A new magazine for sailors

Classic Sailor cover

I’ve just had an article published in a fabulous new magazine for all those who love classic boats and traditional craft. The balotina Nicoletta, a ceremonial gondola, pictured below, must be one of the most elegant on the River Thames.

Classic Sailor magazine

I am rowing at No 4 in this photograph of the Drapers’ shallop Royal Thamesis taken by Peter King. the shots of the Gloriana are my own:

Classic Sailor magazine p.33

There is lots more to read in the magazine including a story from Roger Barnes about taking his dinghy to a sail-and-oar challenge in France, as well as news of Thames barges on the east coast.

Sophie Neville with the flotilla

Classic Sailor are eager to hear from readers about what kind of articles they’d like included. If anyone can send me a book review or perhaps a piece on sailing films, I could forward it to the editor.

Old Father Thames on the stern of the Drapers Shallop

To read more about the event and see wonderful photographs, please click here


Comments from readers are flooding in:

‘I really enjoyed your article and photos.’ Richard
‘This is a really nice article you have written – well done!  It is a fitting tribute to such a memorable day…’ Edwina
‘..where were the BBC TV on the day?’ Juliet
‘Standing rowing is, for me, the best way to travel in the canals and rivers of Britain. Out at sea in the waves, clearly, sitting rowing has a place. But I like seeing where I’m going.’ Peter
‘..is (the gondola) from the Tudor/16th Cent period or earlier? Kenny
‘ excellent article… the “sandalo in the background” is my sandalo Piero with its crew of Tony Meadows, three delightful ladies from Venice and yours truly.  One of my prouder moments although I have never concentrated so hard in my effort to keep in formation. Fortunately Tim Williams kept Nicoletta on an impeccable course making it easier for the rest of us.’ John Sykes
City Barge - Maltese boat

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Filed under Autobiography, boating, Sophie Neville, truelife story

Were there any disasters? and other questions asked about making the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1974

On Saturday 26th September at 3.00pm the original film of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was screened at the Riverside cinema in Woodbridge, Suffolk as part of their celebration of ‘100 Years of Film’.

I was on stage to answer questions about how we made the film after the screening.  Swallow, the dinghy we used on the movie was rigged up outside the cinema and admired by many.

Q&A title on screen

Back in April, I was invited to a similar screening of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) also held to raise funds for the up-keep of Arthur Ransome’s yacht Nancy Blackett. As the film ended I was invited up on stage to answer questions about how it was made. Marc Grimston sent a list of these, so I could answer them here for those unable to get cinema seats.

As a child were you like Titty? In 1973, I was aged twelve and at five-foot two, was really too old and too tall for the role of Titty but it was easy enough to pretend to be nine years old. I was on-screen a great deal so it probably a good thing that I was old enough to cope with long filming days. I thought I was much more like Mate Susan but perhaps that made it easier for me to play Titty.

How many tried for the role of Titty? About 1,800 children originally auditioned for the six parts in ‘Swallows & Amazons’. Claude Whatham, the director, wrote inviting me to an interview. In the end there were five girls up for the part of Titty. You can read more about the final audition here.

Q&A at Cinema Screening

Sophie Neville on stage with Peter Willis, President of the Nancy Blackett Trust

Had you read the books before? I had read most of the books in the series and loved them, so it was very easy to take on the part. We never had to sit down and learn lines because we knew what to say from reading the book.

Q&A to packed house

Sophie Neville  taking about Swallows & Amazons

Were they any disasters during filming? Swallow’s mast broke!

How did you stay safe with the snake? It was a real adder, but quite a tame one. I think they lowered its metabolism by keeping it cool.

How did they make the lion noises? It was a recording of a real lion.

How did you capture their boat? In one take!

How did they film the night scenes? We shot many of them inside Mrs Batty’s barn.

Q&A ar Riverside Screening

Sophie Neville with Swallow’s flag

When you filmed the approach to the houseboat it seamed as if Amazon was coming in fast, was she? Yes, she hit it quite hard!

How long did it take to film? Forty five days! We were up in the Lake District for about seven weeks.

Do you still have the parrot? I don’t. The green parrot belonged to Mrs Proctor of Kendal where the residents were terrified of him.

What happened to Amazon? She is owned by a family living in Kent who love sailing her in the lakes. She was the same Amazon as used in the BBC serial of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ made in 1962, when Susan George played Titty.

Have you been back to the island? Yes! I last returned with Nick Barton who is planning a new film adaptation of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

Are there adaptations of any other Swallows and Amazon books? Yes, in 1983 I was able to work on the BBC serialisation of ‘Coot Club and The Big Six’, starring Rosemary Leach, Colin Baker, Henry Dimbleby and Julian Fellowes as one of the Hullabaloos. It was my job to cast the children and look after them during the three weeks we spent on location, which was great fun.

