Suzanna’s diary ~ about filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

Suzanna Hamilton as Susan with Sophie Neville as Titty busy writing the ship’s log

Something very exciting happened last week. Suzanna Hamilton came to see me, bringing the photographs that she was given during the filming of Swallows and Amazons along with a bundle of papers. I immediately recognised the blue bound diary that she had kept.  Her God-given sense of humour fills the pages.

Although Titty was the one who always kept the ship’s log in Arthur Ransome’s stories, we children all kept journals during the filming as part of our school work. It was quite a task.

Suzanna Hamilton's Diary prior to the fiming of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Suzanna’s diary gives the story of making the film of Swallows and Amazons from the perspective of an actress, the actress she was then and ever more will be. Even before we began filming she was  getting as excited as Susan about grog and molasses, calling us by our charcter names as Claude Whatham suggested.

Suzanna Hamilton's Diary on the filming of 'Swallows and Amazons' 1973

Anna Scher ran the most wonderful children’s theatre club in Islington, which Zanna went to after school, along with Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson. I visited Anna Scher’s Theatre Club ten years later when I was casting children for the BBC drama serial of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’. Although I didn’t find anyone there who could sail I held Anna Scher in huge admiration and respect, using her exercises when I was auditioning kids in Norfolk. She did so much for the young people of east London, giving children confidence with self-discipline aquired during their drama lessons and workshops.

David Wood, who wrote the screenplay of Swallows and Amazons, was already well known as an actor. Mum was rather in awe of him since he had played Johnny in Z Cars and had starred the feature film ‘If…’   alongside Malcolm McDowell. He had been a storyteller on the BBC Childrens Television programme we all adored called Jackanory.  Suzanna had been involved in the same series when E.Nesbit’s ‘The Treasure Seekers’ had been read.  She had also appeared in ‘The Edwardians’  form the book by E.Nesbit directed by James Cellan Jones in 1972. By coincidence Pauline Quirke played Eliza in ‘The Story of the Treasure Seekers’ in 1982 and I worked with her a few years later on Rockliffe’s Babies. My mother appeared in a pantomine David Wood wrote called The Gingerbread Man when it was produced at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. She wore red with a pill-box hat as Miss Ginger.

Suzanna Hamilton's diary of filming 'Swallows and Amazons in 1973

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker camping on Peel Island, Coniston Water in Cumbria, the Lake District

27 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, adventure, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, e-publication, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Humor, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

27 responses to “Suzanna’s diary ~ about filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1973

  1. Jill goulder

    This is turning into an Aladdin’s cave! Thank you, Suzanna!

  2. Barry Riddiford

    More please, can’t get enough of these blogs (“,)

  3. Roger Wardale

    This is brilliant! Two views of the same fascinating story of the filming. I echo Jill’s ‘Thank you Suzanna!’ I wonder, do we have the story of the filming of Coot Club and The Big Six to look forward to?

  4. marcooni

    That water looked really cold.

  5. Roger Wardale

    As an aside — I was at school with David Wood, though he was several years behind. He first appeared in the Henry Hamilton adaption of “The Three Musketeers” in 1957. His part was so small that it did not rate a mention in the programme, but the external reviewer, writing in the school magazine, commented ” David Wood’s Planchett deserves special mention.”
    Later in his school career he received great help and encouragement from the head of drama, and it is said that it was he who arranged for DW to appear in small parts at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

  6. Serena

    I love your blog! I re-watched Swallows and Amazons a few days ago after many years and became re-obsessed! I stumbled across your webpage when googling “Swallows and Amazons film 1974” and I can’t get enough of it xD I can’t help thinking I’ve seen Kit Seymour in something more recent for some reason, has she acted in anything lately? Anyway, l loved you as Titty! 🙂

    • So good to hear from you. I don’t think Kit did act again – I’ll get to ‘What we did next’ when I finish the diary. Do let me know if you have any other questions about making the film. Where are you writing from?

  7. I was watching Ben Ainslie today win his gold medal and although the waters looked choppier it really took something to control his boat. I just wanted to ask did you have training to sail those boats in S&A?

  8. Arnie

    Hi Sophie ,
    Firstly, what a billiant site for an S&A fan.
    The whole film was well made and well acted , it creates and atmosphere
    of childhood holidays like no other.
    Throughout your writings you lavish lots of praise on Suzzana Hamiltons
    Acting abilities.
    I,m inclined to agree but still think that S&A was her at her best {not sure if
    she would agree} inspite of it being her first full film.
    I have watched other films of hers but of late she does,nt appear to be making films any more and I,m curious, has she retired or is she doing
    stage work instead?
    On a different tack, you mention bringing out your book “The secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons ” as a hardback book ,is this still going to happen and if so do you have a date for release yet.
    Finally the diaries ,both yours and Suzzana,s make fascinating reading ,
    It,s great to hear the story from now and 1973.
    Good luck for the future,
    Arnie.

    • Thank you for writing in, Arnie. I feel I must answer your question about the print version of the book in my next blog post as so many others need to know. Do you have the eBook?

      I saw Suzanna on Wednesday. I know that she currently reading an interesting movie script – it’s just so difficult for anyone to find the funding to produce films these days. She was the only one of us who went on to work as an adult actor and has done so well, making 13 movies and countless TV programmes. The rest of us were just playing.

      Do let me know if you have any questions about how the film was made that I have not covered.

