Diary of a Litter Picker: Braving the sea

One brief storm and a significant amount of rubbish is washed up on the south coast of England.

I joined two other Litter Pickers of the New Forest to clear litter on the gravel spit to Hurst Castle in Hampshire. Rubbish gets caught in the artificial sea wall.

You have to take care not to slip on the rocks, or lose your phone between the boulders as one of us did. I ventured too near the waves and got soaking wet.

Along with wrappers, ropes and tin cans, Jill found a plastic funnel that had been in the sea for sometime.

At first glance, the beach looked clean but we found part of a long fishing rod holder and numerous small items.

While Jill picked up a golf ball, I found used lighters, a small green monster and a child’s rake.

Some of the plastic and tins defeated us. They were too deeply buried or trapped between the rocks.

It is amazing how much there is on the footpath given that the Council provides huge waste bins where we deposited our findings.

I returned on another day to collect more,

And yet more. This is a typical cashe: a plastic bottle, a pen, old polystyrene and hard, blue plastic. I often find a shoe washed up on the shore. It’s important to keep going.

Rubbish - a shoe washed up on the beach

Another member of our group spent an hour collecting rubbish from Hurst Castle beach on Christmas Eve. “Quite depressing that there is so much litter: mainly plastic and polystyrene. A few interesting finds like a Santa hat, mask, Lego brick, toy soldier, tennis ball….but why so many plastic coffee cups?” he asked.

Richard Brook-Hart’s haul of plastic pollution

He returned on 14th January with another haul. “Lots of plastic bottles, coffee cups, the ubiquitous face masks, beer cans, sweet wrappers, poo bags, fishing line, a tube of toothpaste, and much more. I think that this can be partly attributed to littoral drift, particularly on the western shore, but on the eastern shore it is probably local littering.”

Unless we persevere, the rubbish will blow into the nature reserve where a multitude of native birds and migrant waders congregate. We counted 19 swans living there.

Next time you go for a walk, wear plastic gloves and take a litter bag with you. It is surprising what you can find. If you live in the New Forest, think of joining Litter Pickers of the New Forest who can provide High Vis vests and litter pickers. They are on Facebook here

Litter Pickers of the New Forest on an informal beach clean

Litter Pickers of the New Forest say:

‘Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we can now report some of the impact the local litter heroes, volunteers and staff, had in 2021. Our work with our partners including the National Park Authority, Forestry England, the police, and fire and rescue, saw:

10,000 hours of patrols,

a 40% drop in fires in the New Forest

Over 50 retailers stopped selling disposable BBQs

The New Forest Code was shared with over 2.7 million people

1,000 litter picking kits created

Over 700 New Forest Ambassadors signed up

230,000 bags given out to encourage people to take litter home.

An 8% drop in litter at coastal locations despite visitor numbers being up by 60%

New signs and information across all Forest car parks.

400 social media posts

1.6 million plus newsletters to subscribers

Digital signs at key roads.

‘Thank you to everyone who has done so much to support the New Forest this year, working together, right across the community.’

Keep Britain Tidy have more information here.

Looking back in gratitude – Highlights of 2021

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.

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’

Diary of a Litter Picker: My New Year’s Commitment to Keep (the coast of) Britain Tidy

Solent mudflats where wild geese graze

This is the Solent foreshore within the New Forest National Park in Hampshire where wildfowl gather and ponies wander free. Looking ahead to 2022, I have made a commitment to spend a total of 25 hours clearing this area of plastic pollution as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Million Mile Mission. They reckon I will be walking nearly 75 miles, whilst collecting litter.

This is not difficult as I live near the Solent shore. It is a beautiful area, part of the Crown Estates, but sadly we have to continually clear it of rubbish washing in on the tide.

Danger, in the form of broken bottles, lies in the mud.

I need to take great care when looking for flotsam with my dog. What of the wild animals – geese, swans and egrets? They need their feet.