Q&A at Woodbridge Screening

Click here for further details: Riverside Cinema in Woodbridge


Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, David Wood, Emi film, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie disasters, Movie stories, questions about filmmaking, Richard Pilbrow, sailing film, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Vintage Film, Virginia McKenna, Zanna Hamilton

Recent comments on ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’

‘I bought a signed copy of The Making of Swallows & Amazons and have just finished reading it. It’s a lovely, flowing read and I loved all the interesting details, especially chapters 12 to 18 in the later half of the book… I shall treasure it.’ Nigel

Blu-ray fishing scene

‘I am thoroughly enjoying reading your diary entries and hearing how life was on set etc… All the things I have always wanted to know about the film are in the book! I do hope you have lovely memories of all the locations you filmed at, especially Bank Ground Farm. Jonathan, who now owns the place and does all the farming has made my family and I very welcome indeed! (only) we can not tack up the field as they are growing it for Silage!!!! Thank you for inspiring my family and I so much! Yours sincerely, Benjamin’ (aged 10) ‘P.S. We’re off to Wild Cat Island tomorrow!’

Blu-ray Lookout tree

Simon West as Captain John by the lighthouse tree

‘All of your recollections are insightful and tinged with humour (as always). In particular the story about Mrs Batty locking out the film crew and all the Cumbrian characters that were involved in the film. I didn’t know George Pattinson appeared in the Rio scene either, and I can just imagine the giggles you must have had when watching the double-deckers playing footsie with one another!’ David.

Blu-ray Amazon Pirates

Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour as the Amazons stranded on Wild Cat Island

‘Good little book full of information and funny tales.’ Jennifer

‘This book has rekindled my interest and memories from the 70’s when I first saw the film and read all the books, so well written and very entertaining, in some ways it ll seems a long time ago but this book makes it seem like yesterday! Thoroughly recommended.’ Richard on Amazon.co.uk

‘Loved your book about filming Swallows & Amazons – my favourite childhood film, very nostalgic.’ Nicola

‘Just wanted to say how much I am enjoying The Making of Swallows & Amazons. What a wonderful time you all had… I have all the books & love the film & TV series Coot Club and The Big Six, so it’s fab to read about them.’

Blu-ray John rowing swallow

Sten Grendon, Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton in Swallow

If you would like to write a short book review, please click here for the link.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, British Film, Cumbria, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film History, filmography, Memoir, Sophie Neville

My friend Dr Bill Frankland

Dr Bill Frankland and Sophie Neville

Dr Bill Frankland with Sophie Neville at Drapers Hall

Once Alexander Fleming’s clinical assistant and Registrar, Dr Bill Frankland still works as an allergist at the age of 103, ‘I have my first patient at 9.00am tomorrow morning.’ His recent MBE is apparently a good sign that he has many good works still to perform. You may have seen him on television today.

Dr Frankland and I are both Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Drapers, so find ourselves seated together in all sorts of places from St Paul’s cathedral to a bus going to Romford. Always chatty and full of enthusiasm, Bill is a source of endless interesting stories and has become the historical adviser on my next book, ‘Makorongo’s War’. He gave me detailed insights on WWII, when he served as a medical officer in the Far East, becoming a PoW to the Japanese. To my astonishment I found myself noting down the actual dialogue used in prison camps. He could remember the exact words used by the Japanese. I was not be surprised to see he’d been invited to the premiere of The Railway Man’, the movie of Eric Lomax’s wartime experience starring Colin firth and Nicole Kidman. He has been attending the 70th Anniversary VJ Day memorial at Horse Guards Parade with other British and Commonwealth veterans.

Bill grew up in the Lake District. He was a good friend of Roger Altounyan and knew his sister Titty. Along with their other three siblings, they had been models for the Walker family in Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons’. He worked with Roger on the development of the Intal spin-inhaler to relieve asthmatic symptoms.

Sophie Suzanna and Sten

Bill is still amused by the fact that I played the part of Titty in the feature film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ when I was twelve, delighted that I was able to introduce him to Nick Barton, the producer of the new film adaptation.

Sophie Neville in the tent at night

Bill lives and works central London, employing a PA to help him cope with his workload and plan his overseas travel. He lost his wife to cancer some time ago but has his family ever around him. He told me that his doctor insists that he walks a mile a day but it is quite an experience to accompany him along the crowded London streets as on turning 99 he began to use a walking stick which is twirled in all directions.

