Category Archives: truelife story

Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 2 of the Great British Spring Clean

This month I have been re-energised in my endeavour to collect litter by taking part in the Great British Spring Clean under the auspices of Keep Britain Tidy. They encourage their registered #litterheroes to keep a diary:

Day 8: Friday 29 March

I find another unopened can of beer on the pavement in Tooting where I am staying in South London. The general attitude to litter seems almost medieval, accepted as normal and tolerated by residents who rely on road sweepers to clean up rubbish scattered by foxes. My friend did not want me to think of touching it without gloves but she can’t stop the children picking up lost toys. Each time we pass a shopping trolley of garden waste, abandoned in the street, we see it has attracted more litter. How long will it stay there?

Day 9: Saturday 30 March

I’m off to Premier Radio’s Woman to Woman conference in central London. Litter in the streets seems to be an indication of poor diet. You can see what is being recklessly consumed: sugar-laden drinks, sweets, flavoured crisps, fast food, alcohol. Do we have a natural urge to discard what is bad for our bodies?

Cable ties lie the pavement in Westminster. Although not cheap, builders seem to cut and cast these aside. I picked up a handful that could easily be re-used. PVC cable ties were originally manufactured by my father. He would have wept to see how many are wasted or left to pollute the Earth.

Day 10: Sunday 31 March

Back on the south coast, I find an empty beer bottle, coffee cup and two dog poo bags sitting on the flood defence gate over the Lymington River, left as if for passers-by to admire while they take in the view over the nature reserve. What next? Have these items been carefully placed for me to collect? What if they fall into the river? Could the beer bottle ever jam the sluice gates open and cause flooding? The plastic will be washed into the sea. I give in and collect the items, only grateful they don’t have to be fished out of the brambles.

I go out latter for ten minutes, finding a full bottle of beer along with a large number of cans on a footpath leading to the pub. Some of the tins have been minced by a hedge trimmer, which is maddening. We must clear the verges this spring before vegetation grows. I retrieve another expensive roller from a boat trailer and a various car parts that owners might like returned.

Day 11: Monday 1 April 

The police arrive to examine the HP laptop and jewellery box I found chucked in the river last week. A silver bracelet engraved with the name Shirley lies inside. Everything is taken to the police station. The officer recommends putting a photo on Facebook in an attempt to find the rightful owner. My post soon has 92 shares. I only hope it is not too upsetting.

~Do you know anyone called Shirley who is missing this?~

I also post a photo of a strange car part found yesterday and am told it is from a Mercedes. A grateful lady comes to collect the roller from her boat trailer. I continue picking up litter from the lane alongside the Lymington River and spot something familiar. It is the mud-guard that fell off my husband’s car weeks ago. I am thrilled. He says, ‘Oh, I thought it would turn up some time.’

Day 12: Tuesday 2nd April

The council message me to ask if I can tell them where three road signs I dragged out of the ditch can be located. I find one has already disappeared from the verge where I left it. I collect a rusty car radiator and two buckets of rubbish from the lane running alongside the nature reserve. Its raining, the dog won’t join me and am beginning to feel morose when I am struck by the sight of a double rainbow, arching over my buckets left in a gateway. It is as if I am being thanked for all I am doing.

Day 13: Wednesday 3rd April

I resume collecting bottles and cans from the lane wearing rubber gloves and Wellington boots, jumping into the ditch in an effort to extract bottles and cans before they are washed into the sea. What do you conclude when you find a lipstick in a wild, marshy place? I discovered a handbag not far away and kept searching the area, coming across an iPhone and an Acer laptop.

Back at home, I go through the handbag with care, looking for something with the owner’s name, as the police officer taught me. I ring the number on a pile of identical business cards and eventually get through. The owner is travelling through London on a bus. Her bag had been stolen from her car ages ago but she sounded very pleased to hear from me and said she’d come to retrieve it.

Day 14: Thursday 4th April

As requested, I’ve been posting photos of my litter activity on social media, desperately trying to edit attractive photos of garbage for my Ingram feed. I begin to lose followers on Twitter but gain others as support grows. Encouragement helps no end.

People are making a difference but the task seems endless. One volunteer from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust filled a long-wheel based Land Rover with rubbish from the Lymington causeway last year. Although an ecologically sensitive area it has somehow attracted more rubbish.

Today it was cold and raining hard. The road drains were blocked. I wonder why? I reached down to pick up one piece – just one piece – but if I don’t a dolphin could die.

 

Total for week: About 60 minutes

My Stop – Start campaign

Stop chucking litter

Start picking it up

Stop flushing things down the loo

Start getting organised – get a car bin

2 Comments

Filed under Autobiography, Memoir, Sophie Neville, truelife story, Uncategorized

Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 1 of the Great British Spring Clean

2,500,000 pieces of litter are dropped in the UK every day. It amounts to 912,500,000 pieces a year. This costs nearly £1 billion to clear up. As we all know, much lies languishing in our lanes and beaches. We need to collect it ourselves.

Keep Britain Tidy ask volunteers to divide rubbish collected into three categories: ‘plastic’, ‘cans’ and ‘general waste’. I decide to add ‘glass’, wondering how many bottles I will find between 22nd March to 23rd April, the period ear-marked for the Great British Spring Clean.

The diary of a litter picker:

Day 1: Friday 22 March

I register on-line with Keep Britain Tidy and spend 40 minutes cleaning a footpath leading through a smart housing estate on the way back from hospital. I’m appalled by the stinky litter and glad to be wearing rubber gloves. I’ve never found the need for a grabber or gloves when cleaning beaches. Now it is essential. Numerous plastic bags containing dog poo hang off bushes, more lie under shrubs. I notice packets, wrappers, cans and bottles everywhere, amazed at the amount of rubbish lying in private gardens.

