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

Members of The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have alerted me to the fact that ‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ is currently 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 so close to the action, in dialogue both Lenin and Leon Trotsky, that the question has been raised as to whether he was a British spy.

Hugh Brogan, Ransome’s biographer explains that he’d originally ran off to Russia to escape from his melodramatic wife, Ivy Walker in 1913. After using his time to record Russian fairy stories, that can still 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 feature filmSwallows & Amazons, produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973.

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 being away and concentrating on his writing, he neglected his 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 recently 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


Filed under 1973, adventure, Arthur Ransome, Biography, British Film, Family Film, Film History, Lake District, Letters, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story, Vintage Film

18 responses to “‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ along with a letter from Mrs Ransome herself

  1. Fascinating stuff! It’s too sad that we cannot watch BBC iPlayer videos in Australia. Thanks for yet another wonderful piece, Sophie!

    • 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.

  2. mfmsm

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

  3. mfmsm

    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!

  4. 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!

    • What did you think of the letter Richard Pilbrow sent me!?

      • 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 )

      • 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?

  5. 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 !

  6. Pingback: Out of the archives: a 1974 script for a BBC Radio Bristol show about the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ | Sophie Neville

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