Your questions about Swallows & Amazons

Sophie Neville with Suzanna Hamilton on Coniston Water in Falcon ~ photo: Gordon Bourne
~ Sophie Neville with Suzanna Hamilton on Coniston Water in 2003 ~ photo: Gordon Bourne

‘How did Titty capture the Amazon?’

What did the Swallows and Amazons wear?

The Swallows and the Amazons – where are they now?

These are some of the many questions that people type into search-engines. Members of The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have also had questions:

Dan Ford asked, ‘I think I heard it said that the four Swallows and two Amazons all wore life-jackets under their clothes whilst filming.  If that is so, they were very well concealed, so were they specially made for this use?’

We didn’t wear life jackets under our costumes, we only ever wore buoyancy aids when travelling out to the location. Last time I went out rowing on Coniston Water I didn’t wear a life-jacket either, which was very naughty.

Chris Rosindale asked: ‘What became of ‘Amazon’ from the film?  Is she still in existence like ‘Swallow’?

Amazon on Coniston 2003
Amazon at Bank Ground in 2003 ~ photo: Geraint Lewis

Suzanna Hamilton and I went out on Coniston Water in Amazon in when the BBC invited us to Bank Ground Farm to appear in Countryfile with Ben Fogle. We met her owners who live in Kent. I gather she was the same dinghy used to play Amazon in the 1963 BBC serial of Swallows and Amazons made when Arthur Ransome was still around to comment. Her owner told me, ‘She was built locally on Windermere sometime in the 1930.’

Amazon sailing
Amazon under sail while filming Countryfile in 2003 ~ photo: Geraint Lewis

Duncan Hall writes, ‘Just before Roger finds the camp, I’m fairly sure I can see a chimney in the background (somebody last said that it was a tree stump but it doesn’t look like a tree stump) – did you film any “on island” sequences on the mainland? Also – I know Rampsholme on Derwent Water was used for some “Wild Cat Island in the distance” shots, but it was mostly Peel Island. Did any Windermere islands get used for Wild Cat Island locations?

The Boy Roger was definitely on Peel Island when he was looking for the camping place. I remember he got rather scratched by brambles.  I can see what does look like a chimney in the background but it would have been a stump.

Some of the scenes set on Wild Cat Island were indeed shot on the mainland. This was because there is no light house tree on Peel Island. I don’t think there was one in Ransome’s day. We filmed the light house tree scenes on two different promontories near Friar’s Crag overlooking Derwentwater and the Houseboat Bay. For a description of one location  please click here.

Falcon with Amazon in Secret Harbour: photo Geraint Lewis
‘Peggy Blackett’ & ‘Amazon’ in Secret Harbour on Peel Island: photo Geraint Lewis

Chris Clarke has asked, ‘Were any of you allowed to keep props from the film set as a souvenir? For example, were the Amazons allowed to keep their red hats?’

A number of red hats were made and I think the Amazons may have been able to keep one each. Their hats were initially bright pink, but my mother was insistent they should be red and others were knitted locally. She tried to get ones made more like a finely knitted woolen hat of mine that would have been much more in keeping with Ransome’s original sketches. However this picture was not known of back then and the Wardrobe Master, and the Director went with the design of the ones you see on the screen. Funnily enough the caps do look a bit pink in Mum’s faded photo.

Virginia McKenna with us at Bank Ground1
The Amazons sitting with the Walker Family at Holly Howe ~ a scene neither in the book or film of Swallows & Amazons: photo: Daphne Neville

I still have a bow, two arrows with green feathers and a pair of flags used for rehearsal props. I was given one of the pink hats but it meant nothing. I didn’t keep any of my costumes, but Caroline Downer who played Dorothea says that she still has the buttercup yellow dress she wore in either ‘Coot Club’ or ‘The Big Six’.

Scores of people have asked, ‘Where was Swallows & Amazons filmed?’

One of the secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons is that while most of the film was shot on Coniston Water, we also filmed with the dinghies to Derwentwater, Windermere, Elterwater and rather a smelly lily pond.

Amazon with Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle making a documentary about the locations used for Swallows & Amazons (1974) – photograph: Geraint Lewis of the Arthur Ransome Trust

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

You can find more answers in ‘The Secrets of Swallows and Amazons’ or ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ available online or to order from your library.

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

20 thoughts on “Your questions about Swallows & Amazons”

  1. Thanks for including my question Sophie, but please could you correct your spelling of my name? It is “Rosindale.”

    Thanks 🙂

  2. Hi Sophie

    Many thanks for this article. Just one query (or correction): the other dinghy in the secret harbour, and other shots, is Peggy Blackett, not Falcon.

  3. Hello Sophie – I’m really commenting just so that Ethiopia will be added to your site’s world visitor map!! 🙂 – I’m in Addis Ababa on a research trip, studying working donkeys here and in Amhara. But I’m loving your stories as always.

    1. Wonderful to hear you are in Addis Ababa. I rode from so a stables at the north of the town up to the Blue Nile three years ago. I was struck by the very small size of the donkeys in Ethiopia.

      1. Yes, the common-or-garden donkeys are small (though strong), though there are some special taller types in a couple of areas that they use to breed mules. I shall refrain from filling your comments thread with my masses of Ethiopia-donkey data, though…………….. I was working with the Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia veterinary team, who do an amazing job.
        BTW, I gather that you quoted me at a TARS meeting a short while ago! About every young girl’s dream being to play Titty.

        1. The theme of the TARS IAGM was Missee Lee – and no one mentioned the Donks! Some of us could have done with a donkey train to bring us up from the harbour on Lundy Island.

          We support a scheme for improving the lot of donkeys in the Limpopo Province of South Africa by supplying harnesses that fit properly, as they are still used for drawing carts and often get badly rubbed.

  4. I think it’s great that you’ve kept props and ‘backstage’ memorabilia from the film. I can’t get enough stories and anecdotes about the making of it.

          1. It would make an ideal one. As I have said before, more than once, if only we had the equivalent from the early days of film: Griffiths, Fairbanks, Chaplin, Eisenstein, etc.

              1. If they were as entertainingly written as ‘The Making…’, they could do for both.

    1. I think it could. I was musing hypothetically about the ‘missing’ ones from the early days. ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ should certainly be used as a text book in Media Studies, as a unique, first-hand account of making a film from the viewpoint of one of the cast. I think that it is also brilliant holiday reading

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