Rubbish unopened can

After work, I spend 60 minutes collecting roadside litter from a lane running through the New Forest National Park, taking a pink bucket I once found washed up on the shore as a receptacle for general rubbish. I use a purple one for glass bottles and an orange bucket that soon contains 27 empty alcohol cans. Are motorists drinking whilst driving? I find two unopened cans of Stella, along with a new tube of muscle-relaxant cream, a bike-lock cable and an old milk bottle that had grown into the mossy stream bank. I chatted to BBC Radio Solent, live on air, explaining that I would never have guessed these items were lying by the roadside. They were hidden in the undergrowth, posing a danger to wildlife.

Day 2: Saturday 23 March

I spend 45 minutes collecting an empty 25 litre tub of bleach, a 5 litre tub of French Elf Diesel, a number of bottles and other plastic pollution from a footpath near the Solent shore, taking all I can carry. I use my large purple bucket, which can take broken glass and doesn’t flap about in the wind.

The bucket is easy to lay down while I dig around in the bushes with barbecue tongs. I wonder how old all this stuff is. How long has it been accumulating in the woods? On the way home I stop to pick up an old coat from the verge. It’s been there ages.

Day 3: Sunday 25 March

I spend about 20 minutes collecting fishing net, bottles, and elderly plastic including flip-flops and a neon pink buoy washed up on a small beach, whilst with a journalist and photographer from the Daily Mail. They are staggered by the age of the packets I am collecting. We find a crisp packet that has been sunbathing on the beach for at least eight years.

I show the journalist and photographer rubbish left by a homeless person who was obviously camping in our local nature reserve. How much of this is a reflection of addiction, poor mental health and homelessness in our society?

rubbish net

I take the photographer a short way along the river where I have cleaned the verges repeatedly but feel more needs to be done. We find a can of diesel and a metal wheelbarrow clogging the ditch which needs to be clear to avert flooding.

Day 4: Monday 26 March

It takes 80 minutes to collect rubbish from the Solent foreshore. I take an old friend who is amazed to see how much we find on a section of coast that appears clean at first glance. I effectively give her a demo on how scratchy and time-consuming it can be to extract litter from brambles and blackthorn bushes. With her help, I retrieve 3 glass bottles, 9 plastic bottles, one beer tin, a heavy plastic container, cotton bud stalks, Durex packet, wrappers, polystyrene, gaffer tape, a broken For Sale sign, a domestic scourer, a section of astro turf, fishing rope and micro plastics. It’s a bright sunny day and we enjoy ourselves hugely, encountering wild ponies and sea birds.

Day 5: Tuesday 27 March

Someone commenting on Facebook said: ‘You’re very lucky to have the free time on your hands.’ I am grateful I can get out and about but it’s not as if I don’t work all day. I multi-task. I normally collect rubbish as I walk the dog or go into town. Anyone can collect litter as they walk to work, or school. If we each picked up three pieces a day it would make a huge difference and surely benefit our quality of life.

Today, 20 minutes are spent collecting litter and 30 minutes reporting what I found to the Police. Whilst picking up cans and cartons from the verge in the lane that runs along the river, I spot a leather hold-all behind an electricity substation. I find it open with a large jewellery box inside. Socks – one sign of a break in – are lying near the soaking wet bag.

I ring the Police who ask me to take it home. I’m longing to return to the items to their owner. Some of the sentimental things inside will be retrievable. I think I’d better go down to see if there is anything more and discover a silver-topped HP laptop in the undergrowth. I inevitably collected more litter: total for the day 139 items plus an enormous car bumper. Since the Daily Mail have asked if they can photograph all I find, this is lugged home too. My garden is looking like a scrapyard.

Day 6: Wednesday 27 March

I have a hectic schedule today but pick up a few items as I walk to the railway station. It’s difficult finding somewhere to wash my hands. One person in our town must chuck litter out of their vehicle every day. They knot it neatly in exactly the same way before tossing it into the hedge.

Day 7: Thursday 28 March

I walk along the South Bank in London where rubbish bins are placed every 50 yards. What is litter doing to national morale? Who wants to live in streets strewn with waste? What impact does it have on tourism and jobs? And how can we solve the problem? Insisting on car bins would help.

Total for week one: 325 minutes

rubbish tins

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Autobiography, Diary, Memoir, Sophie Neville, truelife story, Uncategorized

Diary of a lone litter-picker: things found on a Solent beach clean

~ A remote section of the Solent shoreline: photo Michael Wells ~

When I first visited this shoreline fifteen years ago it was multi-coloured. Tiny pieces of plastic, bottle tops and PVC ropes littered the coast. There were huge pieces of refuse that were difficult to shift. Most of it had been washed up, rather than left by visitors. I would take a black plastic bag down to fill with rubbish but give up in despair. Slowly, volunteers have cleared it. I try to go down every day to keep it clear of #plasticpollution. Although it looks clean at first glance, I usually fill a large bucket for every mile of Solent shoreline. This will normally contain about 250 items. Most are small ‘micro-plastics’. It involves a lot of bending-down. I sometimes return home weighed down by large items such as ten-gallon plastic drums. I then Tweet photos of my finds on #Solentbeachclean

The usual things I find related to fishing:

Fishing net and PVC rope – often small pieces of green PVC cord, sometimes embedded in the mud.

