Tag Archives: Denis Lewiston

A unit driver on the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ has written in with his memories of 1973

View from Bank Ground 2
A comment from someone who worked on the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973 ~
l had just finished my three years at college and was at a loose end before l started my working life. I was living in Ambleside at the heart of the English Lake District where Arthur Ransome’s children’s story “Swallows and Amazons” was being filmed at the time. I landed myself a job working for the film unit. I was full of my own importance as l was driving the stars and director of the film.
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Virginia McKenna playing Mrs Walker

Virginia McKenna playing Mrs Walker at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water

The stars were Virginia McKenna of “Born Free” fame and Ronald Fraser. I was reminded of this period of my life when l read the headline ‘X-RATED antics of Swallows and Amazons’ in The Times. The title related to the release of an e-book by Sophie Neville one of the child actors in the film. Sophie was 12 at the time and I was 19.

Sophie recalls how Ronnie (Ronald Fraser) was always drunk. Well this is not strictly true. In the morning Ronnie was reasonably sober and for this reason the director Claude Whatham would try and get most of the shooting with Ronnie in the can before the lunch hour came around when I would be summoned to take him to the nearest hostelry. Ronnie would then order his own concoction “The Fraser’. I cannot for the life of me remember what it consisted of, but believe you me these disappeared at a rapid rate of knots down Captain Flint’s (his character’s) throat. By the time the liquid lunch came to an end l would have to bundle him into the back of the car and deposit him back on set, much to the dismay of the producer Richard Pilbrow and the director Claude Whatham. Afternoon shooting was often a disaster when Ronnie was involved and I’m sure he frightened the children from time to time.

Well if the children were sometimes scared by Uncle Jim, as Captain Flint is known, then l was scared of the parrot that Uncle Jim had on his boat. The first day that I had to collect the parrot the old lady who owned him travelled with him to the location on Derwent Water. However she soon became bored with all the hanging around and after that she entrusted me with the parrot. Now birds are not really my thing and I really did not like handling him. He would travel to the location in an old shopping bag with a zipper, where l would hand him over and he would be placed in his cage. This was all well and good, then came the day that was so wet they did not use him, but instead he stayed in the production office at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel where the crew were hanging out. I was told he was in the bathroom, l expected him to be in his travel bag, but no he was sat on the edge of the bathtub looking at me. By this time he hated being put in the bag it took me all my time with a towel to catch him, finally after being scratched and bitten I got him home to his Mum.

The hardest thing to stomach was the fact that the parrot was paid more per day than l was.

David Stott

One of the daily unit call sheets issued on 'Swallows & Amazons' (1974)

One of the daily unit call sheets issued on ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

I replied:

Thank you so much for writing in, David. Your story about the green parrot had me roaring with laughter. I am told that he was a male parrot called Beauty, who belonged to Mrs Proctor of Kendal. Her grand-daughter rang in when I was interviewed on Radio Cumbria recently. She told me that her gran, old Mrs Proctor could do anything with him, and was well know for walking around Kendal with him sitting on her arm.  I don’t think anyone else dared get close. Since I played the part of Titty, I had to have him sitting on my shoulder in the cabin of the houseboat, while delivering the most important lines in the film. We were then meant to leap about singing, What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? This was a bit ironic since Ronnie was half-plastered by then. He was pretty permanently pickled. In the penultimate shot of the film, while pretending to play the accordion, he was still drunk from the Wrap Party 36 hours before. The parrot was not invited to the party but did receive a fee of £25 for appearing in the film. His owner used this to buy him a bigger cage.

Daily Express Article

I don’t know who thought up the ‘X-rated’ headline at the Times (which was absurd) but a reporter from the Daily Express provided the receipt for ‘The Fraser’ in 1973 – I have the clipping (above). Geoffrey Mather wrote: ‘A Fraser is a drink of his own invention. It consists of a large vodka with a kiss of lime and a ton of ice, topped up with soda in a large glass’. We all bought the copies of the newspaper in Ambleside. My mother was horrified as instead of being a story about making the film it was a half-page article about Ronnie’s antics in the bar of the Kirkstone Foot Hotel on Windermere.

Daily Express Article page two

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Lesley Bennett, Simon West, Sten Grendon and Kit Seymour with Ronald Fraser. Who is operating the boat?

 

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‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ in the headlines

The Times Sat 23 Nov 2013

The Times. What author would not be thrilled to have their ebook profiled in a Saturday feature article? But look at the headline. I shall never live it down. Far from being scandalous, my story is appropriate reading for any age group.

The Times Sat 23 Nov 20131

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville, featured in The Times

Richard Kay’s piece in the Daily Mail seems to have sparked off quite a bush fire. A News journalist from the Telegraph rang, as mentioned in my last post. Before I knew it, there was an over-excited headline on the internet

I was told-off by our Church Warden, who then handed me a clipping from the Saturday Telegraph, which read: ‘Swallows and Amazons a debauched adventure’. I didn’t dare look in the tabloids.

I was worried that I would be asked to step down as President of The Arthur Ransome Society but some of the members think it’s hilarious. The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have been busy thinking up Newspaper headlines for his novels, such as ‘Soviet agent indoctrinates all British children’.
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Ronald Fraser and Ian Whitaker on the houseboat1

Ronald Fraser, Make-up artist Peter Robb-King & Set Dresser Ian Whitaker on Captain Flint’s houseboat

Anecdotes about Ronald Fraser’s legendary drinking habits are mounting up.  Spare me from being a prattler, but Ronnie would have loved this. Star of thirty post-war movies and numerous television programmes, he liked nothing more than to sit in a pub sharing scandalous stories with his friends from the press.  A showman to the end, his coffin was carried by Sean Connery, Peter O’Tool, Simon Ward and Chris Evans.

DSCF7719

Can anyone tell me who took this photo? If you click on the shot you will get to my Swallows & Amazons page which has a photo of the photographer.

Peter Walker e-mailed me from Cumbria:

In 1973 I worked for Post Office Telecommunications (now BT) as a local maintenance engineer. One summer’s day I had been given the job of repairing a fault on the payphone in the White Lion Hotel in the centre of Ambleside. As I pushed open the door to the bar it slipped out of my hand and the handle caught a customer in the back who happened to be taking delivery of a large drink.

I apologised, and he said “No damage done my boy… haven’t spilt a drop!”

I said I was referring to his back, “Don’t worry,” he said, “being stabbed in the back is normal in my line of business!”

Ronald Fraser on the cover of the VHS

Ronald Fraser on the cover of the VHS

A wonderful story that I have already added to the ebook:

long after the filming, when Ronald Fraser was having a pint with his friends, he was fond of muttering ‘Natives!’ especially if someone ate the last of his crisps.(As you probably know, this was one of Titty’s lines in the film used when the Swallows were nearly run down by a Windermere steamer.)

Ronnie Fraser and DoP Denis Lewiston with paper cups of champagne and the call sheet for the next day ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Ronnie Fraser and DoP Denis Lewiston with paper cups of champagne in 1973

His fans and old drinking pals added comments below the online feature in Friday’s Telegraph:

Ronald Fraser sounds like he was well cast for the part, the black sheep of the family who was also the favourite uncle and usually totally p-ss-ed.

Ronald Fraser – a joy and wonderfully in-character as the freeloading drunk on the trans-Atlantic liner in the original TV adaptation of Brideshead.

“Debauchery” implies REAL shennanigans. Ronnie was usually too plastered to do more than stand, let alone move, let alone “do” anything. I assume the word is used ironically.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie Fraser several times in the Richard Steele on Haverstock Hill in 1969/70, and of conversing and drinking with him. He was a total lush, but charming, funny and scandalous. His fund of acting stories was endless. I’m surprised he made it safely through S&A! (Swallows and Amazons)

I also remember Ronnie Fraser from the Richard Steele. One evening he was serving behind the bar, in his cups he served me 4 drinks and instead of adding up the price he just said “that looks about 10 shillings worth to me!”

The Richard Steele was a proper boozer with a mixed clientele which included Anthony Booth, Rupert Davies and Eric Sykes. And a great selection of posters on the walls. I went back in there a couple of years ago and it has lost the buzz it had back in those days.

he also was in the star in st.johns wood too dont think i ever saw him sober either.that would be about 1975 -1979

Yep. I too drank with him in The Richard Steele in 1976/7. Total gentleman and a great character. He used to drink with Alan Browning. Glynn Owen was another regular and one or two others of note.

I loved that film and thought it very faithful to the source book. My sister has met Ronald Fraser and as well as being a boozer he was also apparently something of a swordsman.

I thought that Ronald Fraser was miscast – he was too much the buffoon and his speech impediment wasn’t appropriate to the role.

With Ronald Fraser

With Ronald Fraser in 1973

General comments about the film were also added to the Telegraph site:

I had a slightly surreal experience 10 or 12 years after it came out. It was on TV and I sat happily through it, then I put in the video of the John Hurt movie 1984. In it, the girl I’d just been watching playing Susan as a 12 year old instantly aged 10 years.

It was raining in the Lake District- that’s a major surprise. One place there has recorded 200 inches of rain in a year!

It’s good to find someone else who shared those lovely £sd days!! I remember the posters vividly.

It was indeed largely a time of great adventure for a child at that time. As kid’s, at weekends & holidays, we often wouldn’t be seen from morning ’till evening, off exploring our surroundings. Totally unlike the generally mollycoddled, world wrapped in cotton wool that you usually see with today’s parents and their children.

Great book and an excellent, very English film! Pity that Arthur Ransome was a traitorous Communistic Guardian hack! I imagine that Soviet Commissars, used to Black Sea dachas, would have found The South Lakes far too drizzly for a summer holiday. No doubt Mr Ransome would have been keen to host them.

Well, you have to admit it was excellent cover for his job of reporting everything the Bolsheviks did to MI6.

Ronald Fraser being transported to the Houseboat

Ronald Fraser being transported to the Houseboat on Derwentwater

Your comments are invited below.

For those who have not already seen it, here is some behind the scenes footage of filming on that houseboat in 1973.

 

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‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ ebook is out now

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

Thanks to the encouragement and help of my blog followers and Arthur Ransome enthusiasts around the world, I have managed to put my diaries, letters, old photographs and documents together into a 68,000-word memoir.

s&A book launch 2013 005

“Sometimes extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people. Little girls can find themselves becoming film stars. Long ago, and quite unexpectedly, I found myself appearing in the EMI feature film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons, made for a universal international audience. I played Able-seaman Titty, one of the four Swallows. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I became Titty for a while, wearing thin cotton dresses and elasticated navy blue gym knickers, which the camera crew soon referred to as passion killers. The book was written in 1929 and although the film adaptation was made in the early 1970s it had an ageless quality and has been repeated on television year after year, typically on a Bank Holiday between movies starring Rock Hudson or Doris Day.

I got the part of Titty because I could play the piano. Although I had no ambition to be an actress, at the age of ten I was cast in a BBC dramatisation of Cider with Rosie. They needed a little girl to accompany the eleven-year-old Laurie Lee when he played his violin at the village concert. I plodded through Oh, Danny Boy at an agonising pace.

‘Do you think you could play a little faster?’ the Director asked.

‘No,’ I said, flatly. ‘These are crotchets, they don’t go any faster.’

Claude Whatham must have remembered my crotchets, for two years later, in March 1973, my father received a letter. It arrived completely out of the blue, from a company called Theatre Projects.

We are at present casting for a film version of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS which Mr Whatham is going to direct. We were wondering if you would be interested in your daughter being considered for one of the parts in this film.

Amazing!”

From ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville

Preview copies of the print version of 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons'Preview copies of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’  at the Cruising Association dinner at the Water’s Edge Bar and Restaurant, Mermaid Marina on the River Hamble.

“This heart-warming memoir is illustrated with colour photographs, most of them taken at the time by Sophie’s family, and contains links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage for readers with browser-enabled tablets. It delivers a double helping of nostalgia for both fans of the era of Arthur Ransome, and the groovy times of the early 70’s.” ~ from the Amazon Kindle description

Map of Derwentwater by Sophie

Also available for other reading devices on Smashwords

Thank you again for all of your time and patience, and to those of you who contributed comments, questions, and aspects of local history on this blog. I would love to know what you think of the book!

If you would like a copy but don’t have a Kindle, worry not. We have added a link whereby you can download a free Kindle app. Please go to my Book Page and scroll down for the details.

Sophie Neville on the pontoon during the filming of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Richard Pilbrow, Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, David Cadwallader and Sophie Neville aged 12 playing Titty. Eddie Collins looks on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

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Captain John, Master of the Swallow, played by Simon West in 1973

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Peel Island in 1973

Simon West and Sophie Neville  as brother and sister on Peel Island in 1973

I had dinner with Captain John last night. It was extraordinary meeting up after forty years; a lifetime had whizzed by.

Tall, with dark hair, Simon West is no longer recognisable as John Walker but he looks back fondly on our time making the film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons in 1973, when we spent seven weeks of the summer term on location in the Lake District. To my surprise he doesn’t remember being cold at all. I claim that he was given a few more clothes to wear than me and had more to concentrate on. He was at the helm whilst I was a mere able-seaman in Swallow. He said that he hated it when she was wired to the pontoon and he had to pretend he was sailing.

BW Swallow about to jibe

Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton sailing Swallow from Peel Island where Sophie Neville stands shivering on the shore. Was this shot filmed from a camera pontoon?

Simon thought that I probably remember more about the experience than he did because my mother was there, chatting about what was going on every evening and naturally re-enforcing the shared experience.

‘I must have kept a diary, as it was part of our schoolwork, but I haven’t seen it since. I’ll look in my parent’s attic.’ Simon thought that it was his mother who put together an album from the black and white photos that Richard Pilbrow gave us after the filming.

Simon West as Captian John sailing Swallow . Sten Grendon plays the Boy Roger in the bows

Simon West as Captain John sailing Swallow near Peel Island on Coniston Water. Sten Grendon plays the Boy Roger in the bows.

Simon said that he remembers more about filming the six-part BBC serial, ‘Sam and the River’, in which he had the title role in 1974. Much of it was shot on the Thames Tideway east of London. ‘Of course all those places have changed enormously since then, whilst the Lakes are very much the same. I have never been able to find a copy of that series, which is a shame. I’d love to see it.’ We can’t find a copy in English, but there is a version in German entitled ‘Tom und die Themse’  currently for sale on DVD here.

