The 45th Anniversary of the release of the original “Swallows and Amazons” film was last Thursday (4th April). Sophie Neville, who played Titty Walker in the film, recalls the adventure of attending the premiere in London…
The Premiere of Richard Pilbrow’s movie “Swallows and Amazons” was held at the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue on 4th April 1974. Can you imagine the shock of finding a picture of myself on the cinema tickets when they arrived in the post?
I didn’t know what to wear. I wished that we’d been able to put on our costumes but it was clear I had to find an appropriate dress. Sadly I had grown out of the one we bought in Carnaby Street.
Nowadays one would be inundated by offers of designer dresses to model on the red carpet. As it was, my mother bought me green pinafore dress that I agreed would work for an afternoon event. I was not so happy about wearing ballet shoes. Please note these were real ballet shoes and I was now thirteen. I would have preferred court shoes with buckles. Ironically these zoomed out of fashion whilst ballet shoes have been loved by all ever since. My bobbed hair had grown out but Mummy put it in Carmen rollers. I am not sure the result was that successful but I liked it at the time.
My sisters were terribly brave and wore velvet with their ballet shoes. The dress from Carnaby Street was slightly large for Perry but she coped. At least it was fashionable. Mum bought a blue outfit for herself that was deemed the height of fashion. When I arrived in London I found Suzanna had found a Laura Ashley pinafore whilst the Amazons had both got away with wearing trousers. They looked far more sophisticated.
There was an awful lot of fuss about who should or could come and who couldn’t. Mum had insisted on bringing, not friends of mine, but two of the nuns from my school.
So I went off to my first premiere with my head mistress, Sister Ann-Julian and my house mistress, Sister Allyne. Not very cool in a thirteen year old’s world. The Exorcist was out at the same time. They made no comment.
In fact Sister Allyne proved the very best person to take. She was a performer herself. I am pretty sure she had been Australia’s foremost flautist. She must have understood the turmoil in my little head and was undoubtedly praying for me. I would not be surprise to learn that spiritual protection was granted by her presence alone. She would have been an exorcist in her own right – a real one. Perry remembers that she had been sick in the taxi. It think this was because she didn’t travel much.
Claude Whatham defied any plans my mother might have made by taking the six of us, and only the six of us, out to lunch at a wonderful bistro where we able to order beef-burgers, relax and enjoy ourselves.
There was no red carpet when we arrived at the cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue, but rather smart programmes were sold, one of which I still have. Until that point I had no idea that it was to be a Royal Gala held in aid of charity.
I was suddenly acutely aware of how I came across on the big screen. As the film was shown I groaned inwardly. It was like seeing endless photographs of oneself which were not exactly glamorous. I cringed. All Sister Allyne said was how much she enjoyed seeing the owl – a natural history shot that was added after all our hard work and effort on the drama.
My mother was terribly impressed by the special guests. Princess Helena Moutafian was present with Earl Compton, chairman of the charity KIDS. I’m afraid I don’t remember meeting them, but was interested to hear that she later became patron of the Young ME Sufferers Trust.
We walked down onto the stage with Ronnie Fraser to be presented to the audience. Sadly Virginia McKenna could not be there, although she sent her eldest children – Will and Louise Travers.Bobby Moore, who’d played for England came with his family, as did Mrs Spike Milligan. The Hollywood star Patricia Neal, who won an Oscar for her leading role in the Paul Newman film “Hud” and appeared in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, brought her sweet little girls. Julie Ege was a lovely Norwegian actress who appeared as Voluptua in “Up Pompeii”with Frankie Howard. I think Richard Pilbrow might have known her as he had produced the West End version. She was known as a Bond Girl since she’d appeared in“On her Majesty’s Secret Service” with Diana Rigg, when George Lazenby played Bond and Telly Savalas was Blofeld. We didn’t know any of this, but I think having a Bond Girl at your premiere was quite the thing.
I have a few precious posters of the film. The colour poster, which hung in the London Underground, is still on the cover of some of the DVD’s. I always quite liked the design, except for the rather jarring colour of my blouse, which for some reason is pink. Far more attractive were the huge sepia posters hung outside cinemas. They were very special. I still have one but it’s enormous and I am unsure what to do with it.
What the papers had to say about the film was a different matter. The first time we saw “Swallows and Amazons” was not at the film premiere. but at the ‘Preview’. This was held at a viewing theatre in London to which I assume journalists were invited. I only wish they’d been asked to bring their children. The cast was re-united, meeting up with various members of the production team, to see the film for the very first time.
We were utterly amazed at how sunny everything looked. Denis Lewiston’s insistence that we should wait for clouds to pass, while we shivered, had paid off. It was wonderful to see how the film had been put together. We had not known that Claude would add shots of wildlife, which add so much to the movie. I loved the scene he included of cattle standing in the still lake at dawn.