Fishing line – one length extracted from the mouth of a wild pony.

Plastic grating and discs from crab traps.

Polystyrene in different stages of decay. Some pieces are huge.

Disposable rubber gloves and undisposable protective gloves.

Old buoys of all colours. One is too heavy for me to remove.

Plastic crate. It made a good umbrella when a storm blew in as I walked home.

The usual things I find relating to sewage:

Plentiful cotton-bud stalks and other lengths of plastic.

Tampon applicators and the back of panty liners.

Wet wipes and floss sticks.

The usual things I find left by visitors to the shore or washed up:

Hundreds of spent shotgun cartridges including the insides of paper cartridges.

Old underpants, socks, gloves, caps and other clothing.

Crisp wrappers – the sell-by date of one declared it to be more than 12 years old.

Broken glass – always collected for fear it will cut dogs’ paws or wild ponies.

Glass bottles and jars, recycled by my husband who used to manufacture cut glass crystal.

Hundreds of plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes, along with plastic drums. Many of these are washed up rather than dropped.

The usual things I find that come in on the tide:

Old cigarette lighters of every colour and hue – about one a day.

Old flip-flops and shoes.

Plastic bags of every description, many buried in the mud.

Bottle tops of every shape and colour, usually plastic.

Plastic straws – about one a day – and cellophane covers to straws.

Plastic cups sometimes colonised by seaweed.

Sweet wrappers, wrappers for packets of biscuits or other food.

Plastic hooks and tags of every kind including six-pack plastic.

Toothbrushes, nail files, make-up holders, syringes, Ear plugs, protective masks.

Helium balloons – one or two a day, usually with the string attached.

Flower pots of different sizes.

Plastic funnels.

Little plastic fish, which once contained soy sauce.

Bubble wrap, other packaging and lumps of insulation material.

Brushes of all description, mainly for cleaning boats.

Heavy duty plastic bottles that once contained teak oil or engine oil, including 5 gallon containers.

Sponges and scourers of different types.

Micro-plastics: usually small pieces of blue, red, white or black plastic.

Party poppers.

Aerosol cans and drink tins of all kinds.

Dairylea spread cartons and other plastic tubs

Old pens of all description and various plastic sticks.

Half-empty bottle of turpentine, disposed of responsibly..

Pieces of gaffer tape and insulation tape.

Plastic cable ties – originally manufactured by my father.

Broken toys including a purple revolver and old balls.

Sophie Neville on a #Solentbeachclean (photo: Octavia Pollock)

People ask if I wear gloves: I don’t. They ask if I take a grabber: I do not. They want to know if I am addicted: possibly. I spend about 90 minutes a day or 30 hours a month on my #Solentbeachclean but it keeps me fit, exercises the dog and gets us out while doing something useful. We walk with a purpose. The wind can be brisk but I never get cold. I sometimes take friends but it suits me to work alone. I can fit litter-picking in with my work, taking advantage of good weather. My only worry is getting stuck in the mud. I have to admit that my back gets sore if there is a big haul to lug home but my hunter-gatherer instincts have been awakened. There is treasure to be found:

The unusual things I find:

2 x long fluorescent light bulbs – fully intact. They contain mercury. Both were washed up in the same place, years apart.

Intact domestic light bulb – haven’t had the guts to test it.

Star Wars mask

Rusty welding cylinder – I though it was an unexploded bomb and reported it to the police. Bit embarrassing.

Rusted depth charge – I was told this is a metal buoy but it has been identified as a WWII depth charge.

Old pair of binoculars.

~ Solent mudflats looking towards the Needles: photo Michael Wells ~

 

Useful things I have found:

2 x feed buckets, one pink, one orange, used to collect rubbish henceforth

Brand new rubber-inflatable ring, which made a good Christmas present for someone I know.

Lens cap, that was washed 800 yards down the coast – returned to grateful owner

A brand new carpenter’s saw.

Yellow whistles from life jackets.

Yachting caps x 5. One was labelled and returned to its owner.

Neoprene sun-glass holder – bit grotty

New rope and cord.

Elastic boom-holder for a Scow dinghy

A pencil

The number 5

A paddle

Paintbrush

One tent peg

2 x children’s plastic beach spades

Beach toys

New garden hose attachment

Tennis balls

Wheels from two different dinghy launch trailers

A dinghy cushion akin to a garden kneeler

Sailing kit bag – unclaimed.

Can of WD40 still operable.

Large fenders – some in pristine condition. I gather they cost about £60 each to buy new.

Turn the Tide on Plastic

Would you volunteer for the Great British Spring Clean organised by Keep Britain Tidy from Friday 22nd March to 23rd April? you can pledge your support here.

Great British Spring Clean Help Clear up our Beaches

I have officially volunteered 195 minutes of my time to clean the banks of the Lymington River, where litter gets chucked before being washed into the sea. This nature reserve belongs to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust of which I am a member. I expect it will take me 1,950 minutes – about 33 hours, which is my average for a month.

Great British Beach Clean 2019

Or, think of joining the Marine conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean 20th to 23rd September

There can be rewards to Wombling, as my friend calls it. I was once filmed trudging along a beach for a Chanel 4 ident. We were given a fee, in cash. This is my black dog, my nephew and me on a beach in Wales: Sophie and the old buoys.

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Sophie Neville, truelife story

Film adaptations of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on BBC Two

Swallows and Amazons film poster

If you enjoyed the original film adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’ broadcast on BBC Two today, do think of getting a copy of  ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’, published by The Lutterworth Press or the ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’. You can read the first section for free on Kindle here. Quite fun!

It’s surprising ‘Swallows and Amazons’ hasn’t been re-made a number of times. The 1974 movie was sold all over the world and has been screened so often it’s become regarded as iconic, labelled ‘a cult classic’ or ‘enduring success’. You can listen to Wildfred Joseph’s film score here:

Thanks to Claude Whatham’s extraordinary skill in creating a period film that never dated, cinema audiences emerge asking if it was made last summer.

danish_swallows_and_amazons_JC03906_L (1)

The Danish poster of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ 1974  giving the Swallows a Jolly Roger or pirate flag

Although it was shot 45 years ago, fan mail still arrives from Australia, the USA and Japan. Families can quote David Wood’s script fluently, having watched the DVD thirty times or more. The biggest complement is that they talk of being ‘Titty-ish’ or ‘just like Titty’, the little girl whose imagination gave her the strength and courage to excel.

-A carefully made fan letter showing Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker in 1974-

When I went to watch the 2016 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ being made on location, I warned the actors they were in for the long haul. Although the new adaptation has older children in the cast, and additions to the plot, it was heralded as a great British film, a landscape movie of significance about the thrill of exploring the great outdoors. Broadcast on BBC Two earlier this December and it is out on both Blu ray and DVD. For the Hanway Films billing of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ 2016, please click here.

Swallows and Amazons in Czech

A Czech poster of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ 1974

 

6 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Entertainment news, family Entertainment, Film, Film History, Film production, filmography, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, sailing film, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, titty, truelife story, Uncategorized, Vintage Film

Alison Hull interviews Sophie Neville on her involvement with the original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974)

Signing copies of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ in Cumbria

1 – How did you get the part of Titty?

In March 1973, a letter arrived, out of the blue, inviting me to audition for a role in ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I was twelve years old, an ordinary school girl at a convent in Berkshire. I’d read the Arthur Ransome books but had no idea I was up for the lead in a major EMI feature film intended for a universal international audience. The movie was directed by Claude Whatham. Back in 1970, he’d cast me as Eileen Brown, opposite a boy playing Laurie Lee, in the BBC’s first adaptation of ‘Cider With Rosie’. It was a role that demanded learning a piano piece so complicated it took twenty-one hours to master, but I did it. Claude must have respected my hard work. I was too tall to play Titty but, after a sailing audition at Burnham-on-Crouch, I was offered the part. He cast Sten Grendon, who’d played the young Laurie Lee, as Roger, Suzanna Hamilton was Susan and Virginia McKenna starred as our mother. She later admitted to finding her character rather dull but it was her name, in lights outside cinemas, that drew big audiences. We’ve kept in touch. She is still acting, aged 87, and has led the Born Free Foundation’s international campaign to redeem the lives of wild animals held in miserable conditions since 1998.

With Virginia McKenna on location at Bank Ground Farm near Coniston, in 1973 

2 – Why was it so suitable for you?

We loved visiting the Lake District as a family. My father helped the Maryport Button Factory with their publicity and once took us to stay on a farm near Castle Craig above the River Derwent. I spent my childhood camping and messing about in boats, adding a sail made from a dust-sheet to an old rowing skiff. The great thing about the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was that Simon West, who played Captain John, was an exceptional sailor. He went on to become a national champion. Kit Seymour, who played Captain Nancy, also had a natural command of the waves. It shows on screen. They were able to handle our small boats when squalls rolled down from the fells. I didn’t have their innate understanding of the wind but it was Titty’s job to row everywhere – back from the charcoal burners and off to One Tree Island on Derwentwater. “Pull harder, Roger!” I managed to row Amazon out of Secret Harbour in one take, with the cameraman and a massive 35mm Panavision Camera on board.

The Swallows voyage to Wild Cat IslandSimon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville in Swallow, 1973

Casting-off Swallow was more of a challenge. It doesn’t show on a small screen, but when ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is screened in cinemas, you can spot the sequence when I slip on a rock with the telescope in one hand. I was up to my waist in water but got back on my feet and battled on, waving as the others sailed up Coniston Water. I knew how difficult the shot was to achieve and was desperate to do my best for Claude Whatham.

Standing on Peel Island in a soaking wet dress while the Swallows sailed north

3 – Did it fire your wish to work in TV?

No! It was directing plays while reading Anthropology at Durham University that ignited a desire to work on television dramas. However, the experienced I’d gained acting in movies helped me win a place on the BBC TV Graduate Trainee scheme. After working on ‘The Russell Harty Show’, I grabbed the chance to cast children on the adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s books set on the Norfolk Broads: ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’. I found Henry Dimbleby, then aged thirteen, to play the lead and spent three months on location with Julian Fellowes and Rosemary Leach – who I’d met when she played Laurie Lee’s mother. I later worked on ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Eastenders’ and ‘My Family and Other Animals’, before producing an INSET series, directing one episode at a village school in Cumbria. I began casting children in the Lake District to appear in BBC adaptations of Arthur Ransome’s Lakeland books but they were axed, which was sad, as we were all set to make ‘Swallowdale’ and ‘Pigeon Post’ on the high moors.

Sophie Neville directing a drama-doc with BBC cameraman Lorraine Smith

4 – What does the Lake District in general, and Keswick in particular, mean to you?

