Tag Archives: Dennis Lewiston

Behind-the-scenes in television and film

BW Filming on Peel Island

When I was a little girl, I was an avid viewer of Blue Peter, BBC Television’s flagship series for children. My favorite items would be profiles that were run from time to time about life behind the scenes at Television Centre. It was only later, whilst working for the BBC as a researcher, that I was told the terrible truth. The set designer Bruce Macadie said that such items were produced when the editor of Blue Peter was unexpectedly let down by a guest or couldn’t think of anything more newsworthy. I didn’t care a hoot. I was interested in how films were made from the age of about nine.

‘What a peculiar girl!’  I hear my friend Nac saying.

The reason was that I had rather a peculiar upbringing. I once described myself in an application for a job as a television director as a ‘Child of the studio floor’. The reason was that in 1969, when I was about eight years old, my mother became an in-vision announcer, reading the regional News and appearing on our crackly black and white set to brightly declare what would be shown that evening.  She worked at the Harlech Television Studios in Cardiff, alongside Martyn Lewis and Liz Carse. She would also descend in an oval wicker basket chair from which she would present a one-woman Children’s programme on called It’s Time For Me. This looked liked magic, and I wanted to know how it was achieved.

‘I was paid the same amount as a short-hand typist.’ The men were paid more than the women and her schedule was gruelling. On top of this she would drive 72 miles to the Cardiff studios in a rusty Mini van. Even though this was replaced she went part-time. Having become an expert on how long script bites took to read in different accents she would ‘whizz down to Bristol’ to read the letters on Any Answers for the producer Carol Stone.

‘But how did the basket come down?’

‘Oh, the rope was attached to a pulley on the studio lighting rig and  lowered  by three prop men.’

Daphne Neville making a radio commercial

My mother working in a radio studio in the 1970’s. Please not the producer’s cigarette and plastic cups.

I would often travel down with my mother to be shown around various studios. I remember sitting behind the Dalek-like cameras watching a live afternoon programme called Women Only being recorded at HTV Bristol. Mum presented it with Jan Leeming and a rotund TV cook called Tony. He had to wear a bright yellow chef’s hat and top so that they would come across as ‘chef’s whites’ rather than weirdo glowing garments on everyone’s black and white television sets. Mum spent ages looking for clothes to wear in vision as she was not allowed to wear either spots or stripes since they were liable to strobe. Dresses made from crimplene were all the rage but (luckily) she was banned from wearing this as TV screens would pick up on any static that it might exude. Sparkling garments were a no-no.

You wouldn’t think that Gloucestershire would be a hot spot for the film industry in the UK but in 1971 I was able to watch a film crew making a drama on location in Slad near Stroud, when I was chosen to play Eileen Brown in the BBC adaption of Laurie Lee’s memoir, Cider with Rosie directed by Claude Whatham. It had nothing to do with luck. I was the only little girl they could find with long hair who could play the piano.

Sophie Neville on the set of Cider with Rosie

Narrowly avoiding a collision with the BBC wardrobe mistress outside Slad village school where BBC TV were filming ‘Cider with Rosie’ in 1971. A tripod, camera cases and scenic props are stacked up by the blackout curtain.

In 1972 I was given a tiny non-speaking part of a ‘Woodchild’ in Arthur of the Britons that was made near Woodchester by HTV.  I had forgotten all about this until I saw a Youtube clip. I gather the serial has become cult viewing in the States.

Filming Arthur of the Britons

‘Arthur of the Britons’ being shot on two 16mm cameras at my parents’ farm in 1972

Around this time the BBC made an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, shot on location in Bath. We went down to be film extras in this and in a BBC drama called Song of Songs.

Sophie with the Panavision

Sophie Neville in 1973 with a 35mm Panavision camera

By the time I was cast as Titty in Swallows & Amazons I was relatively experienced. Later that summer I was in a Weetabix commercial and the next year I was invited to appear on a number of magazine programmes to publicise the movie. I remember being interviewed on Nationwide and profiled at home on Animal Magic.

Watching a television commercial being made in 1973

Watching a television commercial being made in 1973

Inevitably one thing leads to another and I was soon asked to audition for a number of subsequent films. Inflation was roaring at 17% in the mid-1970s and I don’t think any of these were ever made but it was good interview experience. I ended up at Shepperton Studios doing a screen test for a musical version of The Old Curiosity Shop. This was serious stuff, shot on a film stage in Victorian costume. My music teacher spent ages teaching me to sing All I Want is a Room Somewhere but despite endless discussions nothing more came of it. However looking around Shepperton had been amazing. At some stage I had also auditioned at Pinewood Studios. I had been shown around the set of the latest James Bond and even had a go on the swing featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Mum wouldn’t let me tell anyone at school about it, as I might had come across as swanky. But as film studios were not open to the public then it did add to my education.

Sophie and Vic Armstrong in Copter Kids

Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Sophie Neville, Sophie Ward, Vic Armstrong and Michael Balfour in ‘The Copter Kids’ – a movie for CFF shot on location in 1975

Although lanky, and focused on GCSEs, I managed to gain a leading role in an adventure film when I was fifteen. This proved interesting it involved working with stunt men including Vic Armstrong, who later became Harrison Ford’s double. We got to shoot from helicopters. At times the camera literally showed me shooting from a helicopter with a bow and arrow.

Sophie Neville in Crossroads for ATV

Playing Kevin’s sister, Glenda Brownlow’s bridesmaid, in a couple of episodes of ‘Crossroads’, the ATV soap opera that ran for 24 years

And then there was an opportunity to be in Crossroads. What an experience! I was various wedding scenes and the crowds who turned out to watch were unexpected. I was eighteen by then and did it purely for the money. I’ll see if I can find the article I wrote about it for my university magazine. Please let me know the name of the actor playing Kevin. I was meant to be his sister.

To see more about Mum’s career please see her website

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Filed under 1973, 1983, Acting, Autobiography, Biography, Film, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

More memories of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973 from David Stott

David Stott, the Ambleside lad who worked as a unit driver on the film of  Swallows & Amazons in 1973 after he left college at the age of 19, has written from America:

‘I really enjoyed reliving Swallows & Amazons through your book.’

‘Oh my, what a trip down memory lane it was for me – so much that l had forgotten was rekindled. I cannot believe that it was forty years ago.

‘I think that I started work (on the film in) mid-June, which would fit in with finishing college. From your daily schedule it was when you went back to Coniston with Virgina McKenna on her second visit.’

Map showing film locations around Coniston Water

Map showing film locations around Coniston Water

David remembers the problem of being locked out of Bank Ground Farm by Mrs. Batty.  ‘I really could not blame her as the whole place had been turned into a circus and her house ripped apart.’

‘The first morning I met Richard Pilbrow was in his bedroom for some strange reason and remember thinking, ‘What a total mess. How can anybody live like this?’

‘My main contacts were Neville Thompson (the On-line Producer) and Graham Ford (the Production Manager). They were all based at Kirkstone Foot Hotel that was owned by friends of my parents, Simon and Jane Bateman.  Others stayed at the Waterhead Hotel down by the lake, where I would pick them up and take them to the location.

‘On arrival at the location I remember well the catering van and the breakfast that awaited us.  Having just competed three years studying hotel management at college I was amazed how two people with very limited equipment could produce the number of meals they did.  The washing up was done on a trestle table outside the van with bowls of water carried to location in large milk churns.

Map of film locations on Derwentwater in the Lake District

~ Map of film locations on Derwentwater in the Lake District ~

‘I did not have much contact with you and the other children, as you were under the watchful eye of your Mum and Jean McGill. Jean’s Mum was called Girly McGill and used to run a nursing home in Ambleside. As a child I used to deliver eggs to the home with my Dad.  Jean had a brother who I think everybody called Blondie.

‘Sten was a bit of a handful at times and held up shooting on a number of occasions while he was calmed down. I rather envied Simon West; I wished I had the chance he did to act in a film. To this day I’m a frustrated actor.

‘Dennis Lewiston (the Director of Photography) always seemed to be holding a light meter in the air or perhaps he was warding off the clouds.  I found him a little unapproachable.

‘My recollection of Sue Merry the continuity girl was setting up her folding table and tapping away on a portable typewriter.

‘Ronnie Cogan the hairdresser and I spent hours chatting. Once the shooting started, we had nothing else to do. He was such a nice man.

‘I was thrilled when I met Virginia McKenna and had to drive her around. One day I had to drive her to Grange railway station. I was so fascinated by her tales of working with lions in Born Free that I drove slowly to maximise her story-telling time. We almost missed the train and had to run from the car park.

‘One of the wettest days I remember is when the scene of Octopus Lagoon was filmed above Skelwith Fold Caravan Site. I don’t remember the support buses being around that day, but I do remember having to sit in the car for hours on end. Maybe the buses were somewhere else.

‘I know I was invited to the wrap party but cannot remember a thing about it.’

Map showing some of the film locations around Windermere

Map showing some of the film locations around Windermere

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Autobiography, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

The lighthouse tree ~ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on Derwentwater 1st July 1973

Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West above Derwentwater in 1973

Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West above Derwentwater in 1973

‘It would make a superb lighthouse,’ but not for a good few years yet.  The scots pine planted by The Arthur Ransome Society on the northern end of Peel Island was growing well when I last paid it homage. I hope I don’t spoil the magic if I explain that the pine used in the 1973 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is on a promentary above Derwentwater.  An appropriate tree was chosen that overlooked the location we used for Houseboat Bay.

Captain John, played by Simon West, starts to climb the lighthouse tree at the Lookout Point: Photo ~ Daphne Neville

If you can avoid being distracted by Bavid Bracknell’s trendy two-tone trousers you can see a bit more of the lighthouse tree location with the lake beyond.  I’ve been told it is Friar’s Crag.  Can anyone tell me more  about the bay on Derwentwater where Captain Flint’s houseboat was moored for the film?

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker hanging the lantern. Claude Whatham sits beside the camera crew including Eddie Collins, Dennis Lewiston and Bobby Sitwell, whilst first assistant David Bracknell looks on: photo ~ Daphne Neville

As a child reading Swallows and Amazons I was always deeply impressed that Captain John managed to climb the pine tree in Arthur Ransome’s drawing. Simon West was able to use branches but he really did climb quite high.  The camerman had a scaffold tower.

Suzanna wrote that, ‘In the late afternoon the Amazons were filming on the pontoon. Kit wasn’t feeling well.’  Lesley was feeling a bit better. There was a ‘flu-like bug going around.  Neither of them look that well in the resultant photograph but they survived.

Kit Seymour as Nancy Blackett with Lesley Bennett playing her sister Peggy Blackett in Amazon, who is still sailing today.

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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, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, 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