Tag Archives: Ben Fogle

Lucy Batty of Bank Ground Farm

Virginia McKenna and Lucy Batty

at Bank Ground Farmhouse, 15th May 1973

We were sad to hear that Lucy Batty has passed away. She was 87. Our thoughts are with her family. She will be fondly remembered by visitors from all over the world who were made so welcome at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water in the Lake District, which she ran as a guest house for many years. It was also used as a film location, becoming known as ‘Holly Howe’ in Richard Pilbrow’s movie, Swallows & Amazons.

Bankground Farm

Bank Ground Farm in the Lake District

I first met Mrs Batty when we filmed in her home back in 1973 and returned to stay with her in 2003 when the BBC asked Suzanna Hamilton and myself if we would appear in Countryfile, which they were filming at Bank Ground Farm with Ben Fogle. It was then that she had time to show me her photo albums. What a life she led! She was very proud of having brought up seven children on the farm, “Two of my own and five that came with my husband,” she explained. “Getting them all off to school in the mornings was such hard work that my in-laws came to help on my first day.They all wanted bread and dripping for breakfast, with sugar sprinkled on top.”

Sophie Neville with Lucy Batty at Bank Ground Farm, Westmorland in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

~ Sophie Neville with Lucy Batty  in 1973~

“A magistrate once asked me what running a B&B entailed. ‘It’s much like looking after cattle,’ I told him. ‘You bring ‘um in, feed ‘um, see they’re bedded down, turn ’em out and muck’um out.’ He flung back his head and roared with laughter.”

She had a great sense of humour. I have a cutting from an article in The News written by Brenda Colton and published on 25th May 1973. It reads:

‘When Mrs Lucy Batty was asked if her house could be used for the setting of the film Swallows and Amazons, with guest star Virginia McKenna, she was delighted. After all, her home, Bank Ground Farm on the east side of Coniston Water, near Brantwood, was the setting chosen by Arthur Ransome for his children’s book Swallows and Amazons.

Mrs Batty thought it a good idea that the story should be filmed in an authentic location, and she felt she should be able to put up with a few cameras and film men for a while. But she just did not realise the scale of a “medium budget” film like this one, or what the production staff could do to her house. It was not the two double-decker buses coming down the path and parking on the farm that she minded, nor the numerous vans, lorries, cars and caravans. It was not even the difficulty of having 80 men and women wandering round the farmhouse carrying equipment here, there and everywhere. But when art director Simon Holland started tearing up her lino and carpet in the kitchen to get to the bare stone floor, she did get a little annoyed. Especially when he removed all the electric sockets, lights and switches, pushed all the kitchen furniture into the larder and whitewashed the newly papered walls.

Have you seen the kitchen?” Mrs Batty said to me. “The larder is piled high with my furniture; and you would not believe the tip my lounge is in. But they are a funny lot. I asked if I could wash the beams in the kitchen for them, and they said ‘Oh no, we want them to look old.’ I have even had to hunt out a lot of old pottery from the cellar for them.

But I have given up now. I have just left them to it.”

What she never knew was that Ian Whittaker the set dresser went on to win an Oscar for set design and received Academy Nominations on three other classic movies.

The News article on Swallows

What I really did not know, until I watched the BBC documentary ‘Country Tracks’, was that Mrs Batty reached the point when she locked out the crew. She explained that when she was originally asked if we could film on her property she did not quite realise the scale of operations and only asked for – or accepted – a location fee of £75. She said that she decided that £75 was not enough, padlocked her front gate and wouldn’t let them back in until they agreed to pay her £1,000. It was a lot of money, more than double the fee I received for acting in the whole movie.

To read a little more about filming of Swallows & Amazons at Bank Ground Farm, please click here.

Sophie Neville holding the horses

Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville & Simon West with Mr Jackson at Holly Howe

For the amusing clip of Lucy Batty being interviewed by Ben Fogle about hosting the film company please click here and fast forward.