We live on the south coast but take the train north at any opportunity. I’m now President of The Arthur Ransome Society and came up for a fabulous weekend in May when we sailed from the jetty at Bank Ground Farm – Holly Howe in Ransome’s books. I gave an illustrated talk on the secrets of making ‘Swallows and Amazons’ at the Bassenthwaite Institute, using behind-the-scenes photographs taken when we were filming on Derwentwater forty-five years ago. We shot all the scenes involving Captain Flint’s Houseboat in a bay on the western shore. She was played by the Lady Derwentwater, converted for the drama by Ian Whittaker, a talented young set dresser who went on to win an Oscar for set decoration on the feature film ‘Howards End’ starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. We shot the lighthouse tree scenes near Friar’s Craig and used Lingholme or One Tree Island for Cormorant Island, where Titty finds the treasure chest. We enjoyed making Ronald Fraser, the film actor playing Captain Flint, walk the plank and sailed up Derwentwater to the strains of ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’, played as the end credits roll. Forty years later, Suzanna Hamilton and I were asked to lunch with Richard Pilbrow the producer of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. Buskers were singing this song outside the restaurant in Covent Garden. We couldn’t believe the coincidence.

Meeting fans of Swallows and Amazons at Keswick in July

I meet people from far and wide who tell me the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ inspired them to visit the Lake District. It has been broadcast on television every year for the last forty years and was last shown in Australia on Boxing Day. It has been dubbed into Czech twice and is often shown at festivals as only ‘U’ certificate movies can be screened outdoors. I just hope this has proved a blessing to the people of Keswick, which I so loved visiting as a child. I thought the 2016 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – that I appear in for approximately two seconds – would overshadow the classic version but it has simply raised awareness along with DVD sales. Fan mail continues to arrive. A beautiful card came today. Arthur Ransome would have been touched. It had fish on it.

Funnily Enough - the first extract in iBelieve Magazine

Editorial coverage and a literary award for ‘Funnily Enough’

5 – Do you want to mention mental health/physical health issues are always in the news?

I find that many of my readers are stuck in bed or battling with ill-health. I hope they are amused and uplifted in some way by stories in my books. ‘Funnily Enough’, a diary I kept after collapsing at the BBC, is about my own struggle with what I am pretty sure was a tick-bourne disease. I lost my job but recovered in Southern Africa, where I fulfilled Titty’s dream of seeing “forests full of parrots” and produced decorative maps for a living, inspired by Spurrier’s illustration on the original cover of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I used maps and details from my sketchbook to illustrate a paperback entitled, ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, which is out in colour as an ebook.

On the crew of the Gloriana in the Boat Race Flotilla in March featured on BBC Television 

6 – What else?

People often ask how ‘Swallows and Amazons’ influenced my life, keen to know what I am doing now. I am still keen on rowing. I completed the Voga Longa, a 32 kilometre marathon through the Venetian lagoon with Olympic gold medallist Ed Code and was on the crew of The Queen’s row barge Gloriana for the Boat Race Flotilla this year. This summer, I grabbed the chance to row through the canals of Amsterdam, which was fascinating. However, it was the Amazons bows and arrows that impacted my life. After learning to shoot on the shores of Coniston Water, I was cast as an archery champion in another movie and have since won three Ladies Championships. I met my husband at an archery match. My stepson shot for England in July, winning a tri-annual match against the Royal Company of Archers (so proud!) I gave a talk recently demonstrating how the arrows in ‘Swallows and Amazons were’ fired over my head. The shot looks so dangerous that it was cut from the TV version of the film, but is included in the re-mastered 40th Anniversary cinema Blu-ray version, which we are now able to watch on the big screen.

Rowing in from De Hoop Rowing Club in Amsterdam, July 2018

5 Comments

Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Entertainment news, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, sailing film, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, titty, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Vintage Film

Swallows, Amazons and Archery

Much has been written of the legacy left by Arthur Ransome’s, who inspired so many go camping, fell walking or sail the seven seas. I hope he would be amused to learn it has been the arrow, fletched with green parrot feathers, that has flown through the pages of my life.

Sophie Neville the archer c 1969~Sophie Neville dressed as a medieval archer in 1969~

 Archery became a popular sport for ladies in Victorian England. The influence was not lost on Arthur Ransome who writes in his autobiography that his Great-aunt Susan was a keen toxophilite who attended bow meetings at Belle Isle, the long island on Windermere. Another great-aunt was shot in the bonnet by an arrow when the Boxer Rising reached Peking while she was serving as a missionary. I gather it was his sister Joyce who owned a green parrot whose feathers made good pipe cleaners. Did they ever get used for flighting arrows? Arthur doesn’t seem to have taken up a bow beyond, perhaps, playing Red Indians as a child with his friend Ric Eddison. Does anyone know otherwise?

Titty may not have known that the real Queen Bess was a proficient archer, but Roger certainly expected savages to be armed with poison-tipped arrows as he took dispatches across the Peak at Darien.

Did Nancy and Peggy ever don Red Indian head-dresses? Since they are described as wearing red caps when the Swallows first encounter them, I assume this idea was instigated by Helen Edmundson’s musical and reinforced by the 2016 film. Although far from nautical, this is akin to certain antics in Secret Water and certainly adds visual drama to the confrontation.

