Where are they now? More about the traditional boats used when filming of ‘Coot Club’ for BBC TV

Coot Club - Teasel and Titmouse - photo Jill Searle
Mary Soan with Jill and Jim Searle on the Teasel, towing the Titmouse on South Walsham

Jim and Jill Searle of the Norfolk Country Sailing Base in Ludham helped us find traditional boats for the BBC adaptation of Coot Club and The Big Six set on the Norfolk Broads. Jill kindly sent me a copy of this photo taken of Lullaby just after she was chosen to play the Teasel back in 1983. Her costume consisted of a false transom, which is still at Hunter’s Yard in Ludham today.

The Teasel’s transom ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Roger Wardale took this photograph included in his book,  Arthur Ransome on the Broads , which Amberley Publishing brought out in full colour. He tells of Arthur Ransome’s half-dozen or so holidays on hired yachts and of the young people who sailed in the fleet, including Titty and Taqui Altounyan.

Roger found out that the Ransomes hired a 23′ Fairway’  yacht from Jack Powles of Wroxham. This had a Primus stove with a special cooking locker in the well. It sounds well kitted out with a wash-basin and self-emptying WC in a separate compartment. The three Somnus spring-berths had drawers underneath and there was even a wardrobe. Like the Teasel, she was built of mahogany with a ‘bright varnish finish’ and, given a fair wind, would have zipped along at quite a speed.

Roger said that he spent six days trying to find places Arthur Ransome visited that had not changed since the 1930’s. He found it difficult. What he did discover was the dinghy used to play Titmouse in the BBC TV series. She can still be visited at Hunter’s Yard.

The Titmouse at Hunter’s Yard in Ludham ~ photo: Roger Wardale

It is still possible to hire the mahogany hulled, gunter-rigged yachts much as Arthur Ransome and his wife did in the 1930’s, together with a sailing dinghy or rowing boat. There are fourteen sailing cruisers in the Hunter’s fleet and none have an engine. They have lifting cabin tops so you have more headroom when you moor up. Lullaby, built in 1932, is 28ft long with four berths. Her mast can be lowered with counter weights so she can be taken under bridges with a clearance of six foot.

Roger Wardale says that in the 1930’s, many of the yachts had a ‘self-acting’ jib but Ransome considered it too large. There were times when he lowered it, only to find ‘he sailed better without it!’  They still have self-acting jibs but the size may have been altered.

At Horning Staithe today ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Roger also found a cruiser similar to Janca, the 1930’s cruiser who played the part of the Margoletta. She was skippered by Julian Fellowes in his glorious role as a Hullabaloo, the spiteful, arch-baddie of Coot Club.

A large 1930’s Broads cruiser similar to the one we used as the Margoletta in ‘Coot Club’ ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Back in 1983 we were hugely helped by a number of Norfolk boatmen who knew the broads well.

Coot Club - Mark and Brian
Mark Page, who played Bill getting help fixing something

You will have to let me know the name of these gentlemen who spent long hours helping us in the summer of 1983.

Coot Club - local boatmen
The skipper of the vessel used as a camera boat on ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’

Filming from one boat to another is tricky and much patience was need. In many ways the easiest boat to film with was the Death and Glory. She can still be found moored somewhere on the Broads.

Coot Club - book cover

I well remember setting up this shot for the cover of the abridged version of the two stories, which was brought out by Puffin to accompany the series. It shows the Death and Glory complete with her green chimney. The big secret was that the interior of the cabin was larger than the exterior. we puzzled over Ransome’s drawings only to decide that he had cheated the measurements too.

Nicholas Walpole and Jake Coppard looking out of the window of the set that was made to represent the interior of the Death and Glory
Nicholas Walpole and Jake Coppard looking out of the window of the set that was made to represent the interior of the Death and Glory

Bruce McCaddy and his team built the set inside a modern boat shed where it was kept for ‘rain cover’,  since the interior scenes could always be shot if it was wet. It included ‘camera traps’ or sections that could be removed so the scenes could be shot. I never went inside but the boys loved it. In fact the weather was glorious. We enjoyed such constant sunshine in the later part of the shoot that we filmed the interiors when it was dry and so warm the boys got quite over-heated.

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

21 thoughts on “Where are they now? More about the traditional boats used when filming of ‘Coot Club’ for BBC TV”

  1. Ahh, I thought the Death and Glory seemed rather Tardislike! Thanks for a pleasent 5 minutes with my morning coffee Sophie 🙂 Looking forward to Roger’s new book!

  2. I always enjoy these informative and fun posts, Sophie. Thank you!
    The photo of the Death snd Glories is priceless!

  3. Loved this, and love dropping into Hunter’s yard. Real time-warp. Last time I saw Titmouse she was acting as a repository for lifejackets. Never hired one of the yachts though – anyone else up for it?

    1. Sorry for not being more clear. The large wooden cruiser was not the Margoletta but the only large traditional cruiser I saw all week. It seems that Teasel’s ‘sisters’ have survived the passing years, much better than the Margoletta’s, which is as it should be!
      I think the photo of the cast aboard the ‘D&G’ is marvellous, so atmospheric.
      ‘Ransome on the Broads’ is due out around the beginning of April, so many thanks for mentioning it.

  4. I think those jibs might be called “self tacking” – they have a single sheet that leads to the centreline, and have to be smaller than the foretriangle (gap in front of mast) rather than overlapping.
    I once hired this sort of yacht for a Broads holiday but my wife was repulsed by a 1920s original toilet that flushed with smelly river water. Fair enough! If only there was a way around that I would holiday there again as the sailing was great.
    I’m looking forward to reading Roger’s new book.

  5. Great fun. I have a photo of “Margoletta” that I took in July 1983. I believe she was tied up at Horning. I had no idea that a film was being made (until this very day I did not know), so I imagined that there really was a boat named Margoletta and that I was seeing the real thing! Even though it turns out to be a prop, it was still a thrill to touch a piece of Ransome lore that day.

    That was and remains my only trip to England and the Broads. Boating on the Broads and hiking in the Lake District, I understood why Ransome loved these places so dearly.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to post a comment. How amazing that we all at Horning together in 1983.

      See if you can get a copy of the DVD of the drama series. You can play it on a computer.

      I’d love to see your photograph of the Margoletta. I didn’t thank of taking one. Would you be able to scan and email it to me?

  6. Even more great stories and photos! I love the idea of the Death and Glory cabin being a TARDIS!

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