Out of the archives: a 1974 script for a BBC Radio Bristol show about the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Swallow and Amazon sailing on Derwentwater in the Lake District 1973

When the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ first came out in cinemas it stirred up quite a bit of interest in the media.

This script for a programme made for BBC Radio Bristol has recently been discovered in a box in my mother’s attic. Typical of the early ‘seventies, it is a carbon copy, so is rather feint, but it a little bit of media history in itself:

It’s intriguing. What did we say in the interviews that they ran in?

Sadly, two of the first newspaper reviews of the movie were not complimentary. Last year, when interviewed by Tim Fenton at Pin Mill on the Orwell, Professor Hugh Brogan said that one of these articles was so ignorant and so angered him that he resolved to write the truth about Ransome’s distinguished career. This involved years of research but resulted in his biography, ‘The Life of Arthur Ransome’.

I haven’t been able to find the article Hugh read but he remembered it being ignorant of Arthur Ransome’s politics rather than the film. His beautifully written book sparked an enormous amount of additional research and television documentaries, including ‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’, which can be viewed on iPlayer.

Since The Lutterworth Press published the seconded edition of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ in May last year, a number of other stories and facts have reached me. I’ve learned that the creamy yellow taxi in which the Walker family arrived at Holly Howe was a Vauxhall 20/60 R type saloon, 1928 – 1930 model hired for the film by the property buyer Ron Baker, whose name I must add to the credits. When the Altounyan children stayed at the same farmhouse, which in reality is called Bank Ground Farm, their hostess was called Mrs Jolly. Apparently her husband, Mr Jolly, did not live up to his name.

The lady in blue who waved from the deck of MV Tern after the Swallow’s near miss was played by Lorna Khan. Here she is with her daughter Zena and a yellow Austin Heavy 12/4 tourer, after they appeared in the Rio scenes. You can see other film extras and supporting artists in 1929 costume, patiently sitting in the Browns of Ambleside coach behind them.

 Photograph (c) Zena Ashbury

Did you know that missionaries in Africa used semaphore? Until I read a Russian edition of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ I’m afraid I didn’t know that Darien was the former name of the Isthmus of Panama, that the Rio Grande flows from South Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico or that ‘Shiver my timbers’ was a curse used by R. L Stephenson in Treasure Island.

Nick Owen had been living at Elterwater for seventeen years before he learnt the fishing scene from ‘Swallows and Amazons(1974)’ was shot there.

It had not occurred to me that the film was recorded in the annals until I was sent this excerpt from the third edition of ‘Time Out Film Guide’ (1993). Perhaps I should bring out a third edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’.

Please let me know if you would like to see more archive material from the attic.

To read more about Cider With Rosie (1971) directed by Claude Whatham, starring Sten Grendon as Laurie Lee please click here

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

26 thoughts on “Out of the archives: a 1974 script for a BBC Radio Bristol show about the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’”

      1. Sophie

        “I don’t want to become a bore.”!

        Your book for me was not just an insight in to the S&A film (as a Ransome enthuisiast) but they way films are made and what all the people involved do.
        It also shows how a well known and well loved book can be adapted for the screen in the right hands!
        Please tell us as much as you ever find out from others about the whole process

          1. Sophie

            Of course! I have copies of both editions of the S & A book and contributed very positive reviews of them on Amazon!

            I’m sure a book on Coot Club etc would be just as fascinating!

  1. I’m always interested to learn more, to fill in the details of the film and filming.
    The books are such a rich goldmine of information about sailing, poetry, literature, geography, countryside lore, childhood fun and imagination, and the world in general.

    (I hadn’t realised that you and “Roger” had acted in “Cider With Rosie” which I loved when I saw it in the ’70s)

  2. Thank you for some more fascinating information about the film.

    Of course we would like to see more of whatever you have in the attic that gives more insight in to the film.

    I didn’t realise that Hugh Brogan was spurred on to write Ransome’s biography for that reason, when it was published I just supposed he had been commissioned to so (I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was a mature student at the University of Essex in the 1990s, I took a chance of knocking on his door one afternoon taking my copy of the biogarphy and asking him sign it. He was most welcoming, he signed my book and we had an interesting chat about Ransome. I was most pleased to find his favourite book was the same as mine – ‘Winter Holiday’)

    1. Hugh Brogan came to The Arthur Ransome Jamboree at Pin Mill last April and spoke at the Pin Mill Sailing Club. He said it would be his last talk as his voice was going. I’m so glad I was there.
      I wrote about the event here: https://sophieneville.net/2017/04/28/come-along-to-the-arthur-ransome-jamboree-at-pin-mill-in-suffolk/

      You can see an old but very good ‘Bookworm’ documentary featuring Hugh Brogan and Taqui Altounyan at the end of this post: https://sophieneville.net/2017/10/13/a-marathon-reading-of-we-didnt-mean-to-go-to-sea-by-arthur-ransome/

  3. “Used to be required reading for all well brought up kids”. Glad I’m in that category. Everyone else was reading Enid Blyton which I thought was a bit wimpy and not at all my cup of tea…It’s nice to see these traces of your film adventure and comments on your acting skills.

  4. It s always good to read more about the Swallows and Amazons filming – any new material I am sure would be well received , especially by TARS members who have been fans of the film for 40+ years. We are now able to fill in a few answers to questions about cast, crew ,locations etc.
    I must update my Kindle copy to the second edition … !
    TARS for ever , Martin

  5. More fascinating treasures from the archives – great! Like your other correspondents, I never tire of reading about ‘Swallows and Amazons’, both book and film; please keep them coming, I will never get bored, I promise!

    1. It’s great when people like Lena write in or send old photographs. I’m certainly collecting lots of information for a 3rd edition of the ebook. If anyone has any points to add, however small, I’d love to know about them.

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