Practicing with bows and arrows

~Sophie Neville with Peter Robb-King, Ronnie Cogan, Lesley Bennett, Kit Seymour and Terry Smith~ 

I learnt how to shoot in 1973 when the Amazons were being taught how to pull a bow made of Lakeland hazel for the original movie of Swallows and Amazons. As children, we all wanted a go. I still have a practice bow and a couple of arrows whittled on location by Bob Hedges, our property master. I remember one hitting the campfire. ‘Don’t touch the point – it might be poisonous!’ Please note that the shot of the arrows zooming over our heads looks so dangerous on screen that it was cut from the television version of the feature film. This was no snazzy visual effect. The arrows were genuine, however they were strung on taut nylon fishing line rigged over our heads to ensure we would not get hit. They were fired by the prop men and not the Amazons.

neville002

~Daphne Neville who won many archery prizes teaching Lesley Bennett (Peggy Blackett)~

As female Amazon warriors were redoubtable archers it is easy to imagine Captain Nancy bent a sapling to her will and had Peggy making arrows. It is reasonable to assume they used longbows on Wild Cat Island, but in Swallowdale it is a crossbow that graces Ransome’s illustration. How Nancy got her hands on one is unknown but it must have been simpler to use in a boat with discretion and accuracy. Did Ransome ever try this out?

Sophie Neville shooting

~Sophie Neville shooting with a compound bow in the Emirates 2016~

What happened to the bows and arrows after Swallowdale? Archery is something you usually grow into, rather than out of. By the age of fifteen, I’d gained the part of an archery champion in an adventure movie called The Copter Kids. This necessitated target practice with a modern re-curve bow and ended with me shooting from a helicopter.

I now belong to a number of archery societies and, like Great-aunt Susan, set out with my tabs and tassel, quiver and longbow. Luckily the skill, much like an appreciation of Arthur Ransome’s writing, is something that tends to improve with age. I met my husband at one bow meeting, have held three Ladies’ Championship titles and managed to reach a distance of 145 yards when we celebrated the 600th Anniversary of Agincourt.

I have never fired a crossbow. Since they are potentially lethal weapons, Nancy could have been detained for firing hers even if the tip was not deemed poisonous.

Author Sophie Neville

 ~Sophie Neville at a West Berks bow meeting~

A version of this article was originally published in Mixed Moss, the journal of The Arthur Ransome Society.

8 Comments

Filed under Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cumbria, Lake District, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Vintage Film

Exploring Arthur Ransome’s Lake District

Letter from Arthur Ransome

~An illustrated letter from Arthur Ransome, 1955~

I have been sent a copy of a letter written to a reader by Arthur Ransome in June 1955, revealing where some of his locations can be found. I was interested to read that, ‘the lake is mainly Windermere with some things stolen from Coniston.’

This summer, we spent a long weekend with The Arthur Ransome Society when we managed to find quite a few locations around Coniston Water that are featured in Ransome’s books.

~Low Yewdale Farm, near Coniston ~

The curator of the John Ruskin Museum took us on a walk around the village of Coniston and under the Yewdale Crags towards Tarn Howes. We passed Low Yewdale Farm where Arthur Ransome stayed as a young man. It is just as I imagined Swainson’s Farm in ‘Swallowdale’. The footpath takes you down to the beck where Ransome fished for brown trout. I could imagine Roger attempting to tickle trout there.

If you follow the path on south, then branch left up the East of Lake Road around Coniston Water, you will find another footpath leading to Bank Ground Farm.

A hand-painted sign guides you through fields, where Galloway cows maybe grazing. Look up and you will literally find yourself at Holly Howe, the long white farmhouse where Mr and Mrs Jackson live in ‘Swallows and Amazons’. You can imagine the Walker children running down the meadow to the Peak of Darien.

Ernest Altounyan sailing Mavis on Coniston

~ Dr Ernest Altounyan rigging Mavis on Coniston Water~

It was here that the Altounyan children, Taqui, Susie, Titty, Roger and Brigit spent one summer holiday in 1928, while visiting their grandparents who lived next door at Lane Head. They learned to sail on the lake in two dinghies: Swallow and Mavis, later re-named Amazons, who can be visited at the John Ruskin Museum in Coniston.

IMG_7096

~Bank Ground Farm in Cumbria where the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) was made~

The barn, inside which we filmed some of the night sequences for the original movie of ‘Swallows & Amazons’, has been converted into self-catering holiday accommodation that can house a number of families quite easily. From here you can run down to the boat shed where John, Susan, Titty and Roger found Swallow and imagine them setting off  on their voyage to Wild Cat Island leaving the Fair Spanish Ladies on the stone quay.

~The boatsheds below Bank Ground Farm, on Coniston Water~

Wooden jetties have been added recently and it is possible to either launch your own boat or hire a kyak from Bank Ground Farm.

~The northern end of Coniston Water~

We had a bedroom in the barn that looked north towards the Langdales. If you walk up the farm drive, you can look back towards Coniston Old Man, Kanchenjunga, which the Walkers and Blacketts climb in ‘Swallowdale’.

~Bank Ground Farm with the village of Coniston beyond~

Arthur Ransome was taken up the Old Man of Coniston as a tiny baby. You can climb it today but wear more than sand shoes. Stout walking boots are called for. The task of reaching the summit should not be underestimated.

We were able to get out on the lake to find a few more locations. This red-sailed dinghy, named Peggy Blackett, is a copy of Arthur Ransome’s Cochybundhu, used as the model for Dick and Dorothea’s boat Scarab.

~Sailing on Coniston Water towards the village of Coniston~

It is a long way down Coniston Water to Peel Island but it is there that you will spot the Secret Harbour, instantly recognisable as belonging to Wild Cat Island. We went there in the SL Gondola, that now belongs to the National Trust. Ransome knew the steam launch as a boy when he made friends with the captain.

~ Secret Harbour on the southern end of Peel Island, Coniston Water ~

In the cemetery of Coniston village I found the grave of Titty Altounyan, the girl who inspired Arthur Ransome’s well-loved character. I never met her but was with her niece Barbara that long weekend in Coniston, when we both thoroughly enjoyed walking, sailing and steaming along in Ransome’s footsteps.

