My mother, Daphne, started working as a television presenter for Harlech Television in Cardiff. By 1973 Mum was working at the HTV studios in Bristol two days a week, presenting an afternoon programme called Women Only with Jan Leeming, and doing a bit of radio work for the BBC. Occasionally she appeared on other shows.
While my father’s life was influenced by Arthur Ransome, my mother drew inspiration from the author Noel Streatfield and her novel Ballet Shoes, the story of three little girls who went on the stage. Before her own three daughters were old enough to read she was dreaming dreams. Since she worked at the HTV studios in Bristol, it was natural enough for us to take part in their drama productions that were being made locally.
When I was offered the part of Titty in Swallows & Amazons, Mum somehow managed to take enough leave to come up to the Lake District and work on the film as a chaperone, although she had to return to Bristol for two HTV commitments. She missed some of the best scenes, and some of our worst moments.
‘You owed your life to Simon West, of course.’
‘Oh, yes. Simon was such a good sailor. He was totally reliable.’ She was thinking of the scene when Swallow was meant to narrowly avoid colliding with the Windermere steamer, the Tern, when we only just avoided a terrible accident.
‘You would have gone under the Tern if Simon hadn’t been so calm and controlled. He would never have got into the situation himself, he would have gone about much sooner but was waiting for Claude to give him the cue over the Motorola radio. Claude was too late. He had no idea about boats.’
My mother returned from working in Bristol to find my father, Martin, was not happy about how things were being handled when we were on the water. They stayed up, talking all night, making what must have been one of the first ever risk assessments.
‘Quite a few things changed after that.’ You can tell from studying old call sheets.
‘The ridiculous thing was having to strap the kids into life jackets to go to Peel Island, which was not risky at all. Martin and I then discovered they were BOAC rejects.’
Simon told me that he really couldn’t remember much about being in Swallows & Amazons. Looking back on it all, he reckoned that if I had talked through each day with Mum it would have reinforced memories. My diaries, which were certainly more detailed than those kept by the other Swallows, were supplemented by Mum’s photos, taken on a daily basis and looked at repeatedly. You have seen them all. They have that early Seventies tint to them.
Meanwhile my mother’s own memories are coloured by how things have changed over the last forty years, the other films she has been in the actors she has met.
‘Ronnie Fraser was perfectly nice. He was treated like a star and kept very much apart from us. He behaved like a star. Now stars have PAs, but he didn’t!’
Mum went on to appear in all sorts of movies. If you don’t blink, you can see her as a Victorian Lady in The Invisible Woman – Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Charles Dickens, soon to be released in cinemas.
For more photos of Daphne Neville in character roles, please click here