Sophie Neville with Swallow on Coniston Water, Cumbria
Nick Barton of Harbour Pictures, in collaboration with BBC Films, launched a new adaptation of Swallows and Amazons on 19th August 2016.
I had joined him and his wife on the first recce to the Lake District back in 2011, staying at Bank Ground Farm, sailing Swallow on Coniston Water and taking a boat trip down Lake Windermere in Cumbria. He went on to find locations on Derwentwater and in Yorkshire with his director Philippa Lowthorpe who developed the new script with Andrea Gibb.
To see a clip of the opening scenes, starring Kelly Macdonald and Andrew Scott – please click here
This photograph of Richard and Neville sitting on the deck of Captain Flint’s houseboat in the pouring rain must epitomize the struggles they went through to work around the weather and bring ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in on budget.
It was Claude Whatham’s dream to end the movie with an aerial shot of Swallow and Amazon sailing away from Captain Flint’s houseboat. He had a helicopter pilot standing-by with a special cameraman, but it wasn’t to be. He needed bright sunshine for the shot to cut with our farewell sequence after the battle. We waited three days but the weather was too dull and wet to film anything useful. I’m so glad. Claude ended up freezing the simple shot that captures Arthur Ransome’s book completely. It was used on the front of one of the first VHS copies of the movie.
I’m afraid we hung about the very nice Water Head Hotel in Ambleside getting bored and precocious, or so the evidence suggests. Since John and Margaret, our location caterers, had returned to Pinewood Studios, we were taken to the hotel restaurant for lunch.
We loved that cinema in Ambleside. Was it the same then as Zeffirellis, the cinema in Compston Road operating today? The adults must have found it a good means of keeping us peacefully entertained, but then again they were all film-makers, who loved movies. Zanna didn’t come to the cinema that afternoon. She walked four miles up Wanstell Pike with Jane Grendon.
Albert Clarke, the stills photographer on the film crew, had given us contact sheets of the black and white photographs that he had taken during the filming. I spent my time at the Kirkstone Foot Hotel, where Claude and Richard were staying, with a tube of Copydex ~ or ‘rubber solution glue’, as they kept saying on Blue Peter, sticking the tiny photographs into the scrap books that I had been keeping.
Richard Pilbrow kindly let us choose large 10’x 8′ versions of the photographs, which we are able to take home to our families. I kept mine all these years, never using them for anything, but treasuring them as a memory of those happy, fulfilling days spent in Cumbria in 1973.
You can now read about making the movie in the ebook ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ or the paperback entitled, ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ available at most online distributors or to order from your library or local bookshop.
What with all the buckets of water being flung about after yesterday’s filming, Mummy had lost Lesley’s ring. It was a gold ring. Since it would not have been appropriate for an Amazon Pirate of 1929, Lesley couldn’t wear it with her costume. Mum slid it onto her little finger to keep it safe for her. It slid off. We looked and looked, but couldn’t find it anywhere.
And what with all the nocturnal pushings-in Graham Ford our production manager, had broken his ankle. Although we were up and about it became clear that the entire film crew were comatose after the Wrap Party. There was certainly no sign of the director. Since it was also raining, an unexpected day off from filming was called. Instead of heading for Derwent Water we went exploring the Lake District – in different ways. I made a discovery about Rio, or at least the origin of its name.
It seemed normal to have lunch at the Waterhead Hotel. It would be a great treat now. We split up into two groups for the afternoon, which is how I came to explore Rio with the Amazon pirates.
It was so sweet of Gareth and Jean to give us presents. I wonder what happened to the pendant with the cross? It would be the height of fashion now. I remember Jean explaining that she wanted to give us a little bit of the Lake District to take home. This came in the form of a bedside lamp made out of a chunk of slate. Mine soon had a pink shade on top. I used it for years.
The Ambleside Rushbearing Parade was amazing. I can see exactly why Arthur Ransome thought of Rio as the town on Titty’s chart. The festival was like a colourful Rio carnival. Crowds came out to watch as the procession came down the hill. If you click on the snap-shot Mum took above, you will find photographs of what it must have looked like when he was a boy with a brass band and everyone out in their best hats as they walked down to St Mary’s Church.
Again, if you click on the shot of above, you will find details of what happens today. The wonderful photographs on the Visit Cumbria site show rushbearing ceremonies held on Saint’s days at different churches in Cumbria throughout the summer.
Traditionally the children of Ambleside are given a piece of homemade gingerbread if they have carried one of the rushes. We hadn’t done this but we did join in with the hymn and the kind neighbours living nextdoor to Mrs Price and the Oakland Guesthouse gave us some gingerbread for tea.
We met the Price family at the festival. The two girls where both carrying dressed reeds. You may recognise Mr Price. He appeared in Swallows and Amazons as the Native who came up to Roger at the jetty in Rio and said, ‘That’s a nice little boat you have there.’ Roger said, ‘Yes.’
Mrs Price must have worked so hard. She had three children ~ a little boy as well as the girls ~ and a number of students from the Charlotte Mason College of Education staying at the guesthouse while cooking our breakfast and high tea. I expect the demands of the filming, what with drivers coming and going, was a little more that she had originally imagined. No one knew what would be happening next. Although most of the crew were leaving ~ going away from Rio ~ we knew we had to be back on location the next day.
Here is a snippet of footage Mum took of the festival. Blink and you’ll miss me ~
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.
If you would like to read about ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974) in detail, the illustrated, multi-media ebook is available on Kindle and from other ebook retailers.