Tag Archives: Porridge

On the set of ‘Coot Club’ ~

Coot Club - Sophie Neville with Port and Starboard

All the children who appeared in the BBC serial of  Arthur Ransome’s books ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ were delightful. They were committed to the project and focused on their roles in the drama that was released in 1984 under the strand title Swallows and Amazons Forever!

Coot Club - boys playing

Jake Coppard, Mark Page and Nicholas Walpole who played Pete, Bill and Joe – The crew of the Death and Glory

They enjoyed the process of putting the story together but we were filming on location in Norfolk for three months, which is a long stretch for anyone. It is a very long time when you are aged thirteen.

Coot Club - Jake Coppard reading

Jake Coppard in the role of Pete

It can be difficult hanging around on set, waiting for the crew to set up, especially when you have to keep quiet and reasonably still, avoiding the perils of sunburn and scratches. In many ways it’s the most challenging aspect of being an actor, especially when you are constricted by your costume that has to be kept clean and dry.

Coot Club - the camera crew watched by Richard

Filming the Death and Glory at Gay Staithe in Norfolk. Peter Markham, Bruce McCaddie, Alec Curtis and his assistant with the 16mm camera, are being observed by Richard Walton, who played Dick Callum

Watching the film crew record a scene was interesting, and in many ways good work experience, but it was not always possible as they were often out on the water.

Coot Club - Henry Dimbleby reading to the others

Claire Matthews, Henry Dimbleby & Richard Walton whilst filming of ‘Coot Club’

Once the school summer holidays started, we bid farewell to Angela Scott who had given the children lessons while they were on location. She’d been teaching them on a boat most of the time – the blue fibre glass cruiser in the photograph above.  It was part of my job to make sure the children rested and were quietly entertained when they weren’t in front of the camera. I thought it important to let them be themselves and build friendships.

Coot Club - boys playing boule

Mark Page, Nicholas Walpole and others during the filming

I was very strict – I had to be when we were near water or traffic, but the girls were naturally self-disciplined and boys team spirited.

Coot Club - boys playing in Norfolk

Joe Waters, who was producing the drama, said that the sun always shone for him. It certainly did. The summer of 1983 was scorching. We had a few rainy days, but the actors where wonderful at helping to keep up moral. The boys adored Sam Kelly, Captain of the Catchalot, who the British public knew so well from his role as Bunny Warren in Porridge and the German Officer in the WWII sit-com ‘Allo ‘Allo. We only had to look his way and we’d all collapse laughing. Sam Kelly is probably now best known for his recent roles in Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang , in which he played Maggie Smith’s husband Mr Docherty, and for taking the role of Grandad in the new Mike Leigh comedy  A Running Jump, 2012 but on that far off summer on the Norfolk Broads there were quite a few terrible take-offs of  Captain Geering’s German accent. One of his later episodes of ‘Allo ‘Allo was titled ‘Up the Crick Without a Piddle’   which aptly described that particular day in East Anglia.

Coot Club - Sam Kelly and Jake Coppard

Sam Kelly with Jake Coppard either in the Catchalot or our support boat

Sam Kelly playing Captain of the Catchalot with Jake Coppard

In the end it was the boys who kept us amused. They were inventive and used whatever they could find and whatever opportunity came along to make me laugh.

Coot Club - boys in the rain1

Jake Coppard, Nicholas Walpole and Mark page under my umbrella on one of the few rainy days, whilst filming in Norfolk.

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

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. It was the day John and I discovered the Secret Harbour and rowed Swallow around from the Landing Place. It mst 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.

Simon West playing John Walker and Sophie Neville as Titty Walker bring Swallow into Secret Harbour on Wildcat Island. Photography by Albert Clarke for Theatre Projects and Anglo EMI’s film ‘Swallows and Amazons’

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?

The mfp Vinyl LP of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with Sophie Neville and Simon West bringing Swallow into her harbour

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.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Lake District, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized