‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ along with a letter from Mrs Ransome herself

‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ is available for viewing on BBCiPlayer.

Griff Rhys Jones

This beautifully made documentary, presented by Griff Rhys Jones, examines Ransome’s life as a war correspondent in Russia from 1913 to 1919 when he was close to the action and in dialogue both with Lenin and Leon Trotsky. It raises the question as to whether he was a British spy.

Hugh Brogan, Ransome’s biographer explains that Ransome had originally ran off to Russia in 1913 to escape from his melodramatic wife, Ivy Walker. After using his time to record Russian fairy stories, that can be read today in his book, ‘Old Peter’s Russian Tales‘, he was employed by a national British newspaper to report on events leading up to the Russian Revolution. Black and white archive footage, along with photographs Ransome took himself, illustrate this well.

The BBC’s erstwhile political correspondent John Sergeant, explains the significance of certain survival strategies Ransome used, such as using ‘his practical skill to outwit people’, over extracts from the original feature filmSwallows & Amazons, produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1974.

Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West above Derwentwater in 1973
Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West, 1974

The scenes from the movie also show how the story Ransome wrote when back in the Lake District, was in many ways an outworking of feelings accumulated while he was working in Russia. By concentrating on his writing, he neglected his own daughter just as Uncle Jim was not around for the Blackett girls.

Captian Frlint with Nancy and Peggy

In the dramatised documentary, the beautiful actress Alina Karmazina plays Evgenia, the girl Ransome fell in love with while he was filing reports from Petrograd.  They later escaped over the border, trading her copper kettle for freedom of passage.

If the BBC had contacted Richard Pilbrow he would have been able to send them this letter. It was written to Neville Thompson, the online producer of the film, by Evgenia, who had become the second Mrs Ransome. It has never been published before. She gives the address as her retirement home near Banbury but it shows what kind of girl she was:

Mrs Ransome1

Page two:

Mrs Ransome page 2 trimmed

When Mrs Ransome saw the finished film in 1974, her only comment was that the kettle was of the wrong period.

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker camping on Peel Island, Conioston Water in Cumbria
Was Susan a portrayal of Evgenia? Here she is played by Suzanna Hamilton.

The story of the Ransome’s escape from Russian has been told by Hugh Lupton, Arthur Ransome’s great nephew, who gave us a rendition at The Arthur Ransome Society meeting near Bungay. It can be listened to on CD, available on CD from Burning Shed.

The Homing Stone by Hugh Lupton

The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome can be watched on BBC iPlayer by clicking on the photo here

Griff Rhys Jones - BBC

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

22 thoughts on “‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ along with a letter from Mrs Ransome herself”

    1. You could ask your TV stations to screen it! The Aussies would love it.
      It’s 59 mins long, includes 4 or 5 clips from the movie and is beautifully shot on location in London, Moscow and on Coniston Water.

  1. Many complex strands here. You say ‘escape from Russia’ [sic] Was it that close; was he in danger?

  2. Many complex strands here. You say ‘escape from Russia’ [sic] Was it that close; was he in danger? There is a link for a CD – but when one would have time to listen to a footnote, it is hard to say… That’s the information age for you. Evgenia’s grapplings with the Consular Department and technology – however – have a strangely familiar ring to them!

  3. I am not an expert on Ransome’s time in Eastern Europe, although I have read all that has been written. Ransome had an amazing two-way crossing of the Russian civil war lines to bring Evgenia out of Russia, and only his quick wits saved him from the firing squad.
    According to information in the Library of Congress, Washington, on the return journey Evgenia smuggled 32 diamonds and 3 strings of pearls in order to support overseas communist activities.
    I think ‘escape’ is fully justified!

      1. Dear Sophie , A comment on the silly articles about your ` renaming ` for the new S&A film – I was a pupil at an all boys grammar school in the 60/ 70s era and the word Titty would not have caused the least smirk ( or titter ! ) – I wonder if the name changer should perhaps look in a mirror and ask the obvious question !!
        If not , we have no chance whatsoever of ever filming ` Picts and Martyrs `
        Nancy to Peggy – ` Let`s go and look for ( —- ) in the woods ` – the Daily Mail would have a banner headline !! ( Discuss )

        1. The musical version of S&A kept the name Titty but bottled out when it came to the word ‘Natives’ – replacing it with ‘Barbarians’. Objection to this was voiced at the last TARS IAGM ! I’m sure you can find other bear traps in the books.

          1. The `Picts ` quote was ,obviously , made up by me as an example of how supid people are constantly on a quest to find some reason to change a name or expression in books .

              1. On a more serious note . a remake of S&A ( with or without mythically named characters ) will have a massive mountain to climb when compared with the 1973 version . There are too many of us who have watched it SO OFTEN ! We shall see ……..

              2. Ah, there are so many who assume ‘modern youngsters’ want more. Actually watch the film with kids and they’d see otherwise. How many times have you watched it?

      2. I thought it rather a strange letter in several ways. Evgenia was obviously feeling very frustrated and really let herself go in a letter that could have been much shorter and to the point.
        She writes of ‘all previous occasions’ as if she had been a regular globetrotter, yet she did not visit Russia until after AR’s death in 1967.
        I would love to know why Mr Thompson needed to contact Evgenia so urgently — not a question of photos, surely?

  4. S&A – film probably 50 times , but I also have the CD and the BBC versions in audio and often listened in times of insomnia – not as much now , but AR certainly filled many dark hours of my teaching career . Removal to a place of calm and safety ! Perfect !

  5. I remember this programme and it was fascinating. I think the letter is very interesting, for one thing, I never knew that Evgenia had ever returned to the USSR. I think the phrase ‘escape from Russia’ probably refers more to Evgenia than Arthur Ransome.

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