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More behind the scenes footage of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

We have just found another reel of 16mm home movie footage shot, not on location in the Lake District, but at Runneymede near Egham in Surrey. It captures the essence of a hot day in September 1973 when we were re-called for pick-up shots after the main body of the film of Swallows & Amazons had already been edited.

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Ronnie Cogan trimming Sophie Neville’s hair for the part of Titty in September 1973

The clip opens with the film hairstylist Ronnie Cogan cutting my hair. It had been a good six weeks since I had last played Titty in front of the camera and I needed a trim to restore it to the same length it had been on 14th May when we had first started filming on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite railway. Suzanna Hamilton’s thick dark hair had grown a great deal, as had Sten Grendon’s.

Cutting Sten's hair

Sophie Neville watching Ronnie Cogan cut Sten Grendon’s hair.

Peter Robb-King the Make-up artist had been toning down out complections inside the same Make-up caravan we’d used while on location for seven weeks in Cumbria. I remember it had orange flowery curtains, a pattern much in vogue at the time.

Sophie Neville with Sten Grendon, Jane Grendon, Claude Whatham and Neville Thompson

Sophie Neville looks on as Stephen Grendon organises his costume helped by Jane Grendon with Claude Whatham and Neville C Thompson.

Neville C Thompson, the Associate Producer, who was wearing a red shirt that day, seemed happy to be back on location. The film director, Claude Whatham was working, as I will always remember him, in a pair of navy blue shorts and sailing shoes. I loved putting on the school hat and silk dress I’d worn in the train but was difficult for the boys to climb into their woolen costumes on such a bright sunny day.

Theatre Projects Call Sheet for 'Swallows and Amazons'

Richard Pilbrow, the Producer, who you can see wearing a white stripy cheese-cloth shirt so typical of the early 1970’s, seemed rather on edge. Bringing a camera crew along for what amounted to three shots must have been expensive, stretching his budget to the limit.

Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham and Simon West with Richard Pilbrow in the foreground ~photo:Daphne Neville

Gordon Hayman with a 35mm Ariss camera, Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham and Simon West, with Richard Pilbrow in the foreground ~photo:Daphne Neville

The oak tree, under which the 35mm Arriflex camera was set, was chosen to represent the Peak of Darien from which we looked out over an imaginary lake to an imaginary island. The finished movie cuts from the Walker children’s faces to a shot taken of Derwentwater at sunset with the opening title graphics superimposed over what is in reality Blakeholme, or Wild Cat Island as it is called in Arthur Ransome’s world.

Opening Titles

Denis Lewiston, the Director of Photography, was working with the Cameraman Gordon Hayman, using reflector boards to light our faces. At one stage he had me standing on a cream coloured blanket to reflect light from below. You can see it in this shot:

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker with Gordon Hayman, Denis Lewiston and Claude Whatham behind the camera

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker with Gordon Hayman, Denis Lewiston and Claude Whatham behind the camera

What I had forgotten was that two little girls came along that day to stand-in for us when the shot was being lined up. You can see them in the home-movie footage, one wearing a pale blouse with puffed sleeves.

Claude was very keen on running. He often took us for a short run before going for a shot to aerate our minds and freshen up our faces. In the story we had run down the hill from Holly Howe, so he had us running quite far before we landed on the marks that the cameraman had given us so that we’d be in focus. We had no dialogue, but the expressions on our faces were crucial to engaging the audience.

Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and the cameramen

Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and the cameramen

You see a few other people on location, not least Sten’s mother, Jane Grendon, my little sister, Molly Pilbrow and a few others who were watching. My mother had been taking the footage.

Daphne Neville with Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West

Daphne Neville with Stephen Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West

To read about this day from another angle, please click here to visit an earlier post with a few more photos.

On Friday 21st November 2014, I was invited to talk about the making of Swallows & Amazons on the CBBC movie show with David Wood, who wrote the screenplay. I’ll let you know when this will be broadcast. While I was at Novel Entertainment I met Dexter Fletcher and Bonny Langford as well as Justin Johnson from the British Film Institute who is an adviser on the series of 6 x 30 minute programmes..

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News and Reviews of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’

Have you received the same despatches as me?

I opened my post to find not one but three reviews of my books, including this article published in The Outlaw and another in Signals, for which I am very grateful. I have pasted them here for fans of the film who do not yet subscribe to these literary magazines.

Review by Jack Parker in The Outlaw

This review was followed by by a comment from Winifred Wilson, librarian of The Arthur Ransome Society:

Review by Winifred Wilson1

The Library Supplement in The magazine of The Arthur Ransome Society gives a full description of all three books:

Review in Signals Library Supplement

Review in Signals

Mixed Moss  arrived before Easter with Spurrier’s map on the cover:

Mixed Moss 2014

I found another review inside, this time from New Zealand:

Mixed Moss1

Mixed Moss2

Mixed Moss3

The News is that The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons has been signed up by the publisher Classic TV Press who plan to bring out a new edition in paperback this July. It will include glossy photographs and additional points of interest. If you would like to order a signed copy please email: classictvpress@live.co.uk

If you are interested in joining the Arthur Ransome Society please click here.