Simon’s own children grew up watching Swallows & Amazons, which is still broadcast once or twice a year on television. He said that when they went to see the Warner Bros. Studios in Hertfordshire where much of the Harry Potter movies were made he felt hugely appreciative of the fact that we had been out on location the whole time, rather than boxed up on a film stage, acting against a green back ground.

Director Claude Whatham wearing his American Parker coat, looking on as Dennis Lewiston and Eddie Collins line up a shot over Derwentwater at dawn

Claude Whatham wearing his American Parker coat, as Dennis Lewiston and Eddie Collins line up a shot over Derwentwater at dawn

Simon did remember the great Parker coats that Richard and Claude found to cope with the Cumbrian weather. So do I. My father bought one too. They were blue-grey and enormous, lined with fake sheepskin, their hoods edged with Eskimo-like fake fur.

‘They had recently come over from America,’ he explained, ‘And were a real innovation. Before that we just had tweed coats.’

‘And Mackintoshes. Dennis Lewsiton wore a blue Mac.’

‘Those dreadful nylon anoraks,’

‘That are back in fashion.’

‘The American Parkers are fashionable now too – all that fake fur around the hood. Uggh.’

Suddenly the cogs of close association clicked in. Simon tossed his head in a certain way that I recognised as his own expression of humour. He said that he was really pleased that Bobby Moore chatted to him at the film Premier at Shaftesbury Avenue.

‘Sir Booby Moore? Was he there?  Did we meet him?’

‘Yes.’

I’d totally forgotten.

Simon said that he had become very attached to his Parker fountain pen from Aspreys, engraved with the words ‘Swallows & Amazons- 1973’, that Claude Whatham gave to each of us as a gift after the filming. ‘Stupidly I left in the boot of my car when I was in Paris, aged about twenty-seven. It was stolen with a load of other things.’ I had lost mine too. I dropped it on a footpath somewhere in Durham.

‘What did you spend your fee on?’

‘Oh, sailing dinghies.  It was good to know I had £500 in the bank around the time I was heading towards the British Championships. You know, at first we had ply board hulls but the time came when I needed to buy a fibreglass boat.’ It was with this that he became the National Optimist Champion. We agreed it was money put to good use.

After the age of about sixteen, Simon’s family became interested in orienteering. Maps seems to have had a strong influence on both our lives.

Simon West as John Walker studying the chart at Holly Howe before the voyage.

Simon West as John Walker studying the chart at Holly Howe before the voyage.

Simon and his wife now have four grown children. ‘We are split down the middle: three of us sail, three of us do not.’ But every year he takes the family up to the Lake District to go fell walking, something they all enjoy very much.

If anyone sees a brushed steel Parker pen on eBay engraved with the words ‘Swallows & Amazons 1973’ please let me know.  I’d love to be able to return it to Captain John.

Here you can see Simon appearing in ‘Sam and the River'(1975). This is the German version entitled Tom und die Themse:

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For the forthcoming book ~

With thanks to Richard Pilbrow and Theatre Projects who produced SWALLOWS & AMAZONS (1974)

Copyright Sophie Neville

~ but please share with your friends ~

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

The Gondola on Coniston Water in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

The Gondola on Coniston Water in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

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Is ‘Swallows and Amazons’ one of the 50 Greatest British Films?

Barry Norman 50 greatest films

Nominate your favourite British Film (hint!) on the Radio Times website

From the Radio Times website:

Here are Barry Norman’s 49 top British films:

Barry Lyndon (1975)
Black Narcissus (1947)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Brief Encounter (1945)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The Cruel Sea (1952)
The Dam Busters (1954)
Dr No (1958)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Dracula (1958)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
The Full Monty (1997)
Gandhi (1982)
Get Carter (1971)
Gladiator (2000)
Great Expectations (1946)
Gregory’s Girl (1980)
Henry V (1944)
I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)
If… (1968)
The Ipcress File (1965)
Kes (1969)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
The King’s Speech (2010)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
The Ladykillers (1955)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
Local Hero (1983)
The Long Good Friday (1979)
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Naked (1993)
The Railway Children (1970)
The Red Shoes (1948)
The Remains of the Day (1993)
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
Secrets & Lies (1995)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
The Servant (1963)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Skyfall (2012)
The Third Man (1949)
The 39 Steps (1935)
This Sporting Life (1963)
Trainspotting (1995)
Whisky Galore! (1949)
Zulu (1963)

To enter, tell us which film you think is missing from this list.

Competition closes at midnight on 22 Feb. The winner will be chosen by Barry Norman. For full terms and conditions click here.

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The premiere of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, held at the ABC Shafestbury Avenue on 4th April 1974

 

The Premiere of Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was held at the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue on 4th  April 1974. Can you imagine the shock of finding a picture of myself on the cinema tickets when they arrived in the post?

