Back by popular demand – Swallows and Amazons (1974) on at the cinema

The Nancy Blackett Trust presented another screening of the classic film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) at the Riverside in Woodbridge.  The cinema was celebrating 100 years of film and were thrilled to welcome a large and enthusiastic audience of 250, made up of children and Arthur Ransome enthusiasts one of whom told us he saw the film in Shaftesbury Avenue when it first came out.


Swallow, the original dinghy used in the film was on display outside the cinema and I went along to answer questions about how the movie was made. Here are some of those asked by children in the audience:

Had you ever been on a boat before you started filming? Yes, my father was a great sailor and I’d crewed for him. As Titty, I had to row quite a bit – back from the charcoal burners, later when I captured Amazon and alongside Roger when we went to find the treasure on Cormorant Island.

How did you do the night time? We used Mrs Batty’s barn at Bank Ground Farm as a studio.

Which lake did you film on? Arthur Ransome wrote about an imaginary lake based on real places that we found on Windermere, Coniston Water, Derwentwater, Elterwater and a smelly lilly pond. the great thing is that you can go and find them too.

Sophie Neville at the Riverside Q&A

Did you enjoy filming? Yes, very much, but it could be chilly.
How long did it take to film? Forty-five days in all. It’s a 90 minute film so you can work out just how much we managed to film per day. It was well under the 4 minutes-a-day scheduled.
Did Titty actually keep the parrot? Titty did in the story but the parrot in the film was rather savage and had to be returned to Mrs Proctor of Kendal. However my parents bought a very tame green parrot called Chico who would sit on my shoulder, even when I went rowing.
Were you cold when you we filming the swimming scenes? Yes!  We nearly passed out.
Why didn’t you wear life jackets? The film was set eighty-six years ago in 1929 when children didn’t wear life-jackets. We wore BOAC life-vests during rehearsals and when being taken out to the location.
What are the children doing now? Working! Suzanna Hamilton is the only one of us to kept acting. She’s appeared in two feature films this year including ‘My Feral Heart’. Simon West has an engineering company that invents machines, Sten Grendon is a gardener, Kit Seymour is spending this year in Australia and I believe Lesley Bennett lives in the Netherlands, but I’m not sure. I’d love to make contact with her. Virginia McKenna is still acting as well as figure-heading her charity Born Free that does so much to relieve the suffering of animals.
In reality, how old were you all when you acted? Roger was 8, I was aged 12 pretending to be aged 9, Susan was 12 and John 11. Nancy was about the right age as she celebrated her 13th birthday towards the end of the filming. The secret was that Peggy was the eldest at 13.
Do you have a cameo role in the new film? You might just see me on the platform of the railway station but I am wearing a wig!
Why is Swallow’s flag brown? Because it a little elderly.

Sophie Neville at the Riverside cinema Woodbridge

The camping kit – was it all packed in Swallow? We children didn’t know it at the time but it didn’t all fit in, although they did keep taking the tents down. Why we had a rolling pin on board, I do not know.
What happened to AmazonThe Amazon Arthur Ransome knew, which was originally called Mavis, can be seen at the Coniston Museum. The dinghy we used in the film was also used in the black and white BBC TV serial made in 1962. She is now in Kent – and still sailing. You can see her on ‘Country Tracks’ by clicking here.

After the film screening, I was told that students on the Open University Children’s Literature course with study Arthur Ransome’s classic book ‘Swallows and Amazons’, which is good news, especially since the BBC News headline rang out the question: Do children still need to read the classics of English Literature? Declaring, ‘Gone from bedroom bookshelves are the Famous Five, The Chronicles of Narnia,and the adventures of the Swallows and Amazons.’

Is this true? Do leave your comments below – or contact the BBC!

Martine Artist Claudia Myatt at the Riverside Cinema

The marine artist Claudia Myatt with Swallow outside the Riverside in Woodbridge. You can see her website here

Photos by Charmain S Berry for the Riverside

You can read more about the secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons in any of these editions available online:

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

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

10 thoughts on “Back by popular demand – Swallows and Amazons (1974) on at the cinema”

  1. Hi Sophie, I find it incredibly heartwarming that so many young people take such an interest not only in your movie but the whole Ransome series.
    Especially when they have so many alternatives to turn to, and in this day of most TV, Movies etc being based around violence of one kind or another it is nice to know that there are a number of young people that follow your work.

    1. Some of the children coming to the cinema had watched the movie 20 times or more on TV or DVD, so for them it was a big screen experience. They were interested to know how and where the film was made. But this time round there were lots of kids who hadn’t seen it before and the audience response was terrific. The humour and excitement is appreciated in a large cinema.

      Have you ever seen ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on the big screen?

      1. Hi Sophie No I left the UK in the mid 70s, so I have only my old copy here that I have shown to my two boys when they where younger, It was great later to take them on the train from Haverthwaite and then a cruise around Windermere and a couple of days later the S & A cruise around Coniston after earlier in the morning having scaled Kanchenjunga.

    1. Hi! Yes, we have seen it here.
      When our son and daughter were children, every night I would read them a chapter fron one if the books. We read all the books that way. Then we heard the fairly new Disney cable tv channel was going to show the movie, so we signed up for that. It was great. Later I was able to get a dvd of “Swallows and Amazons” and then the dvd of the other Ransome movie of the Broads “Coot Club.”
      Great fun!
      We even had a 25 foot sailboat we named Swallow with a swallow burgee made by my mother-in-law.
      Please keep us posted on any news of the new movie they were talking about.
      Thank you.

      1. Last year we made DVD extras packages for the re-mastered special anniversary editions of both DVDs and a Bluray for S&A. They are so much better. The new cinema scope Blu-ray is amazing.

        Have you seen the musical of S&A? It’s great fun.

  2. Good Morning, Sophie

    Sorry I was not able to meet you at The Riverside showing. Was on a cruise of the Rjone, booked last year

    Re the BBC News item and S&A books. A few years ago, I was told by the head of the English Department at Orwell Park public school that Roald Dahl was the most popular author with the boys, but AR came second.

    Best wishes


    PS Did you ever get round to reading Their Cemetery Sown with Corn?

    1. Yes, I have ‘Cemetery Sown with Corn’ on my bedside table! Interesting about Orwell Park. A few years ago I gave a talk there about making ‘S&A’ and then judged their poetry reading competition.

  3. I love reading these blogs and other people’s thoughts and questions on the film; thank you for sharing them, Sophie.

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