We always collect a bucket full of plastic pollution, usually removing 2-4Kgs a day, made up of about 160 pieces, many of which are tiny.

Rubbish - plastic pollution washed up on a beach Oct 2021

The short pieces of green PVC rope are known as ‘sea-kisses’, the remains of old fishing nets shredded and discarded at sea.

Can you see the glinting shard of green glass (above)? It could easily be missed. I find a lot of tennis balls used by dog walkers despite the lead content being toxic.

cephalopod and palsticopod

It’s no wonder that seabirds die with stomachs full of plastic. You can see they have been pecking this inner sole looking for calcium normally gained from cephalopods.

There is always heavy plastic and glass, often a cap.

This peak may have floated over from France. There are sometimes larger items.

This canvas deck cover was 6 metres long and too heavy for me to carry home. Custom-made, it must be sorely missed and expensive to replace.

I must report this enormous marker buoy. It’s the third I’ve found.

People are naughty. Someone shoved a large metal baking tray smelling of fish under one of these bushes. It was heavy – too big for my bucket.

Odd things like forks are often left on the beach.

I have no idea what distance this crate has floated but Box Pool Solutions are based in Peterhead, north of Aberdeen, about 650 miles from the beach where this ended up.

How far has this bottle floated? It was made in South Korea.

Some of the litter is quite elderly.

Rubbish - A drinks can from the 1980s?

This polystyrene beam had been languishing on private land bordering the shore for years.

I reported this to the estate manager but it was not collected and broke into pieces, which are time consuming to collect.

Some of the rubbish has grown into the landscape and is not easy to extract.

Why people keep leaving litter on beaches astounds me. Someone was obviously having a Funki cocktail party on the beach. One of the bottles was half full. The Council bin can’t be missed.

Far more worrying are the florescent light bulbs I keep finding washed up on the shore. Over the years I have come across these four, washed up on the Solent – intact! If broken the toxins within are said to pollute 30,000 litres of water. It’s illegal to throw anything off a ship but I’m told that men are ordered to chuck these off rigs, despite the fact they contain mercury.

Intact fluorescent light bulbs found washed up on the Solent

How long will it be before we are unable to consume fish from the sea? I’m also finding blobs of sewer fat and palm oil, dangerous to dogs.

White blobs of palm oil and micro plastics found on one beach clean

The important thing is to keep going. Our wildness areas will turn into rubbish dumps if we don’t. If you would like to take action and join Keep Britain Tidy’s Million Mile Mission, please click here.

You can read about the Million Mile Mission here

I have more photos of flotsam on an earlier post here

New Forest Litter Picker of the Year 2021

and

Litter Pickers of the New Forest Beach Picker of the Year 2020

Eyelands Book Awards 2021

Sophie Neville Eyelands Book Awards 2021

The Eyelands Book Awards are to be announced on 30th December. I first entered this international writing competition in 2019, when my novel entitled ‘The Man Who Got Out of Japan’ won their prize for the best unpublished historical novel.

I was invited to apply for their Writer’s Residency and arrived on the island of Crete to begin work on the sequel under the title, ‘The Girl Who Escaped from Zanzibar’. This novel, set in Zanzibar in the heady days before the revolution of 1964, reached the finals of their 2020 competition in the category Unpublished Historical Fiction.

provisional cover

After being placed or long-listed in a number of other writing competitions, including the Page Turner Awards, this intricate story was completely rewritten. Transposed from the first person to the third person and re-titled ‘A Girl Called Redemption’ it has become multi-layered and intriguing. This second incarnation was submitted to Eyelands Book Awards in October 2021.

Eyelands Book Awards 2021

Eyelands Book Awards have now published a list of the authors short-listed for their grand prize. The final results will be announced on 30th December followed by an awards ceremony in Athens in April 2022.

