Monthly Archives: August 2013

Other Arthur Ransome books adapted for film and television by David Wood

Sophie Neville in Secret Harbour

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker in 1973

David Wood, who wrote the screenplay for SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in 1973, has recently told me about his  work adapting other Arthur Ransome books – GREAT NORTHERN?, PIGEON POST, WE DIDN’T MEAN TO GO TO SEA and WINTER HOLIDAY – all for Richard Pilbrow of Theatre Project Films.
Richard Pilbrow and Claude Whatham at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water

Producer Richard Pilbrow with Director Claude Whatham in their wet weather gear at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water

‘It was decided that GREAT NORTHERN? should be the follow-up to the SWALLOWS film, because it was ‘different’, being the only book set in Scotland. Also, the villainous birds’ egg collector was a strong adult role – Peter Sellers was mentioned….. We had great fun looking for locations, swooping around in a helicopter over Harris, Lewis etc.
‘Word got out that I was working on GREAT NORTHERN? and I had a very firm letter from Mrs Ransome saying that no permission had been granted to work on this title, and that it would not be granted!! No reason was given. Years later, the Ransome autobiography suggested that Mrs R didn’t like GREAT NORTHERN? and criticised it to Ransome’s face.  Also, he used sometimes to swan off to the Highlands with his friend, Quiller-Couch (I think) to fish, leaving Evgenia on her own back in the Lake District. The only communication from him would be the occasional delivery on a horse and cart from the railway station of a salmon, caught in Scotland the day before! Maybe she resented Scotland for luring him away! But she was determined that GREAT NORTHERN? the movie would never see the light of day!! But I still wrote a complete screenplay! I did a film treatment for WINTER HOLIDAY, that never got off the ground either.’
PIGEON POST was to be a six-part serial,  a BBC-Theatre Projects co-production.  David remembers that they got as far as looking for locations in the Lake District. I started making preparations to cast the children for this drama which Joe Waters wanted to produce in 1983, directly after making COOT CLUB and THE BIG SIX under the generic title SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS FOREVER! that had been adapted for television by Michael Robson.
‘WE DIDN’T MEAN TO GO TO SEA was also to be a serial. I did a treatment, visited Pin Mill and other locations, and met the man who built one of Ransome’s boats, or maybe worked on it with his father. All the materials and scripts still exist, but they are probably a bit too ‘straight’ for contemporary taste.’
David Wood will soon be directing his adaptation of Judith Kerr’s classic book  THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA  at The Arts Depot in North London. It will run from 3rd December to 5th January. His numerous other forthcoming events and theatrical releases, including two different productions of his musical THE GINGERBREAD MAN, are listed on his website.
Sophie Neville with Claude Whatham on Peel Island
Can you help us?  Was Quiller-Couch the friend who whisked Arthur Ransome off to fish in the Hebrides?  Does anyone know where they went?


Filed under 1973, 1983, Arthur Ransome, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Film, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

News from David Wood, who adapted Swallows & Amazons for the big screen in 1973

Sophie Neville with David Wood and Claude Whatham
David Wood, who originally worked with Evgenia Ransome to adapt her husband’s book Swallows & Amazons for the big screen in 1973, has recently written to tell me:
‘Several attempts were made to follow up SWALLOWS. I did a screenplay of GREAT NORTHERN?, plus detailed treatments of WINTER HOLIDAY (for film) and WE DIDN’T MEAN TO GO TO SEA (for television), plus a six-part serial based on PIGEON POST. But all of them bit the dust!!!
Claude is the only director for whom I worked as an actor on film (SWEET WILLIAM), television (CHERI, DISRAELI) and stage (VOYAGE ROUND MY FATHER), as well as working with him as a writer (SWALLOWS and a film that never got made called THE HEYDAY).
Mike Pratt with Brenda Bruce
Claude Whatham must have made the BBC adaptation of Colette’s novel  Cheri just before Swallows & Amazons as it was broadcast in April 1973. Brenda Bruce, who I knew as Mrs Dixon, played Charlotte whilst David was Desmond, supporting Scott Anthony and Yvonne Mitchell as the lovers Cheri and Lea.
David Wood played Lord Derby in the 1978 BBC costume drama Disreali that Claude Whatham directed. Whilst Ian McShane had the title role, the part of  Queen Victoria was given to Rosemary Leach, who later played Mrs Barrable in the BBC serial of Coot Club and The Big Six.  Suzanna Hamilton appeared in it too as one of the princesses. She must have been about seventeen – a good age to be zooming about in a crinoline with scooped up hair. It would have been quite a contrast to playing Mate Susan on Peel Island in the Lake District.
Suzanna Hamilton with director Claude Whatham on Peel Island
When he was in his twenties David starred in the feature film if….  with Malcolm McDowell.  You can get it on DVD or watch the Youtube pasted in the Comments below. I’d love to see the wartime drama Aces High, the movie directed by Jack Gold in which David played Lt Tommy Thompson opposite Simon Ward, Peter Firth and  Christopher Plumber as well as Malcomb McDowell. John Gielgud played the Headmaster in scenes shot at Eton in this film, while Arthur Lowe played his house master in if… I am not sure which school they used. You will have to let me know. Arundel?
 In 2004  David was awarded an OBE for services to literature and drama. I was not surprised. His output has been prolific. To find out more about his work as an author and playwright do watch this short BBC documentary Meet the Author presented by Nick Higham.
Kit Seymour with Claude Whatham


Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Movie, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

David Wood, who wrote the screenplay of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on Radio 4

BW David Wood

David Wood on Peel Island in 1973 with Claude Whatham, Sten Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville who is wearing David’s velvet hat.

