40 years on… I discover a scene about patterans cut from the 1974 movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’

The Swallows make Patterans
Suzanna Hamilton, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West as the Swallows

I have been sent a newspaper clipping dated 15th June 1973, which appears to have been published in The Mirror, a national daily newspaper here in the UK. It describes a scene shot for Swallows & Amazons (1974) that was never used in the finished film and proved something of a discovery for me.

Whilst on their way to visit the charcoal-burners, Captain John shows the crew of the Swallow how to lay a patteran, a secret gypsy sign, usually made from twigs or vegetation, to point the way.  I remember the scene from Arthur Ransome’s book with affection but I  have no recollection of filming this in the Lake District.

Mirror 17th June 1973

~ click on the image to enlarge ~

I do recall that our director, Claude Whatham would take us on a quick run just before shooting a scene so that we would be both energised and genuinely breathless as we delivered our lines. I expect it was his secret way of obtaining natural performances out of us children. Here we can be seen in rehearsal wearing our Harry Potter-like nylon track-suit tops for warmth, while the big old 35mm Panavision camera was tilted down on us. Claude can be seen holding the script we never read. We were much more interested in the patterans.

Local newspaper cutting of Patterran rehearsal

Claude loved running. When he retired from film making he would regularly run around Anglesey in North Wales, where he lived, covering miles each day even in his early eighties.  I have always been more excited about galumphing, the art of running down hill, taking leaps as you go to cover more ground.  Arthur Ransome must have tried this as a boy on holiday in the Lake District as he has the Swallows galumphing like anything at this stage in the story, on their way back from visiting the charcoal-burners. They get so carried away that some of them miss the patterans that had been so carefully laid on their way up the hill. There must simply have not been enough time to include this detail in the finished movie. I wonder if the original footage still exists.

You can read more in the paperback ‘The making of Swallows and Amazons’ and  in this mutli-media ebook:

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

8 thoughts on “40 years on… I discover a scene about patterans cut from the 1974 movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’”

  1. Don’t worry, Sophie, you can’t remember everything…although the scene may have been rehearsed in front of the camera and not filmed. Maybe the finished film ran for two hours and it had to be trimmed back in the editing stage to make a more manageable hour and a half. I recall Fergus McClelland, eleven years old child star of The Royal Performance Film of 1963, “Sammy Going South”, saying that the original cut of the film came in at around three and a half hours…longer than “Spartacus”…and that it was subsequently edited down to a more manageable two hours and ten minutes for the premiere. At the premiere, Fergus was disappointed to find that many of the scenes he had worked so hard on in Africa just weren’t there. The missing footage has so far not re-emerged, but maybe somewhere, the edits out of “Swallows and Amazons” may still exist and perhaps will be found one day, in a mis-labeled film tin.

    It’s very interesting to see the photo of Simon wearing a 1973 nylon track suite and 1929 hair style.

  2. It’s fun to have the photo of the rehearsal – in track suits – and the photo of the scene. Perhaps I should put them together.

    I am sure the scene was shot but can understand why it was cut. John teaching us things was, as Simon West told the Mirror journalist, ‘ a bit goody-goody’.

  3. I saw the movie in 1977 when it was shown once in Baltimore. I thought it at the time a very good visualization of one of the formative books of my childhood. I’d like to see it again.

    1. Why not write in to one of your TV Stations and ask them to broadcast it. You can see from the Clustr Map on my site that there is huge interest the film in the States and Canada with a thriving Arthur Ransome Society of North America. You can order the DVD from Amazon.com but I gather it can only be watched on your computer screne. Folk in the UK screne the film out of doors from time to time, which is quite fun. Let me know how you go!

  4. Interesting about the patterans, they were used by the same children in the book ‘Secret Water’. In that story it was John and Susan who failed to notice the patteran that Titty, Roger and Vicky had left. It comes in the book just before the three nearly drowned when the Wade flooded at high tide.

  5. John might have seemed a bit “goody goody” but I work in a Middle School in North Staffs and we still have a few John and Susan types even today. They are obviously the more intelligent ones and they are lovely to work with, although my main role is with the SEN children who have a charm of their own!

    1. The scene was from the book but it broke the cardinal rule of film writing, which is ‘Show don’t tell’. I don’t expect they needed the scene in the end. It wouldn’t have been crucial to moving the story along since patterans are not used again in ‘Swallows & Amazons’, although Titty did find the burgular’s pipe on Cormorant Island, which could indicate that she had become more observant.

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