A reader has written in, saying: ‘Much of what one hears about life behind the scenes for younger actors has to do with schooling on set. Did you have tutors all the time or only if you were shooting during the school year? And were you able to keep up with your fellow pupils at “regular” school?
If children under the age of 16 are involved in filming they only have to keep up with their schoolwork during term time. The film company will normally comply with this by employing a tutor at the film studio or on location.
When filming Swallows & Amazons in 1973 we were often in such remote areas that a double-decker bus was hired for us to use as a mobile classroom. It could be seen wobbling along the narrow lanes of the Lake District from Bank Ground Farm at one end of Coniston Water down to Peel Island or over to Brown Howe the other side of the lake depending on instructions given the night before.
We were legally obliged to complete three hours of school work a day but my mother thought it would be OK if we managed fifteen hours a week. I am pretty sure we kept working through half term to achieve this, although I did record that we had Witsun Bank Holiday Monday as a formal Day Off. When I look back at my school work I only notice that I would have benefited from higher quality waterclours, brushes and paper.
Our tutor, a local education supply teacher called Mrs Causey, believed in dictation; masses of it:
We were also taught about the history, geography and topography of the Lake District. This was worked into our own records of filming:
I certainly kept up with my friends at school. One wrote recently to say, ‘I do remember the lovely illustrated diary you wrote at the time, as you brought it back to school for us to look at.’
I only missed seven weeks of the summer term to make Swallows & Amazons. What was amazing was that I was obliged to sit the end of year exams in Ambleside. The results would not have been as good as normal, particularly in Maths and Science but I eventually caught up.
There was quite a bit of discussion about whether or not I should miss more schooling. I was only ever offered further film work during school holidays but as I went to a boarding school making arrangements to go to London for auditions could be a nuisance.
I’d get messages to phone home and letters detailing complicated plans.
This ‘picture’ turned out to be an adventure movie called ‘The Copter Kids’. Mum was obviously going off to lunch with Virginia McKenna and reading the letters on the Radio 4 programme Any Answers whilst I was busy sitting summer exams.
My sister Tamzin did a great deal more acting that I did as a child. She didn’t mind missing school altogether or having a tutor. What she hated was being sent to a large comprehensive school in London for a term so that she could rehearse in North Acton. That didn’t do her any good at all.
You can read more about ‘The making of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) on Kindle, in paperback or listen to the new audiobook, all available to purchase online.