If you see men walking down the street with a telephone box it is probably an indication that there is a film crew nearby.
This was a distinctive director with red hair called John Prowse filming a drama serial called The Changes on location in Bristol in back 1975 when wooden tripods were used with 16mm cameras and portable monitors hadn’t been developed.
The Changes was a BBC adaptation of the books by Peter Dickinson written and produced by Anna Home. It starred Victoria Williams, Keith Ashton and Rafiq Anwar. Jack Watson was in four episodes and my mother had what one might call a cameo role as a villager. She can be seen in the photo above in the pink headscarf.
Sonia Graham appeared in this scene wearing a long red cloak. I later worked with her on the vet series One by One.
The story explored the concept of a time when machines ground to a halt and all cars became useless. Vehicles still seemed to be used as camera mounts. John Prowes is standing on top of a doramobile in this photograph.
Does anyone remember seeing the outcome of all this toil?
One way or another, much of my childhood and teenage years were spent hanging around on film sets. When I was fifteen I had the opportunity to work as a film editor’s assistant for Tony Woollard when he was editing Abide With Me, an adaptation of Winifred Foley’s childhood memoir, which was directed for BBC Television by Moira Armstrong.
At the age of nineteen I found myself working for a prop buyer on a Saturday Night Thriller calledDark Secretthat LWT, London Weekend Television, were making at my parents’ house. I was struck by how nice the technicians were.
Our house was often used as a film location. You can’t hear the noise of traffic there. For some reason this always involved hose pipes (to provide water for the location caterers) and parking a huge number of vehicles. Our house was turned into a restaurant for Dark Secret, and then became known as a love nest, for the BBC costume drama House of Elliot which amused my father.
My mother thought the best way to occupy us children during school holidays was to send us filming. I was forever driving my little sisters to one location or another. Call times could be hideously early.
My sisters weren’t always so sure about this but they were well paid, which was one thing.
Appearing as supporting artists in Tenko, the BBC serial about female internees in the Far East during WWII, was hateful. Apart from the fact that the location catering was good, it made one feel exactly like a prisoner of war, or rather a female civilian internees. Dressed in rags with our hair filled with grease, we were unable to move far or even sit down anywhere except in the filthy sand of the prison camp. The only good thing was that we were allowed to sunbathe, albeit in costume. What I did gain was the opportunity to watch a film crew in action day after day. It was all good experience for a girl who was soon to become a film runner herself.
My mother, Daphne, started working as a television presenter for Harlech Television in Cardiff. By 1973 Mum was working at the HTV studios in Bristol two days a week, presenting an afternoon programme called Women Only with Jan Leeming, and doing a bit of radio work for the BBC. Occasionally she appeared on other shows.
While my father’s life was influenced by Arthur Ransome, my mother drew inspiration from the author Noel Streatfield and her novel Ballet Shoes, the story of three little girls who went on the stage.Before her own three daughters were old enough to read she was dreaming dreams. Since she worked at the HTV studios in Bristol, it was natural enough for us to take part in their drama productions that were being made locally.
When I was offered the part of Titty in Swallows & Amazons, Mum somehow managed to take enough leave to come up to the Lake District and work on the film as a chaperone, although she had to return to Bristol for two HTV commitments. She missed some of the best scenes, and some of our worst moments.
‘You owed your life to Simon West, of course.’
‘Oh, yes. Simon was such a good sailor. He was totally reliable.’ She was thinking of the scene when Swallow was meant to narrowly avoid colliding with the Windermere steamer, the Tern, when we only just avoided a terrible accident.
‘You would have gone under the Tern if Simon hadn’t been so calm and controlled. He would never have got into the situation himself, he would have gone about much sooner but was waiting for Claude to give him the cue over the Motorola radio. Claude was too late. He had no idea about boats.’
My mother returned from working in Bristol to find my father, Martin, was not happy about how things were being handled when we were on the water. They stayed up, talking all night, making what must have been one of the first ever risk assessments.
‘Quite a few things changed after that.’ You can tell from studying old call sheets.
‘The ridiculous thing was having to strap the kids into life jackets to go to Peel Island, which was not risky at all. Martin and I then discovered they were BOAC rejects.’
Simon told me that he really couldn’t remember much about being in Swallows & Amazons. Looking back on it all, he reckoned that if I had talked through each day with Mum it would have reinforced memories. My diaries, which were certainly more detailed than those kept by the other Swallows, were supplemented by Mum’s photos, taken on a daily basis and looked at repeatedly. You have seen them all. They have that early Seventies tint to them.
Meanwhile my mother’s own memories are coloured by how things have changed over the last forty years, the other films she has been in the actors she has met.
‘Ronnie Fraser was perfectly nice. He was treated like a star and kept very much apart from us. He behaved like a star. Now stars have PAs, but he didn’t!’
Mum went on to appear in all sorts of movies. If you don’t blink, you can see her as a Victorian Lady in The Invisible Woman – Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Charles Dickens, soon to be released in cinemas.