Tag Archives: Swallows and Amazons Titty

A recent author interview with Sophie Neville

Author Sophie Neville

Sophie Neville this summer

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I graduated from the University of Durham with a degree in anthropology and went straight into the mayhem of the BBC. I worked on a number of drama serials, filming on location in London, Paris and Corfu, and produced INSET programmes for Schools Television before setting up documentaries for the Natural History Unit and ‘Blue Peter’ in Southern Africa. I was based on a game reserve where we ran horse safaris. Disaster struck when I broke my pelvis but I used my time on crutches to turn professional as a wildlife artist. My sketches proved useful to illustrate my first books. I now live on the south coast of England where I use my spare time to raise funds for charitable projects in South Africa.

 

How did you get started writing?

I began by writing for television. It was a matter of putting my own programmes together and working with BBC Books to bring out accompanying literature. I seemed to be forever submitting blurbs for the Radio Times. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that I started writing books. I self-published ‘Funnily Enough’, that won an international book award, and ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, made up of the letters I sent home from Africa about riding horses through the wilderness.

 

Can you tell readers about your latest book?

The publishers Classic TV Press asked if they could bring out a paperback version of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’, a memoir I’d launched as an ebook under a similar title. As a child I played Titty Walker in the classic movie of Arthur Ransome’s book, shot on location in the Lake District in 1973. I used the daily account I kept as a 12 year-old to guide the narrative, adding anecdotes as to how disaster was averted. It has appeal for anyone who grew up in the ‘seventies or enjoys light-hearted biographies.

 

What else have you written recently?

I am just finishing a novel based on a true story from WWII entitled ‘Makorongo’s War’. I’ve recently written Forwards to ‘An A-Z: Cumbria and the Lake District on Film’ for Hayloft Publishing and ‘Swallowdale’ by Arthur Ransome for Albatros Media in the Czech Republic. I’m currently working on a Forward to ‘Swallows, Amazons and Coots’ by Julian Lovelock soon to be published by Lutterworth Press.  Revelation Films asked me to write material for the DVD Extras of ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’  and since ‘Funnily Enough’ was serialised in a magazine I’ve had feature articles in Cotswold Life, Country Life, Classic Sailor and Word in Action.

 

Have you got a favourite genre to read? If so why?

I get totally engrossed in the memoirs I use for research but my book club keep me reading popular literary fiction.

 

Which writer or writers has had the most influence on your own writing?

Since I write true-life stories, I would say Monica Dickens, Helene Hanff and CS Lewis. I was hugely influenced in my youth by Gerald Durrell and James Herriot, both of whom I met when I was working in television and was impacted by how well their memoirs translated to the screen.

 

Where is your favourite place to write?

A thatched cottage deep in the African bush, where I can escape everyday life. I use two rooms at home on the south coast of England – one for admin and one for books.

 

Pen or keyboard?

Laptop, I’m afraid. It’s not good for the posture. The original material for my last three books was handwritten but had to be typed up. My prehistoric computer sadly died when I was writing my first book in South Africa and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. Miraculously, a brand new PC was donated to the local primary school. The teachers had no idea how to use it, so I introduced them to Microsoft Word in exchange for being able to work on my book while they were busy in the classroom. I sat at a low desk on one of those tiny red plastic school chairs until I had 100,000 words and the headmistress gained computer literacy.

 

How would you describe your writing regime?

The ideal would be to escape to South Africa for a couple of months to get my first draft on paper so I can assimilate research material or type all day long. I would then work on the structure and keeping adding material every afternoon back at home. I find my mornings are occupied with marketing. Since I was appointed President of The Arthur Ransome Society, which is the second biggest literary society in the UK, I spend quite a few weekends giving talks.

For more photos taken this year please click here for Sophie’s blog, Funnily Enough 

 

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Filed under Biography, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, titty, truelife story, Uncategorized

Finding photographs of Titty Altounyan

Titty was the name of an imaginative and ‘highly original’ little girl who Arthur Ransome first got to know in the Lake District when she was aged eight. I met her niece Barbara Altounyan recently. She was most amused that I had once played her Aunt Titty.

Sophie Neville as Titty in Swallows and Amazons

~Sophie Neville playing Titty Altounyan in the 1974 film ‘Swallows & Amazons’. Official photograph taken a Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water copyright: StudioCanal~

I’d brought Barbara some long lost family photographs that included some of Titty’s wedding in Aleppo. They are beautiful.

Titty and Ernest - wedding in 1954

Titty on the arm of her father, Dr Ernest Altounyan in Aleppo, 1954

Titty Altounyan's wedding

Titty on her wedding day with her husband Melkon Guzelian, her sister-in-law, her father Ernest Altounyan, her mother Dora and brother Roger, far right. You can also see Roger, Ernest and Dora below, with Roger’s wife standing far right.

