Actors are warned: ‘Never work with children or animals’. This is because they come across so well that their own performance won’t be noticed.
Sophie Neville spent years at the BBC specialising in drama productions that featured children and animals.
Sophie directed her first documentary in Kenya at the age of 25. By the age of 27 she was directing improvised dramas in a tough London Comprehensive school. After spending 13 weeks on the Ealing film stages as Director of FX sequences and animation on a 10 part drama she was asked to produce a series working with 4 to 6 year-olds. By the age of thirty she was directing a serial that featured an 8-year-old girl in almost every scene. ‘I cast identical twins to play the part, used two cameras operated by sports cameramen and finished by 4.30pm each day.’
‘I’d acted in feature films as a child and knew what would work. And what could cause havoc. You need to check children’s teeth well before filming. They tend to lose them just when it is most likely to wreck your continuity. The BBC never used casting directors so I’d look for kids myself; finding a large cast of children able to sail for two Arthur Ransome book adaptations and the right boy to play Gerald Durrell in My family and Other Animals.’
‘I’d grown up with animals and love working with them. My family keep tame otters and filming wildlife sequences – handling creatures from adders to elephants – has always been part of my life. Making the zoo vet drama series with grat apes and big cats was fascinating . The best ting about working on Eastenders was that I was re-united with Little Willie, the pug dog that we had bought to play William, the hero of Coot Club.’
Beenie the Otter Sophie hand-reared
In 1992 Sophie emigrated to southern Africa where she worked freelance for the BBC setting up wildlife films and documentaries in Botswana, Namibia and throughout South Africa. ‘One highlight was setting up the Blue Peter visit to South Africa when Diane Jordan interviewed Archbishop Tutu.’
Breaking her pelvis in a riding accident Sophie was immobilized for a while but took up painting and established herself as a wildlife artist.
After meeting her husband at an archery match Sophie settled down to concentrate on writing, looking for true stories that could be adapted for the screen. She has just published Funnily Enough about her life in Gloucestershire and is planning the sequel Never Enough. She is soon to bring out Ride the Wings of Morning and Life on an Africa Farm, which are both set in Southern Africa. She is currently writing a filmography on the making of Swallows and Amazons and the screenplay of Makarongo’s War.
Sophie Neville in Beijing
Sophie travels widely. She has driven through twenty different African countries and ridden horses across the Namib Desert, the Masai Mara and the Okavango Delta. She recently rode from Addis Ababa up to the Blue Nile in Ethiopia and through Cappadocia in Turkey. In 2009 she rode across South America in 19 days and is planning a ride of 1000miles through Patagonia in 2012.
Sophie is a founder and trustee of the Waterberg Welfare Society Trust, a charity set up to address HIV/AIDS in rural South Africa . She has a BA Hons in Anthropology, is a fellow of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, an intercessor for CHM, a speaker for Bible Society, a Director of Witness Films Ltd and a member of The Drapers Company, which was recently used as locations for ‘The Kings Speech’.
Sophie lives with her husband on the south coast of England. They have three grown children, three boats and constant building projects.
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Sophie Neville riding at Ant’s Nest in the Waterberg, South Africa
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