Tag Archives: animal magic

Life in 1973 – Part One

For the last year or so I have been writing about life in England forty-odd years ago. Reflecting on how our lives have changed has proved fascinating. Can you help me?  I’d love to receive comments (below) on how you remember aspects of growing up in the early 1970s. What did you eat then? Where did you go on holiday? What was it about 1973 that impacted you?

Jean McGill, Jane Grendon, Stephen Grendon, Kit Seymour, Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham, Simon West, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Ronnie Cogan~ photo: Daphne Neville

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

My husband remembers long hair, flared trousers and shirts with massive curved collars. I always longed for an embroidered t-shirt with wide sleeves or a cheese-cloth shirt but loathed the feel of acrylic jumpers and ribbed polo-necks. Stripy ones.

1973

Mum wearing a fluffy Donny Osmond hat

The food was pretty applauding. Suzanna Hamilton has just reminded me about the innovation of Italian cooking. Spaghetti was the highlight of our lives; a treat that we might have on Saturdays or for a party when red candles would be pushed into wine bottles and checked paper table cloths could enhance a Bistro image. However prawn cocktail was the pinnacle of popular aspiration, although us children preferred picking of the shells off prawns ourselves.

At parties you’d be offered chunks of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks stuck into a half a melon that had been covered in tin foil. I always rather longed for the melon.  Homemade beer was regrettably all the rage, along with freezing your own runner beans. My family thought having to bring-a-bottle fun but we loathed the fact that cigarettes were smoked everywhere you went.

Dick Emery

Colour televisions were only just beginning to arrive in people’s homes. They were terribly expensive. We had to make do with our crackly black and white screen, watching Blue Peter, Animal Magic and Tony Hart  presenting Vision On with cartoons such as Marine Boy until Childrens’ Television ended with The Magic Roundabout just before Daddy came home from the Works  in time for the 6 O’Clock News.

We were allowed to stay up to watch  Dick Emery , Benny Hill, and ‘Titter ye not’, Frankie Howerd along with dramas such as The Onedin Line.  There was one sit com starring Wendy Craig entitled Not in front of the Children, which of course we all wanted to watch. What influence did this have on our young minds?

Mummy worked for HTV West presenting an afternoon programme called Women Only with Jan Jeeming. She also read the letters on Any Answers?, which was produced by BBC Radio Bristol by Carole Stone. I was so impressed – amazed – to meet a female radio producer.

Women Only

HTV West Christmas Show presented by Bruce Hocking, Jan Leeming & Daphne Neville

Our holidays were spent camping in Wales when we used an orange dome tent and yet slept on fold-up sun-loungers. Sailing was all about Mirror dinghies, which you could buy in kit form and make out of plywood. We never had one. In the late 1970’s Dad bought a fibre-glass  Topper, which was the height of cool. He called it Earwig.

My family were very keen on taking home movies. Dad usually took slides when we went on holiday, which were viewed along with the supper-8 footage at Christmas time when he pushed the furniture back, took down a painting and projected our memories onto the wall.

What have I forgotten? Do post your own recollections, especially of sailing and camping in the early seventies, in the comments below.

Dick Emery ~ walking social history

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Filed under 1973, Dinghy sailing, Family Life, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, truelife story

With a parrot on my shoulder ~

At about this time we were given a green parrot from South America called Chico. I must have written to Kit and Suzanna telling them about him as this Nancy-ish letter came winging back.

Animal Magic1

Robin Hellier (in yellow) working with a 16mm film camera and his crew from BBC Bristol. I am sitting at the head of the table. Tamzin has our parrot on her shoulder.

Chico was wonderfully tame and came everywhere, chatting away in Spanish. He was much more affectionate – and less of a treat – than the parrot with a Lancastrian accent who played Polly in Captain Flint’s cabin. One minute he’d be sitting on Tamzin’s shoulder, the next, he’d be on mine.

Filming Animal Magic

Sophie, Perry and Tamzin Neville appearing in short film shot on 16mm for ‘Animal Magic’ being produced for the BBC NHU by Robin Hellier (in yellow sweater).

We didn’t always have tea with a parrot, but once the film of Swallows and Amazons was on general release I was often invited to appear on radio or television. This usually entailed going to a studio to appear on a magazine programme such as Points West or  Nationwide. However, Robin Hellier, who had just begun working for the BBC on Animal Magic, was thrilled to hear that I really did have a green parrot and brought a film crew from Bristol to our house. He took a shot of me rowing down the lake with my parrot, in the summer of 1974, which was used to fill endless small gaps in the schedules.

Animal Magic with our donkeys1

Robin Hellier directing a sequence featuring Sophie Neville, her parrot Chico and Lucy and Leonard the donkeys with Daphne Neville and Tamzin Neville

Although the focus of the item was a profile of  my role in Swallows and Amazons, the aim must have been to get as many animals on the programme as possible since they also featured our donkeys having their feet trimmed. The faithful parrot was still on my shoulder.