Titty's wedding group

There is also a more informal shot.

Titty's wedding in 1954

‘Don’t you want to know about Titty?’ Barbara asked me. ‘She was a very detailed person and quite a perfectionist.’ I knew she was a wonderful artist who had studied under Henry Moore at the Chealsea School of Art, but was unwilling to ever attempt to sell her work. I was also told she also had long legs. I only hope that I have represented her well.

Titty with Brigit and Joe,John Sanders, 1953

Titty Altounyan at her sister Brigit’s wedding to John Sanders in 1953

Titty obituary - The Guardian

You can see a couple more family photos on ‘Secret Britian – The Lakes’ currently on BBC iPlayer at about 11.50 minis in. Those in the UK can view the programme here.

(NB: Ransome did not write ‘Swallows and Amazons’ while on holiday on Coniston Water as was stated in the programme. To see a photograph of Low Ludderburn, the house above Windermere where Arthur Ransome lived and wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’ please click here and scroll down.)

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, British Film, Cinema, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Lake District, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, titty, truelife story, Uncategorized

Captain John, Master of the Swallow, played by Simon West in 1973

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Peel Island in 1973

Simon West and Sophie Neville  as brother and sister on Peel Island in 1973

I had dinner with Captain John last night. It was extraordinary meeting up after forty years; a lifetime had whizzed by.

Tall, with dark hair, Simon West is no longer recognisable as John Walker but he looks back fondly on our time making the film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons in 1973, when we spent seven weeks of the summer term on location in the Lake District. To my surprise he doesn’t remember being cold at all. I claim that he was given a few more clothes to wear than me and had more to concentrate on. He was at the helm whilst I was a mere able-seaman in Swallow. He said that he hated it when she was wired to the pontoon and he had to pretend he was sailing.

BW Swallow about to jibe

Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton sailing Swallow from Peel Island where Sophie Neville stands shivering on the shore. Was this shot filmed from a camera pontoon?

Simon thought that I probably remember more about the experience than he did because my mother was there, chatting about what was going on every evening and naturally re-enforcing the shared experience.

‘I must have kept a diary, as it was part of our schoolwork, but I haven’t seen it since. I’ll look in my parent’s attic.’ Simon thought that it was his mother who put together an album from the black and white photos that Richard Pilbrow gave us after the filming.

Simon West as Captian John sailing Swallow . Sten Grendon plays the Boy Roger in the bows

Simon West as Captain John sailing Swallow near Peel Island on Coniston Water. Sten Grendon plays the Boy Roger in the bows.

Simon said that he remembers more about filming the six-part BBC serial, ‘Sam and the River’, in which he had the title role in 1974. Much of it was shot on the Thames Tideway east of London. ‘Of course all those places have changed enormously since then, whilst the Lakes are very much the same. I have never been able to find a copy of that series, which is a shame. I’d love to see it.’ We can’t find a copy in English, but there is a version in German entitled ‘Tom und die Themse’  currently for sale on DVD here.

Simon’s own children grew up watching Swallows & Amazons, which is still broadcast once or twice a year on television. He said that when they went to see the Warner Bros. Studios in Hertfordshire where much of the Harry Potter movies were made he felt hugely appreciative of the fact that we had been out on location the whole time, rather than boxed up on a film stage, acting against a green back ground.

Director Claude Whatham wearing his American Parker coat, looking on as Dennis Lewiston and Eddie Collins line up a shot over Derwentwater at dawn

Claude Whatham wearing his American Parker coat, as Dennis Lewiston and Eddie Collins line up a shot over Derwentwater at dawn

Simon did remember the great Parker coats that Richard and Claude found to cope with the Cumbrian weather. So do I. My father bought one too. They were blue-grey and enormous, lined with fake sheepskin, their hoods edged with Eskimo-like fake fur.

‘They had recently come over from America,’ he explained, ‘And were a real innovation. Before that we just had tweed coats.’

‘And Mackintoshes. Dennis Lewsiton wore a blue Mac.’

‘Those dreadful nylon anoraks,’

‘That are back in fashion.’

‘The American Parkers are fashionable now too – all that fake fur around the hood. Uggh.’

Suddenly the cogs of close association clicked in. Simon tossed his head in a certain way that I recognised as his own expression of humour. He said that he was really pleased that Bobby Moore chatted to him at the film Premier at Shaftesbury Avenue.

‘Sir Booby Moore? Was he there?  Did we meet him?’

‘Yes.’

I’d totally forgotten.

Simon said that he had become very attached to his Parker fountain pen from Aspreys, engraved with the words ‘Swallows & Amazons- 1973’, that Claude Whatham gave to each of us as a gift after the filming. ‘Stupidly I left in the boot of my car when I was in Paris, aged about twenty-seven. It was stolen with a load of other things.’ I had lost mine too. I dropped it on a footpath somewhere in Durham.

