How children responded to the film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1974

A fan letter!

The last thing that I had expected was to receive fan letters! They came pouring in. My mother kept them all. Because most of them were written to me by children I have cut out the names and addresses on the letters copied here, but since we are all thirty-eight years older,  I am sure everyone can cope with seeing their own handwriting. This letter cames from someone who, despite living half way across the world, now happens to be a friend of mine on Facebook.

EMI sent me these photographs of myself to sign and send on. I’m afraid I didn’t like them one bit. They had been taken as publicity shots and it still shows. The staged pose was exactly what Claude Whatham had been working hard to avoid. Sadly he hadn’t been around to direct this shot. I look like a Woodetop and Spot the Dog rolled into one.

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker in 'Swallows and Amazons'
Sophie Neville swinging on a gate at Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water in 1973

However, sending a photograph was not aways enough. I had the hard work of replying to the letters.

A fan letter

There were so many questions to answer.

A fan letter

And I felt beholden to reply immediately.

And once I replied, yet more letters arrived:

A fan letter

This was a good question, of course.

Fiona was 10. Everyone wanted to know if a sequel was coming out. I have a letter from Kit –

Kit Seymour, who seemed to know about Richard Pilbrow’s plans to adapt Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Great Northern?’ set in the Outer Hebrides.  She must have sent me this second letter in about January 1974 – between Christmas and the premiere.

I wish we had made ‘Great Northern?’  It was my favorite Arthur Ransome book. Dramatising it would have been such fun. I don’t know why I was so negative, but I remember writing to Richard Pilbrow and telling him that Ransome was mistaken and had his facts about Great Northern Divers quite wrong. I had looked up information in an ancient bird book belonging to my father and wrote the most facetious letter about their geographical distribution. I hope it didn’t put him off. I should had used my time to persuade my fans to write enthusiastic letters to EMI Films.  I’m sure this viewer would have convinced Nat Cohen.

It was clear that what children wanted was more of the same. I think it is true today. Parents tell me that even though the movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has no really terrifying moments or spectacular visual effects, children tend to snuggle down peacefully and identify with the characters. The outcome, especially if they are taken to the real locations, is that they often take on our names for themselves, enjoying the fun of camping and swimming, fishing and sailing in the Lake District.

If you can read about how we made the film and what happened as a result here

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

5 thoughts on “How children responded to the film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1974”

  1. It was fascinating looking at S+A in the children’s literature course. Adults who came to the book for the first time found it terrible – nothing happens! But the course material reflected on the fact that it did engage with children, in a way that few children’s books did at the time. One of the reasons for this is that it is utterly child-centred – no patronising, no sly nods and winks to adults. This extends even to the choice of the soft toy that the baby brings to the island with her.

    1. Claude Whatham deducted that the reason for the success of Ransome’s books was that they showed you how to do things rather than told you how to do things. ‘Show, don’t tell’ remains one of the most important rules of writing.

      My father told me that he and he friends would wait in great anticipation for subsequent Arthur Ransome books to be published.

  2. “S&A has no really terrifying moments or spectacular visual effects, children tend to snuggle down peacefully and identify…”.
    I only wish other children’s authors would burn those words on their soul and apply them to their own work.
    We all only want our children to be safe don’t we? Not scared to go out and be terrified about turning the page in case there’s an evil monster there!
    S&A portrays how children of the middle classes were allowed to have their childhood, unsullied by adult inuendos and filth.

  3. I think that the fact that there are no terrifying scenes or great visual effects, and that children just snuggle up and enjoy it is the reason why the film continues to be the success it is.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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 )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: