What viewers thought of the BBC serial ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’

Coot Club - The Teasel sailed by a double
William the Hero – who later appeared as Little Willie in ‘Eastenders’

The BBC drama series Swallows and Amazons Forever! was first broadcast at a very odd time. Instead of being mainstream BBC One Saturday night viewing in the run up to Christmas as we expected, it was moored in a by-water,  shown on BBC Two at 6.30pm on Tuesday evenings. Very few people saw it. This was odd, especially since it was a big budget production with a strong cast. Perhaps it was because Colin Baker who played Dr Dudgeon had just been cast as Doctor Who.

Coot Club - The Bike Shop
Jake Coppard as Pete, Mark Page as Bill and Henry Dimbleby as Tom Dudgeon outside Itteringham Shop ~ click on the photo to see what it looks like today

However, when the series was released on video it was treasured by many:

‘This video is a delight!’ wrote Dr Duncan Hall from North Yorkshire. ‘…the animated credit sequence and the music are both a delight and you won’t get tired of them! The stories themselves are amongst the best ever written for young people and they are brought to life with relish by the director and excellent cast. The locations are all spot-on; anybody who has ever had a magical holiday on the broads will love this video for that alone! And the wildlife photography is fantastic as well. A last point: it is true there are no Swallows and Amazons in the programme – but the two books were part of Ransome’s famous ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series of books, so the title does not seem TOO inappropriate to me.  Buy it!!! 

Weighing the fish
Jake Coppard, Mark Page and Nicholas Walpole as the Death and Glory boys with Sam Kelly of the Catchalot, weighing the fish in ‘the Big Six’

The drama serial was soon released on DVD ~ which was hugely appreciated:

This is a beautiful adaptation of Ransome’s ‘Coot Club’ & ‘The Big Six’. The child actors/actresses are excellent. There is almost an historical element as the DVD charts childhood without mobile phones and electronic games. Simply gentle and innocent yet a good degree of drama. 5 out of 5 stars Excellent

Coot Club - Henry and Sarah

Mike Souter said, ‘ So pleased I bought this. I interviewed Henry Dimbleby on location in the 1980’s and seeing the episodes again brought back many happy memories. Charming series.’

Some viewers wrote to say they thought the twins playing Port and Starboard should have been aged eleven. They, in fact, were (both) eleven-years-old.

Coot Club - PC Tedder's garden
The Death and Glory boys weeding PC Tedder’s garden with Colin March, the sound recordist, setting up the microphones.

‘If you like nature, sailing, kids and bad plots this fits the bill. I have sailed on the Norfolk Broads and this series captures the atmosphere perfectly. The sailing is technically accurate too. I’m old enough to remember England in earlier times. Once again the atmosphere has been captured nicely. The unusual Norfolk regional accent is evident and sometimes realistic. This is a classic and fully in the spirit of the Swallows and Amazons books.’ 5 out of 5 stars -Wonderful ~ C Bauers, Suffolk

‘We really enjoyed this adventure it has inspired my kids to do a sailing course!!’ ~ David Francis, France

‘Watched the series as a child and have loved it my whole life. A family favourite, simply charming! Very indulging to sit back with a cup of tea and lose myself in the antics of some wonderful characters. I love it.’

‘Highly recommended entertainment for the whole family. Good old fashioned fun that children use to have before computer games were invented.’ J.Kennedy ~ Sydney,  Australia

The Broads cruiser Lullaby in her starring role as the Teasel

‘Just spent a week on a Broads cruiser with three granddaughters and played the DVD on the third night. It was quite magical that we had cruised to all the places mentioned in the films, and the girls were able to identify the filming locations, including the swing railway bridge at Reedham. We tried very hard not to have the radio too loud the next day for fear of becoming Hullaballoos, and kept well clear of coots nests. As with all films, these do not copy the books word for word, but I think Arthur Ransome would have been pleased with the result. Pity the TV companies don’t produce more films from the other books in the Swallows and Amazons series.’


We were hoping to keep going and adapt all the Arthur Ransome books. While I started casting children for Swallowdale and Picts and Martyrs, our Producer Joe Waters went up to Cumbria on a recce to find the main locations and to estimate a budget the next series. He returned looking crest-fallen. Filming on National Trust property in the Lake Distinct, when he was quoted fees of £1,000 a day – back then, even for open moorland –  was simply going to be too expensive.  Plans to adapt the Arthur Ransome books were put on hold. Indefinitely.

However, the original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) is streaming on Amazon. You can read about how it was made in a choice of books available online here.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

116 thoughts on “What viewers thought of the BBC serial ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’”

  1. Sophie – v busy so I haven’t been keeping up with the fulsome praise that all this deserves. This latest post fills me with bitter regret that they never filmed Picts and Martyrs – WHAT a film that would have been. And I’ve always felt that Pigeon Post would have made a brilliant film. Imagine Titty’s dowsing scene…..

    1. Yes, true, I only mentioned it because it was Titty’s bravest moment; and also a lovely moment when Nancy protects Titty, realising how distressed she is. But COULD we make P & M happen?? It’s such an action-packed plot, with wonderful scenes in the Dog’s Home etc, and a dramatic rescue etc. Wow………………………….

      1. That’s sad but never mind although I have a dream to make at least one more of the books into a film

      1. Agreed, Jill.
        Picts as a first choice. Winter Holiday with its blizzard would be spectacular. Sdale has too little plot after the shipwreck to be an ideal choice, I should think. Peter Duck has attracted a number of would-be adapters and would be my third choice.

          1. Sorry, no. Over the years Ransome’s Literary executors have mentioned to me that the rights had been acquired. One company was, I believe, American and rightly, I think, it was felt that Peter Duck would be ‘Americanised’ like poor ‘Treasure Island’ with Jim Hawkins. I believe it has been said that at any one time, somebody is pursuing dramatisation of one of the books.
            A company (can’t remember the name) approached me to act as advisor for a cast iron project to film We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. I never heard any more!

            1. It’s as if they need Ransome’s blessing before going ahead. Those with the right heart and the determination will succeed. This is needed as film adaptations of the books are more expensive than one might think.

          2. don’t listen to what Roger warble said they started filming Peter Duck in 2014 it says on the Arthur ransom facebook page Rogerwardale spoiled it or something

            1. Really? I don’t think that can be true as Back in 2011 I was in dialogue with the film producer who was negotiating for the rights to Swallows and Amazons with the possibility of other books in the series. I would ask Roger Wardale but he has sadly died. He was a great help and support, an authority on Arthur Ransome. Have you read any of his books?

          3. Peter Duck could start off with Titty or Tatty reading thier story of Peter Duck and she could close the her book where she wrote it at the end after the action

          4. It would be great it could start and end with titty or tatty reading the Peter duck story they made up

      2. brilliant picts and the martyrs and winter holiday and We didn’t mean to go to sea and Pigeon Post would be great secret water would be good too

    1. Sorry, I cannot think of anyone except Adam Hart-Davies. Mention of the twins’ age reminds me. Debate about the ages of Ransome’s well-loved characters has always been popular among enthusiasts. Ransome never says — but he knew.
      He noted that at the time of CC and TBS. Pete -9, Bill – 10, Joe 11, Dick -11, Dot 12. He does not give the ages of Tom and the twins, but working from those he does, the text and illustrations, I would suggest 14.

      1. The age of 14 for the twins is quite a difference. Nowadays children seem to either play as siblings/family or in their exact year group. However back then village schools would have clumped all the ‘juniors’ aged 8-11 together. Am I right?

        1. I think so. In small ‘two or three teacher’ village schools. Infant, junior, senior all lumped together in one building.

      2. We audtioned a number of boys for the part of Tom who were aged 14 or 15, but it just didn’t seem right to cast a teenager with hairy legs. It became clear that we needed a confident boy who was still a child – someone other children could identify with. He also needed to be able to sail a river cruiser, which is too daunting for those who haven’t been brought up with boats. Casting kids who can sail takes a long time, as I found out.

    2. Philip Pullman chose WD as one of his 40 favourite children’s books in a Waterstones promotion in September 2008, so Peter Willis “wrote to him offering honorary membership” [of the Nancy Blackett Trust], and “got a very nice letter back.” We’ve not managed to get him on board Nancy yet.

            1. Yes, I do remember Kate Adie’s vote. John Sergeant gave that very well considered interview on ‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome.’ Can you think of any younger fans who happen to be household names – The Prince of Wales named ‘S&A’ as his favourite book – but did Prince Harry??

  2. hi its Arthur herbertson im wondering if they can still make a Peter Duck movie i wouldn’t mind it being Americanized as long as its still filmed in Britain

    1. The rights are available. I know Harbour Pictures would live to make a British movie of ‘Peter Duck’ if the funding could be raised. It would be great fun!