Bank Ground Farm the location used for Holly HoweFor Bank Ground Farm’s website please click here

I am looking forward to returning to Bank Ground Farm for the Coniston Regatta on 1st & 2nd August

I am sure many people reading this have their own memories of Mrs Batty who was such a great character. Please do add them to the Comments box below. I feel it would be a tribute to all the hard work and love she put into making Bank Ground available over the decades for so many to enjoy.

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville, trying not to look as tall as she was in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The farmhouse as Holly Howe in 1973

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Cumbria, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

Your questions about Swallows & Amazons

Sophie Neville with Suzanna Hamilton on Coniston Water in Falcon ~ photo: Gordon Bourne

~ Sophie Neville with Suzanna Hamilton on Coniston Water in 2003 ~ photo: Gordon Bourne

‘How did Titty capture the Amazon?’

What did Swallows and Amazons wear?

The Swallows and the Amazons – where are they now?

These are some of the many questions that people type into search-engines. Members of The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have also had questions:

Dan Ford asked, ‘I think I heard it said that the four Swallows and two Amazons all wore life-jackets under their clothes whilst filming.  If that is so, they were very well concealed, so were they specially made for this use?’

We didn’t wear life jackets under our costumes, we only ever wore buoyancy aids when travelling out to the location. Last time I went out rowing on Coniston Water I didn’t wear a life-jacket either, which was very naughty.

Chris Roisndale asked: ‘What became of ‘Amazon’ from the film?  Is she still in existence like ‘Swallow’?

Amazon on Coniston 2003

Amazon at Bank Ground in 2003 ~ photo: Geraint Lewis

Suzanna Hamilton and I went out on Coniston Water in Amazon in when the BBC invited us to Bank Ground Farm to appear in Countryfile with Ben Fogle. We met her owners who live in Kent. I gather she was the same dinghy used to play Amazon in the 1963 BBC serial of Swallows and Amazons made when Arthur Ransome was still around to comment. Her owner told me, ‘She was built locally on Windermere sometime in the 1930.’

Amazon sailing

Amazon under sail while filming Countryfile in 2003 ~ photo: Geraint Lewis

Duncan Hall writes, ‘Just before Roger finds the camp, I’m fairly sure I can see a chimney in the background (somebody last said that it was a tree stump but it doesn’t look like a tree stump) – did you film any “on island” sequences on the mainland? Also – I know Rampsholme on Derwent Water was used for some “Wild Cat Island in the distance” shots, but it was mostly Peel Island. Did any Windermere islands get used for Wild Cat Island locations?

The Boy Roger was definitely on Peel Island when he was looking for the camping place. I remember he got rather scratched by brambles.  I can see what does look like a chimney in the background but it would have been a stump.

Some of the scenes set on Wild Cat Island were indeed shot on the mainland. This was because there is no light house tree on Peel Island. I don’t think there was one in Ransome’s day. We filmed the light house tree scenes on two different promontories near Friar’s Crag overlooking Derwentwater and the Houseboat Bay. For a description of one location  please click here.

Falcon with Amazon in Secret Harbour: photo Geraint Lewis

‘Peggy Blackett’ & ‘Amazon’ in Secret Harbour on Peel Island: photo Geraint Lewis

Chris Clarke has asked, ‘Were any of you allowed to keep props from the film set as a souvenir? For example, were the Amazons allowed to keep their red hats?’

A number of red hats were made and I think the Amazons may have been able to keep one each. Their hats were initially bright pink, but my mother was insistent they should be red and others were knitted locally. She tried to get ones made more like a finely knitted woolen hat of mine that would have been much more in keeping with Ransome’s original sketches. However this picture was not known of back then and the Wardrobe Master, and the Director went with the design of the ones you see on the screen. Funnily enough the caps do look a bit pink in Mum’s faded photo.

Virginia McKenna with us at Bank Ground1

The Amazons in their red caps, sitting with the Walker Family at Holly Howe ~ a scene neither in the book or film of Swallows & Amazons: photo: Daphne Neville

I still have a bow, two arrows with green feathers and a pair of flags used for rehearsal props. I was given one of the pink hats but it meant nothing. I didn’t keep any of my costumes, but Caroline Downer who played Dorothea says that she still has the buttercup yellow dress she wore in either ‘Coot Club’ or ‘The Big Six’.

