Tag Archives: Derwent Water

‘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.

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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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Swallows & Amazons ~ broadcast recently on ITV3

Behind-the-scenes while filming 'Swallows & Amazons' in 1973

Behind-the-scenes while filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973

Swallows & Amazons was broadcast recently on ITV3.

If you would like to know more about how the film was made you can find the details on this site.

Do leave any questions in the comments box below.

They will be answered by Sophie Neville who played Titty.

To read about our first day’s filming at Haverthwaite Railway Station click here and keep reading.

Sophie Neville having her hair cut on location for the part of Titty Walker in 1973

Sophie Neville having her hair cut on location for the part of Titty Walker in 1973

Do you know what lake we were on in the photograph below?  We were busy loading urns of tea into a run-around boat to take out to the film crew who might have been on Cormorant Island. If you click on the photo you will get to the page of my diary, kept in June 1973, which describes this day.

Wardrobe Master Terry Smith and Sophie Neville in her costume to play Titty. But what is the name of the boatman? Doers anybody know?

Wardrobe Master Terry Smith and Sophie Neville in her costume to play Titty. But what is the name of the boatman? Does anybody know?

There are still many questions about the making of the movie that remain unanswered.

A journalist on Peel Island

Does anyone know the name of this journalist who visited us on Peel Island?

This shot was taken while setting up the scene at Peel Island when Captain Flint brings Sammy the Policeman to question the Swallows.  If you click on the photo you will find the photograph that the journalist ended up with. Titty’s hand is still on Captain Flint’s arm.

Making a movie is very different from watching one. Here is a record of Titty rehearsing the shot when she moves the camping equipment for fear of a tidal wave. It was a cold day on Coniston Water. The jersey came off when they went for a take.

Sophie Neville with 35mm Panavision Camera

Here you can see Lesley Bennett playing Peggy Blackett careening Amazon at Beckfoot. The same 35mm Panavision camera was focused on Kit Seymour, playing Captain Nancy.

Beckfoot

Lesley Bennett as Peggy: Claude Whatham directing the scene with Kit Seymour

The location used for Beckfoot and the Amazon boathouse can be found at Brown Howe on the western bank of  Coniston Water. If you click on the photograph of Peggy you can read more about what happened that day.

Amazon Boathouse

Kit Seymour playing Nancy Blackett and Lesley Bennett playing Peggy Blackett

If you would like to get future posts, please click the Follow button at the bottom of the side-bar.

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What do children of today think of ‘SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’ (1974)?

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Daphne Neville,

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Daphne Neville, Stephen Grendon, Lesley Bennett, Kit Seymour and Simon West promoting SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in 1973 ~ photo Woman magazine

My mother had found a purple suede Donny Osmond hat. Amazing. We were shivering, wearing our costumes in London to promote the film of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’ produced by Richard Pilbrow back in 1973 and released by EMI in April 1974. It’s forty years since we went up for a sailing weekend at Burnham-on-Crouch to audition for the parts.

What do children of today think of the story – of the DVD of the movie we made back in 1973? Into Film say it is one of their ‘most popular titles’.

sophie018

Director Claude Whatham wearing my mother’s Donny Osmond hat. This is the one that sunk to the bottom of Derwentwater. Here they are on Peel Island on Coniston Water filming SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in 1973 with a 35mm Panavision camera

There are some very well considered reviews of the DVD on the Amazon site. Those who mention how children feel include:

Swallows and Amazons Forever! I recently bought this for my 9 year old daughter and 7 year old son for Christmas, the film having been one of my favorite children’s films when I was young – before animated space-zombie-machines ruled the earth. Both children thoroughly enjoyed the film and after the first 5 minutes of watching, I felt like I’d only watched it very recently: The genuine proof of a time-less classic. A great film even by today’s standards if you like to let your kids just be kids……  S.Tully, 2011

A really lovely DVD: My 8 year-old daughter loves Famous Five style adventure books so hoped she might enjoy the Swallows and Amazons DVD. I was however a little concerned that she might find it a little old fashioned. I needn’t have worried, as she loved it and watched it over and over again. A very sweet and enjoyable adventure. ~ Smudge, 2012

A double helping of nostalgia For adults, this DVD is a double scoop of nostalgia – for the original Swallows and Amazons books and the era they were set in and for the 1970s when this film was made. The film is a pretty good adaptation of the book, with just a few incidents omitted, such as the final stormy night on the island. The actors, child and adult, are well-cast. Seeing Virginia McKenna again recalls films of the 1960s such as ‘Born Free’ and ‘Ring of Bright Water’.