I didn’t know what to wear.  I wished that we’d been able to put on our costumes but it was clear I had to find an appropriate dress. Sadly I had grown out of the one we bought in Carnaby Street.

Sophie Neville at home in Gloucestershire in April 1974 ~ photo: Martin Neville

Nowadays one would be inundated by offers of designer dresses to model on the red carpet. As it was, my mother bought me green pinafore dress that I agreed would work for an afternoon event. I was not so happy about wearing ballet shoes. Please note these were real ballet shoes and I was now thirteen. I would have preferred court shoes with buckles. Ironically these zoomed out of fashion whilst ballet shoes have been loved by all ever since. My bobbed hair had grown out but Mummy put it in Carmen rollers. I am not sure the result was that successful but I liked it at the time.

The Neville girls modelling the fashions of 1974 ~ photo: Martin Neville

My sisters were terribly brave and wore velvet with their ballet shoes. The dress from Carnaby Street was slightly large for Perry but she coped. At least it was fashionable. Mum bought a blue outfit for herself that was deemed the height of fashion. When I arrived in London I found Suzanna had found a Laura Ashley pinafore whilst the Amazons had both got away with wearing trousers. They looked far more sophisticated.

There was an awful lot of fuss about who should or could come and who couldn’t  Mum had insisted on bringing, not friends of mine, but two of the nuns from my school.

Outside the ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue, London in 1974 ~ photo: Martin Neville

So I went off to my first premiere with my head mistress, Sister Ann-Julian and my house mistress, Sister Allyne. Not very cool in a thirteen year old’s world.  The Exorcist was out at the same time. They made no comment.

Sister Allyne, Daphne Neville, Tamzin Neville and Sophie Neville

In fact Sister Allyne proved the very best person to take. She was a performer herself. I am pretty sure she had been Australia’s foremost flautist.  She must have understood the turmoil in my little head and was undoubtedly praying for me. I would not be surprise to learn that spiritual protection was granted by her presence alone. She would have been an exorcist in her own right – a real one.  Perry remembers that she had been sick in the taxi. It think this was because she didn’t travel much.

Claude Whatham defied any plans my mother might have made by taking the six of us, and only the six of us, out to lunch at a wonderful bistro where we able to order beef-burgers, relax and enjoy ourselves.

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton in Laura Ashley and her mother

There was no red carpet when we arrived at the cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue but rather smart programmes were sold, one of which I still have. Until that point I had no idea that it was to be a Royal Gala held in aid of charity.

I was suddenly acutely aware of how I came across on the big screen. As the film was shown I groaned inwardly. It was like seeing endless photographs of oneself which were not exactly glamorous. I cringed. All Sister Allyne said was how much she enjoyed seeing the owl – a natural history shot that was added after all our hard work and effort on the drama.

The premier – as reported in Cinema TV Today

My mother was terribly impressed by the special guests. Princess Helena Moutafian was present with Earl Compton, chairman of the charity KIDS. I’m afraid I don’t remember meeting them but was interested to hear that she later became patron of the Young ME Sufferers Trust.

We walked down onto the stage with Ronnie Fraser to be presented to the audience. Sadly Virginia McKenna could not be there, although she sent her eldest children – Will and Louise Travers. Bobby Moore, who’d played for England came with his family, as did Mrs Spike Milligan. The Hollywood star  Patricia Neal, who won an Oscar for her leading role in the Paul Newman film Hud and appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s , brought her sweet little girls.  Julie Ege was a lovely Norwegian actress who appeared as Voluptua in Up Pompeii with Frankie Howard. I think Richard Pilbrow might have known her as he had produced the West End version.  She was known as a Bond Girl since she’d appeared in ‘On her Magesty’s Secret Service’ with Diana Rigg when George Lazenby played Bond and Telly Savalas was Bolfeld. We didn’t know any of this but I think having a Bond Girl at your premier was quite the thing.

I have a few precious posters of the film. The colour poster, which hung in the London Underground is still on the cover of some of the DVD’s.  I always quite liked the design, except for the rather jarring colour of my blouse, which for some reason is pink. Far more attractive were the huge sepia posters hung outside cinemas. They were very special. I still have one but it’s enormous and I am unsure what to do with it.

What the papers had to say about the film was a different matter. The first time we saw Swallows and Amazons was not at the film the premiere but at ‘The Preview’. This was held at a viewing theatre in London to which I assume journalists were invited. I only wish they’d been asked to bring their children. The cast was re-united, meeting up with various members of the production team, to see the film for the very first time. We were utterly amazed at how sunny everything looked. Denis Lewiston’s insistence that we should wait for clouds to pass, while we shivered, had paid off. It was wonderful to see how the film had been put together. We had not known that Claude would add shots of wildlife, which add so much to the movie. I loved the scene he included of cattle standing in the still lake at dawn.

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Swallows in Egham ~ a pick-up day, filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Walker children dressed as they arrived at Holly Howe at the start of their holiday in the Lake District

Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville playing the Walker children, as they arrived at Holly Howe at the start of their summer holiday in the Lake District ~ photo: Daphne Neville

While I had been at home with my family, Claude Whatham had been busy in the film editing suite putting ‘Swallows and Amazons’ together with Michael Bradsell.  They had previously worked together on ‘That’ll be the Day’.  Our Continuity supervisor Sue Merry must have known Michael too, as he’d edited Ken Russell’s film ‘The Boyfriend’.  Claude found that they definitely needed the sequence when the Walker children run up to the Peak at Darien and see Wild Cat Island for the very first time.

It is the scene that heralds the start of the adventure and indeed the opening titles of the movie. Richard Pilbrow had always wanted it to be shot at Friar’s Craig on Derwent Water.  There is a postcard of this headland with notes written on it by Arthur Ransome who labelled it for the first illustrator of the Jonathan Cape edition of the book, and it seemed just right for the Peak of Darien despite being a long way from Bank Ground Farm.  Although there had been two attempts made to record the handful of shots needed as the evening light lit up the islands across the water, we had always been held up and reached the spot too late in the day.

Richard must have already been over budget but the money was found to mount a pick-up shoot at Runnymede near Egham in Surrey one Saturday at the beginning of September. We were told that King John signed the Magna Carta under an oak tree there.

 

We loved the idea of meeting up again. Claude said he made an effort to get as many members of the same crew together as possible so it wouldn’t seem strange but it was a big unit.

Sophie Neville with Sten Grendon, Jane Grendon, Claude Whatham and Neville Thompson

Sophie Neville looks on as Stephen Grendon organises his costume helped by Jane Grendon with Claude Whatham and Neville C Thompson.

The one thing that was striking was how much our hair had grown. We all needed a trim. Sten needed a full hair cut. Luckily Ronnie Cogan was free.

Stephen Grendon playing Roger Walker having his hair cut by Ronnie Cogan

Neville Thompson had even managed to book the same Make-up caravan. It was here that Peter Robb-King the make-up designer toned down our summer tans in an effort to match the skins of the pale Walker children who’d been sitting in the railway compartment with their mother at the beginning of the film.

Photograph of movie hair-stylist Ronnie Cogan giving a boy a short back and sides hair cut

Ronnie Cogan giving Sten Grendon a hair-cut. I was in the Make-up caravan beyond.

The ironic thing was that it was Make-up that held us up when we were first failed to record the scene in the Lake District. It took so long for Peter Robb-King to sponge down all four of us with pale foundation that the sun had set before we arrived on location. I can remember my mother hurrying him along, claiming it was ridiculous as it was too dark to see our freckles anyway. I was keen on the importance of continuity and had contradicted her. Claude couldn’t believe how long it had taken us to change. He had been furious when we turned up late but tried hard not to let us think it had been the fault of us children.

Simon West playing John Walker and Suzanna Hamilton as Susan Walker

Simon West playing John Walker and Suzanna Hamilton as Susan Walker

There was no Peak of Darien at the farm in Surrey, but a field had been found where we could run up to an oak tree. We just had to pretend we were looking out over the lake.

If you click on the shot below it should take you to a post I wrote on the opening locations of the film. Scroll down and you’ll see the shot of us running down the meadow at Bank Ground farm. This was the shot Claude had to cut from to the sequence that we were currently filming. Scroll right down to the end of the post and you’ll see me on Friar’s crag looking exhausted after a long day’s filming. I am so glad we were not able to continue that day.

Director Claude Whatham with Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West. Producer Richard Pilbow looks on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Although he had a freelance camera operator in a stripey shirt who we did not know, we met our Director of Photography Denis Lewiston who was setting up the shot with Claude under the oak tree, using a 35mm Arriflex camera on ‘short legs’.

If you click on the photo above you should get to a Post written about a location that was set on Derwentwater near Friar’s Crag – or on part of Friar’s crag that will give you an idea of what the real Peak of Darien would look like. However, the day in September in Egham was hotter than any day we’d experienced in Cumbria. Claude was soon wearing my straw hat.

DoP Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West with Gordon Hayman behind the 35mm Arriflex Camera ~ photo: D.Neville

If you click on the photo above it will take you to the day on 8th July when we had tried and failed to shoot this scene despite rushing around.

Although we look a bit hot and stiff in these photographs that my mother took when we were lining up the shots I think that the movie was probably made by this scene. We had learnt how to magic-up performances by this stage. If you watch the finished film our faces can be seen glowing with excitement. This was also partly because we were happy to be together again, on a sunny day in a lovely place.

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker with Gordon Hayman, Denis Lewiston and Claude Whatham behind the camera

I’ve just realised this image of Titty, clutching her school hat as she looked out over an entirely imaginary lake, was the last actual shot recorded. Soon my close-up was ‘in the can’ and ‘a wrap’ was called. It had been the 1003rd slate of the movie. We celebrated with tins of Fanta rather than champagne.