Scores of people have asked, ‘Where was Swallows & Amazons filmed?’

One of the secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons is that while most of the film was shot on Coniston Water, we also filmed with the dinghies to Derwentwater, Windermere, Elterwater and rather a smelly lily pond.

Amazon with Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle making a documentary about the locations used for Swallows & Amazons (1974)

~ photograph: Geraint Lewis who will be representing the Arthur Ransome Trust at a number of country fairs this summer ~ please click here for details

If you would like to sail the Swallow please click here for details

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Filed under Arthur Ransome, Cumbria, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

News about the Lanehead boathouse once used by Arthur Ransome

Daily Express Boathouse article

I arrived back from holiday to find that, following the ITV report, daily newspapers in the United Kingdom have been writing extensively about a certain inspirational boathouse on Coniston Water that is currently for sale.

The Daily Mail even included a clip from the film of Swallows & Amazons in their online article.

The Times calls it ‘Ransome’s adventure playground’. The Evening Mail published a photograph of him I hadn’t seen before.   The Daily Telegraph admitted that the Estate Agents have had more inquiries from journalists than buyers.

What no one has picked up on was the useful wooden jetty in front of the boathouses that appeared on Countryfile, Big Screen Britain and Country Tracks presented by Ben Fogle for BBC One.

Geraint Lewis of the Arthur Ransome Trust tells me that the wooden part of the jetty belongs to Lanehead. The old stone part belongs to Bank Ground Farm. So far as we are aware, the wooden part is not included in the Lanehead boathouse sale. Sealed bids had to be in by 4.00pm on 12th September. Peter Walker of Kendal tells me, ‘According to the local boatmen… the Lanehead boathouse has not been sold… prospective buyers have been put off by access problems.’ (See comments below).
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Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville below Bank Ground Farm on Coniston in 20031

Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville when filming ‘Countryfile’ on Coniston in front of the Lanehead Boathouse in 2003

The Battys, at Bank Ground, have bought a floating jetty/pontoon, which was used by the National Trust’s Steam Launch Gondola during the Coniston Regatta in May. Geraint says,
‘This was quite a feat, as the jetty was a lot shorter than Gondola, whose prow was well over the land once docked.’
He tells me that Bank Ground intend to build a new wood jetty if or when they get planning permission, suitable for more regular visits by the Gondola and Campbell the Coniston Launch. Such a jetty would need to be “L” shaped, to allow rapid arrival and departure in deeper water’.

Do let me know of the latest news on this.

Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville on Coniston in 2003

Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton on the jetty in front of the Lanehead boatshed during the filming of ‘Countryfile’ at Bank Ground Farm.

For those who do not know the historical background:

Lanehead is the large white house above Coniston Water in Cumbria, which was once owned by WG Collingwood. He worked as the personal secretary to John Ruskin who lived  at Brantwood, just a little further down the East of Lake Road. Collingwood met the writer Arthur Ransome when he was a young man on holiday in the Lake District and invited him to stay at Lanehead.

Arthur Ransome became firm friends with WG Collingwood’s daughters Dora and Barbara. Although he light-heartedly proposed to both of them, Dora married a friend of her brother’s, a doctor of Armenian-Irish decent called Ernest Altounyan. He worked at the hospital his father had established at Aleppo in Syria where Dora joined him. They had five children – Taqui, Susie, Titty, Roger and Brigit who they would take to the Lake District every four or five years so that they could spend time with their grandparents.  With so many in the family party, the Altounyans stayed at Bank Ground Farm, next door to Lanehead. Arthur Ransome joined his old friends, helping Ernest to acquire two clinker built dinghies so that they could teach the children to sail. One was called Mavis, the other Swallow. These were kept in the boathouse that is currently for sale, which then only had a short stone jetty.

When Arthur Ransome wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’ for the Altounyan children, depicted as John, Susan, Titty, Roger and Brigit, he set the opening chapters at Bank Ground Farm, which he called Holly Howe.