Here is a shot from 1973, capturing some of the deb-archery:

Sophie Neville watching the Amazons practicing with bows and arrows

Sophie Neville with Peter Robb-King (Make-Up) and Ronnie Cogan (Hair) watching Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour trying out their bows and arrows with Terry Smith (Wardrobe) while on location near Peel Island on Coniston Water in the Lake District.

 

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Kindle, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ in the headlines

The Times Sat 23 Nov 2013

The Times. What author would not be thrilled to have their ebook profiled in a Saturday feature article? But look at the headline. I shall never live it down. Far from being scandalous, my story is appropriate reading for any age group.

The Times Sat 23 Nov 20131

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville, featured in The Times

Richard Kay’s piece in the Daily Mail seems to have sparked off quite a bush fire. A News journalist from the Telegraph rang, as mentioned in my last post. Before I knew it, there was an over-excited headline on the internet

I was told-off by our Church Warden, who then handed me a clipping from the Saturday Telegraph, which read: ‘Swallows and Amazons a debauched adventure’. I didn’t dare look in the tabloids.

I was worried that I would be asked to step down as President of The Arthur Ransome Society but some of the members think it’s hilarious. The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have been busy thinking up Newspaper headlines for his novels, such as ‘Soviet agent indoctrinates all British children’.
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Ronald Fraser and Ian Whitaker on the houseboat1

Ronald Fraser, Make-up artist Peter Robb-King & Set Dresser Ian Whitaker on Captain Flint’s houseboat

Anecdotes about Ronald Fraser’s legendary drinking habits are mounting up.  Spare me from being a prattler, but Ronnie would have loved this. Star of thirty post-war movies and numerous television programmes, he liked nothing more than to sit in a pub sharing scandalous stories with his friends from the press.  A showman to the end, his coffin was carried by Sean Connery, Peter O’Tool, Simon Ward and Chris Evans.

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Can anyone tell me who took this photo? If you click on the shot you will get to my Swallows & Amazons page which has a photo of the photographer.

Peter Walker e-mailed me from Cumbria:

In 1973 I worked for Post Office Telecommunications (now BT) as a local maintenance engineer. One summer’s day I had been given the job of repairing a fault on the payphone in the White Lion Hotel in the centre of Ambleside. As I pushed open the door to the bar it slipped out of my hand and the handle caught a customer in the back who happened to be taking delivery of a large drink.

I apologised, and he said “No damage done my boy… haven’t spilt a drop!”

I said I was referring to his back, “Don’t worry,” he said, “being stabbed in the back is normal in my line of business!”

Ronald Fraser on the cover of the VHS

Ronald Fraser on the cover of the VHS

A wonderful story that I have already added to the ebook:

long after the filming, when Ronald Fraser was having a pint with his friends, he was fond of muttering ‘Natives!’ especially if someone ate the last of his crisps.(As you probably know, this was one of Titty’s lines in the film used when the Swallows were nearly run down by a Windermere steamer.)

Ronnie Fraser and DoP Denis Lewiston with paper cups of champagne and the call sheet for the next day ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Ronnie Fraser and DoP Denis Lewiston with paper cups of champagne in 1973

His fans and old drinking pals added comments below the online feature in Friday’s Telegraph:

Ronald Fraser sounds like he was well cast for the part, the black sheep of the family who was also the favourite uncle and usually totally p-ss-ed.

Ronald Fraser – a joy and wonderfully in-character as the freeloading drunk on the trans-Atlantic liner in the original TV adaptation of Brideshead.

“Debauchery” implies REAL shennanigans. Ronnie was usually too plastered to do more than stand, let alone move, let alone “do” anything. I assume the word is used ironically.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie Fraser several times in the Richard Steele on Haverstock Hill in 1969/70, and of conversing and drinking with him. He was a total lush, but charming, funny and scandalous. His fund of acting stories was endless. I’m surprised he made it safely through S&A! (Swallows and Amazons)

I also remember Ronnie Fraser from the Richard Steele. One evening he was serving behind the bar, in his cups he served me 4 drinks and instead of adding up the price he just said “that looks about 10 shillings worth to me!”

The Richard Steele was a proper boozer with a mixed clientele which included Anthony Booth, Rupert Davies and Eric Sykes. And a great selection of posters on the walls. I went back in there a couple of years ago and it has lost the buzz it had back in those days.

he also was in the star in st.johns wood too dont think i ever saw him sober either.that would be about 1975 -1979

Yep. I too drank with him in The Richard Steele in 1976/7. Total gentleman and a great character. He used to drink with Alan Browning. Glynn Owen was another regular and one or two others of note.

I loved that film and thought it very faithful to the source book. My sister has met Ronald Fraser and as well as being a boozer he was also apparently something of a swordsman.

I thought that Ronald Fraser was miscast – he was too much the buffoon and his speech impediment wasn’t appropriate to the role.

With Ronald Fraser

With Ronald Fraser in 1973

General comments about the film were also added to the Telegraph site:

I had a slightly surreal experience 10 or 12 years after it came out. It was on TV and I sat happily through it, then I put in the video of the John Hurt movie 1984. In it, the girl I’d just been watching playing Susan as a 12 year old instantly aged 10 years.

It was raining in the Lake District- that’s a major surprise. One place there has recorded 200 inches of rain in a year!

It’s good to find someone else who shared those lovely £sd days!! I remember the posters vividly.

It was indeed largely a time of great adventure for a child at that time. As kid’s, at weekends & holidays, we often wouldn’t be seen from morning ’till evening, off exploring our surroundings. Totally unlike the generally mollycoddled, world wrapped in cotton wool that you usually see with today’s parents and their children.

Great book and an excellent, very English film! Pity that Arthur Ransome was a traitorous Communistic Guardian hack! I imagine that Soviet Commissars, used to Black Sea dachas, would have found The South Lakes far too drizzly for a summer holiday. No doubt Mr Ransome would have been keen to host them.

Well, you have to admit it was excellent cover for his job of reporting everything the Bolsheviks did to MI6.

Ronald Fraser being transported to the Houseboat

Ronald Fraser being transported to the Houseboat on Derwentwater

Your comments are invited below.

For those who have not already seen it, here is some behind the scenes footage of filming on that houseboat in 1973.

 

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Leaving the Lake District ~ 13th July 1973

Daphne Neville with Sophie Neville while filming 'Swallows and Amazons' in Cumbria

 It was time to say goodbye. We’d had the most wonderful seven weeks filming on the Lakes but the end had drawn in with the clouds. It was time to go home.

Since we lived in Gloucestershire it was a long drive south. I’m not sure how Jane and Sten Grendon got back as I don’t think Jane drove, but we must have dropped off some of their things on our way past their village.

I can remember seeing my real sisters again and walking around the garden in the afternoon sunshine, looking at all that had changed. We’d left in early May, now it was full summer and the school holidays.

Sophie Neville in 1973, in the garden at home with a swan

Back in the garden at home with a swan

‘Shall we go and put flowers on Luppy’s grave?’ Perry asked. I hadn’t heard that our dear old dog, the sheep dog I had known all my life, had died while we were away. I was inconsolable. Mum explained that they hadn’t wanted to tell me when it happened as we were filming, she thought that the sadness on my face would have come through on camera. I understood this but was still desolate. Having had to cope with the grief of losing Luppy, on top of the heartbreak of leaving everyone I had grown so close to in the Lake District, I was not in a good way.

One of the most treasured things that I had returned with – apart from the lump of Cumbrian slate Jean McGill had given me – was a hardbacked copy of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ signed by the entire cast and crew.

Signatures of the cast, director and producer of the movie 'Swallows and Amazons' in my hardback copy of Arthur Ransome's book

Signatures of the cast, director and producer of the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in my hardback copy of Arthur Ransome’s book

Here you can see inscriptions from Virginia McKenna who had played my mother, Ronald Fraser, Mike Pratt and Brenda Bruce who appeared as Mr and Mrs Dixon, Jack Wolgar and John Franklyn-Robbins who embodied the Charcoal Burners with Brian Robylas (sp?) and Moria Late who played Mr and Mrs Jackson.

It is interesting that all the children signed their character names with their real names in brackets. We must have grown to associate ourselves more with the characters names than with our own. Claude Whatham wrote, with thanks, and Richard Pilbrow enchanted me by drawing a picture of Wild Cat Island at night.  The only other signature on this page is from Brian Doyle, Mum’s friend the publicity manager on the movie who encouraged us to collect the autographs.

Signatures of the rest of the cast and crew of 'Swallows and Amazons' in the back of my Jonathan Cape edition of Arthur Ransome's book

Signatures of the rest of the cast and crew of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the back of my Jonathan Cape edition of Arthur Ransome’s book

At the back of the book David Blagden, who played Sammy the Policeman as well as overseeing the sailing, drew me a picture of what must be a vision of himself, sailing into the sunset in his little yacht Willing Griffin.

David Blagden's signature and sketch

Phyllis B was my tapestry-making stand-in. Simon Holland our art director (set designer) drew me a wonderful set of crossed flags that were also paint brushes ~ a logo for my life.

I have a signature from Kerry Dartisnine who played Bridget’s Nurse, our Fair Spanish Lady, who like the actors who played the Jacksons was not credited on the movie. Jean McGill was our driver and unit nurse, Eddie Collins the camera operator. Ronnie Cogan was our hairdresser, Toni Turner was a blonde lady who worked on a few days as Suzanna’s stand-in. Terry Smith was the wardrobe master, Terry Needham the second assistant director. Albert Stills is Albert Clarke.

On the last page I have a very classy signature from Robert – who I think was one of the unit drivers, and Denis Lewiston the DoP. Peter Robb-King signed himself ‘Make-up for the Stars’ and Gareth Tandy as ‘The Whip-cracker’, which surprised me as I had never seen his whip. Graham Ford obviously didn’t want me to change and Margaret Causey, our Tutor, sent her love.

Interestingly, I also have an inscription from Ian Fuller the sound editor listed as if he was around on location. I am sure he was the chap I would have met next. Claude and Richard would have gone straight down to the cutting rooms to edit the film. It is not usual for actors to enter such territory but our adventure was to continue. We were soon to be summons to the Elstree Studios of EMI at Borehamwood.

The crew as I remember them filming with Swallow and Amazon from the pontoon ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow

The crew as I remember them filming with Swallow and Amazon from the pontoon ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow taken on Derwentwater in 1973

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Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the rain at Bank Ground Farm in Cumbria ~ 20th May 1973

It was quite funny when Mrs Batty’s sheep walked into Swallow’s boat shed, lifting our spirits on that rather gloomy wet day on Coniston, but I have no idea if it was caught on film. Can anyone remember seeing a television programme made up of amusing out-takes from movies prior to the 1980s?  I don’t suppose our out-takes were ever kept. It doesn’t matter – seeing them spoils the magic of the story in a way.

Simon West as John Walker taking Swallow out of the boatshed at Holly Howe aided by Suzanna Hamilton, Stephen Grendon and Sophie Neville

I wrote in my diary about playing Consequences in Bank Ground farmhouse. This is the game that Virginia McKenna had introduced us all to and we loved it. This time we seem to have roped in Costume, Hair and Make-up. It seems Emma Porteous, the Costume Designer, was on set with us that wet day in May. I would think that this was when they recorded the scenes inside Holly Howe with Susan and Roger and the wonderful lady who played Mrs Jackson. Someone recently asked why Susan never thanked her for lending her the frying pan, as it seemed out of character. Did she in Arthur Ransome’s book?

Ronnie Cogan was the quiet, gentle man usually clad in a grey tweed jacket, responsible for our hair on Swallows and Amazons.  Foregoing the use of wigs, so very much in use on costume dramas at the time, he simply did up Virginia McKenna’s lovely thick hair, and cut ours, giving the whole movie a classic feel.

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

Years later my mother worked with Ronnie on Diana: Her True Story, the bio-epic of epics based on Andrew Morton’s outrageous book. Serena Scott Thomas played Diana Princess of Wales, David Threlfall was Prince Charles, Anthony Calf had the glorious opportunity to play James Hewitt and my mother was given the role of Diana’s nanny, who hit her on the head with a wooden spoon. Mum said that she later bumped into Ronnie in Oxford Street but heard soon afterwards that he had sadly died. He had a wonderful career and must be hugely missed.  He’d worked on classics such as The Boys from Brazil with Sir Laurence Olivier and A Bridge too Far directed by Richard Attenborough – the Lord Attenborough. That must have been quite something. It starred Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Ryan O’Neal who I am sure would have been pretty concerned about having the standard WWII military haircut. Ronnie also worked for Roland Joffe on The Killing Fields and Kenneth Branagh when he had quite a haircut, the pudding basin, for his monumental film of Shakespeare’s Henry V.  It is funny how things inter-connect. Kenneth Branagh played my great uncle AO Neville in the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Peter Robb-King had been the Chief Make-up Artist on Diana: her True Story. Having worked on movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Stars Wars – Return of the Jedi, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, he is still involved with the most amazing feature films. He has just completed The Cabin in the Woods where he was Sigourney Weaver’s personal make-up artist – and to think! He was once mine.

“But, Sophie – you disappoint me! You didn’t wear any make-up to play Titty.” No, but as we filmed out on the water more and more sun cream became extremely important. If even a tiny bit of us had turned red or peeled the filming would have put in jeopardy. Predicting that we would turn vaguely brown, Peter decided to give us a bit of a tan when scenes where shot out of sequence, as a couple had been that first week.  Peter and Ronnie were also responsible for the continuity of how we looked so that the shots would cut together. My fly-away hair was well monitored. Mum had to wash it every other day. Sten seemed to be forever having his hair trimmed. There are quite a few photographs of this particular activity inprogress.

Sophie Neville looking on as Stephen Grendon’s hair was being cut by Ronnie Cogan ~ photo: Daphne Neville

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