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

Lullaby

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.’

291-8

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.

19 Comments

Filed under 1983, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Cumbria, Film Cast, Film History, Lake District, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized

19 responses to “What viewers thought of the BBC serial ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’

  1. Jill Goulder

    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…..

  2. It could still happen. I’m not that keen on dowsing myself but loved both Swallowdale and Picts and Martyrs.

    • Jill Goulder

      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………………………….

  3. Which books would you most like to see adapted for the big screen?

    • Jill Goulder

      Picts and Martyrs
      Pigeon Post
      Winter Holiday
      We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea

      Who’s next??

      • Roger Wardale

        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.

        • ‘Peter Duck’ calls out for a movie adaptation. Can you tell me who has been interested in this? I know who owns the Rights!

          • Roger Wardale

            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!

            • 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.

  4. Do you know of any celebrity names who like ‘Swallows and Amazons’ or Arthur Ransome – apart from Ben Fogel and Ellen McArthur?

    • Roger Wardale

      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.

      • 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?

        • Roger Wardale

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

      • 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.

    • John Benford

      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.

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