Tag Archives: Julian Fellowes

Plans for a new DVD release of the 1984 BBC drama serial of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’

Revelation Films have just contacted me, saying that they are thinking of producing new packaging for a 30th Anniversary release of ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’  This is the BBC Drama adaptation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ that starred Rosemary Leach, Julian Fellowes, Colin Baker, John Woodvine and Henry Dimbelby not to mention William the pug dog, who became a national treasure when he took on the role of Ethel’s Little Willie in Eastenders. I worked on the television series that was shot on 16mm film entirely on location in East Anglia. We spent an idyllic summer, mainly afloat on the Norfolk Broads.

They tell me that this DVD is one of their top ten bestsellers along with LA Law, Highway to Heaven and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman starring Jane Seymour.

Henry Dimbleby and Rosemary Leach in 'Coot Club' and 'The Big Six'

Click here for the page on the Revelation Films Website

What wording would you use on the new cover? I want to suggest they have the book titles in larger letters: ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ by Arthur Ransome. Neither the Swallows or the Amazons appear in it after all. However, interesting actors such as Patrick Troughton and Sam Kelly do. I thought that including photos of them might appeal to those who appreciate Classic TV.

Patrick Troughton as the eel man

It was thought that my shot of Julian Fellowes playing Jerry the Hullabaloo showed him looking too young to be recognised these days. I am sure he’d agree with me that it is just the mustache that is somewhat distracting. I don’t remember it being a real one.

Julian Fellowes as Jerry in Coot Club

The production manager at Revelation Films told me she liked the photograph used on the cover of the Puffin Book, which I explained depicted The Big Six. The publishers are currently searching their archives for the original shot, which I remember setting up at Gay Staithe. Sadly this abridged version of the books lacks Ransome’s own illustrations.

Coot Club - book cover

What would you like to see inside the packaging? 

Would you like an illustrated book talking about how the series was made?

I suggested they edit the episodes together into two films. I understand some parents like being able to show each 28 minute episode at a time. We loved the opening titles graphic and music at the time but they seem rather dated now.

DVDs now offer Extras, of course. We could put together a slide-show using my behind the scenes photos voiced with a commentary explaining how the serial was made. Would this spoil the magic?

I’d love to go searching for the locations we used. I wonder if Countryfile would be interested in this?

Do add any other ideas or requests to the Comments below.

Coot Club - The Teasel sailed by a double

We chose the pug as a puppy so he really was called William. He was quite young and playful when the series was made.

Sadly Revelation Films only own the UK rights but I’ve noticed you can buy it on Amazon.com . There are other outlets but you want to be able to guarantee the quality.

Roger Wardale's book

I am currently reading Roger Wardale’s new book Arthur Ransome on the Broads, which is also available from Amazon  It is illustrated with photographs of some of the boats that we used when we were filming. This was the Teasel’s costume:

'TEASEL'

The false transom used on the yacht Lullaby during the filming of ‘Coot Club’ that now resides at Hunter’s Yard ~ photo: Roger Wardale

I loved seeing Roger’s photographs of the Fairway yachts in full sail. Perhaps one of Lullaby should be on the new cover of the DVD.

Sailing on the River Ant: photo ~ Roger Wardale

Sailing on the River Ant: photo ~ Roger Wardale

For more about the boats used in ‘Coot Club’ please click here

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Where are they now? More about the traditional boats used when filming of ‘Coot Club’ for BBC TV

Coot Club - Teasel and Titmouse - photo Jill Searle

Mary Soan with Jill and Jim Searle on the Teasel, towing the Titmouse on South Walsham

Jim and Jill Searle of the Norfolk Country Sailing Base in Ludham helped us find traditional boats for the BBC adaptation of Coot Club and The Big Six set on the Norfolk Broads. Jill has kindly sent me a copy of this photo taken of Lullaby just after she was chosen to play the Teasel. Her costume consisted of a false transom, which is still at Hunter’s Yard in Ludham today.

'TEASEL'

The Teasel’s transom ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Roger Wardale recently took this photograph that I believe is to be included in his new book,  Arthur Ransome on the Broads , which Amberley Publishing will bring out soon in full colour.  He tells of Arthur Ransome’s half-dozen or so holidays on hired yachts and of the young people who sailed in the fleet,  including Titty and Tacky (Taqui) Altounyan. Roger found out that the Ransomes hired a 23′ Fairway’  yacht from Jack Powles of Wroxham. This had a Primus stove with a special cooking locker in the well. It sounds very well kitted out with a wash-basin and self-emptying WC in a separate compartment. The three Somnus spring-berths had drawers underneath and there was even a wardrobe. Like the Teasel she was built of mahogany with a ‘bright varnish finish’ and given a fair wind she would have zipped along at quite a speed.

Roger  said that he spent six days last summer trying to find places Arthur Ransome visited that had not changed since the 1930’s for his photographs but said that was difficult. What he did find was the Titmouse at Hunter’s Yard

'TITMOUSE'

The Titmouse at Hunter’s Yard in Ludham ~ photo: Roger Wardale

It is still possible to hire the mahogany hulled, gunter-rigged yachts much as Arthur Ransome and his wife did in the 1930’s, together with a sailing dinghy or rowing boat. There are fourteen sailing cruisers in the Hunter’s fleet and none have an engine. They have lifting cabin tops so you have more headroom when you moor up. Lullaby, who was built in 1932 is 28ft long with four berths. The mast can be lowered with counter weights so that she can be taken under bridges with a clearance of 6 foot.

Jim and Jill Searle have a restored a traditional gaff-rigged 26′ 1930’s crusier, which is to be sold this year. I gather it is beautiful.

Roger Wardale says that in the 1930’s, many of the yachts had a ‘self-acting’ jib, ‘which according to Ransome was too large, so that there were times  when he lowered his and sailed better without it!’  I gather they still have self-acting jibs but the size may have been altered. (?)

AT HORNING STAITHE

At Horning Staithe today ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Roger also found a cruiser similar to the  Janca, the 1930’s cruiser who played the part of the Margoletta, skippered by Julian Fellowes in his glorious role as a Hullabaloo, the spiteful, arch-baddie of Coot Club. She made a perfect leading lady. I believe the Janca is currently being restored ~ but you’ll have to remind me who owns her.

MARGOLETTA

A large 1930’s Broads crusier similar to the one we used as the Margoletta in ‘Coot Club’ ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Back in 1983 we were hugely helped by a number of Norfolk boatmen who knew the broads well.

Coot Club - Mark and Brian

Mark Page, who played Bill getting help fixing something

You will have to let me know the name of these gentlemen who spent long hours helping us in the summer of 1983.

Coot Club - local boatmen

The skipper of the vessel used as a camera boat on ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’

Filming from one boat to another is tricky and their patience was much appreciated. In many ways the easiest boat to film with was the Death and Glory. She can still be found moored somewhere on the Broads.

Henry Dimbleby, Nicholas WAlpole, Jake Coppard, Mark Page, Caroline Downer and Richard Walton as they appeared in 'The Big Six' (1984)

Henry Dimbleby, Nicholas Walpole, Jake Coppard, Mark Page, Caroline Downer and Richard Walton as they appeared in ‘The Big Six’ (1984)

I well remember setting up this shot for the cover of the abridged version of the two stories, which was brought out by Puffin to accompany the series. It shows the Death and Glory complete with her green chimney. The big secret was that the interior of the cabin was larger than the exterior. we puzzled over Ransome’s drawings only to decide that he had cheated the measurements too.

Nicholas Walpole and Jake Coppard looking out of the window of the set that was made to represent the interior of the Death and Glory

Nicholas Walpole and Jake Coppard looking out of the window of the set that was made to represent the interior of the Death and Glory

Bruce McCaddy and his team built the set inside a modern boatshed where it was kept for ‘rain cover’,  since the interior scenes could always be shot if it was wet. It included ‘camera traps’ or sections that could be removed so the scenes could be shot. I never went inside but the boys loved it. In fact the weather was glorious. We enjoyed such constant sunshine in the later part of the shoot that we filmed the interiors when it was dry and so hot that the boys got quite over-heated.

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Filed under 1983, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, truelife story

Acting many more parts than you’d think on the Norfolk Broads ~

Coot Club - Jake Coppard imitating me

Jake Coppard, as Pete, after he fell in the water, enacting Arthur Ransome’s story of ‘The Big Six’

What is the best way to entertain someone who enjoys acting?

Jake Coppard wearing my coat and hat in our support boat on the Norfolk Broads

Jake Coppard wearing my coat and hat in our support boat on the Norfolk Broads

Even when we had very little space or were waiting around for hours out on the water during the filming of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’,  one thing that kept everyone amused was the game of charades. Simply imitating each other also proved hilarious and kept up moral whatever the weather. Since the children who appeared in the drama all enjoyed acting, they proved natural entertainers both on and off-screen.

Coot Club - Mark Page being Blackadder

Mark Page, who played Bill, as ‘Blackadder’.

The experienced actors entered into the spirit of this in a trice.

Coot Club - June Ellis

June Ellis finding a way of being a green parrot whilst in her 1934 costume

 The great thing about miming is that it is silent, which was just as well, when we had to keep quiet on set.

Coot Club - Colin Baker as Doctor Dudgeon

Colin Baker as Dr Dudgeon on location in Norfolk

The film crew were wonderful, ever inventive and terribly good at charades.

Coot Club - Sue bide and Paul Higton

Make-up designer Sue Bide being a swallow with the help of Paul Higton from the Wardrobe Department

 No one was limited by taking themselves too seriously.

Coot Club - the sound crew

Sound Recordist Colin March wearing my hat over his ear phones

Some members of the production team made a tremendous effort to keep up our spirits.

Coot Club - Henry Dimbleby T-Shirt

Script Supervisor Di Brooks towards the end of our three month shoot in Norfolk with Henry Dimbleby who played Tom Dudgeon in the 1984 BBC serial of ‘Coot Club’

Julian Fellowes, who played Jerry, told me recently that he so admired Henry Dimbleby for taking part in Swallows and Amazons Forever purely because it was fun, rather than because he wanted to be an actor. I appreciated his indestructible good nature and the fact that he made the three months we spent on location enjoyable, in many ways leading the team, even though he was only thirteen years old.

Of course, what is most amusing, is when the unexpected happens. That is what I will attempt to relate in the next post.

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Filed under 1983, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Film Cast, Film crew, Filmaking, Humor, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

The Costumes for the BBC serialisation of Arthur Ransome’s books ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Bix Six’

Sophie Neville in 1983, during the filming of 'Swallows and Amazons Forever!'

Sophie Neville in 1983, during the filming of ‘Coot Club’

Julian Fellowes recently introduced me to friends, explaining that we had worked together when I had been a Consultant on ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’ ~ the overall title given to the BBC serialisation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’. This was very kind. Apart from a fact or two about Arthur Ransome, my consultant-ish-ness consisted mainly in suggesting the children wore warm clothes when they were out on the water. I need not have worried. Our Producer, Joe Waters, appointed the most wonderful costume designer, who knew all about thermal underwear and hats. ‘I love hats,’ she told me. ‘Everyone wore hats in the 1930s. They give the whole production a period feel.’

Coot Club Susannah BNuxton and Henry Dimbelby

Susannah Buxton and Henry Dimbleby on location in Norfolk in 1983

Everyone on the unit – certainly all the children in the cast, adored Susannah Buxton. She was only about thirty-three and had not been a costume designer long. A tall red-head, she admitted to often struggling to her feet on set when the Lighting-Camera man called for a certain light.

Rosemary Leach as Mrs Barrable in a hat suitable for an Admiral

Rosemary Leach as Mrs Barrable in a hat suitable for an Admiral

I’ve just read a review on Amazon.co.uk  about ‘Coot Club’, which said, ‘Wonderful attention to period detail. Even the film’s colours are right for the period.’ They certainly were. Susannah managed to source a huge number of original hand-knitted garments.

Nicholas Walpole as Joe with Sam Kelly in 'The Big Six' ~ photo Sophie Neville

Nicholas Walpole as Joe with Sam Kelly in ‘The Big Six’

While she was dressing the children, deciding what they should wear at the beginning of a new day in the story, Susannah explained that she was keen that they didn’t look too chocolate-boxy. The girls playing Dorothea and the Farland twins were all so pretty it would have been easy to go over the top. She carefully combined elements of school uniform with 1930’s clothes that children would have worn in their summer holidays. I can’t remember any member of the cast being uncomfortable – either two cold or two hot, even though we spent three months filming on the Norfolk Broads.

‘How did you become a designer?’ I asked her.

She explained that she loved clothes and it was what she always wanted to do. She’d been working freelance as an assistant in Bristol, thinking she wouldn’t get to design on a television production for years, when the phone rang. ‘I was asked if I could take on the role of costume designer, so I took a deep breath and said, “Yes.”‘  Here I have to explain that many members of the crew had come up from BBC Bristol, which then had a regional crews available to work on period dramas. Our Producer was very pleased about this. He used a crew from BBC Bristol again when we made ‘My Family and Other Animals’ on Corfu  a few years later. Susannah had a wonderful assistant called Helena and at least three dressers, including Paul Higton and Lesley Bowling, who were not only meticulous but great fun.

Coot Club - Lesley Bowling

Lesley Bowling on location in 1983. The hand belongs to Paul Higton.

The size of the costume department reflected the difference between the 1974 feature film of  ‘Swallows and Amazons’, which was shot in the Lake District with a small cast and very few crowd scenes – when the one Wardrobe Master was helped only by my mother – and our BBC TV adaptations of Arthur Ransome’s books set in Norfolk.  ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ had much bigger casts, with many more roles for adults and supporting artistes.

Coot Club - the hay wagon

A hot day in Norfolk on the set of ‘Coot Club’

I was looking after the eight children in the lead parts and another six or seven boys in supporting roles, not to mention children who appeared as extras in the village scenes.  It was Paul and Lesley’s humour that oiled the wheels that kept us running smoothly. ‘The Big Six’  had to be taken through costume and make-up almost every day for three months and these were costumes that had to stay clean all day. The children were obliged to wear life-jackets when they were near water, right up until the time when the director went for a take. Obviously, these had to go straight back on after each camera set-up. I can still see Paul Higton with an armful of colourful life-jackets he was handing back to five boys at a time.  He went on to become the costume designer on forty-eight episodes of Dangerfield and more than 825 episodes of the TV series Doctors.

Jake Coppard receiving a soaking from Paul Higton while Nicholas Walpole and Make Page escape getting wet.

Jake Coppard receiving a soaking from Paul Higton while Nicholas Walpole and Mark Page escape getting wet.

Susannah Buxton went on to have the most dazzling career. I last saw her when she was striding along the South Bank in London one evening. I didn’t know that she had worked on so many movies. These have included,  Millions, 2004, directed by Danny Boyle, ‘As you like it’, directed by Kenneth Branagh and ‘Death defying Acts’, which starred Catherine Zeta-Jones. She won a BAFTA award for ‘Mr Wroe’s Virgins’, directed by Danny Boyle, an RTS award for ‘Shooting the Past’, which was directed by Stephen Poliakoff, and a number of awards for ‘Downton Abbey’, including an Emmy for Outstanding Costume Design.  I’m not sure she imagined all this would be in store for her when she was busy loading costumes into a boat on Horning Staithe back in 1983.

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How Julian Fellowes and Andrew Morgan launched a creative partnership in 1983 ~

Julian Fellowes as Jerry in the BBC TV Movie of Arthur Ransome's 'Coot Club', 1983 ~ photo: Sophie Neville

Julian Fellowes playing Jerry in the BBC adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Coot Club’

Julian Fellowes’ finest moment as an actor was playing Jerry, one of the hated Hullabaloos, in the BBC adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s book Coot Club, or that is how I’d cast my vote. He stood on the bows of the Margoletta, as she motored at speed towards the camera, relishing every moment as the leader of the callous and nouveau-riche baddies of the Norfolk Broads. He did so, wearing the most revolting mustache.

John Harding with Sarah Crowden ~ photo: Sophie Neville

John Harding as Ronald and Sarah Crowden as Livy, Hullabaloos in ‘Coot Club’

Julian was flanked on one side by the incredibly tall glamorous actors, John Harding and Sarah Crowden, and on the other by David Timson and Angela Curran who, it has to be said, are both on the short side.

Coot Club - a Hullabaloo

David Timson resting whilst playing James, the Hullabaloo in ‘Coot Club’

Descending into the cabin of the Margoletta, and seeing them altogether in their fabulous 1930’s boating costumes was breathtaking and comic all at once. On the first day they were called, the Hullabaloos were all made-up and ready for a scene that we never had time to shoot. Andrew Morgan walked along the river bank at the end of the day, in his  sweatshirt and jeans, to join us in the Margoletta, apologising deeply for putting them out. But nobody minded. We’d spent a lovely afternoon, moored in the reeds near Horsey Mere, just getting to know one another. David Dimbleby had come up to see how his son Henry was doing and everyone was full of chatter.

David Dimbleby and Henry Dimbleby with one of the Matthews twins

David Dimbleby with his son Henry Dimbleby and one of the Matthews twins, lying on the river bank next to the Margoletta up near Horsey Mere in 1983

Julian Fellowes’ time spent bobbing about on the Norfolk Broads was pivotal, because, as I understand it, the working relationship forged with our director Andrew Morgan led to great things. In 1987 Andrew cast Julian as Brother Hugo in his Si-Fi adventure series  Knights of God . John Woodvine and Patrick Troughton, who were with us on the Broads appearing in Swallows and Amazons Forever!,  also had leading parts in this, but it was Julian who started to write.

In about 1990 Andrew and Julian began to work together as director and writer on a number of costume dramas for the BBC. Little Sir Nicholas was followed by an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy  in 1994/5. We had lunch with them when they were filming at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. I was mildly surprised to find a writer on location but it was clear Julian was adding more to the story than just typed pages of the script. When he held up an antique powder- compact and started telling Andrew about the cultural history of women applying make-up in public, I realised there was obviously a creative partnership in operation. They also collaborated on a similar BBC book adaptation, producing a six-part drama serial of Mark Twain’s book, The Prince and the Pauper, which was broadcast in 1996. For this, Andrew and Julian were nominated for a BAFTA Children’s Award. The success of these period dramas established Julian as a producer and screen writer. His next hit was the movie Gosford Park, 2001 for which he was rightly awarded an Oscar. Since then the screenplays have tumbled out: Vanity Fair, Piccadilly Jim, Separate Lies, The Young Victoria, From Time to Time, Romeo and Juliet, Crocked House and Titanic for television. Did it really all start on the Margoletta, up near Horsey Mere?

I have just learnt that Sarah Crowden appeared in Downton Abbey as Lady Manville in 2012. Isn’t it wonderful how things come round? If you go to see the film, Quartet, you’ll see quite a bit of Sarah sitting at various pianos. As the credits role they show pictures of the musicians in their heyday. A beautiful black and white photograph of Sarah comes up with the caption ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’.

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Filed under 1983, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story