Eyelands Book Awards

‘A Girl Called Redemption’ is up against stiff competition, including a WWII novel written by an American professor of writing:

Hiroshima Bomb Money / Terry Watada /Canada

Yesteryear / Stephen G. Eoannou /USA

The Swimmer /David Tenenbaum/USA

China China / Tong Ge /Canada

A Girl Called Redemption / Sophie Neville /UK

Sophie Neville short-listed for the Eyelands Book Awards 2021

Here is the full line-up of the finalists. Many congratulations for getting this far and best wishes to all!

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 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.

Sophie Neville with Claude Whatham in Slad, 1971

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. 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.’

A signed, first edition copy of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ is being auctioned in aid of BBC Children in Need

Are you looking for a special Birthday or Christmas present for someone who happens to love the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)?

Sophie Neville
Author Sophie Neville

Paddy Heron of Children in Read has a huge number of amazing books listed in a charity auction being held to raise funds for BBC Children in Need. Nearly £21,000 has already been pledged, which is amazing. We have 3 days left to bid, so you have time to chat to the family!

‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ is listed as Lot 298, in the section ‘Film & Television’ above Nigella Lawson’s book ‘Coot, eat, repeat’.

Listing in the Film and TV section

To place a bid, click on this link: https://www.jumblebee.co.uk/childreninread2021?cid=2431

and scroll down until you see the image of the book you would like to bid on, then click on the price button and you can enter a bid when the large image pops up. You don’t pay until you win on the final day. I will pay the postage within the UK and inscribe the copy to whom you wish.

What the bidding page looks like

We now have another bid for £101. Copies on Amazon.UK – where is it has 47 reviews, are now listed as costing about £76. I promised that if the bidding went higher than £78 I would personally inscribe this large paperback edition and include a signed first edition hardback copy of my autobiographical book ‘Funnily Enough’, worth £15, which includes a few pages about filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the Lake District.

‘Funnily Enough’, Sophie Neville’s illustrated diary

I said that the bidding goes any higher than £101, I will include a copy of ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, my memoir about leading a Swallows and Amazons style life camping in Africa:

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

To read about taking part in the same auction last year, please click here

If you need to know more about the auction, please contact Paddy Heron at Children in Read: childreninread@yahoo.com

Listings in the AutobiographyBiography section

The lighthouse tree lantern from Swallows and Amazons (1974) has come to light

I received an interesting series of emails recently from a stone mason called Philip Chatfield:

‘Hi Sophie, I was watching ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the old classic, on Talking Pictures TV… great channel. Curiously, I have, hanging in my cottage ceiling timbers, the lantern you used for the Lighthouse on Wild Cat Island !!!!!!’

The lighthouse tree lantern today

‘Lanterns like this pattern are not common, so I presume it must be the one used in your film. I like to think so.’

Sten Grendon (Roger), Suzanna Hamilton (Susan) and Sophie Neville (Titty) at the lighthouse tree in the 1974 movie of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’

It certainly looks like the lantern we used, which I knew well at the time. A hurricane lamp is used in the book Swallows and Amazons. John, ‘tied the other end round the oil box at the bottom of the lantern’, although candle lanterns were used to mark Secret Harbour.

You can see the lantern lying near Swallow’s mast

It was packed into Swallow on the voyage to the island, visible when the Walker children narrowly miss the Tern. You can see it lying in the shallow basket.

Film stills taken by Albert Clarke in 1973

It was rather uncomfortable to lean over when handing Roger the telescope.

Swallow nearly collides with MV Tern

The basket was taken out of Swallow at the landing place and Titty moves it up the beach ‘for fear of tidal waves.’ See if you can take some screen shots of it hanging from the lighthouse tree.

Philip says, ‘Clearly all the props went back to the Turk Phoenix shed near Teddington after shooting.’

Mike Turk’s warehouse full of film props

‘I never thought about it before but I used to work on a sailing ship called Grand Turk, which was owned by Mile Turk of Turk Phoenix who did a lot of film work.’

SV Grand Turk with Philip Chatfield firing a live shot on the Solent.  “That would have given Captain Flint’s houseboat a shaking up!”