‘What did you spend your fee on?’

‘Oh, sailing dinghies.  It was good to know I had £500 in the bank around the time I was heading towards the British Championships. You know, at first we had ply board hulls but the time came when I needed to buy a fibreglass boat.’ It was with this that he became the National Optimist Champion. We agreed it was money put to good use.

After the age of about sixteen, Simon’s family became interested in orienteering. Maps seems to have had a strong influence on both our lives.

Simon West as John Walker studying the chart at Holly Howe before the voyage.

Simon West as John Walker studying the chart at Holly Howe before the voyage.

Simon and his wife now have four grown children. ‘We are split down the middle: three of us sail, three of us do not.’ But every year he takes the family up to the Lake District to go fell walking, something they all enjoy very much.

If anyone sees a brushed steel Parker pen on eBay engraved with the words ‘Swallows & Amazons 1973’ please let me know.  I’d love to be able to return it to Captain John.

Here you can see Simon appearing in ‘Sam and the River'(1975). This is the German version entitled Tom und die Themse:

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

What’s it like to watch the film again?

Sten Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Sten Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Walker children in 1973

In this morning’s despatches ~ via the Royal Mail ~ a letter arrived saying, ‘I’m sure we would all love to know how the recent screening of the film went and how you enjoyed the experience.’

Last Sunday, Suzanna Hamilton and Sten Grendon joined me at the Michael Croft Theatre for a special screening of Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 adaption of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ put on for an audience of excited children by Dulwich Film. We hadn’t watched the movie together since the premiere at the ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue in 1974. I hadn’t even seen Sten since that year. As we walked into the darkened auditorium, Sten’s girlfriend, who struck me as being rather special, insisted that we sat together to watch the film. 

Owl hoots trimmed

Blurred memories do come rushing back. I never managed to produce a real owl hoot.  Simon could – and I am sure Captain Nancy was adept, but it was all the trying to that brought us together.

Landing place

Director Claude Whatham at the Landing Place on Wild Cat Island with Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West, Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville

And as I watched the one thing that really struck me was, ‘How big Landing Place beach was then!’  I found myself leaning over and whispering to Sten that it has all but washed away. He didn’t know that the beach had been especially constructed for the film. It had been kept a secret.

Landing place with Claude

Rehearsing a scene on the Landing Place with Swallow

Our experience of making the film in 1973 was really quite technical. It was a wet summer and we had something of a battle against the elements to complete the scenes scheduled for each day. Back then, the aim was to capture enough footage to make the equivalent of 4 minutes of film in the final edit. You’d think this would be easy but each frame had to bear scrutiny on the big screen.  Since attention to detail was paramount, even making scrambled eggs in front of the camera was a demanding task.

sophie003

As the wind blew north up Coniston Water we joined in the concentration required for the task of film-making. We were in Cumbria to work back then, even if working in the Lake District was something of an adventure, something we did for fun.

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Sten Grendon on set with Claude Whatham and Suzanna Hamilton

So when we relax back and watch the film now we have a huge appreciation of what Claude Whatham put together. We laughed out loud, appreciating the humour. Much of this was generated by the serious expression on Roger’s face when he was picking up the why and wherefore of how something worked for the first time. It’s been a rare and ageless form of comedy that children loved forty years ago and evidently still love today. They always notice, ‘the bit when Roger doesn’t realise the cap is on the telescope.’ Adults love the fact that Roger always seems to be eating.

‘Oh yes!’ Sten remembered afterwards. ‘That pork pie I ate standing in the Amazon River. I was offered the choice of eating a meat pie or an apple. Well, I chose the pie, but it wasn’t so great when I had to eat another for the second take, and then another two for a different camera set-up.’

Isn’t it funny how well one can remember food?

Sten and Suzanna in camp

Sten Grendon as Roger Walker and Suzanna Hamilton as Susan Walker on Peel Island

‘Are you really old?’

‘Not so very old, by I was younger then,’ as Virginia McKenna said in the guise of Mrs Walker remembering her days camping in homemade tents. I bet someone asked Arthur Ransome the very same question.

I grew taller and had my teeth put straight. Same straggly hair. Sten still has all his thick dark hair and is quite tall himself. He works as a gardener now. Suzanna still has the biggest smile. She is the one who now needs to stand on a camera box but then she is the only one of us who does. What I mean to say is that she is the professional actress. We just turn up for fun.

‘And the others?’

I don’t know. Really, I don’t know. I’d love to see them again but am quietly waiting for them to contact me.  I hope they do. I have the first proof of a book to send them – it’s the diary I kept whilst making the film, forty years ago.

Swallows & Amazons reunion April 2013 006

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Sten Grendon in 2013

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Humor, Humour, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story