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

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

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

  1. Hello Sophie – your correspondent from a hole in the ground in Turkey here. Love this one! Lots of questions to ask. What were the tricky bits to turn into a screenplay? Were any events/ conversations/ characters conflated for simplicity? (S&A nerds will already know the answers to that one, I know) Which bits was he most reluctant to leave out but had to? I guess he’d have to be asked personally about that one, but anything that you know of would be terrific to hear about. And during the filming, what bits didn’t work and had to be changed?
    There you are – a barrage of questions! Of course we don’t expect full answers, but all these ‘backstage secrets’ are gripping.

  2. As children we were disappointed that the storm was never in the script. We were also sad that we didn’t have time to film inside the bakery in Rio as the set looked glorious.

    The scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor were firstly, a scene at Holly Howe with Mother about preparing for the voyage with dialogue about medicines and secondly a scene about laying patterans on the way to the charcoal burners.

    I wish we had included the scene about gathering firewood. I would have kept the adult (parental) participation to an absolute minimum. I also wish we had somehow worked on underwater scenes of Titty looking for pearls in a proper pool as it was too cold for the swimming scenes to ever work well on Coniston.

    I will put your questions to David Wood when I get in touch.

    I hope your Turkish hole is a dry one. I was once allocated a cave to sleep in which had formally housed a donkey. Titty would have loved it.

  3. Terrific replies! Just the right sort of stuff – thank you. And hole very dry except one day when torrential rain came and we all had to scoot out of our trench and watch all our lovely archaeology melting in the rain….

  4. I fully agree with your previous correspondent, these behind-the-stories are fascinating. Please keep them coming.

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