‘The Grand Turk played the HMS Indefatigable in ‘Hornblower’ with Ioan Griffiths and co. While I was on board (as Third Mate and Gun Captain) I needed more props for the gunnery dept. The lantern was one of the props we had on board. It came from Turk Phoenix who still had one of the boats used in your wonderful film.’

Swallow at Mike Turk’s warehouse in 2010

‘Mike Turk’s business provided nautical props.’ When Mike reached the end of his life and fell ill, many of these were sold at auction in 2010, including the dinghy that played Swallow in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974), which was purchased by group of film fans now known as SailRansome.

Swallow prepared for auction in 2010

‘Before my time on Grand Turk I spent five years working on a lovely old square rig ship called MARIA ASUMPTA. Back in 1991 we sailed from London’s St Katherine’s Dock to Ipswich. We anchored off Shotley on the Orwell pretty much where the GOBLIN in Ransome’s book ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go to Sea’ book was set. As we hauled up our anchor we brought up a small kedge anchor. I still have it. At the time I was convinced it may have been from the story or even the sailing trip the story was originally based on. Who knows, but it is a lovely anecdote.  We had sailed the autumn before to Flushing in Holland and did a tour of the inland waters of Holland.’ 

Philip Chatfield with a kedge anchor

‘Sadly, Maria Asumpta was lost off Padstow in May 1995 with the loss of three crew. Thankfully I was one of the survivors.’

Maria Asumpta wrecked on a desolate shore

‘You can just see me standing staggering, second from the left, in a state of shock. Three were lost but I was amazed more weren’t, frankly. My friend the bosun Graham is sitting on the stern about to leap off. He survived, just. The ship had been built in Barcelona and launched in 1858.’ By the 1990’s it was the oldest square rigger still sailing.’ A true ship wrecked sailor! What would Titty say?

Philip Chatfield in HMS Victory working on a carving of Lord Nelson in 2008

‘As a stone carver and sculptor I make memorials. A few years ago I was asked to do the memorial for one of my old school teachers and eventually his wife, who now shares his grave in Monmouth. She was Helen Bucknall but her mother was Mrs Henry Clay. The Ransome book  ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ is dedicated to Mrs Henry Clay no less. Henry Clay was a friend and colleague of Ransome’s on the Manchester Guardian, also a keen sailor. I think Helen and her family were the inspiration for the story in the book. So Helen has a carving of the yacht they sailed as children on the large Welsh slate memorial in Monmouth cemetery.’

‘The galling thing for my friends, whose mother was Helen, is that they can’t find the original first edition of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ that Ransome signed. Hope it turns up. At least that charming card exists. Love his little sketch of the dinghy.’

‘Anyway, hope this is of interest… well done for all you do.  I have a hard copy of the book on order! Can’t wait. Very best wishes, Philip Chatfield’

The lighthouse tree lantern today

To read more about some of the Swallows and Amazons movie memorabilia, including Swallow’s flag and the fishing rods, please click here

To read more about ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ – click here

This lovely documentary shows Philip’s recent work on railways:

Alan Smith of BBC Radio 4 remembers being a film extra as a boy in the original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)

The original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was screened on Talking Pictures TV recently. The BBC Radio 4 newscaster Alan Smith, wrote to me recently, saying:

“It’s Alan Smith here – lovely to have all those memories flooding back! I’ve been through the family archive of photographs and have uncovered two pictures which I’m sure you won’t have:

Brian Doyle, Terry Smith and Graham Ford, with Virginia McKenna, Kit Seymour, Sten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Lesley Bennett (photo: Eileen Smith)

“The first picture is fairly obvious – it’s you and the other cast members in the car at Haverthwaite station. This will have been taken by my Mum at the time the ‘official’ photo was taken.” This was on 14th May 1973 when a reporter from the Times came to witness our first day of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’. The station had only been re-opened two weeks earlier.