For more information on this please read Christina Hardyment’s book, ‘Arthur Ransome and Capt Flint’s Trunk’ (p.32-44) and Jeremy Collingwood’s new book, ‘A Lakeland Saga – The story of the Collingwood and Altounyan family in Coniston and Aleppo’. Roger Wardle, (see comments below) who has written a number of books on Arthur Ransome and has his diaries from the period tells me that there is no evidence that Arthur Ransome taught the Altounyan children to sail or that they even went out sailing in 1928/1928.  He sailed Swallow alone until the weather got too bad and she was put away for the winter but the little boat obviously stirred his imagination.

Claude Whatham at the Boathouse with Simon West and Sophie Neville

Director Claude Whatham at the Bank Ground Boathouse talking to Simon West and Sophie Neville when filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973

The film Swallows & Amazons produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973, used the Bank Ground boathouse and jetty as a location. John discovers Swallow in the boatshed on the lake below the farm where the Walker family are staying.

Simon West in the boathouse

John Walker discovering ‘Swallow’ in the boatshed belonging to Holly Howe, in the EMI-Theatre Projects film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

The children gain permission to sail Swallow and soon have her brown sail hoisted with John as Captain and  Susan as Mate, with Titty and Roger registered as crew, whilst baby Vicky helps wave them off on their adventures. The rowing boat moored next to it was known as ‘the native canoe’. It was used by Mrs Walker, graciously played by Virginia McKenna when she rowed out to Wild Cat Island where the Swallows went to camp. They encountered two girls who became know as the Amazon Pirates, after their own gaff-rigged dinghy that flew the Jolly Roger.

Virginia McKenna on location at Bank Ground Farm ~ photo:Daphne Neville

Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm sitting behind the boathouses when the film was being made in 1973 ~ photo:Daphne Neville

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, truelife story

‘Country Tracks’ with Ben Fogle

At last!

We have the clip from Country Tracks presented by Ben Fogle, that includes interviews with Director Claude Whatham, Lucy Batty of Bank Ground Farm, Suzanna Hamilton and myself discussing the swimming scenes, with the unique behind-the-scenes footage my father shot on 16mm film, with his Bolex camera back in 1973. You might have seen a longer version of this on Countryfile and Big Screen Britain. I am yet to receive residuals.

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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Humor, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story

Filming with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm, Cumbria ~ in 1973

Forty years ago today we were filming with Virginia McKenna at the location used for Arthur Ransome’s Holly Howe above Coniston Water. It was a day of days – the sunshiny day that we had all be waiting for.

Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm

Virginia McKenna at the other side of the boat houses at Bank Ground Farm in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

David Bracknell with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm

First Assistant Director David Bracknell standing-in (or kneeling-in) for Roger with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm. The great trees in the background are sadly no longer there ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The buttercups and daisies were still out in the field that flows from Holly Howe to the lake. Roger was able to tack up the meadow to receive the despatches from Mrs Walker, described in the opening pages of Arthur Ransome’s book.

‘…Each crossing of the field brought him nearer to the farm. The wind was against him, and he was tacking up against it to the farm, where at the gate his patient mother was awaiting him.’

Virginia McKenna with Hairdresser Ronnie Cogan

Virginia McKenna having her hair adjusted by Ronnie Cogan ~ photo:Daphne Neville

I don’t think you can tell that this section of the scene was recorded seven whole days later than the sequence that runs directly on from this when the Boy Roger delivers the very same ‘If not duffers’ telegram to Captain John. The hole that had been dug for the camera alongside our picnic had been filled in. You can see this from Mother’s perspective when I was milling about near the lake looking towards the island I couldn’t actually see.

Virginia McKenna on location at Bank Ground Farm (Holly Howe) in the Lake District. Property Master Bob Hedges is working in the foreground. Lee Electric lighting assistants stand-by with reflector boards while Assistant Sound Recordist Gay Lawley-Wakelin waits on a box with the boom ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Poor Sten, he had to run up the field on what proved to be our hottest day. I remember Jean McGill, the Unit Nurse ministering cool drinks and a flannel soaked in cool eau de Cologne to make sure he did not get dehydrated. We all wanted a go with the cool cloth on the back of our necks at lunch time.

With Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm

The Walker Family ~ Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan, Stephen Grendon as Roger, Sophie Neville as Titty, Virginia McKenna as Mother and Simon West as John in the meadow full of buttercups at Bank Ground Farm

It was good to escape the heat by getting out on the water. We shot the scene set on the old stone jetty at the boat houses below the farm when Titty leads ‘Good Queen Bess’ down to the harbour to inspect her ship. I didn’t realise she had a large box of matches in her hand. Virginia kept it a surprise from us in real life. I was excited to find out that Simon Holland, the Designer had painted the branded cover by hand.

As the Call Sheet specifies, our dinghy Swallow had been loaded with all the tents and camping equipment that had been on Peel Island the day before. I didn’t realise at the time quite how often the design team had struck camp and made it up again. I just sat on top of the equipment singing Adieu and Farewell, not very well, as we sailed out onto Coniston Water, waving goodbye to our Fair Spanish Ladies.

Arriving at Holly Howe

Claude Whatham with Virginia McKenna. Mrs Jackson stands patinetly at the door ~ photo: Daphne Neville

I am sure that we had already recorded the scene in David Wood’s screenplay when the Walker family arrive at Holly Howe, but Claude decided to take advantage of the golden light and shoot it again.  I am sure this was a good decision. It had been a long day and we were tired but the excitement of our arrival is tangible.

Arriving at Holly Howe

Director Claude Whatham, in a 1970s yellow long-sleeved t-shirt, watching the taxi drive up to Mrs Jackson’s front door in 1929. DoP Dennis Lewiston sets up the shot with Focus-puller Bobby Sitwell ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Nurse with Baby Vicky, the ship's baby

Nurse with Baby Vicky, the ship’s baby at Holly Howe ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Sophie Neville holding the horses

Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West with Mr Jackson at Holly Howe~ photo: Daphne Neville

My mother thought that Mrs and Mrs Jackson, Mrs Walker’s nurse and Vicky the ship’s baby, who are listed as Extras on the Call Sheet, were particularly well cast. It must have been a long day for them. It was a long hot day for all of us, but a happy day.

Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville

Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville playing the Walker children in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ 1973 ~photo: Daphne Neville

The girls who had been taken on as our Stand-in’s the day before did not seem to be around to help limit the hours we spent on set, but perhaps I am muddled. They may have only materialized on Peel Island at a later date.

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville, trying not to look as tall as she was in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

What I really did not know, until I watched the documentary broadcast last Sunday, was that Mrs Batty, who held the lease on Bank Ground Farm, had locked out the crew. She explained that when she was originally asked if we could film on her property she did not quite realise the scale of operations and only asked for – or accepted – a location fee of £75. The arrival of the two red double-decker buses, the Lee Electric van, the generator and other lorries, not to mention the Make-up caravan rather daunted her, as did the furniture moving activities involved at the start of the filming when we shot the interior scenes. She said that she decided that £75 was not enough, padlocked her front gate and wouldn’t let them back in until they agreed to pay her £1,000. It was a lot of money, more than double the fee I received.

Sophie Neville with Lucy Batty at Bank Ground Farm, Westmorland in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

You may have seen the BBC documentary about the making of Swallows and Amazons, when Ben Fogle interviewed Suzanna Hamilton and myself at Bank Ground Farm for ‘Big Screen Britain’. This was  re-packaged last year on a programme called Country TracksMy father’s 16mm footage had been skilfully inter-cut with an interview with our Director, Claude Whatham. I did not know that it was being broadcast but was able to watch on-line.

Sophie Neville at the Bank Ground Farm Boathouses

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, Dinghy sailing, e-publication, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Holly Howe on the 5th day of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ near Coniston in 1973 ~

Holly Howe again  or back to Bank Ground Farm ~

My diary

My diary

When you next go to Bank Ground Farm you must stand outside and imagine the sight of two red London Route Master buses making their way down the drive.  They swayed from side to side.  We thought it comic. I still can’t work out how they managed to avoid how bringing down the dry stone walls. While sheep grazed around us outside in the rain, we made ourselves comfortable at the Formica tables in our school bus and got down to our lessons. I am sure it was good for us to be kept busy.

Bank Ground Farm

Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water in Cumbria

Meanwhile Ian Whittaker, the Set Dresser, and Simon Holland, the Art Director, transformed two of Mrs Batty’s upstairs rooms into the Walker children’s  bedrooms of 1929. I changed in the cold and was rushed through the rain with a coat over my nightie to the magical atmosphere of the set, warmed by the lights with everyone’s focus on what was just in front of the camera; me reading a beautiful edition of Daniel Defoe’s classic. Claude needed to establish that Robinson Crusoe was Titty’s hero. I can remember having to hold the book in special way so the cover could be seen clearly. I described this as ‘a bed scene’, which might amuse some actors, especially those who are not at all keen on doing bed-scenes (every actor I know). The beds themselves are probably still at the farm.

The LP

Sophie Neville, Virginia McKenna and Simon West on the cover of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ LP, which is still available on Amazon.co.uk

I expect they shot the scene where John is learning Morse Code in bed before my scene. Simon West had to be made very brown indeed, the Make-up Designer dabbing away with a tiny sponge, for the uneasy sequence, much later in the story, when he came to explain himself to his mother. This was shot with Virginia McKenna sitting at a writing desk in the square bay window, with the view of Coniston Water beyond. I sat there myself when I was making Swallow’s flag.

Virginia McKenna and Lucy Batty at Bank Ground Farm on 15th May 1973

Mrs Batty later explained to me that the bay window leaked terribly and she was glad to get rid of it. She now has a lounge area there, which is dedicated as a Swallows and Amazons room.  I was chatting to her back in 2002 when we were waiting for Ben Fogle and the BBC crew of Countryfile to return from looking for other locations used in the film before interviewing Suzanna Hamilton and myself at the farm. The problem was that Suzanna’s train was terribly delayed. We waited and waited and waited. It got later and later. When her taxi finally arrived I was so excited to see her I grabbed her and made her run down to the lake to see Amazon, the dinghy we had sailed together, which was there at the time. The poor director must have been at her wit’s end. Ben Fogle had to come down to fetch us. My excuse was that Suzanna must have needed a stretch after such a long journey. The Westmorland Gazette captured the three of us plodding back up the field before we sat on the grass for our interview.

Countryfile

Ben Fogle, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and the BBC crew recording Countryfile at Bank Ground Farm in October 2002

I did the whole interview holding a bottle of grog, which the Arthur Ransome fans who were staying at the farm gave me. You can see it in the photographs if you look closely.  I don’t think Ben knew what it was.

It was into this interview that my father’s 16mm footage of the making of Swallows and Amazons was cut, with such success that the documentary was re-shown as Big Screen Britain. What I didn’t know was that Ben Fogle was born in 1973 after we had made the movie. It was only once the crew had disappeared that Suzanna and I really began to talk.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, e-publication, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Arriving at Wild Cat Island on the fourth day of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on Coniston Water in 1973 ~

What would you wear to go sailing on Coniston Water in May?  Arriving at Wild Cat Island was exciting but I got terribly cold.

The Passion Killer scenes ~

The crew took delight in referring to my navy blue gym knickers as ‘Passion Killers’. Claude Whatham had me tuck my dress up into them. I don’t know if he knew it but, as Arthur Ransome said, the real Altounyan girls had done this, since they usually wore dresses in the 1930s rather than shorts. It made me think that I was wearing even less and haunts me still. Even this year ! there was a photograph in The Telegraph of me with my dress tucked up into my knickers. I was never allowed to un-tuck it between takes for fear of spoiling continuity.

Sophie Neville in her thin cotton dress and passion killers at Bank Ground Farm in May 1973 ~ photo:Daphne Neville

Sailing in thin cotton dresses ~

Emma Porteus, the Costume Designer on Swallows and Amazons was the one person we never saw on location. I’d met her at a fitting in London, when I tried on the silk dress and the shoes I wore in the train. She then had my cotton frocks made up, seemly without a thought to the Cumbrian climate. The fact that they were rather short was in keeping with 1970s fashion, rather than 1929. It was Claude who insisted that we all – boys and girls – wore original 1929 knickers and Mum who found us vests to wear once everyone realised how cold it was out on the water. I had to beg TSuzanna Hamilton in 1984erry, the Wardrobe Master, to let me wear the grey cardigan in subsequent sailing scenes.