~ Sophie Neville visiting Titty Altounyan’s grave in Coniston ~

For details of more locations at the southern end of Coniston Water that are featured in the Swallows and Amazons series of books, please click here.

Think of joining The Arthur Ransome Society and come looking for locations described in his books. You will find the details here.

8 Comments

Filed under Arthur Ransome, boating, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Lake District, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story, Uncategorized

Boats used for making the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974)

I went on BBC Radio Cumbria recently, to ask if I could meet anyone involved in filming the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the summer of 1973, since it was made on location in the Lake District with a young crew.

~Nick Newby of Nicole End Marine~

Nick Newby of Nichol End Marine in Portinscale came to find me when I was helping at the Keswick Convention. As a young man in the 1970s, he provided boats for a number of films and was contacted by Graham Ford, the production manager of Swallows and Amazons in the Spring of 1973. Graham had began working with Mike Turk who had started building boats for TV and films at his family firm, Turk’s Launches, but this was based on the Thames in London. They needed help from someone in the Lake District who knew about traditional boats.

Ronald Fraser being transported to the Houseboat

~Ronald Fraser being trransported by Dory to The Lady Derwentwater in 1973~

Arthur Ransome had clearly based Captain Flint’s houseboat on the Esperance, originally a steam launch cruising on Windermere. You can read more about her and see photos here. ‘Since she was sitting on the bottom of Whitecross Bay at the time,’ Nick told me, ‘the film crew decided to use the Lady Derwentwater.’ This was a launch licensed to carry 90 passengers that Nick had worked on and knew well. ‘She is about 58 foot long and quite a rigid boat, having four full length steel RSJs set inside her. She was built the Lakes in 1928. We moored her at Brandelhowe in Great Bay for the filming. You need to be careful getting in, as there is a rock shelf.’ The advantage of using her was that you could see the view over the lake from her large cabin windows, which enhanced interior scenes. The Lady Derwentwater, whose nick-name is Dishy, has since been re-built with a different stern, but you can book a passage and go out on the lake in her yourself.

Lady Derwentwater 2018

~The Lady Derwentwater today~

Nick told me that Captain Flint’s eight foot Wright’s dinghy, the houseboat’s tender, had been made by Wright’s Brothers of Ipswich. The Jackson’s ‘native canoe’, rowed out to Peel Island by Virginia McKenna was ‘a family fourteen’ Wright’s sailing dinghy with a centre case. He knew many of the traditional boats in the Lakes. ‘I served me time as a yacht and boat builder at Shepherd’s in Bowness Bay.’ This company was based the green double-story boat sheds featured in the ‘Rio’ scenes. ‘During the winter we used to have to break the ice on the buckets of water when we were rubbing down boats. The sail lofts had a square panel in the apex so we could poke the 8 to 10 metre masts inside. A boom could go up the stairs but a mast certainly couldn’t. ‘

Virginia McKenna with Sophie Neville on Wild Cat Island - contact sheet

~Virginia McKenna with Sophie Neville and DoP Denis Lewiston~

‘Amazon belonged to a chap called Vosey who was rather reluctant to let her be used for the filming,’ Nick said. ‘We did her up a bit after the filming.’ I gather she had been used in the black and white BBC serial of Swallows and Amazons made in 1962 when  Susan George played the party of Kitty.

~Swallow sailing towards the filming pontoon in 1973~

I believe Swallow had been found at Burnham-on-Crouch as she was built by Williams King and Sons. Mike Turk, who had built a shallop for the 1966 movie ‘A Man For All Seasons’, purchased her for the film and brought her up to the Lakes. She had no added buoyancy. Nick claims that being a wooden boat she would never sink but I reminded him that we came close to hitting the MV Tern on Windermere when loaded with camping gear, which was a bit scary.

MV Tern of 1891 on Windermere

~MV Tern on Windermere today~

Swallow was later used at Elstree Studios when the sound was dubbed onto the finished film. Mike kept her out of the water in his store at Chatham until SailRansome bought her at auction in 2010. She was sensitively restored by Pattersons, has a new sail, added buoyancy bags and is now available for anyone to sail in Cumbria.

Swallow and the pontoon

~Mike Turk’s filming pontoon with Swallow attached in 1973~

‘Mike already had the flat-bottomed filming pontoon. It had originally been used for carrying a vehicle. We added twin outboard engines and rigged scaffold under the water so that either Swallow or Amazon could be attached to it but still keel over naturally as they sailed. When the dinghy went about, I would turn one outboard and thrust the other into reverse so that the pontoon went about with them.’ I remembered that the first time they tried this Swallow’s mast footing broke. Amazon’s mast-gate broke on another occasion. Nick had to persuade a friend to let him borrow his welding workshop and managed to mend it over night, so that she could be ready on set first thing the next day.

Behind the scenes while filming Swallow fromthe pontoon

~The camera pontoon, Capri and one of the Dorys used behind-the-scenes~

Nick went on to say the pontoon leaked a bit. ‘We would have to pump out hull every morning.’ The Capri used behind the scenes was Nick’s equivalent of a marine Land Rover. ‘It had a reinforced glass fibre hull for increased capability and a 55-horse power engine that had been used for the Olympics. We used it for Ken Russell’s film ‘Tommy‘, the rock opera with Roger Daltry and The Who. Once, when we were using it for Swallows and Amazons, Clive Stuart shoved it into gear with rather too much gusto. Someone only just managed to grab the director, Claude Whatham, before he was flung over the back. ‘Claude was spitting feathers after that.’

