which way she wrote). I remember she said as she wrote it, “this is how I used to sign my name when I was very young.”

I hope this story and the photo are of interest to you and your society. 
Yours, sincerely, 
 

Yoichiro (Giro) Yamada

 My family has a parrot – a Panama Amazon – and his name is, of course, Polly.

I am no longer President of The Arthur Ransome Society, but I thought that others who love the Swallows and Amazons series of books would like to read this letter and asked permission to publish it, along with his photos.

I never met Titty Altouyan and was too shy to contact her but did rescue family photos of her wedding in Aleppo, which you can see on an earlier post here.

Wedding Day in Aleppo

Here is another picture of her at her sister, Brigit’s wedding:

Titty Altounyan at her sister’s wedding

You can read a little more about her life and the origin of her name here.

Titty Altounyan on the Norfolk Broads

A boaty biography

Sophie Neville

I grew up with boats in the garden. My father owned eight at one time, including two coracles and a vintage river launch called Ottor that he renovated himself.

Martin Neville with friends on the Norfolk Broads

As a young man, while setting up a team to develop the fibreglass hull, Dad raced on the Solent, volunteered on a tall ship, and wrangled an Atlantic crossing on the maiden return voyage of the QE2, taking us children around the liner when it reached Southampton.

Sophie Neville with her younger sisters aboard the QEII in 1969

I learnt to sail dinghies at Newport Bay in Pembrokeshire, later making my own sail for a Thames skiff so that I could take it down the lake where I grew up in Gloucestershire.

My father wanted a Mirror dinghy, but since they were beyond his budget we had a dubious one-design with a ? on its sail.

A family holiday in a Hullabaloo boat on the Broads – off season

Dad bought one of the first Toppers, which seemed quite daring at the time. It had no halyards. Its arrival caused much excitement. Called Earwig, the fibreglass hull was portable but proved precarious, soaking the crew as waves sloshed over her orange deck. I wasn’t much good at withstanding the cold and grew to loath setting off with wet feet.

Sophie Neville rowing to Cormorant Island
Sophie Neville as Titty and Sten Grendon as Roger rowing to Cormorant Island

Playing Titty in original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ involved quite a bit of rowing, which I kept up first as a member of the Collingwood Ladies Four at Durham University and later on the crew of The Drapers’ Shallop, a ceremonial barge that can be spotted on the Thames and River Lea, the Dart or Poole Harbour.

Rowing the Drapers’ shallop down to Runnymede

My dedication to fixed thwart rowing enabled me to take part in a Jubilee Pageant for The Queen at Henley, transport a copy of the Magna Carta to Windsor, and man an oar of the royal barge Gloriana in the Boat Race flotilla at Putney a year when Cambridge won.

Sophie Neville rowing in black cap on the River Thames at Putney

Belonging to the rowing club, City Barge, enabled me to take part in the Voga Longa in Venice – a 35km marathon – with the gold medalist Ed Coode as stroke. I later rowed a sandalo down the Amstel into Amsterdam standing to row Venetian-style, getting used to the idea of using a forcola in windy weather.

In the bows of a sandalo on the River Amstel in Amsterdam

We navigated the shallop down a tributary of the Loire in Brittany, leading a procession of two hundred and forty traditional boats into Nantes for the Rendez-vous de l’Erdre. I was asked to take the helm on the way back, great Dutch barges bearing down on us.

With the presenter and crew of France 3 news

One of my favourite vessels is a two-man canvas canoe my sister found on a rubbish dump. I nearly drowned after getting stuck in a kayak and prefer an open dugout or fibreglass equivalent. These have taken me on adventures in Papua New Guinea, across Lake Malawi and through the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Bird watching on the Boro River – Sophie Neville with Jez Lye

Back in 1978, I helped my father, Martin Neville, to restore a 1901 steamboat called Daffodil, which they kept near Oxford at Port Meadow on the Thames.

SL Daffodil on the River Thames

We would steam down to Henley each year for the royal regatta or upstream towards Letchlade. You can read about how we renovated here here.

We took a Humber Yawl that Dad built to take part in a Steam Boat Association rally on Windermere and pay homage to launches used in the film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ kept by George Pattinson at the Steam Boat Museum, now known as Windermere Jetty.

Lullaby undersail, playing the Teasel on the broads

I a lot of time on the water while filming the 1984 BBC adaptation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ when we spent three months filming on the Norfolk Broads. The series starred a yacht called Lullaby from Hunter’s Yard, which you can now hire for holidays.

I went away from my wedding in a punt, Dad polling while I sat with my new husband, holding an umbrella while a rainbow appeared over the water.

At the Brewery Arts Cinema in Kendal for the launch of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ and the 40th Anniversary DVD

While serving as President of The Arthur Ransome Society, I gave twelve Q&As at cinemas. Members of SailRansome have often come along with the little clinker-built dinghy used as Swallow, which I helped purchase when she came up for auction in 2010.

I am often asked to write articles about my life afloat, and have spoken at literary festivals, on BBC Radio and on ITV News when I nearly capsized.

On ITV News at Ten with Nina Nannar

It is with The Arthur Ransome Society that I have been able to sail an historic wherry down the Norfolk Broads, take an old German ferry to Lundy Island and cruise down Coniston Water on SL Gondola.

Aboard Wherry Maud – photo Diana Dicker

As a member of the Nancy Blackett Trust, I’ve sailed on the Orwell, in the Solent and through the inland waterways of the Netherlands, visiting Middleburg.

~Nancy Blackett in the Netherlands~

I enjoyed crossing the Veersemere to Zierikzee in the wake of my own forefathers.

Over the years, I’ve grabbed the chance to sail yachts to Salcombe, up the coast of Norway and through the Mediterranean but I still love taking out a small boat in the Lake District or on the Norfolk Broads.

At Wroxham on the Norfolk Broads

You can read more in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ available on line.

Looking back in gratitude – Highlights of 2021

Sophie Neville appearing on BBC TV

2021, and we thought we would be coming out of Lockdown but life remained restricted.

Litter Art made from sea plastic I’ve collected

Walking the Solent Way – in search of plastic pollution washed up on the shore

Winter walks along the coast litter-picking

Contributing to an anthology about Lockdown life

Becoming a Patron of the charity ‘Covid Reflections’

Speaking on BBC Radio Cumbria’s Saturday morning Breakfast Show

Appearing on BBC Antiques Roadshow with ‘Swallows and Amazons’ movie memorabilia including a hazel bow and arrow.

Marc Allum and Sophie Neville on BBC Antiques Roadshow

Taking Part in School Readers ‘Race for Reading’ challenge 2021, collecting litter on a section of the Welsh coastline

Collecting sea plastic whilst walking along the south coast of England

Writing articles for The Herald to encourage people to beach-clean

Representing Litter Pickers of the New Forest

Interviewed by JJ Walsh in Japan for a podcast on beach cleaning and meeting the head of Eco-Bricks UK who took some of my fishing net finds for a talk.

Having my unpublished novels placed in a number of literary awards:

Two historical novels Long-listed by Retreat West, 2021

Semi-Finalist in ACFW Genesis novel writing contest in the USA, 2021

Page Turner Finalist, 2021

Reaching the finals of the 2021 Eyelands Book Awards for an unpublished historical novel

Sophie Neville Eyelands Book Awards 2021

Long-listed by Roadmap’s Write Start Competition in the USA, 2021

Longlisted for Adventures in Fiction New Voices, Flash 500 first page competition and The Eludia Awards in the USA.

Mounting my sketchbook drawings on Instagram – here’s one that got away (the aspect ratio didn’t fit)

My sketchbook paintings

A few sporting achievements:

Worcestershire Archery Society’s prize for Lady’s Most Hits

First Lady’s Gold at the West Berks Archery Society

Best Lady’s Gold at Meriden

Lady’s Championship Trophy for highest score Worcestershire Archery Society

Grateful for the harvest from our lockdown vegetable garden: cucumbers, courgettes, marrows, beans, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs

Celebrating the first wedding after Lockdown lifted

Sailing to the Isle of Wight while Lockdown was eased

Visiting the Yarmouth and the Needles

Cleaning Solent beaches

Giving a talk at ‘The Late Summer Festival of Romantic Books and Writing’

Contributing to a handbook for Christian Writers entitled ‘Write Well’ published by Instant Apostle and released in Westminster on 9th October

Taking time out to ride across the wild areas of Sicily

Riding up Mouth Etna in Sicily

Writing a Foreword to ‘Boats Yet Sailing’ by Trevor Boult

Waking up one morning to find a bid of £251 on a signed first edition paperback of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ in an online book auction in aid of BBC Children in Need

