Hoots from the Archive - Norman Swallow: "Yours, Leni (et Marcel)"

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 27 Jun 2024

Modified by Rachel Kneale on 04 Jul 2024

swallow with nehru

This blogpost is a follow-up to a post originally sent out on November 25th 2021, which presented an overview of the school archive's collection of items relating to the late, acclaimed OM, television producer and BAFTA winner Norman Swallow. Since that post was written, the archive has now acquired a further donation of even more intriguing material, demonstrating Swallow's apparent knack of cultivating friends in high places, appearing Zelig-like in photographs with the likes of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (see featured image above - Swallow to the right of Nehru, far left) and receiving warm, personal correspondence from such diverse luminaries as Leni Riefenstahl, Marcel Marceau and Daniel Day-Lewis (who wrote to Swallow in 1994 to discuss the actor's recent appearance in the controversial film In the Name of the Father), not to mention his connection with the great Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein, made through his mutual friend and collaborator Grigori Alexandrov, as covered more fully in the earlier post. Adding to the earlier batch of Eisenstein-related material, the archive now holds two extraordinary early photographs of the director with Alexandrov, shown below: one picturing the two men shooting the film October on the roof of Leningrad's Winter Palace, while the second shows the two together working in Hollywood.

Leni Riefenstahl

Some of the items in the Norman Swallow collection demonstrate just how far from the expected 'everyday school life' quality the MGS Archive can take you. Take, for example, the items relating to Swallow's friendship with the legendary and controversial German film-maker and photographer Leni Riefenstahl, such as the photograph shown above, showing Riefenstahl with the Nuba people of Sudan in 1963, one of many which would be used in her well-known 1973 documentary book known in English as The Last of the Nuba.

There are also a couple of images in this collection which document the making of Riefenstahl's controversial, fascistic 1938 film of the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics, Olympia, one of which shows the film-maker in action, directing her photographer (below). Additionally, there is a brochure for a special screening of the same film at the 1959 Venice Biennale, the front cover of which is shown below.

During the late 1960s, Riefenstahl also sent several postcards to Swallow, signed, with personal messages, featuring images of the photographer herself on the front, often from her younger days, such as the two pictured below:

Marcel Marceau

The famous French mime-artist Marcel Marceau was another legend who appeared to be on first-name terms with Swallow, at least close enough to send regular self-designed, hand-written Christmas cards to him and his wife, Madeline, such as the following two delightful examples from the collection, sent in 1973 and 1974:

Taken as a whole, this fascinating collection of Norman Swallow-related items, generously donated to MGS Archives, now adds up to some of the most wide-ranging, socially and culturally significant material which the archive is privileged to hold, with the multi-faceted nature of the collection reflecting the clearly personable, generous character of Swallow himself.

Otto Smart


Michael John Antrobus

1 Like Posted 25 days ago

How fascinating.

John Harrop

1 Like Posted 22 days ago

The 1936 Olympic Games were held in Berlin, not Munich.

Rachel Kneale

0 Likes Posted 19 days ago

Thanks John, we'll make sure that's amended

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