BW Wearing Life Jackets in the Safety Boat - trimmed

~Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West, Sophie Neville & Sten Grendon with David Stanger at the helm of the Dory in 1973~

Mike Turk provided two Dorys, built at his yard, to use as run-around boats. One was driven by David Stanger who is now skipper of a launch on Ullswater. It was a stable boat but you needed to watch how it was not overloaded. Water came over the bows one day giving my mother rather a shock.

Nick Newby with Sophie Neville in Keswick

~Nick Newby at the Alhambra cinema in 2018: photo Marc Grimston~

‘The boating world is a small world,’ Nick assured me. This July, forty-five years after making the film, he brought his grand-daughter to watch ‘Swallows and Amazons’ at the Alhambra Cinema in Keswick and gamely came up on stage for a Q&A to explain how some of the sailing scenes were achieved.

In his time, Nick Newby has worked a number of films made in the Lake District including Mahler – a Ken Russell film starring Robert Powell, a movie called Gothic (1986) starring Julian Sands and Natasha Richardson, Julia (1977) starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, Brazil (1985), Planet of the Apes, a couple of episodes of Sherloch Holmes with Ben Kingsley, and a number of adverts.

Mike Turk, Swan Upper and Queen’s Waterman, who provided boats for numerous films from Moonraker to Hornblower, sadly passed away aged 78. You can read his obituary here. He went on to work on a number of James Bond movie. You can see his film credits here.

Swallow on the Alde

A group of Arthur Ransome enthusiasts clubbed together to buy Swallow from Mike’s collection in 2010. She is currently kept on a trailer at Kendal in the Lake District. If you would like to sail her, please visit SailRansome.com

For Nicol End Marine, about two miles outside Keswick on Derwentwater please click here

 

4 Comments

Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, boating, British Film, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Emi film, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, filmography, Lake District, Memoir, Movie disasters, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Vintage Film, Virginia McKenna

‘I Chaperoned Six Film Stars’ Daphne Neville’s memories of making the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973 part three

Daphne Neville in about 1973

Daphne Neville in about 1973

I clearly remember my mother winding carbon paper into the roller of her portable typewriter and bashing out articles. Ping! the bell would ring as she reached the end of a line. She would then pull left on a shiny paddle, with relish, to begin a new paragraph. She seemed to type like the wind, it was only a pity she didn’t write more. Was it more time-consuming when making changes was so laborious and a dictionary needed to be flicked through to check spelling? I was forever pouring through a thesaurus and looking for reference books in libraries as a child in the ‘seventies but find computers seems to steal more time.

Sophie Neville with the cast of Swallows

~The photograph that illustrated an article in Woman magazine taken at the Commonwealth Institute in 1974~

Here is the second part of the article Mum wrote for Woman magazine when the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was screened in cinemas around the country in April 1974. Earlier pages can be read in a previous post here and there is also a programme she wrote for BBC Radio Bristol on the same subject here.

Jean McGill, Jane Grendon, Sten Grendon, Kit Seymour, Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham, Simon West, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Ronnie Cogan, 1973

Daphne Neville giving Lesley Bennett (Peggy Blackett) archery lessons, 1973

The Saucepan and her mother, Daphne Neville in 1973

Terry Smith, Sophie Neville and Daphne Neville on location in the Lake District

Wardrobe Master Terry Smith with Sophie Neville and her mother Daphne Neville outside the Make-up caravan on location near Keswick in Cumbria

I’d forgotton that Kit was sent half a Birthday cake but do remember Ronnie Fraser arrived at her party quite tiddly. I am amused to learn we finally left Oaklands Guest House with fifty peices of luggage but I still have a hazel bow and arrow set, which I don’t expect ever fitted into a suitcase.

Please let me know if you would like to see old scripts and letters relating to the original publicity for the film, kept in my mother’s archives.

To read more about Daphne Neville’s adventures in film and television please click here

4 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Emi film, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, filmography, Humor, Humour, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Vintage Film, Virginia McKenna, Zanna Hamilton

‘Swallows and Amazons’ in Keswick

This summer marked the 45th Anniversary of filming the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on Derwentwater when Ronald Fraser was obliged to walk the plank in a solar topi in July 1973.

Ronald Fraser walking the plank

To celebrate the anniversary, Sophie Neville, who played Titty, introduced a screening of the 1974 film at the Alhambra Cinema in Keswick on Saturday 28th July.

Captain Flint having walked the plank

She demonstrated how one of the visual effects was achieved and signed copies of her book ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ after a Q&A.

‘I brought one of the original arrows that the Amazon pirates fired over my head. It looks so dangerous on film that the shot was cut from the television version but is included in the re-mastered cinemascope edition that we are now able to watch on the big screen. You might be able to spot a few other things that went wrong while we were filming, such as the time I inadvertently slipped up to my waist in water.’
‘The elegant Lakeland steamer, the Lady Derwentwater, had the starring role as Captain Flint’s houseboat. She was adapted for the part by the award-winning set designer Ian Whittaker, who went on to receive an Oscar for Best Art Direction on ‘Howards End’ starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. His astonishing list of nominations can been seen here
Swallow, the 1930s sailing dinghy used in the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was at the lakeside for Arthur Ransome enthusiasts to admire. She is looked after by Rob Boden, from Kendal, who is happy to take people for a sail by prior arrangement via the SailRansome website here.

Secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons

4 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Emi film, Entertainment news, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie disasters, Movie stories, questions about filmmaking, sailing film, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Vintage Film, Virginia McKenna, Zanna Hamilton