Bringing out a second edition of ‘Funnily Enough’ with added illustrations

Being able to go to restaurants with my family – if only for one birthday lunch

Raising funds for welfare projects in the Waterberg, South Africa

Fighting period poverty in rural South Africa

And helping to rebuild the church that burnt down

Being interviewed about my dog, Flint

Sadly the plastic pollution keeps flowing onto Solent shores but I was honoured to be awarded ‘New Forest Litter Picker of the Year’

You can see photos of flotsam on an earlier post here

Very many thanks to all my readers who have reviewed my books

An online book review on the Waterstone’s site

A total of 180 comments and reviews have appeared on Amazon for ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ in its various editions, which is hugely appreciated. It would be wonderful if you could leave a short comment on my Goodreads site here.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

Swallows and Amazons themed gifts

Over the years, I have been suggesting a variety of useful, literary gifts. I have just brought out this mug featuring a map of the Swallows and Amazons locations on Consiton Water, currently available online from £8.86

Design and cartography by Sophie Neville

I’ve brought out maps in a range of colours.

Swallows and Amazons mugs
Mugs printed with maps used to illustrate Sophie’s books

These t-shirts might be useful for anyone liable to get lost.

I’m selling a variety of garments with my Swallows and Amazons map of Coniston Water on the Redbubble site where you can also find cushion covers

along with throws, duvet covers and a variety of products from phone covers to laptop sleeves if you fiddle around with the site here

There is a whole selection of socks, which I have listed here

The Nancy Blackett Trust have wooly hats and some great clothing, embroidered with Arthur Ransome’s good little ship. They have an online shop where you can also find yachting caps here

These new 90th anniversary tea towels make a useful gift for sailors, which can be purchased here

Peter Willis is offering his book ‘A Good Little Ship’ about rescuing Nancy for £10 – a great present for fans of Arthur Ransome.

I love these Swallows and Amazons bookmarks available from sky.n.fern for £2.50. They stock an assortment of unique stationery, which you can see here

I found this spectacle chain decorated with swallows, appropriate for web-footed grandparents, available here

For someone without much space, you can find handmade dolls house miniatures of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books here Each tiny book has tunable blank pages 1:12th the original size. I’m not sure if they are paying royalties to the Arthur Ransome Estate but what a compliment to the author. I’d be thrilled if they made miniatures of my books.

There is ‘Swallows and Amazons’ confetti, for sale on this site. Each heart is about one inch in size and can be used for a table decorations.

Jago Silver has some new ‘Never Stop Exploring’ cards, journals and notebooks, which you can find at his online shop here

This year, I bought packs of book-ish Christmas cards from the charity SchoolReaders. They have a variety here.

Here is something for sailors, which could include a voucher to sail Swallow, the dinghy from the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, which you can find out about here.

One of Jago Silver’s designs

A digitally hand drawn reproduction of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics film poster for the original movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) is available here

Or you could give a copy of the book on how the film was made. Large paperbacks can be ordered from Amazon or direct from the publisher here or other stockists listed here.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

You can find ‘Swallows and Amazons’ mugs and other gifts here

A signed first edition paperback of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ sells for £251 in an auction in aid of BBC Children in Need

I woke up this morning to find an anonymous donor bid £251 for a signed first edition of my book ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’. The money raised goes directly to BBC Children in Need, where it is carefully monitored.

Books listed in the category Auto Biography/Biography

Nearly eight hundred amazing books had been donated to the Children in Read charity auction organised by Paddy Heron, which raised a staggering total of £24,888.

Online bidding began about seven weeks ago and was advertised by the authors themselves on social media.

Rare copies of my first edition paperback of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ are often priced highly on Amazon so, when the bidding went above £75, I promised to include a signed first edition hardback of my memoir ‘Funnily Enough’, which includes a brief section on appearing in the film.

‘Funnily Enough’ an illustrated diary by Sophie Neville

When the bidding went above £101, I promised to add my third illustrated memoir about Swallows and Amazons style adventures in Africa, written in letter form.

Ride the Wings of Morning by Sophie Neville
‘Ride the Wings of Morning’ by Sophie Neville

However, £251 is so very generous that I am off to my archive store to see if I can find a hand-painted map to include in the package.

Map showing the film locations around Windermere

I drew three different maps showing our film locations in the Lake District and reproduced them in different colour-ways, using one on the cover of my original ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, which is still available on Kindle and any of the ebook outlets.