Animal Magic with our donkeys

Leonard and Lucy the donkeys, Tamzin, Daphne and Sophie (in green) with Chico the parrot, standing-by for Robin Hellier who was speaking to our farrier Graham Williams. You can see how much taller I had grown in a year.

I thought Robin Hellier was a brilliant director, far better than Claude Whatham at letting us know what he wanted to achieve. I was able to tell Robin this when I found myself working with him in South Africa twenty-two years later. He laughed, admitting that it was the very first film he ever directed.  Being conscientious, he took the trouble to write to let me know when it was to be broadcast, although I can’t remember ever seeing it go out.

Animal Magic

Children’s television was watched by everyone I knew in the 1970s. Letters poured in. My mother loved getting them. The volume was such that I think she had to answer some of them for me.

A fan letter2

A fan letter3

A fan letter4

And over the years the letters have kept coming.

A fan letter73

These came from a girl I corresponded with for years.  My friends at university were amazed to find letters arriving addressed to Titty, but they were always charming. I appreciated them more and more as the years went by.

A fan letter74

My mother only wrote me one proper letter while I was away at boarding school. It was to tell me that Chico had died. He spent so much time flying free that he caught a virus off wild birds and could not be saved. I was utterly inconsolable.

Animal Magic continued to featured through our childhood until 1982, when I started working at BBC Television myself. Johnny Morris, who presented the series, became a legend in his own time and is remembered with great affection.

and there is more ~

A WildFilm History interview of Robin Hellier can be viewed on this link:

http://www.wildfilmhistory.org/oh/44/clip/975/section/357/Robin+Hellier%3A+Reflections+on+a+career+at+the+BBC+Natural+History+Unit.html

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Filed under animal stories, Autobiography, Biography, Claude Whatham, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Letters, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Swallows and Puffins ~ The film, the paperback and the publicity

I have just been asked about the promotion of the 1974 feature film of  Swallows and Amazons:

‘I remember going to the Puffin Club exhibition in London around the time of the film release and some of the cast were there with one of the boats.  There was a quiz about S & A and you could win a copy of the book – which I did!  Sophie, were you there?  And do you know if the boat was ‘Swallow’ or ‘Amazon’?’

I do remember going to the Puffin Club. They published a very good article about Arthur Ransome and the film using the black and white stills in a far better way than any other magazine. I still have the clipping.

Article on Swallows and Amazons in Puffin Magazine

We were very excited because the publishers had just brought out a copy of Swallows and Amazons with a photograph of the two little ships near Cormorant Island on the cover.  You can’t see us clearly but it was from the scene after Titty had just captured Amazon and both dinghies were being victoriously sailed back to Wildcat Island by John and Roger, Titty and Susan. On the back of the book was a photograph of the Amazons in their red knitted caps waiting in the reeds at the mouth of the Amazon River.

About ten years later Puffin also bought out a copy of Coot Club and The Big Six, the series I worked on behind the camera at the BBC. I can remember getting the cast together for the shot of them on the Death and Glory – an old black boat. It was a happy time.

Swallows and Amazons book cover Coot Club and The Big Six book cover

My two book covers for Puffin

I have to say I had forgotten that we had one of the boats at Puffin Books but the Swallow was used to publicise the film. I found appearing on television could be rather more daunting than public appearances. We were once taken to the BBC television studios to appear, live, on Points West, the regional news programme that came under the Nationwide banner at the time.  The designer had gone to a great effort and made a camp fire in the studio, but it felt weird sitting around it in our own clothes. I think the problem had been that the presenters had not actually read the book so were not in touch with the subject matter. Before we knew it the item had finished and we were whisked off again, home to bed no doubt. Being interviewed on the Radio was less scary although I broke into French once when being interviewed on Woman’s Hour. That scarred the presenter.

By far the most enjoyable programme to be in was Animal Magic, which was presented in those days by Johnny Morris. The Assistant Producer Robin Hellier came with a small crew to film me at home with my own boat and my green parrot Chico.

Appearing in ‘Animal Magic’, with my sisters and Chico our own green parrot

I was deeply impressed by Robin as a director and I thought him far more talented than Claude Whatham, who had directed the movie. More than twenty years later I met up with Robin when I was working on a BBC natural history programme in South Africa called Global Sunrise. He arrived at Johannesburg International Airport having flown from the Kruger Park in a small passenger plane. They had been delayed by a terrible storm and I had ten minutes to get him onto the Friday night scheduled flight to Cape Town. It was a good thing I knew him. I saw him at a distance and shouted, ‘Quick, Robin! Run.’ And we just made it through the gate in time, laughing about Animal Magic. He told me that the film he made at our house with me and my parrot was the very first he had ever directed. I never knew.

Swallows and Amazons premier

The programme from the 1974 premier of the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons