Friday, 11 July 2014

How I came to write 'The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS'

Back in 1991, when I was at home in bed suffering from chronic fatigue, I kept a diary that has been adapted into the book 'Funnily Enough'. I wondered what my mother would say when she read it, as my portrait of her is pretty blunt, but all she suggested was that I should think about making the diaries I kept as a child into another book. She was referring to the year 1973 when I was given the role of Titty in the feature film of Swallows & Amazons, made on location in the Lake District. She'd made me write the diaries in the first place.

In that summer of 1991 my father took the Humber yawl he had just finished building in the garage up to Windermere to take part in a Steamboat Rally.

Steam Boat Association Rally on Windermere1991

I wasn't very well but he was staying in great luxury at the Motorboat Racing Boat Club and Mum thought the mountain air would do me good. She was right. I was also taken back to the magical place where I had spend part of my childhood, a very memorable part.

Here is an extract from my diary, published as the book 'Funnily Enough'

2nd August 1991 ~ 
We left the crowded waters of Windermere and drove through rain to Coniston Water. It was peaceful and still and wild. We drove up the eastern side. The oak woods clinging to the hillside and flowing down to the shore took me reeling back to my childhood. ‘Here we are, intrepid explorers, making the first ever voyage into uncharted waters. What mysteries will they hold for us? What dark secrets will be revealed?’

Long ago I appeared in the feature film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons. I played Titty, or rather I was Titty for a while wearing thick blue gym knickers, which the crew referred to as passion killers. The book was written in 1929 and although the film adaptation was made in the early ’seventies it had an ageless quality and was repeated on television at Christmas time year after year, between Rock Hudson and Doris Day. I was once handed a copy of the TV billings in the Radio Times. On one page I was credited as producing a documentary for teachers that I’d just spent six months pouring myself into. Above it was a huge colour picture of myself as a gawky looking child, described as the star of Swallows and Amazons. My life travelling in circles. Our Head of Department caught me in the lift. ‘Do you think I could have a VHS tape of your programme?’
‘Oh, yes,’ I said, thrilled that he was interested in my series. ‘But I haven’t finished dubbing the music yet. Do you mind having a copy with the timecode on?’
‘Ah, er. No. It was actually a copy of Swallows and Amazons that I wanted; my sons are longing to see it.’ And off he rushed.

My father tipped his boat off the trailer and we motored over to Peel Island where we’d made the film. Wild Cat Island. It was slightly less over-grown but had hardly changed in the eighteen years since I’d last been there. It still had just the one old fireplace where I’d cooked potato cakes with Virginia McKenna and talked about very savage savages. Arthur Ransome had us call self-important men in open necked shirts ‘natives’ then, so I suppose it’s not surprising that Granny, who was a real child in the1920s, still does.
I walked down to the secret harbour where I captured the Amazon, up to the oak tree that I climbed ‘for fear of ravenous beasts’ and on to the place where we had gutted fish. It’s a wonderful island. I’d love my children to be able to go and camp there. Not that I did in reality, I was only ever there with an eighty-strong film crew. I’d worked hard, even then as a child. It was often cold and we would have to hang around for what seemed like hours, waiting for lights to be set or clouds to pass. As I walked out over the same rocks I began to feel the emptiness of not having enough to do. Strangely enough, filming is an incredibly boring occupation for children who find it difficult to endure the hanging around. It’s a restrictive discipline; I hadn’t been allowed to go off exploring or even walk around the headland then. Now I don’t have the stamina.

Sten Grendon, Simon West, Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville in 'Swallows & Amazons' directed by Claude Whatham  ~ photo: Daphne Neville

It was only after others read this section of Funnily Enough, and much urging from various members of The Arthur Ransome Society, that I was finally persuaded to convert the diaries kept in 1973, when I played Titty, into another book. It is now out in paperback - quite a fat one at that. StudioCanal, who own the film rights, graciously allowed me to reproduce a number of official stills from the movie and have released a restored version on Blu-ray and DVD with a fabulous extras package. My book is also illustrated with call sheets, old letters, snap shots my parents took on location and three maps that I have drawn to show where you can find the locations next time you are in the Lake District.

The Making of Swallows & Amazons(1974)' is now available from Amazon and all good bookshops
the ebook is out under the title 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)

Friday, 27 June 2014

Appearing in 'Cider with Rosie' by Laurie Lee back in 1971

We were driving home when the car radio came on - by itself, which was rather surprising.  I thought it was a traffic alert but the BBC was playing Carly Simon singing You're so vain, bet you think this song is about you. My husband changed the channel to listen to the 8 O'clock News but I changed it back as I rather like singing along to, I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee. 

When the song ended I found we were listening to the Mark Forrest Evening Show. He was talking about Laurie Lee, the British author and poet born in Gloucestershire 100 years ago. I couldn't believe what I was hearing: it was not exactly about me but described a scene I'd been involved in forty-three years ago.

Sophie Neville, aged 10, outside Slad Village School in 1971

A chap called Dave had rung in from Milton Keynes to say that he had been in the BBC play 'Cider with Rose' directed by Claude Whatham back in 1971, when Rosemary Leach played Mrs Lee. It was filmed on location at Slad, the village where Laurie Lee grew up near Stroud in the Cotswolds. Although his character was not given a name he played a big boy at the village school who was slapped around the face by his teacher. He didn't mind because the director slipped him 50p 'Danger Money' after each take, but she drew blood. Later he was seen in the school playground being given an offer he couldn't refuse by a buxom girl who took him behind the bike sheds.

When we reached home, a few minutes later, I rushed inside and rang up the BBC.

'I was there, in that classroom!' I explained. 'I played the little girl called Eileen Brown who was sitting at the desk next to Laurie Lee.' The producer checked the International Movie Data Base, rang me back and put me on the air.

'I gather you were in Cider with Rosie with Dave,' Mark Forrest said. 'Were you in scene when he was slapped?'

'Yes! I was in the playground scene too!'

I explained that I had been cast in the part of Eileen Brown because I could play the piano. Later in the story Laurie Lee played his violin at the parochial village tea. I accompanied him, tripping over the complicated cords.

The author Laurie Lee, who was around at the time, explained that he quite fell for Eileen as they walked off stage. 'She was the first girl I fell in love with.'

Sophie Neville playing Eileen Brown and Philip Hawkes as Laurie Lee in 'Cider with Rosie' (1971)

'What song did you play?' Mark asked.

'It was Oh, Danny Boy, the tune that always made Mrs Lee cry.'

I told him that Dave had been terribly brave because the small lady who had the role of the teacher really slapped him very hard. 'In the book, as well as in the BBC play, the boy simply picked the teacher up, put her on the window sill and walked out.' Claude Whatham who was directing the drama didn't tell us children what was going to happen. We were genuinely shocked. It was quite violent.

 Eileen Brown with Claude Whatham on location for 'Cider with Rosie' in 1972
In Slad with director Claude Whatham

What made this all the more poignant was that we were sitting in the real school that Laurie Lee went to as a child. It was a true story. I read the book again recently. The boy Dave played walked off and never to returned to school again.

Claude Whatham ended up receiving a BAFTA nomination for Cider with Rosie, which was widely regarded as an avant garde, ground-breaking drama. Two years later he cast Sten Gredon, who played Little Laurie Lee, as Roger Walker in the Theatre Projects/EMI movie 'Swallows & Amazons'. He chose me to play Titty, his elder sister. The film score was composed by Wilfred Josephs who also wrote the theme music for Cider with Rosie (1971), which you can listen to here:

Wilfred Joseph's music for 'Cider with Rosie'

The actors John Frankly-Robbins and Mike Pratt also appeared in both dramas. I later worked with Rosemary Leach and met up with the set designer Michael Howells who had a small part as one of Laurie Lee's elder brothers.

The version that Dave and I appeared in was special in that Laurie Lee was in it, as himself - right at the end.

Why our car radio came on when it did, I do not know but listening to Dave speak about Claude Whatham was extraordinary, a piece of my own history. It seemed apt that we had just returned from The Chalke Valley History Festival. I am hoping to give a talk there next year on growing up in the 1920s and 1930s - which is exactly what Laurie Lee did.

You can read more about Claude Whatham and 'Cider with Rosie' (1971) in 'The Making of Swallows & Amazons' please click here and find a free sample of the first chapters.

For the Laurie Lee official centenary website, please click here

For 'Cider with Rosie' (1971) on VHS please click here
To order the DVD please click here

To read about the real Rosie, as profiled in Cotswold Life magazine please click here

To listen to the Thursday Mark Forrest Evening Show - slide the cursor to 02:12:20  please click here
I start speaking about Swallows & Amazons at 02:14:20
Dave is on before the News at 01:53:00

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Working with Patsy Byrne and a Whoopee Cushion

Patsy Bryne starring in 'Thinkabout Science'

We have just received the very sad news that the actress Patsy Byrne has died, aged 80. I have been looking through my photograph album, remembering what fun we had on location. 