On 19th August 2013, David Wood, who wrote the screenplay of Swallows & Amazons in 1973, took part on the Radio 4 show Quote…Unquote presented by Nigel Rees, an old friend of his from Oxford University. His fellow panelists were Matt Barbet, Katherine Whitehorn and Jenni Murray of Woman’s Hour.  The programme can be heard on BBC i-Player and will be repeated on Saturday 24th August.

The reference to Arthur Ransome is 17 minutes in. David does a wonderful impression of Evgenia Ransome with whom he met for a number of script meetings whilst working on the adaptation. Her husband had died in 1967 and her grasp on his literary estate was legendary.

Click here for Quote…unquote on BBC i-Player presented by Nigel Rees

David Wood on QuoteUnquote

Here is the exact page of the script they were referring to:

'Better drowned than duffers' - David Wood's 1973 screenplay of Arthur Ransome's famous telegram

This was shot on location in the field below Bank Ground Farm in the Lake District. Richard Pilbrow, the producer, gave me a copy of this still, part of which was used on the front cover of both the Express and Daily Telegraph after the film was released in 1974.

If not Duffers...

Simon West as John Walker, Sophie Neville as Titty and Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan in Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ released by EMI in 1974

Suzanna Hamilton wrote in her diary that David Wood came to visit us on location in Cumbria on 29th May 1973, as you can see in the contact-sheet photo above.  She had appeared in photo-captions illustrating a story called The Treasure Seekers that she thought he had narrated on the BBC Children’s programme Jackanory. David is not so sure, although he narrated three other series of Jackanony including The Hobbit, which is about to be released as a BBC CD.

Suzanna's diary mentioning David Wood

Here is another page from the screenplay of Swallows & Amazons (1974) with more stage directions than dialogue.

Battle of Houseboat Bay ~  David Wood's original screenplay

At the beginning of Nigel Rees’ radio programme there is a reference to The Gingerbread Man, one of David’s original theatre plays written for children. This was premiered at the Swan Theatre, Worcester in 1976. My mother appeared as Miss Pepper in a subsequent production at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.

A production of 'The Gingerbread Man' at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, 1976

A production of ‘The Gingerbread Man’ at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, 1976

In April 2013 David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s classic book Goodnight Mr Tom won the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and Family, which is really exciting.

For more information about David Wood’s plays, books and magic shows – please click here


Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Movie, Movie stories, News, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Arthur Ransome reading on BBC Radio Cumbria

Peter Walker with Sophie Neville and the locomotive

Peter Walker with Sophie Neville at Lakeside Station on Lake Windermere

Peter Walker has just written from Kendal to tell me that Arthur Ransome could be heard on BBC Radio Cumbria yesterday afternoon.

A newly cleaned up archive recording of the author reading from his classic book on fishing ‘Rod and Line’ in 1956 can be heard on BBC I-player for the next five days. Please go 25 minutes into Emma Borthwick’s programme for the item recorded by Jennie Dennett at Hill Top, the Ransome’s house above Haverthwaite, which the new owners, Stephen Sykes and his wife Janine, are opening for Bed and Breakfast.

BBC Radio Cumbria at 17.25 on 15th August 2013



Slate Quay below High Nibthwaite at southern end of Coniston Water where Arthur Ransome learnt about fish as a child on holiday in Cumbria.

Peter Walker’s excellent ‘Swallows and Amazons’ tour gives one an insight and understanding of Arthur Ransome’s life in the Lake District. For more information please click here.

Sophie with the Mountain Goat

The Mountain Goat bus built for explorers. It enables you to look out over the dry stone walls of Cumbria as you travel along.


Filed under Arthur Ransome, Cumbria, Lake District, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, Travel

Swallows & Amazons boathouse on Coniston Water is up for sale ~

The Lanehead boathouses below Bank Ground Farm

I believe that the middle boathouse in this photograph I took last year is the one currently for sale.

If you visit the ITV News website, you can watch a story about the boathouse originally belonging to the Collingwood family of Lanehead which inspired Arthur Ransome when writing Swallows and Amazons. It includes a short clip of the fishing scene from our film.

The reporter from Border Television didn’t get all his facts right. We are not sure who Arthur J Ransome is.  The author was called Arthur Mitchell Ransome.

The Walker family finding Swallow at Holly Howe

Here we were, intrepid explorers, finding Swallow at Holly Howe in May 1973. The water was freezing. You can see the lovely view from the boathouses.

If you want to find out more about the property for sale, the details are here on the RightMove website.

For the latest news on the new film adaptation, please see The Westmorland Gazette. For their article about the boatshed please click here. There is also one in the Express.

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Lake District, News, Swallows and Amazons