You can see a selection of my other maps on my Instagram page here

I added these ones to mugs and other useful items available to order from Redbubble They make good presents.

Swallows and Amazons mugs
Mugs printed with maps used to illustrate Sophie’s books

50th Anniversary of the 1971 BBC play ‘Cider With Rosie’ directed by Claude Whatham

Christmas Day 2021 marked the 50th Anniversary of the first BBC adaptation of Laurie Lee’s evocative book ‘Cider With Rosie‘, a story that tells of growing up in rural Gloucestershire before the combustion engine destroyed rural life as it had been led for centuries.

First published in 1969, the memoir sold six million copies. The 1971 BBC play was screened in the UK, France, West Germany and Japan, becoming regarded as an avant garde, ground-breaking drama that received four BAFTA nominations – Best Script: Hugh Whitemore Best Actress: Rosemary Leach, who played Mrs Lee Best Design: Eileen Diss Best Drama Production: Claude Whatham

Sophie Neville playing Eileen Brown

And I was in it, as a girl, playing the part of an urchin who could play the piano called Miss Eileen Brown. We were able to use the original village school in Slad as the location for both the classrooms and parochial Christmas concert. I can almost smell the chalk and dusty books mixed with hairspray used by the crew to limit unwanted reflections or dirty-up anything that looked smart and new.

As we ran out into the school yard, which was tiny, the director, Claude Whatham asked if any of us knew any skipping chants. No one said anything. I had been to a village school nearby and knew loads but was too shy to chant them. What a regret.

We used Laurie Lee’s village school in Slad as a location

It was June 1971. We had glorious weather. Prolific wildflowers made the drama special. I remember a bunch of buttercups standing in a classroom window. My scenes were set in 1925, when Laurie Lee was aged about eleven. I was used to having my hair tied in bunches but not up in hair ribbons. It felt strange. I wasn’t very happy about my dress, which was itchy and didn’t fit well. The costume designer assured me that Eileen would have only possessed one dress in real life. I was well aware that it would have been a hand-me-down, as were the boots.

The classroom scenes demanded little of me, I simply sat next to ‘Laurie Lee’ and reacted to the violence exhibited by the teacher. My challenge was that I had to play the accompaniment to ‘Oh Danny Boy’ on the piano. Laurie Lee had to play the violin but the boy playing him was given a double. I had to practice six hours a day, for three days, to get it right. In the end the director said, “Do you think you could play a little faster?”

“These are crotchets,” I said. “They don’t go any faster.”

The result is agonizing but authentic and brought tears to Rosemary Leach’s eyes. The author, Laurie Lee, who still had a cottage in Slad at the time, told my mother that Eileen Brown was the first girl he fell in love with, which was daunting but all this entailed was having to smile.

Sophie Neville with Philip Hawkes as Laurie Lee

My mother appeared in dream sequence, aged 34, looking beautiful in a neatly starched uniform, playing a housemaid when Mrs Lee remembered working with lovely things in a great house. Laurie Lee appeared as himself wearing tweeds – right at the end.

Two years later, in 1973, Claude cast Sten Grendon, who played Little Laurie Lee, as Roger Walker in the Theatre Projects/EMI movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’. He chose me to play his elder sister, Titty.

Sten Grendon with Claude Whatham

The actors John Franklyn-Robbins and Mike Pratt also appeared in both dramas. I didn’t remember this until I looked up the credits on IMDb years later. In 1983, I worked with Rosemary Leach in Norfolk on the BBC adaptation of ‘Coot Club’, when she played Mrs Barrable. I met up with the designer Michael Howells who had a small part as one of Laurie Lee’s elder half-brothers. Both have sadly died. All these amazing actors have sadly passed away, but were captured on film at their most vital.

The film score of Swallows and Amazons (1974) was composed by Wilfred Josephs who also wrote the haunting theme music for Cider with Rosie (1971). You can listen to it here:

The closing title music can be found here:


You can read an earlier article I wrote about appearing in Cider With Rosie (1971) on my other blog here and read more about Claude Whatham’s career here.

Claude Whatham ~ photo: Daphne Neville

This item presented by Paul Martin includes a clip of a black and white BBC documentary made with Lauri Lee in 1960 outside the school where we shot the drama. According to his biographer, he said of Rosie, ‘She was someone, she was no one, she was anyone.’

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