      • Arnie

        Hi Sophie ,
        Look forward to your next blog re. the book.
        To answer your question , I don,t have the eBook , I,m a bit old school in
        that respect I measure a good book by how dog eared the cover gets
        rather than how often the battery on the Kindle goes flat , I like the feel of a
        book in my hand when I read it .
        It,s nice to hear that you and Suzzana are still in contact with each other ,
        please tell her that I,ll keep my fingers crossed for her re. that movie script.
        Re. S&A one thing I am interested in is that as children,Claude,s ” artistes”
        how much influence did you have over any given scene , i.e if you thought
        that a scene could work better if you did things a different way could you
        say ” why not do it like this” and have your veiws considered .
        Keep up the good work,
        Arnie.

        • I do understand about Kindle. My other books are in print.

          Simon and Kit actually advised Claude on how to achieve shots that involved boats out on the water. This was noticed by the journalist I quote in the scene when John goes to give the message to Captain Flint. My main area of influence was over the title graphics – as they took up my suggestion to use the lettering from Spurrier’s maps, and over something that came up in the dubbing studio. I am sure if we made small suggestions they were accepted or at least taken on board. We were encouraged to improvise and react to whatever happened, eg: when Susan accidentally burnt Roger’s knee with the frying pan!

          Do let me know if you have any other comments or suggestions for the print copy of the book, which we are working on.

        • You’ll find the blog post you inspired has been published!

          “The News is that The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons has been signed up by the publisher Classic TV Press who plan to bring out a new edition in paperback this July. It will include glossy photographs and additional points of interest. If you would like to order a signed copy please email: classictvpress@live.co.uk

  9. arnie

    Hi Sophie,
    I,m pleased to be able to tell you that my copies of “The secrets of filming
    Swallows and Amazons” have arrived.
    I ordered two copies, one signed by yourself and one unsigned which is already becoming dog eared { my measure of a good book }.
    It is interesting now watching the film on DVD and reading your comments
    on the various scenes , Your latest blog about the Spanish ladies shanty
    was a surprise as I know that song well from a Liverpool group called The
    Spinners and had,nt picked up on the start line being the wrong way around.
    As you have put in a lot of place names I am using Google maps to do a
    street level tour of S and A country , this may be the inspiration for next
    years holiday as I,ve not been to the Lakes for a number of years now.
    I,ll have to find a good camp site,though not Wild Cat Island {my Land
    Rover is good but not amphibious !!!}.
    My next question is more in hope than anticipation but here goes anyway.
    I got the second , signed ,copy of the book in the hope that I might be able
    to send it to you to get signed by the other Swallows i.e Simon,Suzanna
    and Sten. a bit like your signed copy of S and A but not as ambitious.
    If you are happy to try and arrange this I,ll be made up and will pay any
    postage costs to send the book around.
    I keep my fingers crossed on this one , please get back to me , Thank You.
    Going back to the book it is nice reading how as children you jelled so well
    with all the adults, it must have been interesting for you having two mothers
    on location for a while , Virginia sounds such a lovely person as does your
    mother I hasten to add but I think that having to call two people Mum would
    have left me confused .
    Also gaining two brothers must have been interesting , Sten sounded like
    a right bundle of fun but then I think most boys at his age are a hand full
    to say the least.
    As an amateur photographer with a semi pro. Panasonic video camera
    and more digital SLR cameras than I care to think of I found the photo
    of Denis Lewiston with the 35mm Panavision very interesting indeed.
    How times and technologies have changed , my Panasonic now puts a
    couple of hours of HD imagery onto an SD card , I usually carry six SD
    cards !!
    The down side to all this technology is that as I don,t have to worry about
    the cost of film stock I sometimes find that I that I get lazy with my framing
    and composition and either end up doing the same shot again or worse
    still getting home and wishing I,de done a better job.
    With my old 35mm SLR cameras I was in the same situation as with the
    Panavision and tended to be much more careful to get it right first time.
    To conclude , 10 out of 10 for a lovely window into the happenings on and about the set of what has become an enduring film that is as timeless now
    as it must have been to Arthur Ransome in 1929 and I,m sure will be for
    generations to come .
    PS
    My copy of the 40th anniversary DVD is in the post as we speak.
    Once again Well Done for the book.

    • Thanks so much for the feedback Arnie. Do let me know what you think of the DVD!
      I am glad you liked the photo of Denis with the Panavision camera we included.

      If we ever manage to get together as a cast I will ask everyone to sign a book for you!

      • Arnold "Arnie" Mostyn

        Hi Sophie ,
        I,ve had time to watch the 40th anniversary DVD a couple of times now
        and I think that it has come out very well , which is testament not only to
        the wizards with their modern digital processing but also to the original
        filming , the use of light and the landscapes etc.to create atmosphere in
        what ,as you say in your book were sometimes far from ideal weather
        conditions.
        If I am being critical the only thing that I would fail is that the digital
        process has played havoc with some of the “day for night” scenes
        to the piont that they look more day than night which spoils the
        atmosphere of them a little.
        Only a small detail to an otherwise excellent job.
        The interviews with Yourself , Zanna and Virginia McKenna are
        fascinating to say the least.
        Virginia is quite amazing and I can understand why you all liked her so much in Swallows and Amazons , I sense that both Yourself and
        Zanna still hold her a little in awe 40 years on , in the nicest possible
        way.
        Look forward to hearing more about S and A as I,m sure there is much
        more to tell.
        Fingers crossed for the signed book.
        Once again , keep up the good work
        Arnie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s