Thanks to the support of readers and reviewers I was brave enough to share my story, ‘Funnily Enough’ with the panel of judges at The International Rubery Book Award. I now have a cut glass trophy, which has its own silk-lined box.
Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on Peel Island, Coniston Water ~ in 1973
We had another rather wet day in the Lake District, but what they did shoot was excellent. In the story, it was the day John and I discovered the Secret Harbour and rowed Swallow around from the Landing Place. It must have been worth waiting for the weather to clear in oder to capture those limpid, watery scenes.
The Secret Harbour looks very different over the course of a year. It is at its most dramatic when the water levels are low and more rocks are exposed, but one thing is certain, it is always a safe haven for a dinghy. I was sad that the sequence in the book where Titty watches a dipper from her rock was never included in the film, but then I have never seen a dipper there. I rather think they prefer shallow, fast flowing streams were caddis fly lavae can be found but if Arthur Ransome wrote about a dipper there must have been one there in 1929.
I’m not sure Albert Clarke achieved horizontality with this particular photograph but it somehow gives one an idea of Titty’s tippy task. Albert was a sweet man. His task was to take stills of the film and for the film. This must have been tricky as his large format camera clicked. He had to grab shots while not intruding on the sound track. He was later the Stills Photographer on The Hound of the Baskervilles when Ian Richardson played Sherlock Holmes, Return of the Jedi, and Porridge. Porridge, which starred my all-time hero Ronnie Barker who inspired me to go into television production. When I was a nineteen-year-old student I appeared in Charlie Farley and Piggy Malone, a sort of serial within The Two Ronnies, which he directed and appeared in as both anti-hero and baddie. To my great delight, and his surprise, I put on round glasses, a yash-mak, a Southern American accent borrowed from Molly Friedel and learnt that anything was possible if you really wanted it to happen.
But then some things happen anyway. I never knew that bringing small boat neatly into shore would result in being on the cover of an LP. You can still buy it all these years later from Amazon. The only question is – Do you have a gramophone or turn-table to play it on?
I can’t believe Terry let me travel in the front on his white Range Rover, let alone change the gears. I can only think that Simon and I were taken back after the other children had gone home, and can just imagine us swinging around the lanes on that beautiful road back to Ambleside.
Terry Smith was our Wardrobe Master who must have had an annoying day if gas had been leaking into his bus. He was the distinctive man with curly red hair and strong, freckled arms in charge of our costumes. Goodness knows where he laundered them. Terry went on to work on some amazing costume dramas, movies that included Chariots of Fire, Lady Jane, Willow and Restoration. Mum’s tame otter Bee was auditioned to be in Willow. I’ve written about it in my book Funnily Enough. Mum was most indignant becasue they wanted her otter to wear a tutu. She didn’t know that Terry Smith was to be the Wardrobe Assistant. It might have made a difference. Instead they featured Val Kilmer in dialogue with a possum.
You can read more about the making of Swallows and Amazons here:
Sophie Neville: Profile
Actors are warned: ‘Never work with children or animals’. This was originally coined because they can come across so well that an actor’s performance won’t be noticed.
Sophie spent years at the BBC specialising in drama productions that featured children and animals. She 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.’
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 published Funnily Enough about her life in Gloucestershire and Ride the Wings of Morning set in Southern Africa. She is currently writing a pair of historical novels. Her filmography, The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ is published by the Lutterworth Press and available here.
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 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 6th ride in southern Botswana.
Sophie is a founder and trustee of the Waterberg Welfare Trust . 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 used as locations for ‘The Kings Speech’.
Sophie lives with her husband on the south coast of England. They have three grown children, two boats and constant building projects.
You can find a full list of books Sophie has contributed to on her Amazon page here