Whistle Down the Wind book conjures magic of classic film

Classic British film "Whistle Down the Wind", which was filmed in and around the Ribble Valley village of Downham, is the subject of an evocative new book.

Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 4:06 pm
Some of the original 'children'. PIC: Neil Taggart
Some of the original 'children'. PIC: Neil Taggart

Meticulously researched and four years in the making, Whistle Down the Wind: A 60th Anniversary Celebration, is the definitive account of the family favourite film, written by journalist turned teacher and author Neil Brandwood.

The book became a labour of love for Neil who tracked down the former child stars of the film, most of whom were local schoolchildren picked to play alongside the famous Hayley Mills, who have now shared their memories of the part they played in the making of a cult classic.

Neil’s book gives a fascinating insight into this much loved story; from its origin as a children’s novel, written by Hayley's mother Mary Hayley Bell, to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

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Author Neil Brandwood. PIC: Neil Taggart

But at its heart is the story of what it was like to be part of the magical film which, six decades later, continues to charm audiences the world over.

A small group of children, with no acting experience, and who knew little of life outside their remote and rural Lancashire village, were chosen by producer Richard Attenborough, and director Bryan Forbes, to co-star alongside the biggest child star on the planet, Hayley Mills.

Now pensioners, those ‘children’ reflect on the unique experience and take you behind the scenes in this wonderfully engaging read.

The result is a humorous, moving and detailed account of the making of Whistle Down the Wind, which centres around three local farm children who discover a bearded fugitive hiding in their barn, mistaking him for Jesus Christ.

Some of the original cast. PIC: Neil Taggart

Neil (52) said: "I first saw the film in the mid-1980s and it captured my imagination immediately. Later I became curious what happened to all those local children that became such a big part of the film.

"I think the film conjures a lot of nostalgia in people that see it and they have a lot of fondness for it. It's quite magical. The world is getting more cynical and jaded now and I think that world of innocence from 1961 is what people enjoy."

Tracking down the original child stars now scattered around the world saw Neil contacting their much older selves in far flung places such as Cyprus, Brittany and Lincolnshire.

Many, though, still live in and around Downham and joined Neil recently at St Leonard's Church in the village for a special exhibition to mark the release of the book

With contributions by such celebrity fans as Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ben Kingsley, and revelations from the personal archive of Richard Attenborough, this is an in-depth exploration of the film.

Written with the full support and blessing of Hayley Mills – who has written the foreword - and the family of Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes, this magical book will delights fans the world over.

Whistle Down the Wind: A 60th Anniversary Celebration is available as a paperback and ebook on Amazon. All profits will go to Marie Curie.