A Little Bit of Film History

Contact sheet - Sophie Neville with Amazon's anchor

~ Titty with Amazon’s anchor ~

When I first posted an extract from ‘The Secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons’ on a literary website, someone wrote a review assuming it to be a novel. They must have thought that I was some poor creature who had imagined the whole thing. The reviewer considered the plot too far-fetched and fantastical – as you might if it had not been true.

‘You must have been dreaming.’

‘But Captain Flint, there were burglars, you’ve got to believe me.’

Poor Titty! No one ever believed her. Fortunately quite a bit of documentary evidence exists to support the fact that a certain feature film was made in the Lake District in 1973. I do wish I’d kept a copy of the book review though.

Contact sheet - finding Titty in Amazon

~ The Swallows find Titty sleeping in Amazon near Cormorant Island ~

Contact sheet - Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville sailing Amazon

~ Titty and Susan sail Amazon back to Wild Cat Island ~

Contact sheet sailing Swallow & Amazon in 1973

~ Sailing Swallow and Amazon on Derwentwater ~

Contact sheet - sailing Swallow & Amazon on Derwentwater

I was encouraged to collect things as a child, in case they might one day be of value. Back in 1973, I was given a number of black and white photographs and contact sheets of stills taken by Albert Clarke on the set of ‘Swallows & Amazons'(1974) – if you can call Derwentwater a movie set. I pasted some of these in a scrapbook but others remained in a roll that has only recently been returned to me. Each sheet looks roughly like this:

The Making of Swallows & Amazons contact sheet - both boats

The eye is easily tired by looking at the whole set but scanning and editing reveals a little bit of film history in every shot. I can see here that Titty wasn’t letting Amazon’s anchor down, she was hauling it in while Susan was at the helm, with a fair wind in her sails. This must have been quite tricky.

Sophie Neville pulling up Amazons' anchor

You can tell by the numbers above each shot how many were taken and in what sequence. presumably 2003 photographs had been snapped by the time the Swallows found Titty moored near Cormorant Island.

Contact sheet - filming Swallow

~ These bizarre shots show the film crew afloat on their pontoon ~

The photographs below show Virginia McKenna rowing away from Peel Island on Coniston Water in a native canoe with DoP Denis Lewiston and his 35mm camera, which is pretty unique.

One thing is certain, if these contact sheets had not been given to me they would have been thrown out and yet, over time, they have become precious. Do add a comment below if you would like to see more.

It is quite interesting to see which shots were chosen for the press. You can see a few of the action shots used in magazines of the time by clicking here. Newspapers tended to chose photographs akin to portraits as you can see here.

Recent newspaper articles tend to use a black and white film still that was clumsily tinted giving the lake water an unreal and bright blue hue as you find here.

Some of the black and white prints are now held at BFI. StudioCanal hold a vast selection of the best photos in their library and have an on-line shop here. I have included about a hundred behind-the-scenes snaps taken by my parents in the latest edition of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ recently published by The Lutterworth Press, available from libraries, bookshops and online stockists including The Nancy Blackett shop, where proceeds go towards the upkeep of Arthur Ransome’s favourite little ship.

9780718894962_cover Amazons.indd

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

9 thoughts on “A Little Bit of Film History”

  1. That’s hilarious about the book review of you and the film as fiction! The little photos are great – I love the ones of the team on the pontoon.

    1. It’s hysterical. Anyone who begins reading ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ assuming it to be fiction must think I’m batty. Sadly it is an indication that many people have never heard of either Arthur Ransome’s books or the film. I don’t think that The Sun has never written about either.

      I’ll look for some more bizarre photos.

  2. Part of Dads job as Publicist on Swallows was to go through every single contact photo and select the ones to go out to the press. There were thousands and as you mention tiring on the eyes.

  3. It was wonderful to see the collection of stills taken during the filming of S and A ( 1 ) . Not strange to note that ` Sun ` readers had no knowledge of Ransome or his work . BBC `Porridge` – `Fetch me a copy of the Sun , oh , and something to read – ( Fletcher ) How true !!
    Cheers , Martin Robinson

  4. These photos are fascinating and a valuable record. It is so good that they have survived. The book review – well! What can you say?!!

    1. It’s a miracle they survived! It was only because we were little that we were given so much. We kept scrapbooks and diaries as part of our schoolwork on location that interested others. But even then, I nearly threw out all the archive material I had collected in a fit of de-cluttering. I lent these contact sheets to someone who moved offices a number of times but eventually sent them back to me. I have more. It just takes time to scan them and of course the copyright must still belong to StudioCanal.

      1. Well I am very pleased that they have survived and I look forward to seeing any more that you post in the future.

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