Can you remember ‘Swallows & Amazons’ coming out in the cinema?

Swallows and Amazons at the Belfast Film Festival
‘Swallows & Amazons’ at the Belfast Film Festival ~ photo by Debbie Davidson who said, ‘We had a fab day watching the movie, reliving our childhood.’
The film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) was screened at the Belfast Film Festival. Curiously, the ‘Terms and Conditions of Entry’ specified:
This was ironic since, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is about children cooking on campfires, eating canned bully beef or ‘pemmican’ while swigging ‘grog’ out of bottles, as far as possible form adult supervision. However, the movie was shown outside – on a huge screen under the trees opposite Belfast City Hall. ‘THIS OUTDOOR EVENT’, they declared, ‘WILL HAPPEN REGARDLESS OF WEATHER CONDITIONS’. Since the story is about camping this did seem apt but as you can see from the photograph above, it was an idyllic sunny summer’s day.
Ronald Fraser walking the plank
Ronald Fraser walking the plank in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

‘How lovely…we love seeing this wonderful film,’ Gerry Spiller said.

‘My Mother took me to see the film when it was first released, it was in a double bill with ‘Born Free’, which also had Virginia McKenna in. In those days you could just sit in the cinema and see the film again if you wanted to. We did.’  Jon Ford

‘Ok, a confession. When I was twelve I was a spoilt little brat. My parents had decided to take my brothers and I out for a surprise. I refused to go until I was told what it was as I hated surprises. My parents wouldn’t tell me so I very nearly didn’t go. I went only after being told by my big brother that if I didn’t he would hit me. The surprise? A trip to the cinema to see Swallows and Amazons! ‘ Marc Grimston, Author

‘Can’t believe how long ago it was. I remember going to see the film at the Aylesbury Odeon and loving it.’ Kate Pearson

‘… the first film I saw in a cinema, Swallows & Amazons, ABC Colchester April 1974. Cinema now a pub.’ Fabian Breckels on Twitter

It was on at the local cinema. My son was too young to go so I offered to take a neighbour’s child on condition that the neighbour’s older child baby-sat for me.’ Janet Mearns

‘One of my all time favourite films. Watched it just the other day in fact. I never seem tire of it. Especially after a trip to the Lakes.’ John Heath

Nancy and Peggy on Wild Cat Island
Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour as the Amazons when filming in 1973
‘I don’t know why we missed it when it was first shown (I was six at the time)…  it came back to the cinema for another showing a few years later and the place was almost empty, so it felt as if they’d put it on specially for us.’ David Cooper

Rather like David, missed it as a child. Which makes me rather sad in retrospect. Had no idea it existed until I discovered it through ‘Google’! a few years ago. I now have two copies of it on DVD.’ Paul Thomas

‘I was 11 when the film came out and I was already a huge S&A fan. I loved the film and you, well Titty really, she became my first ever crush. Thank you for the excellent portrayal of Titty. Thanks also on behalf of my own daughters who also fell in love with the film, probably due to my regular screenings!’ Mike Embleton

swa_co_tra_ 008
Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville on Derwentwater in 1973
‘I finally got to see it while we stayed at Bank Ground Farm our first visit to England. Loved it, cried over it, was delighted to finally see it after many years of sharing a love of Swallows & Amazons books with my mother, my sisters & my children! Mrs. Batty kindly put it on for us to watch in the farmhouse living room.’ Elizabeth Rondthaler Jolley, USA

It was two years ago in my 36th year. I found it somewhere on internet after I have read the first (book) to my son. And then we watched together. It was perfect. In Czech republic where I live, Ransome was in my childhood one of the most favourite authors.’ Jiri Precek, Romania

‘In June 1973 I was 9 months into my 3 year teacher training course at Didsbury Teacher Training College… It was not for many years – probably 15 that I contacted Cape for info about locations – still have the reply !!’
Martin Robinson

John and his Flagship with Nancy and Peggy
Sten Grendon, Simon West, Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett on Peel Island 1973
‘I was 9 in 1974 and saw the film about four times that summer (I think it was shown with Born Free as a double feature) and I had a huge crush on Lesley Bennett! (Where is she now?) I read all the books several times over during the 70’s . Reading your memories made me re-read the book and watch the film for the first time since the 70’s and I have to say the film holds up very well!’ Richard Meads, Worthing, West Sussex

The DVD reviewer Stuart McLean writes: ‘The cast were pretty much the same age as me in 1973 (when it was filmed) and I remember enjoying this tremendously when it came out in 1974, forty years ago. Back then, the idea that four school-kids could take off in a boat for days at a time with no life-jackets seemed perfectly plausible. These days it would be cause for 24 hour rolling news reports.’ Please click here to read on.

Simon Hodkin first went to see  Swallows & Amazons in Wales some forty years ago. He kept a scrapbook full of souvenirs, including a letter from Arthur Ransome.

Can you remember the first time you saw the film?  Please add to the Comments box.

To watch a filmbeat interview about making the film please click here

You can read about how the film was made here:

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

26 thoughts on “Can you remember ‘Swallows & Amazons’ coming out in the cinema?”

  1. After the film’s premier in 1974, I waited expectantly for it to be transferred from the Odeon, Leicester Square to the Odeon, Bognor Regis. it never came. The film never even came to the cinema we all called the ‘flea-pit’.
    Eventually, I saw it in a strange little cinema on Worthing sea front. i remember choking with emotion when the well-loved ‘Swallows and Amazons for Ever’ came up in huge letters at the end.
    I have not been to the cinema since.

    1. I saw S & A the film at the Whiteladies Road cinema in Cotham (Bristol) – I assume in 1974 – and, of course, more recently in Woodbridge. By the way Roger (Wardale), what has happened to Swallow 2 – built at Harry King’s for Ransome as the tender for Selina King? Is it still floating?

  2. Wow! I do so hope it comes to the cinema at Bognor Regis. Maybe I might bump into Mr Wardale who mentioned the town in his comment. 🙂

  3. The film must have been very popular because I can remember arriving at the ABC Wolverhampton cinema with my son and finding queues. I had arranged to meet a friend and she said she had just seen our then notorious local businessman Ronald Millhench, later jailed for forging Harold Wilson’s signature. (Not sure if he was in the audience!!) The next morning my 4 year old son was clearly impressed and came in announcing that he was Nancy Blackett. We later acquired the LP and now have the DVD, played repeatedly at the slightest excuse.

  4. Swallow is in the care of Paul Crisp, and when I saw her for that radio programme about AR’s boats about four years ago, she was in fine condition and kept in a barn during the winter months.

      1. Sorry. Swallow belongs to me.
        The wreck was given to me and I restored her in my garage. After restoration she appeared at the Wooden Boat Show at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich alongside Nancy Blackett, and has also been on display at The National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, various libraries, showings of SA74 and TARS AGMs.
        She is on permanent loan to Paul who has more opportunities to make use of her.

  5. The best response to the “Titty” faux pas (by the new Director, whoever he may be, not the original one) {it seems to me} would be to push for the sensitive, period-informed filming of ALL the SA Books, but AUTHENTICALLY – with no gratuitous rape scenes a la Covent Garden. His idiocy re ‘Titty’ will give oodles of free publicity to any new and serious initiatives… The 12 Ransome books should be like a new ‘Ring’ cycle, in film terms. The original Ransomian ‘Boy Scout’ values, I guess snatched in the face of Communism and the more valuable for it, will in the end triumph. What does the ironically named Mr Wardale think? In a sane world, there is no need for embassassment about anything.The embarrassing egg will be all in the face of the new film-maker!

    1. Well, yes, sensitive, period informed films by all means.
      However well the casting, sets and screenplay work for the Ransome reader, the result will be less that the reality conjured up by the genius of AR combined with every reader’s imagination.
      SA74, in my view, is the best possible introduction for very young children, followed by parental reading, sharing the experience.
      One of the amazing things about the “Swallows ‘ books is their great variety.
      For the sake of argument, SA is a celebration of imaginative play and childhood independence. SD is SA Part Two and celebrates Lakeland
      folk and tradition. PD seems to celebrate the ‘Treasure Island’ tradition of rattling good yarns. WH is concerned with the introduction of raw townies and a celebration of Lakeland during a hard winter. CC celebrates Broadland life and wildlife. PP is a strange one. Again, one of it’s strengths is the portrayal of the locals. Plenty of danger but precious little imaginative play. None at all in WD that is really the story of an unsought voyage and celebrates the family unit. The location of mud and tides seems to dominate SW and although loyalty is a theme, it is hardly celebrated .BS is CC Part Two with a good climax celebrating loyalty and ingenuity. ML is unique in children’s literature and again loyalty is the theme, this time to one’s ancestors. PM is great fun, celebrating self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Finally, GN? rather plods after the sailing chapters and celebrates innocence against evil, as does BS.
      This great variety means that even if each were to be filmed effectively, sensitively — and commercially — the result could not possibly resemble a saga.
      There, there is enough here for people to disagree with, so we might have some lively discussion.

  6. We took our 3 children to the first showing in Guildford. They were aged 5 to 11 but had been brought up on the books and (like it or not) had excerpts as bedtime stories. My daughter (the five year old) may not have understood everything thing but became the most dedicated dinghy sailor of the three.
    I grew up in North London and had been given the books by relatives over the years. I never dreamed of actually sailing but later at college, a friend had access to a Firefly on the Welsh Harp – the University of London sailing water. We progressed to a holiday at a Sailing School on the coast where I met my future wife. So Arthur Ransome is responsible for 58 years of marriage and 60 years of dinghy sailing. I had to give up 2 years ago due to poor balance – not good in a racing dinghy !

    1. Dear Graham, How good to hear your story. Do think of tracking down a copy of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’. you should be able to order it from your local library or buy one online. There is a much cheaper ebook, entitled ‘The secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons’ that is the same but includes a few more stories and links to cine footage my parents took on location.

      1. Dear Sophie,
        I do have your book “The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons 1974” on Kindle and will now re-read it. I also have Roger Wardle’s “In Search of Swallows & Amazons” and “Discovering Swallows & Ransomes” by John Berry.

        1. That’s great. I brought out a 2nd edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ on Kindle in 2017. If you don’t yet have it, do upload this new version free of charge. It has quite a few more stories that came in from the Lake District. It would be most helpful if you could add a short customer review on the Amazon site as it helps me to get commissions for other books. I have ‘The Secrets of Filming Coot Club’ poised.

          1. I don’t think my edition is at late as 2017 but can’t find any clue as to date. Also can’t see where your latest edition is free of charge. Very pleased to add a review when I read it.

  7. I can’t remember where I saw the film when it came out (we lived near Blackburn at the time) but I do remember my wife and I going to see it as a treat for me!

      1. Yes, it was certainly the first showing in the area: either Blackburn, Accrington or Preston; possibly Manchester, but I don’t think so. Wed been married three years and Steph knew it was my favourite childhood book.

          1. We both loved it and I still do. And we didn’t have our first child until six years later, in 1980!

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