Click here for a to listen to Bill give an account of his life on Desert Island Discs

Here is a clip of Dr Frankland appearing on ‘The One Show’ a few years ago (he’s on after Andrew Lloyd Weber):


Filed under Biography, Christian, truelife story

The facts behind the concept of a ‘Swallows & Amazons’ childhood

What strikes me about Arthur Ransome’s whole series of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books is that they are set almost exclusively outside in the open – or afloat. When we made the film in 1973 it rained so much in the Lake District that the producer must have longed for the existence of a few more interior scenes. As it was, the longest one ended up on the cutting-room floor. Is this because the essence and appeal of the stories is that they occur beyond the confines of domestic realms?

Blu-ray reading telgram

‘If not duffers, won’t drown.’ Simon West, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

When I appeared on Channel 5 last year I learnt the most depressing facts about the decline in the amount of time children spend outdoors. Recent research shows that children tend to stay indoors, watching television, playing computer games or even spend time doing homework, rather than go out to play. Kids today play outside for less than five hours a day at weekends and only for an hour or so during the week, which is half the time their parents spent outdoors, whatever the weather. You’d have thought they must have had higher levels of vitamin D. Apparently only 21% children today play outside near their homes, as compared to 71% of their own parents when they were young.

Blu-ray Swallow's stern


  • 44 % of parents wish their children played outdoors more often.
  • 54 % seriously worry their child doesn’t spend enough time playing outdoors.
  • But 43 % of parents admitted they rely on school to ensure their children are getting plenty of time outdoors through PE and play times, and spend very little outdoor time with their children themselves.
  • One study found that eight in ten parents said their favourite activities as children involved being outdoors. But only half their children lead the same active life.

Apparently parents have forgotten how to play with their kids. While nine of ten parents recognise that it is vital for children to use their imaginations, 16 per cent of parents say they have no idea how to make up stories or create imaginative play. What would Titty say?

Blu-ray X marks the spot

‘X marks the spot where they ate six missionaries!’ Simon West, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Sten Grendon on Peel Island in the English Lake District.

So what’s changed?

  • 32% of parents quote safety fears as the reason their children didn’t play out more often.
  • 19% said it was due to a lack of time.
  • 16% said their children would rather do other things.
  • 53% of parents were reluctance to letting children out of their sight on the danger posed by traffic
  • 40% feared their child would be snatched by a stranger.
  • Over 25% worry their neighbours would disapprove if their children played outdoors unsupervised.

 Blu-ray gutting fish

The Arthur Ransome Society have organised a number of activities for families this summer, including a camp at Cobnor Point on Chichester Harbour from Friday 14th August to Sunday 16th August. The idea is that you bring your own tent, food, drink and a boat if you have one but the cost is very low at £20 for adults and £10 for children. Activities include nature walks, archery, games, signalling and water divinging with sailing when the weather permits. The cost includes a barbeque on the Saturday evening. Please click here for details.

If you missed Dan Damon’s programme on BBC Radio 4, when I spoke on the appeal of a Swallows and Amazons childhood, you can listen to the full recording on BBC World Update by clicking here.


Filed under adventure, Arthur Ransome, British Film, Cumbria, Family Life, Lake District, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, titty

Do you have any questions about the making of ‘Swallows & Amazons’

“They’re pirates!” Sophie Neville as Titty

The Telegraph listed ‘Swallows & Amazons’ as Film of the Week when it was broadcast on ITV3 in the UK recently. It was also shown on GEM television in Australia last Friday. Sophie has been answering questions about making the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ at the Curious Arts Festival. If you have one, please use the comments box below.

On 26th July Sophie Neville, spoke to Dan Damon on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday morning programme ‘Broadcasting House’ about the enduring success of the film. To read more, please click here.

Sophie Neville shaking cocktails

Sophie Neville at the Curious Arts Festival


Filed under 1973, Acting, adventure, Arthur Ransome, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Dinghy sailing, Emi film, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film Cast, Lake District, Movie, questions about filmmaking, Richard Pilbrow, sailing film, Swallows and Amazons, titty, Vintage Film, Virginia McKenna

Can you remember ‘Swallows & Amazons’ coming out in the cinema?

Swallows and Amazons at the Belfast Film Festival

‘Swallows & Amazons’ at the Belfast Film Festival ~ photo by Debbie Davidson who said, ‘We had a fab day watching the movie, reliving our childhood.’

The film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) is broadcast today, Sunday 12th July, on ITV 3 at 3.45, repeated on ITV+1 at 6.00pm.
It was screened at the Belfast Film Festival last weekend. Curiously, the ‘Terms and Conditions of Entry’ specified:
This was quite funny since, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is about children cooking on campfires, eating canned bully beef or ‘pemmican’ while swigging ‘grog’ out of bottles, as far as possible form adult supervision. However, the movie was actually shown outside last Saturday – on a huge screen under the trees opposite Belfast City Hall. ‘THIS OUTDOOR EVENT’, they declared, ‘WILL HAPPEN REGARDLESS OF WEATHER CONDITIONS’. Since the story is about camping this did seem apt but as you can see from the photograph above, it was an idyllic sunny summer’s day.
Ronald Fraser walking the plank

Ronald Fraser walking the plank in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

‘How lovely…we love seeing this wonderful film.’ Gerry Spiller, Suffolk’

My Mother took me to see the film when it was first released, it was in a double bill with ‘Born Free’, which also had Virginia McKenna in. In those days you could just sit in the cinema and see the film again if you wanted to. We did.’  Jon Ford

‘Ok, a confession. When I was twelve I was a spoilt little bratt. My parents had decided to take my brothers and I out for a surprise. I refused to go until I was told what it was as I hated surprises. My parents wouldn’t tell me so I very nearly didn’t go. I went only after being told by my big brother that if I didn’t he would hit me. The surprise? A trip to the cinema to see Swallows and Amazons! ‘ Marc Grimston, Author

‘Can’t believe how long ago it was. I remember going to see the film at the Aylesbury Odeon and loving it.’ Kate Pearson

‘… the first film I saw in a cinema, Swallows & Amazons, ABC Colchester April 1974. Cinema now a pub.’ Fabian Breckels on Twitter

It was on at the local cinema. My son was too young to go so I offered to take a neighbour’s child on condition that the neighbour’s older child baby-sat for me.’ Janet Mearns

‘One of my all time favorite films. Watched it just the other day in fact. I never seem tire of it. Especially after a trip to the Lakes.’ John Heath

Nancy and Peggy on Wild Cat Island

Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour as the Amazons when filming in 1973

‘I don’t know why we missed it when it was first shown (I was six at the time)…  it came back to the cinema for another showing a few years later and the place was almost empty, so it felt as if they’d put it on specially for us.’ David Cooper

Rather like David, missed it as a child. Which makes me rather sad in retrospect. Had no idea it existed until I discovered it through ‘Google’! a few years ago. I now have two copies of it on DVD.’ Paul Thomas

‘I was 11 when the film came out and I was already a huge S&A fan. I loved the film and you, well Titty really, she became my first ever crush. Thank you for the excellent portrayal of Titty. Thanks also on behalf of my own daughters who also fell in love with the film, probably due to my regular screenings!’ Mike Embleton

swa_co_tra_ 008

Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville on Derwentwater in 1973

‘I finally got to see it while we stayed at Bank Ground Farm our first visit to England. Loved it, cried over it, was delighted to finally see it after many years of sharing a love of Swallows & Amazons books with my mother, my sisters & my children! Mrs. Batty kindly put it on for us to watch in the farmhouse living room.’ Elizabeth Rondthaler Jolley, USA

It was two years ago in my 36th year. I found it somewhere on internet after I have read the first (book) to my son. And then we watched together. It was perfect. In Czech republic where I live, Ransome was in my childhood one of the most favorite authors.’ Jiri Precek, Romania

‘In June 1973 I was 9 months into my 3 year teacher training course at Didsbury Teacher Training College…
It was not for many years – probably 15 that I contacted Cape for info about locations – still have the reply !!’
Martin Robinson

John and his Flagship with Nancy and Peggy

Sten Grendon, Simon West, Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett on Peel Island 1973

‘I was 9 in 1974 and saw the film about four times that summer (I think it was shown with Born Free as a double feature) and I had a huge crush on Lesley Bennett! (Where is she now?) I read all the books several times over during the 70’s . Reading your memories made me re-read the book and watch the film for the first time since the 70’s and I have to say the film holds up very well!’ Richard Meads, Worthing, West Sussex

The DVD reviewer Stuart McLean writes: ‘The cast were pretty much the same age as me in 1973 (when it was filmed) and I remember enjoying this tremendously when it came out in 1974, forty years ago. Back then, the idea that four school-kids could take off in a boat for days at a time with no life-jackets seemed perfectly plausible. These days it would be cause for 24 hour rolling news reports.’ Please click here to read on.

Simon Hodkin kindly sent these scans of the cinema programme when he first went to see  Swallows & Amazons in Wales some forty years ago. He kept a scrapbook full of souvenirs, including a letter from Arthur Ransome.

Simon Hodkin's collection. 4

Simon Hodkin's collection. 6

Can you remember the first time you saw the film?  Please add to the Comments box.

To watch a filmbeat interview about making the film please click here



Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Film production, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Vintage Film, Zanna Hamilton