      Have you seen the DVD of ‘Coot Club and the Big Six’? It’s entitled ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’

      1. If peter duck was made would it be the cast from the 2016 movie
        And gibber the monkey would be an animation there would be the ship the wiled cat and the viper and Peter duck him self and bill the charcators

        1. I am sure they could use a real monkey. It would be wonderful to get hold of traditional boats to play the Wild Cat and the Viper, along with other shipping. They still exist.

      2. You could ask pepole in the arthur ransome sicoty to give money towards the founding and also the pepole in the nancy blackett trust

        1. I am pretty sure members of the Arthur Ransome Society and The Nancy Blackett Trust would love to see a movie made but the budget would be in the region of 8 or 10 million pounds, which would need funding from a big studio like Warner Brothers. They would need to be confident that huge numbers of people would go to see it. The 2016 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has won some awards in America but I am not sure that it has made enough money to attract investors for another book adaptation.

          1. That’s sad but never mind although I have a dream to make at least one more of the books into a film

      1. I loved it I have the dvd my 2 favorte parts are when the amazons run after the swallows and when tatty says swallows and amazons forever in a magical way at the end and for hallaween last year I dressed up as nancy blackett from the 2016 movie me and mum painted the mask and did straw hier and I had a bow and arrow it was so cool

              1. I have a surprise fancy dress outfit. It is a character Titty sings about in Swallows and Amazons.

                It is quite difficult to dress up as characters from the Arthur Ransome books. You could draw up a list to encourage people. Will anyone come as a parrot, or Gibber the monkey?

  3. Peter ducks not based in the lake district and swallows voyage and diggers camp and crab island and the earthquake and captain flint getting the ice creams and spades from that sweet shop would all be in the movie

    1. The spades were bought in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, which I went to recently. I think they could have fun filming there and in the Caribbean. Much of Peter Duck is set at sea of course.

  4. I have to of the whitemen swallows and amazons jigsaws the one where your on the grass and the one where your in swallow I don’t have the other I’m looking every where for them the first one of you on the grass I got of eBay the other I got from canser resherch second hand shop in arnold canser resherch get in a lot of jigsaws do you have the jiksaws

    1. Well done! They are quite rare. There are four jigsaws in total. I think you will just have to keep searching on ebay and in charity shops. I was given three of the four, which I sold to Arthur Ransome enthusiasts to help raise funds for the Nancy Blackett Trust. I am re-reading ‘Swallows and Amazons’ right now. What are you reading?

  5. If peter duck movie happend the trailer could be really good about peter duck and black jake giong after the tresure

  6. I email the Disney company to ask if they could consider makeing swallows and amazons movies I’m reading the latest diary of a wimpy kid book its funny have you seen any of the wimpy kid films there great do you think Disney could do a good job of the swallows and amazons?

  7. they did not get back to but I I’m writing my own scripts for sires of them for an older children channel and older people can watch them to I have fished sireis one swallowdale script and I am writing sires to Peter Duck script now I will try and make them all in the future and I will cast them and put them on CBBC

          1. Reviewing swallow in swallow in swallowdale would have to be done with green screen and I am doing I have done a swallowdale scripet and I working on picts and the martyrs script

  8. I think the tone and the rhythm of the Coot Club / Big Six adaptations were just delicious, but them I’m fifty-six and – even though I was a boy – I spent the years between 8 and 12 wanting to be Nancy. The original film was PERFECTLY timed for me. Younger viewers may find a similar pace slow for a new visit to the lakes. I’m afraid I didn’t take to the 2016 film, largely because they made Uncle Jim an actual spy, and gave the Amazons blond dreadlocks and Manchester accents. That said, I’d be very excited to see something like Pigeon Post made into a mini-series. Get the chaps at Honister on board for the slate mine parts, and reduce costs as there’s not so much sailing. One moor looks much like another…

  9. I would like to see Winter Holiday made into a film or TV series, along with Picts and Martyrs.

      1. It would certainly give a nicer and better effect (and a much better experience for the actors and crew, I suspect) than filming completely in a studio with fake snow.

              1. I must admit, I hadn’t given that aspect of it any thought. Think of the marvellous experience they would have, though!

              2. I agree, and I accept that schoolwork is incredibly important in any child’s development. But I still think that the gains from an experience such as involvement in a film far outweigh any disruption.

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