Emma Porteus must have either been expensive or busy or both. She became the designer on many of the Bond movies ~ Octopussy, A View to a Kill and the Living Daylights. She worked on Aliens with Sigourney Weaver, Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone and, guess what? –  1984, which starred Suzanna with none other than John Hurt and Richard Burton. This was partly made near my home in Gloucestershire ~ Mum visited the set at Hullaverton ~ at the time I was working on the Arthur Ransome book adaptations of  Coot Club and The Big Six on the Norfolk Broards. Of all the costumes worn in movies through the decades Suzanna wore a classic in this film: a workman’s boiler-suit. Not designated by Emma Porteus, of course, but by George Orwell. Nice and comfy though for wearing on location.

The terrible royal blue nylon track suits with go-faster stripes down the arms that we wore on location were purchased to keep us warm during rehearsals. This was a huge mistake, firstly because they were ineffective in terms of thermal insulation and secondly because they found their way into the publicity shots. Someone commented on this only last week. they even made their way onto the cover of the VHS.  I can remember thinking at the time that they were a misguided purchase (and please note I was aged twelve at the time) but so grateful were we for the meagre warmth we willingly put them on.

Brian Doyle, the Publicity Manager on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in typical cold weather gear on Derwent Water in the Lake District

Dennis the DPO ~ Everyone on the crew was wrapped up warm and well equipped with wet weather gear.  They needed to be.  There was so much hanging around.  While it took a little time to line up a dinghy for a shot, Dennis Lewiston the Director of Photography was very strict about waiting for clouds to pass so that it looked sunshiney, even if it wasn’t that sunny in reality. This could take ages and ‘takes’ were often snatched between clouds. Looking back on it, this was crucial. My vision is of Dennis in a navy blue rain coat peering at the sky with a shaded eye glass that he wore habitually around his neck. He went on to make The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, Ian McKellen and Julian Fellows,  The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Meat Loaf, The Country Girls, starring Sam Neill, Marilyn and Me, Heidi with Patricia Neal, Montana and numerous other TV movies.

Filming the filming ~  I did not know until I read Mum’s letter last night that John Noakes had been offered a part in Swallows and Amazons or that Blue Peter had been offered the chance to document the making of the film. I wonder if John Noakes ever knew this? Biddy Baxter, the editor, was keen on ‘behind the scenes’ items.  Lesley Judd had worn a lovely red dress to make one earlier, in February 1973, about Dad’s Army with Arthur Lowe and John le Mesurier, who happened to be a cousin of Dad’s. Instead my father bought 16mm stock for his company’s Bolex and shot a number of reels.  The footage was never sold but not forgotten. I found it in 2003 when the BBC included it in the Countryfile documentary presented by Ben Fogle that was re-issued as Big Screen Britain. Does anyone have a copy of either of these?  I am yet to see them properly. Notes on the Diary ~It looks as if the food had improved.We had turkey for lunch on location, which was a great treat in the early ’70s.and ‘a super salad supper’ at the guest house, which I evidently enjoyed. Does anyone remember such things being a real treat? Translation of my mother’s letter home:My Darlings ~ Dad and my sisters’Letter to SAJ’ ~ Sister Ann-Julian, my headmistress. She signed her name SAJ and everyone called her Saj.When my long hair was cut for the part of Titty we sent the pony-tail back to my form at school so they could thatch the cottages of a model village they were making of medeval Childry. I was really sad to be missing the project.   Toos ~ Mum’s nick-name for meRuth ~ our cleaner from the village who was helping to look after my sistersB…    ~ (no idea)Gertie ~ her enormous Irish mare& co ~ our moorland poniesLupy, Joshua and Blue ~ our dogsShe must have been a bit homesick.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film crew, Lake District, Swallows and Amazons