Since the first shot in the compartment of the steam train as it travelled between Haverthwaite Station and Windemere , recorded back in May, I had put on about seven pounds and grown taller than my elder brother and sister.

Daphne Neville with Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West

I can’t help thinking that this photograph is symbolic of the futures we were to step into. Sten Grendon is holding an apple, Suzanna seems to have a framed photograph and I’d been given a roll of camera tape. What Simon West is holding is something of a mystery, but it is tightly clasped.

Simon West writing his address for me on a scrap of paper

Soon it was time to go. We changed back into our own clothes and said goodbye.But it wasn’t long before we saw Claude again. Once he’d finished editing the film we were called to the work on the sound. The movie was still in the making.

Sophie Neville saying goodbye to director Claude Whatham

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

The food of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when filming in 1973

Suzanna Hamilton as The Mate Susan, cooking buttered eggs on the camp fire on Wild Cat Island. Director Claude Whatham, Sue Merry, Bobby Sitwell and DoP Denis Lewiston look on, clad in wet weather gear.

Suzanna Hamilton as The Mate Susan, cooking buttered eggs with tea on the camp fire on Wild Cat Island. Director Claude Whatham, Sue Merry, Bobby Sitwell and DoP Denis Lewiston look on, clad in wet weather gear.

One of the questions I was asked when we returned from filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973 was about the food. This could only properly be answered by going into considerable detail.

The location caterers from Pinewood

Jane and Sten Grendon walk, in costume, towards John and Margaret’s location catering wagon parked at Bowness-on-Windermere ~ photo: Daphne Neville

When on location, our breakfast, coffee, lunch and tea were provided every day from the back of a location catering van staffed by a couple called John and Margaret who had come up from Pinewood. My mother always refered to their van as ‘The Chuck Wagon’. There wasn’t perhaps as wide a choice as there is with location catering today, but good hot meals were produced on time, whatever the weather and wherever we might be. If we ever filmed on a Sunday there would be a full roast meal. At other times they would enchant us with a choice that might include spaghetti, a dish that was new to England – or at least where we lived – in 1973. It was the kind of special meal that my mother would cook for a dinner party, served with a spoon and fork so you could swirl the pasta properly. As children we were allowed to go to the head of the queue so that we could avoid having to queue up in the rain. We’d take out plates to tables in one of the  red  double-decker buses. You could help yourself to knives and forks and paper napkins on the way in. We had to be careful not to get food on our costumes.

I remember when location caterers first started providing salad buffets in addition to hot lunches in the 1980s. It was such a relief not having to queue. Salads were not regarded as food for the working man back in the early 1970s  but Suzanna thought otherwise. Indeed she would eat little else.

Despite the fact that Suzanna often only ate tomato sandwiches for lunch, the catering budget must have been considerable. The call sheet always seemed to specify ‘LUNCH for approx 70 persons’. When friends came to visit us on location my parents were sensitive to this and bought a picnic, which was very much how we lived normally. This was always carried in a wicker basket and set out on a car rug, cold squash in one thermos flask, hot coffee in another. Triangles of processed cheese with ham and pickle sandwiches. No cool bags or bottles of wine. You couldn’t buy ready-made sandwiches from petrol stations or supermarkets then but if you went to a bakery they would make you a filled bap while you waited.

A family picnic on the banks of Coniston Water, Cumbria in 1973

Daphne and Martin Neville having a picnic with their friends on the banks of Coniston Water in 1973. Sophie Neville wears an anorak over her costume.

As anyone who has read Arthur Ransomes’ books will know, the Swallows were very organised when it came to provisions. Milk from the farm, buttered eggs, seed cake, apples, molasses (toffees) and grog – I loved it all. I wasn’t too sure about fried perch but the pemmican and potato cakes cooked by Man Friday with a great knob of butter were utterly delicious. And I loved the buns from Rio. We didn’t have peas to shell on the film. Apples must have seemed a realistic alternative.

Again we have to rely on The Mate Susan for details. Surely she was modeled on Ransome’s own efficient wife Evgenia? In this extract from her diary Suzanna mentions that Richard Pilbrow’s two children came to watch the filming. She knew Abigail from London.

Mum became worried quite early on that Suzanna wasn’t eating enough. The solution came when she was taken out to dinner at a restaurant where she was able to chose from a wide menu.

As a result Suzanna was often given steak for supper back at the Oakland’s Guest House while the rest of us had whatever was on offer, which was a bit of a swizz.

Eating apples

‘Sailors die from it like flies’ Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Simon West as The Swallows eating apples to fend off scurvy.

