Tag Archives: Mrs Batty

“40 years on…” Speaking on BBC Radio Cumbria on Friday 14th June

Local article on Swallows and Amazons written in 1973

What is happening now? Not sure, but a number of people who love the Lake District have expressed an interest in what was happening there forty years ago today.

On Friday 14th June Sophie Neville was interviewed by Mike Zeller on BBC Radio Cumbria’s Breakfast Programme at 7.20am and again at 8.50am. 

Hillary Warwick from Bolton-le-Sands near Carnforth rang in to say that her grandma owned the green parrot, telling us that he was called ‘Beauty’. They used the £25 appearance fee to buy him a new cage.  Hilary’s gran, Elizabeth Proctor, had been quite a character. She’d walk around Kendal with Beauty on her shoulder. He was known to be a one-woman bird and Hilary was quite impressed that I managed to stroke him and keep him on my shoulder as he was liable to nip. She was quite wary of him!

Do you live in the Lake District?

Did you take part in the film in anyway?

If so do write in using the comments box below!

Local article on Swallows

~ click on the image to enlarge ~

Here is another newspaper article from 1973 that mentions Lakeland people involved in the filming forty years ago, including a photograph of Mrs Lucy Batty and her grandson Peter and Margaret Causey who taught the children in the movie, pictured below with Lesley Bennett, Kit Seymour, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Mark Hedges – who didn’t appear in the movie but came up over half-term as his Dad, Bob Hedges was working as the property master.

Virginia McKenna is photographed above talking to Ian Whittaker, the set dresser who went on to win a number of Oscars.

The News article on Swallows

An extract from this article of Brenda Colton’s reads:

‘When Mrs Lucy Batty was asked if her house could be used for the setting of the film Swallows and Amazons, with guest star Virginia McKenna, she was delighted. After all, her home, Bank Ground Farm on the east side of Coniston Water, near Brantwood, was the setting chosen by Arthur Ransome for his children’s book Swallows and Amazons.

Mrs Batty thought it a good idea that the story should be filmed in an authentic location, and she felt she should be able to put up with a few cameras and film men for a while. But she just did not realise the scale of a “medium budget” film like this one, or what the production staff could do to her house. It was not the two double-decker buses coming down the path and parking on the farm that she minded, nor the numerous vans, lorries, cars and caravans. It was not even the difficulty of having 80 men and women wandering round the farmhouse carrying equipment here, there and everywhere. But when art director Simon Holland started tearing up her lino and carpet in the kitchen to get to the bare stone floor, she did get a little annoyed. Especially when he removed all the electric sockets, lights and switches, pushed all the kitchen furniture into the larder and whitewashed the newly papered walls.

Have you seen the kitchen?” Mrs Batty said to me. “The larder is piled high with my furniture; and you would not believe the tip my lounge is in. But they are a funny lot. I asked if I could wash the beams in the kitchen for them, and they said ‘Oh no, we want them to look old.’ I have even had to hunt out a lot of old pottery from the cellar for them.

But I have given up now. I have just left them to it.”

~ From The News, Friday 25th May, 1973 ~

 Bank Ground Farm is very much smarter today ~ Click here for their website

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‘Country Tracks’ with Ben Fogle

At last!

We have the clip from Country Tracks presented by Ben Fogle, that includes interviews with Director Claude Whatham, Lucy Batty of Bank Ground Farm, Suzanna Hamilton and myself discussing the swimming scenes, with the unique behind-the-scenes footage my father shot on 16mm film, with his Bolex camera back in 1973. You might have seen a longer version of this on Countryfile and Big Screen Britain. I am yet to receive residuals.

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Filming with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm, Cumbria ~ in 1973

Forty years ago today we were filming with Virginia McKenna at the location used for Arthur Ransome’s Holly Howe above Coniston Water. It was a day of days – the sunshiny day that we had all be waiting for.

Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm

Virginia McKenna at the other side of the boat houses at Bank Ground Farm in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

David Bracknell with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm

First Assistant Director David Bracknell standing-in (or kneeling-in) for Roger with Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm. The great trees in the background are sadly no longer there ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The buttercups and daisies were still out in the field that flows from Holly Howe to the lake. Roger was able to tack up the meadow to receive the despatches from Mrs Walker, described in the opening pages of Arthur Ransome’s book.

‘…Each crossing of the field brought him nearer to the farm. The wind was against him, and he was tacking up against it to the farm, where at the gate his patient mother was awaiting him.’

