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‘Now then, Miss Nancy’ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on Wild Cat Island in 1973

Director Claude Whatham and Bobby Sitwell with Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker and Ronald Fraser as Jim Turner aka Captain Flint in 1973

I love this photograph of Suzanna with Claude Whatham and the Bobby the focus puller. It somehow captures the atmosphere of filming on Peel Island back in 1973. I was meant to be sitting on the biscuit tin where I have left my empty cup, but Claude must have been reading my lines as he took Suzanna Hamilton’s close-ups. I was never sure about the blouse she is wearing. We hadn’t heard of Margaret Thatcher at the time but it now seems to be edging a little too close to her style. I doubt if she took inspiration from us.

‘It was quite a nice day weather-wise,’ one of the others had noted, but obviously not the solid sunshine needed for the big scenes yet to be shot out on the lakes. However our sailing director David Blagden was back with us, his hair cut short in order to appear in vision as Sammy the Policeman, a part he played beautifully. Although there is a cheerful photograph of him taken straight after he gained a short-back-and-sides we can only find rather a distant and visually confused one of him in uniform at the camp site on Wild Cat Island. He was so desolate to have had his hair cut short that he took off his helmet during the scene to prove that he really had been shorn.

We were excited that David was on the set, in costume. He’d always been behind the camera before. But he made a very serious Policmen and didn’t let the persona of his character fall whilst he was in uniform. What works best in the film is the edit. ‘No more trouble of any kind, ‘ Virginia McKenna insists – and the shot cuts to the boots of a Policmen arrving in camp.

It looks as  if this was one long scene – but the section where the content of Uncle Jim’s book was discussed while we sipped tea had been shot a week previously when Ronald Frazer first arrived in the Lake District.

David Blagden who played Sammy the Policeman

David Blagden who played Sammy the Policman ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The clapper-loader, Sophie Neville and David Blagden as the Policeman on Peel Island ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Director Claude Whatham having lunch with his leading ladies, Suzanna Hamilton and Lesley Bennett ~ photo: Daphne Neville

It was a long day, but a happy one. Any secrets?  It was really in the scene when John declares ‘a dead calm’ and we decide to visit the charcoal burners that it became apparent that I was taller than my elder brother played by Simon West. A box was provided for him to stand on so that I look shorter when I run into shot. It was a shot I remember we did in one take – despite being fairly complicated. Everyone was amazed that we moved on so quickly. We needed to.

The pre-occupation of the producer was that, since the bad weather had caused delays, we still had an awful lot to film. We must have been about a week behind schedule – a huge worry for Richard Pilbrow. The next day we just had to get out on the water come what may.

The huge sadness was that David Blagden, so vibrant and good looking with so much to live for,  lost his life to the sea in the late 1970s. After Swallows and Amazons he presented an ITV series brooadcast on Sundays called ‘Plain Sailing’. It featured Willing Griffin the 19′ Hunter in which he’d crossed the Atlantic despite  horrific weather in 1972 and the survey of a 39′ wooden boat I think he intended to take on another crossing.  Apparently he set off in this yawl from Alderney in a Force 11 gale and was never seen again. The harbourmaster had begged him not to go.  They found his girlfriend’s body and parts of the boat but there was no trace David.

Very Willing Griffin by David Blagden sailing director on 'Swallows and Amazons'

The cover of ‘Very Willing Griffin’ by David Blagden. ‘An exciting adventure of persuing and living a dream against many odds’, this sort after book was reviewed in The Journal of Navigation.

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