Suzanna was of course completely right about insisting on eating salads and fresh fruit. She chivvied, encouraged and begged both the caterers and Mrs Price for more and more fresh raw food. She loved strawberries. Virginia McKenna won her heart by bringing her two boxes of fresh strawberries when she was ill with tonsilitis at the start of the filming. These would have been early English strawberries and a great treat in 1973.  John and Margaret managed to find enough for us all later in the summer. They were presented in a manner that would have pleased the men working on the film crew but Mate Susan wasn’t so happy about this.

I’ve included this photograph before but it provides proof that food was an important issue. Please note that Mate Susan is first in line, inspecting everything on offer.

Location catering

Suzanna Hamilton, in her red tracksuit top, seeing what the location caterers had for lunch on the set of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Coniston Water

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

Leaving the Lake District ~ 13th July 1973

Daphne Neville with Sophie Neville while filming 'Swallows and Amazons' in Cumbria

 It was time to say goodbye. We’d had the most wonderful seven weeks filming on the Lakes but the end had drawn in with the clouds. It was time to go home.

Since we lived in Gloucestershire it was a long drive south. I’m not sure how Jane and Sten Grendon got back as I don’t think Jane drove, but we must have dropped off some of their things on our way past their village.

I can remember seeing my real sisters again and walking around the garden in the afternoon sunshine, looking at all that had changed. We’d left in early May, now it was full summer and the school holidays.

Sophie Neville in 1973, in the garden at home with a swan

Back in the garden at home with a swan

‘Shall we go and put flowers on Luppy’s grave?’ Perry asked. I hadn’t heard that our dear old dog, the sheep dog I had known all my life, had died while we were away. I was inconsolable. Mum explained that they hadn’t wanted to tell me when it happened as we were filming, she thought that the sadness on my face would have come through on camera. I understood this but was still desolate. Having had to cope with the grief of losing Luppy, on top of the heartbreak of leaving everyone I had grown so close to in the Lake District, I was not in a good way.

One of the most treasured things that I had returned with – apart from the lump of Cumbrian slate Jean McGill had given me – was a hardbacked copy of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ signed by the entire cast and crew.

Signatures of the cast, director and producer of the movie 'Swallows and Amazons' in my hardback copy of Arthur Ransome's book

Signatures of the cast, director and producer of the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in my hardback copy of Arthur Ransome’s book

Here you can see inscriptions from Virginia McKenna who had played my mother, Ronald Fraser, Mike Pratt and Brenda Bruce who appeared as Mr and Mrs Dixon, Jack Wolgar and John Franklyn-Robbins who embodied the Charcoal Burners with Brian Robylas (sp?) and Moria Late who played Mr and Mrs Jackson.

It is interesting that all the children signed their character names with their real names in brackets. We must have grown to associate ourselves more with the characters names than with our own. Claude Whatham wrote, with thanks, and Richard Pilbrow enchanted me by drawing a picture of Wild Cat Island at night.  The only other signature on this page is from Brian Doyle, Mum’s friend the publicity manager on the movie who encouraged us to collect the autographs.

Signatures of the rest of the cast and crew of 'Swallows and Amazons' in the back of my Jonathan Cape edition of Arthur Ransome's book

Signatures of the rest of the cast and crew of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the back of my Jonathan Cape edition of Arthur Ransome’s book

At the back of the book David Blagden, who played Sammy the Policeman as well as overseeing the sailing, drew me a picture of what must be a vision of himself, sailing into the sunset in his little yacht Willing Griffin.

David Blagden's signature and sketch

Phyllis B was my tapestry-making stand-in. Simon Holland our art director (set designer) drew me a wonderful set of crossed flags that were also paint brushes ~ a logo for my life.

I have a signature from Kerry Dartisnine who played Bridget’s Nurse, our Fair Spanish Lady, who like the actors who played the Jacksons was not credited on the movie. Jean McGill was our driver and unit nurse, Eddie Collins the camera operator. Ronnie Cogan was our hairdresser, Toni Turner was a blonde lady who worked on a few days as Suzanna’s stand-in. Terry Smith was the wardrobe master, Terry Needham the second assistant director. Albert Stills is Albert Clarke.

On the last page I have a very classy signature from Robert – who I think was one of the unit drivers, and Denis Lewiston the DoP. Peter Robb-King signed himself ‘Make-up for the Stars’ and Gareth Tandy as ‘The Whip-cracker’, which surprised me as I had never seen his whip. Graham Ford obviously didn’t want me to change and Margaret Causey, our Tutor, sent her love.

Interestingly, I also have an inscription from Ian Fuller the sound editor listed as if he was around on location. I am sure he was the chap I would have met next. Claude and Richard would have gone straight down to the cutting rooms to edit the film. It is not usual for actors to enter such territory but our adventure was to continue. We were soon to be summons to the Elstree Studios of EMI at Borehamwood.

The crew as I remember them filming with Swallow and Amazon from the pontoon ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow

The crew as I remember them filming with Swallow and Amazon from the pontoon ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow taken on Derwentwater in 1973

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Autobiography, Biography, Claude Whatham, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons