It could only happen to them. My parents decided to take a holiday looking at castles in Northumberland and came across this scene:
They ended up appearing in a Walt Disney movie called Unidentified Flying Oddball. Here is the evidence:
The film’s original title had been The Spaceship and King Arthur, billed as a family adventure. It was an adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and was shot at Alnwick Castle, the seat of the Duke of Northumberland where the Harry Potter films were later made.
It was released on an unsuspecting public in 1979, but was shot in the summer of 1978. I’m not sure how advanced Visual Effects were at the time but there were no Computer Generated Images. It looks to me as if this little airbourne stunt was for real.
Life before the advent of CGI
Absolutely terrifying. While Kenneth Moore played King Arthur, Dad’s distant cousin John le Mesurier was Sir Gawain. Ron Moody played Merlin and Jim Dale starred as Sir Mordred with Dennis Dugan who played Tom Trimble. Rodney Bewes, who we knew as one of the Likely Lads had the role of Clarence. My father was hired for five days as a weapon bearer. This was simply so Mum had license to watch the filming.
Dennis Dugan on location in Northumberland
Pat Roach, 6’5″ tall British actor, later in all three Indiana Jones films, was Oaf. Mum hadn’t seen Jim Dale with permed hair before. She was used the lovable innocent he tended to play in Carry On films, but there he was looking fashionable on location in Northumberland, in the Duchess’s garden at that.
Jim Dale at Alnwick Castle
Jim Dale is known for the Harry Potter audiobooks in the USA, winning several high-profile awards for them, and for narrating the Harry Potter video games such as the Hogwart’s Challenge and Wizarding World. I wonder if they transported him back to Alnwick Castle?
This shot of Virginia McKenna valiantly playing Man Friday, was taken as she rowed away from what I had decided was a desert island. It was 1973 and we were filming on Coniston Water in the Lake District. She was playing my mother, concerned about leaving a small girl alone as the evening drew in. I’ve been set a copy of Lancashire Life, published in 1974, which describes the filming at length. Quite fun. You can see a still of Man Friday and I cooking Pemmican cakes for supper on the camp fire, top right.
Being awarded an OBE in 2004 for services to wildlife and the arts, Virginia has since become a national treasure. She will quickly deny this but you will find photographs of her at the National Gallery, along with Suzanna Hamilton, who played her daughter – and my sister, Susan in Swallows & Amazons (1974).
Having just celebrated her 84th birthday Virginia has also been heralded as one who inspires others. I concur. ‘Do one thing at a time,’ was her advice to me, ‘Otherwise you can’t do anything well.’
If you interview her now, Virginia is more likely to talk about wildlife than acting. She uses her name to promote kindness. And to stop the slaughter of elephants. One of her latest missions is to urge schools to teach children about conservation. She has recently become patron of Shropshire Cat Rescue’s Purr project. Arthur Ransome helped finance a similar project himself.
2015 marks the thirty-first anniversary of the Born Free Foundation, which Virginia established with her son Will Travers to help big cats and other large mammals held in captivity. She still travels the world to raise awareness and alleviate suffering, drawing on all she learned from George Adamson whilst filming Born Free in Kenya back in 1966, and An Elephant Called Slowly in 1970. You can read more about her work by clicking here.
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.
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.
There are still many questions about the making of the movie that remain unanswered.
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.
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.
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.
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Sophie Neville with Swallow on Coniston Water, Cumbria
Nick Barton of Harbour Pictures, in collaboration with BBC Films, launched a new adaptation of Swallows and Amazons on 19th August 2016. They hope it will be the new Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia franchise, but are yet to start casting.
I joined him and his wife on the first recce to the Lake District in 2011, staying at Bank Ground Farm, sailing Swallow on Coniston Water and taking a boat trip down Lake Windermere in Cumbria. He went on to find locations on Derwentwater and in Yorkshire with his director Philippa Lowthorpe who developed the new script with Andrea Gibb.
To see a clip of the opening scenes, starring Kelly Macdonald and Andrew Scott – please click here