I wondered how children would react to this, brought up as they are these days on CGI, Harry Potter and all the rest. However, my son (9) was gripped from start to finish. I think what is appealing is the sheer independence of the children, their capability and the good old-fashioned adventures outdoors messing about in boats. Overall, a good unpretentious piece of family entertainment. ~ Secret Spi, Germany 2010

This is a fantastic movie. My daughter (6 yr old) loves the adventures that the children put together using their imagination. It is a fabulous childhood, the one we all use to have. Good clean fun for the whole family and the child actors are obviously having a great time as well. Highly recommended. J.Kennedy, Sydeny Australia 2010

Excellent kids adventure: I loved this as a kid and I bought it having read the story to my two boys. It is as good as I remembered it and I was completely amazed that my two boys love it as much as I did, if not more. They watch it again and again ~ Aldous Huxley, 2010

Classic kids film – just watch it with a group from 4 years to 11 and they all loved it. ~ Mike, 2011

Great film for children: we were extremely pleased to find this on DVD after our daughter, aged 5, is loving reading through the books together. It is a very informative & sweet adventure tale. It is so nice to find a traditional film she can safely watch & enjoy. ~ KTP, 2011

Still as good as I remember!! I have watched with my girls and they both love this as much as I did and still do!!! Good adventurous fun with no bad language, I would recommend. ~ Angel, 2011

Excellent DVD for children 5 and upwards. My grandchildren greatly enjoyed it as I enjoyed the books when I was a youngster. ~ John 2011

read more here

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I found very different reviews written by children on an online Film Club site:

‘I liked this film it was adventurous to be honest but at the same time it was boring. I would love to have an uncle like him and I would love to be allowed to be free and go anywhere without my mum FREAKING out. I like how amazons were enemy’s to swallows but they became friends and they were a good group. The character I liked most was titty because she was the HERO!’ ~ Sade (2008)

This film is brilliant but what i don’t get is that there mother just let them sail onto this adventurous island, putting that behind it is brilliant, Mr Loftus said i look like one of the actors. Wouldn’t you love to go and camp on a island in the middle of a lake, i certainly would. Ellis (14) 24:1:11

I did’nt think it was as good as James Bond.I did’nt engoy the old English or the music because it did not fit in the film. from dominic (8) 8:10:12

‘I really liked this film because it was fun and adventerous’ ~ Robbie (12)

this film was ok but when i heard what we were watching i thought it was a non-fiction film about birds in the amazon not about two groups of children on adventures i do not reccomend this to anyone. Max (9) 20:11:12

I fourt that it was good. Daniel (5) 14:11:12

It was really good when the children were having a pillow fight with the Amazons (they are the baddies). Carly (10) 13:11:12

I thought Swallows and Amazons was a brilliant movie . I especially liked how there is a lot of adventure and excitement!My favourite part is when there on the young pirates uncles bout and they push the uncle into the water. The only bad thing is that there weren’t many funny bits and I like a bit of humour. Other thing I liked was that it was set on a deserted island and they had to look after themselves and they had to buy their own food and cook their own food. I’d like to do that!!! For Swallows and Amazons I would give it a 4 star rating.  Issy (9) 8:11:12

I thought swallos and Amazons was very wonderous,adventerous,inspiering and competative.They are brilliant actors.Even though it was made in 1974 it is mind blowing Sophie is my faverout actor she is very brave and kind but the rest are very nice to.I dont know what else to write.If you ever watch this movie you will know what im saying and im sure you will think what i writ to Megan (9) 2:10:12

The film was excellent! I shown me how people camped in the olden days (even though it was discusted when they used dirty water wich had mud in it to drink.) Where did the amizons get their weapons from? I haven’t seen a film like this before. Fabian (9) 8:11:12

‘This very facinating film from the 1970’s has a very swashbuckling theme to it as in a war people in a family set off to a island in a boat called swallow and end up finding another twin set of girls shipwrecked off of their uncles house boat and then the girls start to try and get cunning and vicios and start to wreck all of the things that are nice going on on the island and I would reccomend this film to children aged 6-10 years old as it has a a lot of singing that might put people off a bit from liking this film that has a lot of songs and sing alongs so I would encourage lots of younger children to like or even watch this film so stay tuned to find out some of the other daredevil acts that these people perform in the film……

I loved Swallows and Amazons because I love adventure films.I’d like to stop on the island myself with a couple of my friends.It was really exiting when the children tried to capture each others boats.I really liked the parrot.The film was really exiting and I enjoyed it. Amelia, (9) 28:01:13

This film had some good points and bad points, the director Cluade Whatham could have possibly made a bit more of an effort? Another downside was the fact that the film didn’t really excite me much as it came to the end and it went on a bit too long. Four childeren discover an island and decide (with thier mothers permssion of course) to sail over to the island and make a camp, but when they get to the island they bump into the Amazons (to young sisters who came to the island for summer and formed a mini crew) who drag them into an adventurous war with thier uncle, will it all work out for this mischievous bunch of childeren? I reccomend this film mainly to any adventurous childeren who want to grow up and explore the world! Even though I’m into adventures I was a bit boring, but thats my opinion, other people may be excited out thier socks! So to sum it all up in two words- Mildly entertaining Annie (11) 28:9:12

What an adventurous movie! this film was awesome!!. Its really hard to tell what genre it was though, its like all these different things mashed into one movie. The children take a boat and find an island in the middle of the lake. I would love to go on that island!. I would recommend this movie to anyone because its spectacularly amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gracie (11) 25:9:12

I’m Surprised, I thought’ Yeah its a classic BORING but when I watched it I actually quite enjoyed it. I liked it when Roger looked in a telescope and said “I cant see anything!” but actually he still had the cap on.  Sophie (9) 3:6:12

read more here

Please add your views in the Comments box below.

‘Wouldn’t you love to go and camp on a island in the middle of a lake, i certainly would.’

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour with David Blagden on Peel Island on Coniston

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour with David Blagden on Peel Island on Coniston Water in 1973

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, British Film, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Emi film, Entertainment news, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Vintage Film

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 ~

~~~~~~~~~

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

Riding the waves of film critics ~ after the release of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1974

Virginia McKenna, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon and Ronald Fraser appearing in the film premiere programme

I opened the pages of the programme at the film premiere to find one of the publicity photographs of us taken at Bank Ground Farm. I wasn’t sure the face Simon was making would sell a cinema ticket.

Simon West, Kit Seymour, Ronald Fraser, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton with half of Stephen Grendon on the second page of the premier programme

But the film was now out. It had to sell itself. Everyone was waiting to hear what critics from within the movie industry felt about it.

Would this photograph ever sell the film?

I think my mother must have written to Barry Norman, inviting him to bring his daughters to one of the promotional events held at the Commonwealth Institute. I wonder if she met him at the Preview of the Premiere.  He was then presenting BBC Television’s Film 74  and writing a weekly column in The Guardian newspaper. Here is his reply:

Barry Norman enjoyed it!  The Radio Times says that he was looking at ‘films for the family over the Easter holidays’.  Film 74 was shown on BBC TWO  at 10.15pm – and repeated on Fridays even later so he must have been speaking to parents. Here’s his theme tune.

One thing that strikes me when I open the March 1974 copy of ‘Films and Filming’, kept by my mother, is that ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has to be one of the most enduring movies to come out at the time. Sean Connery opted to appear with Charlotte Rampling in Zardoz’. I’ve neither seen or heard of it. Why couldn’t he have played Captain Flint with us? I did see Steve McQueen in  ‘Papillon’  but had no desire to watch it more than once. Richard Lester’s version of ‘The Three Musketeers’ was also made in 1973. Even though it stared Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain, Michael York and dear Spike Milligan I don’t think it can have been broadcast on television as many times as ‘Swallows and Amazons’.  The magazine goes on to review ‘The Optimists of Nine Elms’ starring Peter Sellers, ‘Magnum Force’ starring Clint Eastwood, ‘Herbie Rides Again’ starring Stephanie Powers and many others, films I have never heard of. ‘American Graffiti’ came out in the States, directed by George Lucas starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat and Harrison Ford. It made gross profits of more than U$200 million becoming one of the most profitable films of all time  but I wonder how many times it has been shown on British television this year? Do your children know anything about it? Has it been projected in the pouring rain for loyal fans sitting on a lake shore?

I his book, ‘A Theatre Project’ Richard Pilbrow says, ‘We had a success.’ He quotes Variety magazine, “Charming, delightful, beautifully made film,” but said it was, ‘Not a hit but a reasonable success that continues to play, principally on television, around the world.’ Richard goes on to quantify how it did financially. ‘The world of film finance is a distinct mystery. Our production costs were just under £300,000. Over the years, income trickled in from an international market. Curiously the costs inexorably rose to match the income. The costs of marketing the movie always seemed to equal receipts at the box office. In 2004 our film actually recouped. That’s why I have the temerity to call it a success.

Not all the newspapers thought so in 1974. I’ll find some of the articles for the next posting.

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

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

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