Sophie Neville on location with John Satlhouse, Patsy Bryne and Samantha Hammond

Patsy Byrne starred as Nan in a ten-part BBC comedy drama called 'Thinkabout Science'. I directed five episodes, one of which was all about wind. Always a good sport and up for anything, Patsy valiantly took part in a scene which involved a whoopee cushion - the kind that makes a farting noise when you sit on it.

Patsy Bryne with her Whopee cushion

Things did not go as we expected. When Patsy sat on the whoopee cushion it burst. Burst with a loud BANG! As soon as I said, 'Cut!' Patsy threw back her head and roared with laughter. Luckly we manged to capture this scene on the first take with two cameras, because we didn't have another whoopee cushion. I had to add the rude sound afterwards in the sound studio.

When I knew Patsy, she was already famous for playing Nursie in Blackadder and bought comedy with her at every step. Beyond the laughter, I will remember her for being quick witted and kind, a real trooper and a great member of the team.

And she loved wearing purple.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Mum appearing in 'The Invisible Woman'

Mum appears at the beginning of this trailer for The Invisible Woman, directed by Ralph Fiennes.

'Truly, Mr Dickens,' she assures him. 'It is never so alive as when it is spoken by its author.'

The hectic scene was shot on location at Harrow School where her grandson was a pupil. Her wig was originally made for Judy Dench and she rather liked the bonnet.

'Have you seen the film, Mum?'
'Seen the film? I was invited to the premier!'

They had cast party on a barge going down the Thames - and I could have gone!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mum as a Model

Daphne Neville appearing as a Dinner Lady on the bill boards of Birmingham

Modelling or working as a model, sounds synonymous with glitz and glamour. My mother doesn't care if this is not, exactly, the case.

Daphne Neville in a campaign for coping with Altzheimers

It has ever been thus. No one can constrain her. She flew to the Netherlands to appear in this advertisement:

Daphne Neville in a Dutch advert for Blue Band Margorine

Mum loves being in front of the camera and loves being paid for it.Here she is appearing as a cross person in the magazine Take a Break:

Daphne Neville in Take-a-Break magazine

This was a commercial for Estrella Crisps. She looks dangerous.

Daphne Neville in a commercial for crisps

At one time she kept popping up as a psalmist on a TV advert. Did you ever see it?

Daphne Neville in a TV Commercial

I do like this photo taken on a shoot advertising a new kind of Mars Bar. It's the one that rings true as honest and natural.

Daphne Neville in a TV commercial for Mars Bars

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mum on German television

Daphne Neville (left) appearing as Emma in 'Die Rose von Kerrymore'
Angela Howard-Bent, CEO of Dashwood Film Productions, became well known for her enthusiasm to adapt Rosamunde Pilcher's bestselling romantic novels. In the year 2000 she co-produced The Rose of Kerrymore as a dual language production with German television. To the delight of the cast and crew this was shot on location in Dorset, featuring some of the most beautiful scenery in England .

My mother played Emma the housekeeper, enjoying the opportunity to see around the historic churches and interesting country estate where the story was set. She was the only member of the cast who was not German.

Matthias Zahlbaum, (above) known for Drunter und Druber, Das Schlob meins Vaters and Zwei Manner am Herd played Dr Tom Winter. Jenny Jurgens played Sally, the girl who fell in love with him, while Dietmar Schonherr had the role of grumpy old Lord Kerrymore. Mum was thrilled to be acting as his housekeeper.

When the series was broadcast in 2001, Matthias Zahlbaum wrote enthusiastically from Hamburg, saying that 6 million people had watched the ninety minute drama. He was very pleased with the viewing figures. We rang to congratulate Angela Howard-Bent, who had worked so hard on the project.

a notes from Matthias Zahbaum

While Die Rose von Kerrymore was directed by Axel de Roche, who only had time to direct one further episode, the screenplay was written by Marlies Ewald, who went on to adapt many more well-loved Rosamunde Pilcher novels for the screen. It proved a hugely successful series, running for years. ZDF produced more than 100 of her stories for German television viewers.

Distributed by ZDF Enterprises, Die Rose von Kerrymore was a co-production with Steamship Films, FFP Media Entertainment, Zweiters Deutsches Fernsehen, Osterreichischer Rundfunk, MediaTrade, Videx International and Mainostelvisio (MTV3)

Daphne Neville is a leading character in Funnily Enough, the true story, recently serialised in eleven issues of iBelieve magazine.