The cast of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) at Haverthwaite Railway Station with Jim Stelfox. Robin Smith is at the window, Alan Smith and John Eccles are standing in the doorway.


“The photo (below) shows (left to right) my brother Robin, me and our friend John Eccles standing in front of a pony & trap. This picture was also taken at Haverthwaite, probably by my mother. John came along with his grandparents Patsy and John, and everyone remarked on how distinguished Mr Eccles senior looked in his boater and blazer!

Robin Smith (6), Alan Smith (9) and John Eccles (7) at Haverthwaite Railway Station with the props lorry in the background


“Please feel free to use these pictures however you’d like – I wonder if they’ll prompt others who were there to unearth similar memories?!”


“We had a lovely two days as extras on the film. I remember there was a casting one Sunday morning at St Anne’s Hall (an old church which is now converted to flats) in Ambleside. This is where anyone who wanted to take part went along to meet the director and wardrobe people. My mother was given instructions re the dress-code for Robin and me, and we were asked to meet in Ambleside town centre a couple of weeks later to board a bus which took us to the first location (Haverthwaite).”  This took place about two weeks before the film. Eileen Smith ran the Gale Crescent Guesthouse in Ambleside although none of the crew stayed there. My mother, Daphne Neville, went along to help the wardrobe master, Terry Smith, fit the film extras with costumes.

Alan’s brother, Robin Smith, made it onto a jigsaw puzzle released with the film

Alan couldn’t think why his Dad didn’t come along. It might have been the threat of haircuts. No man in Cumbria under the age of seventy could be persuaded to have a 1929 haircut, apart from Jim Stelfox the station master and my own father, Martin Neville, who appeared in the Rio scenes shot at Bowness.

You can see a quick flash of Alan and his family near the bus in this behind-the-scenes cine clip, shot by my father with a 16mm Bolex borrowed from his company:

Behind-the-scenes footage taken by Martin Neville

Alan watched this and wrote, “My brother and I are convinced that the boy on the right of the frame at 0’06” is Robin, and the woman standing next to him in the hat with the red band is my mother, Eileen (I appear to have gone in search of ice cream or something, as I’m nowhere to be seen!).

“A couple of seconds earlier at 0’04” I’m almost certain the woman standing in front of the red bus with the large bag is John’s grandmother Patsy Eccles, and the the man in the white blazer, trousers and hat is John Eccles senior, Patsy’s husband. I have very fond memories of Mr & Mrs Eccles – they were a lovely, kind couple who were almost like an extra set of grandparents to Robin and me.

Other children who took part, featured in the local newspaper

“We may only have been extras, but it was so exciting for all of us! The first day’s filming was spent getting on and off the train, followed by what seemed like endless trips up and down the line (this would have been when you and the other actors were in the next carriage filming the early scenes).

Some of the other film extras with Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville


“The second day was a few days later at Bowness Bay. This must have been some feat to achieve as the road was closed to traffic and any clues from the 1970s such as road signs had to be covered up or disguised!

Is Alan fighting with his brother in this shot, top right?

“Both days had a very big effect on me. As a child I’d always been fascinated by radio, film & television, and this brought my imagination to life. It also lit a fuse under my ambitions to do something in broadcasting. The result is I’m now a news presenter on Radio4, doing the news in programmes such as Today, PM and The World at One, so I have a lot to thank Swallows and Amazons for! My work means I now live in Buckinghamshire, but I get back to the Lakes 5 or 6 times a year, and I know that when I hang up my headphones for good, that’s where I’ll live.”

Although born in Edinburgh, Alan’s family moved to Cumbria when he was two years old. He and his brother, Robin, enjoyed an idyllic ‘Swallows and Amazons’ childhood growing up in the Lakes. They didn’t get into sailing but loved hill walking. You can see his BBC profile here

Zena Ashbury and her mother, in front of Brown’s coach returning the film extras to Ambleside at the end of the day’s filming in Bowness.

The disaster of the missing tooth – whilst making the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)

Earlier in the year, I spoke to Helen Millican on BBC Radio Cumbria about making the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the Lake District, back in the summer of 1973. We have had an amusing development.

Sophie Neville speaking to Helen Millican on BBC Radio Cumbria

I had been chatting away, telling Helen that people like hearing about all the disasters we had whilst filming on location. One odd thing that went wrong was that one of my milk-teeth fell out in the middle of shooting a scene with Virginia McKenna on Peel Island. At the time, I was somewhat distracted and self-conscious about this but could do no more than try to keep my mouth shut.

Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville on Peel Island
Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville with closed mouth ~ photo: Daphne Neville

However, viewers often spot the fact that my tooth suddenly disappeared. They still talk about it nearly fifty years later. Helen assured me that the tooth fairy was bound to turn up with it, suggesting I could then take the small canine on BBC ‘Antiques Roadshow’, which was being recorded at Windermere Jetty museum in Cumbria at the time.

The tooth that went missing – top right

Amazingly, the missing tooth has been sent to me.

Robb-King, the Make-up Designer on ‘Swallows and Amazons’, rang to say that he had kept it safely in a metal film canister labelled ‘Titty’s tooth’. He promised to send it to me in the post so that I could add it to my bizarre collection of movie memorabilia – valued by Marc Allum at £4,000 to £6,000.

Sophie Neville being made up for the part of Titty by Peter Robb-King in 1973

Helen was delighted to hear that the tooth had materialized after 48 years. “Wow, Sophie what a result, after we made such a joke of it as well! That might just take your valuation up to the next level!”

Peter explained that he took the milk tooth to a dentist in Ambleside to ask if a bridge could be made to temporarily replace it but I remember the director, Claude Whatham, saying that he would ‘have to live with it’ – it being something of a continuity problem as he was yet to shoot earlier scenes of us sailing to the island. As a result, film fans can now work out which sequences were shot right at the end of our time on location even though they come before the scene with Man Friday (played by Virginia McKenna) in the storyline.

My missing tooth, kept since 1973

Peter Robb-King went on to have an amazing career in film, working on ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, ‘Aliens’, and a number of ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Batman’ and ‘Star Wars’ movies. He told me that he originally found it difficult to break into Make-Up Design as a man, but managed to win a post as a trainee on ‘The Avengers’ in 1968. ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) was his first job as a Make-Up Supervisor, proving a break-through for him and other members of the film crew. It was the first film made by the producer Richard Pilbrow and David Wood’s first screenplay. Suzanna Hamilton, who played Susan, went on to star in many movies including ‘1984’ with John Hurt and ‘Out of Africa’ opposite Meryl Streep. She has recently had a guest appearance on ‘EastEnders’.

Peter Robb-King can be glimpsed right at the end of this cine clip taken on location

Now retired, Peter and his wife live in Maidenhead but enjoy travelling around. We had a long chat about the green parrot as he later adopted a young one that was rescued while making an Indiana Jones film in Sri Lanka. Stephen Spielberg looked after another parrot from the clutch.

You can read more about the disasters that befell us whilst filming in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’, signed copies of which are available from libraries, The Nancy Blackett Trust book shop and other online distributors.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

If you enjoy ebooks, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ has links to behind-the-scenes cine footage and is very good value at £2.99 – available on Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes and on Kindle here

To read a little more about filming with Virginia McKenna on Peel Island, please click here

A list of Peter’s film credits can be found here: Peter Robb-King – IMDbimdb.com

Ronald Fraser with Peter Robb-King and Ian Whittaker on the houseboat

You can listen to the ten minute recording of my chat with Helen Millican of Radio Cumbria on the Nancy Blackett Trust website here.

The episode of BBC ‘Antiques Roadshow’ showing movie memorabilia from the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ can be watched on BBCiPlayer here.

You can spot the missing tooth but the movie trailer can be seen here as we attack the houseboat. The clip is slightly out of sinc.

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