Tag Archives: Anthony Hopkins

Claude Whatham, the film director whose work never dated

Claude and Virginia at the railway station

Claude Whatham & Virginia McKenna

I had no idea how prolific Claude Whatham was until I read his obituary. But can the facts in this be correct? It states that he had been commissioned to paint murals by the young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret in their rooms at Windsor Castle in 1940 after their pictures had been removed for safe-keeping during the Blitz. They couldn’t bear the idea of bare walls and asked if he could paint something cheerful. As Claude was  born in 1927 I thought he must have been to young but he was in his first year at art college. You can see images of the murals and read his own version of how this came to pass if you click here.

Claude Whatham at Egham

Claude Whatham in 1973

All I can tell you is that Claude Whatham simply had the self-confidence to succeed.  After working for a short time as a production designer he became a director at the age of about thirty – evolving his craft in the early years of television. Single minded and determined, yet usually coming across as relaxed, he moved into directing movies in 1972 with That’ll Be The Day starring David Essex, Ringo Starr and Robert Lindsay, followed by Swallows & Amazons in 1973 when he was forty-six.

I’d met him in 1971 when he directed the first BBC adaptation of Laurie Lee’s memoir, Cider with Rosie, for which he received a BAFTA nomination. It was made where the book is set at the village of Slad in the Cotswolds, about seven miles from where I grew up. Claude also had a cottage in the nearby hamlet of Camp,  near Bisley, also near Stroud in Gloucestershire.

Claude in my hat in Egham 1

Claude Whatham directing the title sequence of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on location in Surrey with Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and his camera crew

Claude loved taking his clothes off. It was almost indicative of his style. He wasn’t shy. If you look at what he was wearing you will see that his clothes were both on trend at the time and would still be fashionable today. He would wear Levi jeans, deck shoes or sailing boots and a Parka coat with a fur-lined hood in wet weather. As for headgear, I only ever saw him wearing other people’s hats.

Claude Whatham directing a commercial

Claude Whatham directing a TV commercial

Claude was always happy working outside. Problems did not seem to phase him. I worked with him on location in Gloucestershire, Surrey and Cumbria, visiting him on set in the Yorkshire Dales when he was filming the movie All Creatures Great and Small based on the life of the vet James Herriot, that starred Anthony Hopkins and Simon Ward. I was sorry when I heard that he gained a reputation at the BBC for being too detailed and pernickety in the studio. I expect it frustrated him.

Claude Whatham in 1973

Claude’s period films are marked by their enduring quality, they have not dated. I was glad to read that he had happy memories of filming Swallows & Amazons:

Claude Whatham profiled by Tom E Parkinson

Claude Whatham profiled by Tom E Parkinson in the Oldham Evening Chronicle 18th April 1974

For a full list of Claude’s film and television credits please click here

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

40th Anniversary Celebrations ~

Guest sepaker Sophie Neville seen here on the film poster of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Sunday 21st April ~ Dulwich Film  screened ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974), produced by Richard Pilbrow and directed by Claude Whatham in 1973.  

Sophie Neville as Titty in 'Swallows & Amazons' (1974)

The film was introduced by Sophie Neville who answered questions about how it was made after the screening at the Michael Croft Theatre

Michael Croft founded the National Youth Theatre.  One of his students was Simon Ward, who went on to star as James Herriot in the film version of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, which Claude Whatham directed in 1974 after finishing  ‘Swallows & Amazons’.  Sophie was invited to watch the filming in Yorkshire, meeting Anthony Hopkins and members of the cast and crew who had worked on Swallows & Amazons in 1973. Brenda Bruce played Mrs Harbottle and Wilfred Josephs composed the music, Terry Needham was the Location Manager and Ronnie Cogan the Hairdresser.

 

Sophie Neville with Ronnie Cogan in 1974

‘I didn’t meet James Herriot until I worked in production at the BBC on Russell Harty in 1982. He was charming – an incredibly confident man. I don’t remember his wife being interviewed but she came with him to the studio and struck me as being terribly nice. She wore a proper dress, which is more than could be said for anyone else in the Green Room.’

A year later Sophie Neville appeared with Simon Ward’s daughter Sophie Ward in the adventure movie ‘The Copter Kids’ when they played sisters. Simon brought the family to watch the filming on location near Gerrards Cross. In September there will be a special tribute to Simon Ward at the Michael Croft Theatre when they will be screening ‘Young Winston’.

Swallows and Amazons flags

Saturday 25th May 2013 ~  

Sophie Neville will be giving a 40th anniversary talk on ‘Filming Swallows & Amazons in 1973′ for members of The Arthur Ransome Society gathering for their AGM at Brockenhurst College in the New Forest ~ Please book with TARStarsinfo@arthur-ransome.org

The plan is that ‘Swallow’ the dinghy from the 1974 film, will be moored at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River that weekend, and sailing for members of Sail Ransome  if weather permits.

Arthur Ransome’s boat The Nancy Blackett ~ The Goblin in Arthur Ransome’s book ‘We didn’t Mean to Go to Sea’ will be in the Solent for this event and might sail over to Yarmouth with Swallow for ~

31st May – 2nd June ~ Old Gaffers Yogaff event at Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

Meanwhile in the Lake District:

29th May – 2nd June ~ Coniston Regatta based at Bank Ground Farm.

30th May 2013  ~ There will be an outdoor screening of the movie Swallows & Amazons at Holly Howe (Bank Ground Farm) on the shores of Coniston Water,  with Captain Flint’s Houseboat, SY Gondola, in attendance.

Bank Ground FArm above Coniston Water in Cumbria

For news of the 2013 film please click here

To read the filmography posts about the 1974 film please go to ~ https://sophieneville.net/category/autobiography/

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Filed under Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

‘Swallows and Amazons’ ~ preparations for the 1973 film

Swallows and Amazons the film diary

My diary entry ~ Friday 11th May 1973

My mother and I reached Ambleside in the Lake District in what must have been Mum’s Renault 5. I know it was packed to the gills. We found the Oaklands Guest House, a solid stone Edwadian house that the film company had booked us into, along with the other children in the cast.

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker in the film Swallows and Amazons

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker in the film Swallows and Amazons with her mother Daphne Neville

The cast ~A striking girl called Kit Seymour, who came from London, was playing Nancy Blackett, ‘Captain of the Amazon and terror of the seas.’  Her sister, Peggy Blackett, was played by Lesley Bennett.  Simon West, who was playing my brother John Walker, came from Abingdon. He held a National Optimist title and was an excellent sailor. Suzanna Hamilton, who came from Islington where she went to Anna Scher’s theatre group, took the role of  the very practical Susan. The part of our younger brother Roger had been given to  Sten Grendon, who had played the young Laurie Lee in the BBC Play Cider with Rosie, which I had also been in.  He came up from Gloucestershire with his mother Jane, who was to chaperone us with Mum.

The director ~As my diary relates, were were taken for tea at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel to meet Claude Whatham, who was directing the movie.  He was a small man, habitually clad in jeans, with a denim jacket.  He seemed young and trendy for an adult.  Sten and I had worked for him two years previously on Cider with Rosie  and the others already knew him from the weekend sailing audition.   Claude had just finished making his first feature film, That’ll be the Day, starring David Essex and Ringo Star. He went on to become a revered and prolific director with a long list of credits including the TV mini-series Disreali, Play for Today, Tales of the Unexpected, C.A.T.S. Eyes and the adaptation of  Mary Wesley’s book Jumping the Queue. Mum took me to Yorkshire to watch him making the moive of James Herriots’ vet story All Creatures Great and Small, starring Anthony Hopkins and Simon Ward. He went on to make the feature films Hoodwink (for which he was nominated for an AFI Award), Murder Made Easy and Buddy’s Song, but for all that, Cider with Rosie  (for which he received a BAFTA Nomination) and Swallows and Amazons remain his best known works, with terrific DVD sales. Somehow they never felt dated.

David Wood's screenplay of Swallows and Amazons

I can only think that we were thrilled to hear that we would not be learning lines, never realising it was Claude’s key to gaining natural performances out of us.  His other secret was that he never allowed us to see the ‘rushes’ – film that had just been recored – as  he thought it might make us self concious.  I learnt later in life that he was quite right.  We were also encouraged to start using our character names, which is something we enjoyed. I knew from my parents that Claude had wanted to cast children who didn’t go to stage schools.  I think he chose us for our spiritedness as much as anything else.

The producer had been keen that we could all sail and swim well and  Claude looked for children who were members of sailing clubs. I don’t think he realised until we were out on the lakes in gusty weather how deeply he valued the confidence in sailing dinghies held by the children playing John and Nancy.  They were so good that there were times when they told him what to do.  That amused him.

One thing that amused me intensly was watching the large colour television at the hotel. I’m not sure if I had seen one before.  They were hugely expensive in 1973 and considered a great luxury. The set, which had a wooden veneer, stood on legs and showed all three channels – BBC One, BBC Two and ITV.  We all thought it was amazing. That dates me and the period, doesn’t it?

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