Virginia McKenna with Hairdresser Ronnie Cogan

Virginia McKenna having her hair adjusted by Ronnie Cogan ~ photo:Daphne Neville

I don’t think you can tell that this section of the scene was recorded seven whole days later than the sequence that runs directly on from this when the Boy Roger delivers the very same ‘If not duffers’ telegram to Captain John. The hole that had been dug for the camera alongside our picnic had been filled in. You can see this from Mother’s perspective when I was milling about near the lake looking towards the island I couldn’t actually see.

Virginia McKenna on location at Bank Ground Farm (Holly Howe) in the Lake District. Property Master Bob Hedges is working in the foreground. Lee Electric lighting assistants stand-by with reflector boards while Assistant Sound Recordist Gay Lawley-Wakelin waits on a box with the boom ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Poor Sten, he had to run up the field on what proved to be our hottest day. I remember Jean McGill, the Unit Nurse ministering cool drinks and a flannel soaked in cool eau de Cologne to make sure he did not get dehydrated. We all wanted a go with the cool cloth on the back of our necks at lunch time.

With Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm

The Walker Family ~ Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan, Stephen Grendon as Roger, Sophie Neville as Titty, Virginia McKenna as Mother and Simon West as John in the meadow full of buttercups at Bank Ground Farm

It was good to escape the heat by getting out on the water. We shot the scene set on the old stone jetty at the boat houses below the farm when Titty leads ‘Good Queen Bess’ down to the harbour to inspect her ship. I didn’t realise she had a large box of matches in her hand. Virginia kept it a surprise from us in real life. I was excited to find out that Simon Holland, the Designer had painted the branded cover by hand.

As the Call Sheet specifies, our dinghy Swallow had been loaded with all the tents and camping equipment that had been on Peel Island the day before. I didn’t realise at the time quite how often the design team had struck camp and made it up again. I just sat on top of the equipment singing Adieu and Farewell, not very well, as we sailed out onto Coniston Water, waving goodbye to our Fair Spanish Ladies.

Arriving at Holly Howe

Claude Whatham with Virginia McKenna. Mrs Jackson stands patinetly at the door ~ photo: Daphne Neville

I am sure that we had already recorded the scene in David Wood’s screenplay when the Walker family arrive at Holly Howe, but Claude decided to take advantage of the golden light and shoot it again.  I am sure this was a good decision. It had been a long day and we were tired but the excitement of our arrival is tangible.

Arriving at Holly Howe

Director Claude Whatham, in a 1970s yellow long-sleeved t-shirt, watching the taxi drive up to Mrs Jackson’s front door in 1929. DoP Dennis Lewiston sets up the shot with Focus-puller Bobby Sitwell ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Nurse with Baby Vicky, the ship's baby

Nurse with Baby Vicky, the ship’s baby at Holly Howe ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Sophie Neville holding the horses

Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West with Mr Jackson at Holly Howe~ photo: Daphne Neville

My mother thought that Mrs and Mrs Jackson, Mrs Walker’s nurse and Vicky the ship’s baby, who are listed as Extras on the Call Sheet, were particularly well cast. It must have been a long day for them. It was a long hot day for all of us, but a happy day.

Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville

Simon West, Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville playing the Walker children in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ 1973 ~photo: Daphne Neville

The girls who had been taken on as our Stand-in’s the day before did not seem to be around to help limit the hours we spent on set, but perhaps I am muddled. They may have only materialized on Peel Island at a later date.

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville, trying not to look as tall as she was in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

What I really did not know, until I watched the documentary broadcast last Sunday, was that Mrs Batty, who held the lease on Bank Ground Farm, had locked out the crew. She explained that when she was originally asked if we could film on her property she did not quite realise the scale of operations and only asked for – or accepted – a location fee of £75. The arrival of the two red double-decker buses, the Lee Electric van, the generator and other lorries, not to mention the Make-up caravan rather daunted her, as did the furniture moving activities involved at the start of the filming when we shot the interior scenes. She said that she decided that £75 was not enough, padlocked her front gate and wouldn’t let them back in until they agreed to pay her £1,000. It was a lot of money, more than double the fee I received.

Sophie Neville with Lucy Batty at Bank Ground Farm, Westmorland in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

You may have seen the BBC documentary about the making of Swallows and Amazons, when Ben Fogle interviewed Suzanna Hamilton and myself at Bank Ground Farm for ‘Big Screen Britain’. This was  re-packaged last year on a programme called Country TracksMy father’s 16mm footage had been skilfully inter-cut with an interview with our Director, Claude Whatham. I did not know that it was being broadcast but was able to watch on-line.

Sophie Neville at the Bank Ground Farm Boathouses

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Filming the night scenes for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker

The Lake District is very beautiful. The problem about filming there is that it can rain quite hard – heavely – was the word I used in 1973. By this stage in the filming of Swallows and Amazons Claude Whatham only had one ‘rain cover’ option. We were kept busy recording sea shanties with Virginia McKenna at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel by Lake Windermere while Dennis Lewiston, the DOP, lit Mrs Batty’s barn at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water. Arthur Ransome must have done much to revive the songs of the sea ~

Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies, Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain; For we’ve under orders for to sail for old England, And we may never see you fair ladies again.

We never got as far as the ranting and roaring bit in the film.

No one really knows how old this naval song is. The Oxford Book of Sea Songs, mentions it in the logbook of the Nellie of 1796, long before shanties really came extablished as a genre. All I know is that Titty loved it and was still singing it in Peter Duck when the song became quite useful for navigating the English Channel.

‘The first land we sighted was called the Dodman, Next Rame Head off Plymouth, Start, Portland and Wight; We sailed by Beachy, by Fairlight and Dover, And then we bore up for the South Foreland light,’  or sort of.

Walking into Mrs Batty’s barn that day was hugly excting. Simon Holland, the designer, had mounted Swallow on a cradle so that she could be rocked, as if by water, as the scenes of her sailing at night were shot.  It was brilliant, she even went about. Moonlight wasn’t not a problem. Richard Pilbrow can correct me, but I think it was produced by a lamp called a ‘tall blonde’. I don’t think we had a wind machine. The Prop Men used a large sheet of cardboard to produce a breeze.

‘Wouldn’t Titty have liked this?’

‘Liked what?’

‘Sailing like this in the dark.’

’57, 58, 60, 61…’

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Can’t you hear it? The wind in the trees?  We must be near the bank. Quick, Susan lower the sail! Roger, catch the yard as it comes down!’ Then there is a crunch as the Swallows hit a landing stage. All mocked up. Quite fun.

‘What about Titty?’

Amazon was placed on the same mounting. I climbed aboard and started wrapping myself up in her white sail.

Children always love the irony of John saying, ‘She’s at the camp. She’ll be allright. She’s got a tent,’ when the shot cuts to me looking damp and uncomfortable about sleeping in Amazon, anchored out on the water.

Later I wake up and come out from under the sail to hear the burgulars heaving  Captain Flint’s trunk across Cormortant Island. All in all we achieved quite a bit on that wet day in Westmorland. Much safer and easier than being out on the water.  Because the cradle was at waist height Claude was able to get lower angle shots than when out on the camera pontoon. I think Simon West, who played John, did really well.  He managed to convince me that he was really sailing when I watched the film and I knew he wasn’t.

Back at our guest house in Ambleside there was a real life drama. Little Simon Price had gone missing.  He was the small boy last seen on the beach at Rio, having his shorts pulled up by his sister. The Police were called and everything. But as in a lot of real life situations, things were sorted out, and we returned to the mundane world of maths lessons. I was tutored by Helen, one of the students at the Charlotte Mason College of Education who was also lodging at Oaklands as Mrs Causey, our teacher, could not ‘do modern Maths.’

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Better drowned than duffers ~ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker

My diary of  Thursday 14th June 1973 continued…

14th June ~ my Diary at Bank Ground Farm

14th June ~ My diary at Bank Gound Farm

Claude Whatham had no Peak of Darien at Bank Ground Farm,  Arthur Ransome’s location for Holly Howe. But he did have buttercups and daisies, the flowers so evocative of childhood summers spent in the English countryside.  The field that runs down to Coniston Water looked glorious that sunny day in June 1973.  It was glowing.

Claude had used wild flowers to good effect when he made Laurie Lee’s memoir Cider with Rosie for the BBC in May 1971. It had been one of those months of endless sunny days in Gloucestershire but we were in Westmorland now, where buttercups bloomed later in the year and sunny days were cherished. This was Claude’s afternoon for low angle shots.

The view from Bank Ground Farm

The view from Bank Ground Farm over Lake Coniston as it was in 1973

We arrived to find that a huge hole had been dug in the meadow for the camera, with a picnic for us spread out the other side of it.  We thought this was very exciting.  I’m not sure whether Mrs Batty throught quite the same way about the excavations in her field. I was sad that we didn’t have a fire with a kettle, as they do in the book of Swallows and Amazons, but that was kept as a feature of island life and camping yet to come.

Sophie Neville, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Gay Lawley Waklin, Bobby Sitwell, Dennis Lewiston, Albert Clark: photo~ Daphne Neville

Roger came sailing down clutching the telegram from our father, reaching out to deliver it over the hole. I understand that this was based on the cryptic telegrams that Ernest Altounyan sent his children Taqui, Susie, Titty and Roger, the real Swallows. It has become the iconic response to Health and Safety ever since.

Bank Ground Farm

Claude Watham having just spoken to Stephen Grendon playing Roger at Bank Ground Farm. Who is in the foregound? : photo~ Daphne Neville

What we ended up saying altered slightly from David Wood’s original screenplay. ‘Dispatches?’ – Ransome spells the word ‘Despatches’ but apparently both spellings are correct. John referred to Daddy as Father. I’m not sure why. He did so in his letter. It is daddy in the book but perhaps Claude considered ‘Father’ as having a more period feel.  I stuck more to Ransome’s dialogue, as you can see if you compare the film script with my diary entry above. This was only because I knew his book so well, and never saw the script. The acting credit must go to Simon West who sat holding the telegram, graciously absorbing my bossiness, whilst I grappled with the words.

David Wood's screenplay  of 'Swallows and Amazons'

David Wood’s original screenplay of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Sue Merry typing up continuity notes on location at Bank Ground Farm: photo ~ Daphne Neville

Back in 1973 it was the job of  the ‘Continuity Girl’ to take notes on any changes made to the script. Sue Merry, ever present in her dark coat, took on this role. Today she would probably be known as a Script Supervisor but her Aviator sunglasses and black polo-necked jersey would be the height of fashion. Sue also took notes technical notes for the film editor and director, indicating which Takes were favoured and which had been spoilt, giving the reason. In those days we had no monitors. The camera lens would be unscrewed after each take and checked carefully. If any fluff was found, Bobby Sitwell the Camera Assistant would call out, ‘Hair in the gate!’  Sue would quietly note this down and David Bracknell, the First Assistant, would call out, ‘Set up to go again’. And we’d go again.

Sue was also responsible for the continuity, and would take numerous Polaroid photographs as an aide-memoir. This scene followed the one of Mother giving Roger the telegram, which had not yet been shot. Virginia McKenna hadn’t arrived back inCumbria. Looking back, this seems a huge gamble. Would they ever get another sunny day while the buttercups were still blooming, a day to match – exactly – the weather of 14th June?

Sue would sit and type up her notes on location, using a portable typewriter that sometimes was set up for her on a spindly picnic table. This method of working was different from the BBC, when the ‘Production Assistants’ would type up their notes at the end of each day. Would it have been so that one copy of her notes, typed on triplicate paper, could be sent to the laboratory with the exposed film. It meant that her evenings were free.

Sue Merry had worked for Neville C. Thompson before on The Boyfriend, Ken Russell’s movie that starred Twiggy with Tommy Tune, Barbara Windsor and Glenda Jackson. She later worked on The Wicker Man, Anthony Shaffer’s harrowing film directed by Robin Hardy that featured Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Diane Cliento, Britt Ekland and Ingrid Pitt. She went on to work with Dennis Lewiston and other members of our crew on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the movie that starred Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and such unexpected artists such as Meatloaf, Christopher Biggins and Prince Andrew’s old flame Koo Stark,  who played a bridesmaid. Sue also did the continuity for Nicolas Roeg on The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie,  before moving into television to work on The Professionals and The Comic Strip Presents… All quite fun!

But on that day in June 1973 she was the girl with the daisies in her hair, wearing a coat thick enough to indicate that although sunny it was still quite chilly in the Lake District.

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Dark secrets revealed – the making of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Sophie Neville as Titty in ‘Swallows and Amazons’

‘Here we are, intrepid explorers making our way into uncharted waters. What mysteries will they hold for us? What dark secrets shall be revealed?’

The dark secret was that the inky black night scenes had to be shot in Mrs Batty’s barn. At Bank Ground Farm. During the day.  The design team strung up thick light-proof drapes and made the dusty out-building into a studio. The director, Claude Whatham had no choice.  We had quickly run out of interior scenes and the weather was so bad that we could do little else.

‘While the rest of England melted in a heat wave, the Lakes seemed wrapped in mist and rain,’ Richard Pilbrow the Producer remembers. I have a press cutting from The Guardian dated 7th July 1973, which opens with the words:

  • ‘THE WEATHER report follows in half a minute. Richard Pilbrow is obcessed with the weather. Every morning he wakes around 4 o’clock and crosses his room at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel to cock a weather eye at the sky above Wansfell Pike. Most mornings it is the same story… Pilbrow looks out of the window. Raining. ‘ 

What a worry and concern that rain was. Swallows and Amazons is firmly set in an idlyic childhood summer, August of 1929, when the water was warm enough to swim daily and the only disapointment was a total lack of wind. When we arrived to start filming at Derwent Water on 12th June 1973 it was too windy to even go out on the lake.

I loved filming in the barn.  The Third Assistant, Gareth Tandy, lead me through the high wooden doors and into a magical version of our camp on Peel Island, beautifully recreated by Ian Whittaker the Set Dresser. A real camp fire was burning. Blankets (goatskins in Titty’s imagination) and pillows from out tents had been laid out so I could be ‘shrouded in my cloak’ while I was waiting up for the Swallows to return from the Amazon River. The scene was beautifully lit with branches held in stands in front of the lights with a gentle wind produced by the prop men wafting a board to lift my hair at the right moment.  I don’t think there was an owl hoot for me to hear. I had to imagine that so they could add a real owl call later. Someone has written in to ask if I learnt how to make an answering hoot. I’m afraid not. I tried and tried. I still can’t.  John could do it but Claude asked us both to just pretend so that he could lay the sound on afterwards.

I think what we gained, despite or perhaps because of the weather, was a camaraderie that forms a foundational basis to the film. We had to be stoic and get on with filming despite getting cold and wet. Rain doesn’t show up on screen unless it is really pelting down. You can see the effects – wet hair and soggy costumes, but you actually have to use rain machines if you want to show rain in a drama.  We could film our trek up the hill to visit the charcoal burners without a problem but going out on the lake was impossible. You’d have seen the rain drops falling on the water.  And it was too windy.  As it was, we had a brilliant Director of Photography who used what light he had to capture that limpid quality you find in the Lakes, so quintessentially English it draws you in, reeling back to childhood days when we had time to make camps and rush about in the woods.

The rain did deter my mother from taking photographs. She didn’t have a flash to use in the barn but she took lots – masses – the following day…

Dressed for the Cumbrian weather: Daphne Neville with Liz Lomas, Richard’s assistant at Theatre Projects who had come up from London ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow

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‘It must be Niagara’…Dixon’s Farm and walking up to the charcoal burners ~ while ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Sophie Neville at Elterwater

Sophie Neville by Elterwater in 1973 ~ photo: DJ Neville

My mother was very excited about meeting the actress Brenda Bruce who Claude had engaged to play Mrs Dixon. She had arrived on 10th June whilst we were filming the fishing scene at Elterwater where she found Claude keeping up our moral by wearing my mother’s Donny Osmond hat. I think he needed it for warmth. It was unexpectedly cold. I can remember being worried that Brenda Bruce would be chilly as she was only wearing a blouse and flip-flops. Now I understand that she ‘was of a certain age’ and didn’t feel the cold quite so much as skinny twelve-year-olds with opinions.

Brenda Bruce

 I shouldn’t have been worried about Mrs Dixon. She looked wonderful in the film – was wonderful – and very comfortable in her nice clean dairy. I had no idea that Brenda Bruce was so well-known, that BAFTA ~ the British Academy for Television Awards had named her Best Actress in 1963. “Yes, you do!” Mum said. “She was the White Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass.”  She’d actually worked for Claude quite a bit and he trusted her to play a small part well.  When I look back on Swallows and Amazons I can see that he made sure it didn’t become chocolate-boxy. You can tell by glancing at Mike Pratt’s costume. Mike Pratt who played Mr Dixon the provider of worms for our fishing bait, the lovely Lakeland colours of his garments contrasting with the harsh blues and reds of our 1970’s clothes.

What Richard Pilbrow and Claude Whatham did want to make the most of was the Westmorland scenery. In many ways they were making a landscape movie. I think what they most enjoyed was finding all the locations to put together Arthur Ransome’s imaginary lake as depicted in the end pages of Swallows and Amazons and I am often asked where the waterfall is. “It must be Niagara!”  No, Sophie. It’s somewhere near Elterwater.

Kevin Burn sent me some suggestions with photos which made me feel pretty sure the actual waterfall is Skelwith Force. But Roger Wardale, who is an expert on Arthur Ransome’s locations, thinks not. “I don’t think it’s Skelwith Force which is more a series of rocky rapids in fairly level ground. I watched the film again yesterday and was reminded of the waterfall at Glen Mary (otherwise known as Tom Gill) the outlet for Tarn Hows dropping down to the Coniston-Ambleside road 4 miles from Skelwith Bridge.” So – any ideas most welcome!

What I can’t remember where Dixon’s Farm was filmed. The scenes set at Jackson’s Farm, Arthur Ransome’s  ‘Holly Howe’ were shot at Bank Ground Farm by Coniston Water, but all I know about the location for Dixon’s Farm is that our tutor got terribly lost trying to find it…

Geraint Lewis of the Arthur Ransome Trust has written to confirm Kevin Burn’s theory about the location we used for Mrs Dixon’s dairy. ‘I had a long conversation once with Lucy Batty about her recollections of filming at Bank Ground in the house, barn, etc. She confirmed that they used the buildings shown as Tent Lodge Cottages on Google Maps – as Dixon’s Farm. That certainly seems to fit from the view of the lake and shoreline trees in the background.’

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Holly Howe on the 5th day of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ near Coniston in 1973 ~

Holly Howe again  or back to Bank Ground Farm ~

My diary

My diary

When you next go to Bank Ground Farm you must stand outside and imagine the sight of two red London Route Master buses making their way down the drive.  They swayed from side to side.  We thought it comic. I still can’t work out how they managed to avoid how bringing down the dry stone walls. While sheep grazed around us outside in the rain, we made ourselves comfortable at the Formica tables in our school bus and got down to our lessons. I am sure it was good for us to be kept busy.

Bank Ground Farm

Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water in Cumbria

Meanwhile Ian Whittaker, the Set Dresser, and Simon Holland, the Art Director, transformed two of Mrs Batty’s upstairs rooms into the Walker children’s  bedrooms of 1929. I changed in the cold and was rushed through the rain with a coat over my nightie to the magical atmosphere of the set, warmed by the lights with everyone’s focus on what was just in front of the camera; me reading a beautiful edition of Daniel Defoe’s classic. Claude needed to establish that Robinson Crusoe was Titty’s hero. I can remember having to hold the book in special way so the cover could be seen clearly. I described this as ‘a bed scene’, which might amuse some actors, especially those who are not at all keen on doing bed-scenes (every actor I know). The beds themselves are probably still at the farm.

The LP

Sophie Neville, Virginia McKenna and Simon West on the cover of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ LP, which is still available on Amazon.co.uk

I expect they shot the scene where John is learning Morse Code in bed before my scene. Simon West had to be made very brown indeed, the Make-up Designer dabbing away with a tiny sponge, for the uneasy sequence, much later in the story, when he came to explain himself to his mother. This was shot with Virginia McKenna sitting at a writing desk in the square bay window, with the view of Coniston Water beyond. I sat there myself when I was making Swallow’s flag.

Virginia McKenna and Lucy Batty at Bank Ground Farm on 15th May 1973

Mrs Batty later explained to me that the bay window leaked terribly and she was glad to get rid of it. She now has a lounge area there, which is dedicated as a Swallows and Amazons room.  I was chatting to her back in 2002 when we were waiting for Ben Fogle and the BBC crew of Countryfile to return from looking for other locations used in the film before interviewing Suzanna Hamilton and myself at the farm. The problem was that Suzanna’s train was terribly delayed. We waited and waited and waited. It got later and later. When her taxi finally arrived I was so excited to see her I grabbed her and made her run down to the lake to see Amazon, the dinghy we had sailed together, which was there at the time. The poor director must have been at her wit’s end. Ben Fogle had to come down to fetch us. My excuse was that Suzanna must have needed a stretch after such a long journey. The Westmorland Gazette captured the three of us plodding back up the field before we sat on the grass for our interview.

Countryfile

Ben Fogle, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and the BBC crew recording Countryfile at Bank Ground Farm in October 2002

I did the whole interview holding a bottle of grog, which the Arthur Ransome fans who were staying at the farm gave me. You can see it in the photographs if you look closely.  I don’t think Ben knew what it was.

It was into this interview that my father’s 16mm footage of the making of Swallows and Amazons was cut, with such success that the documentary was re-shown as Big Screen Britain. What I didn’t know was that Ben Fogle was born in 1973 after we had made the movie. It was only once the crew had disappeared that Suzanna and I really began to talk.

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