Longing to add more stories to ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’

Almost as soon as we published the second edition of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ in May 2017, a number of facts and stories washed up on the incoming tide. I didn’t know that Ransome was aged twelve – Captain John’s age – when he first met the Collingwood family on Peel Island. I knew he went to Rugby School but not that he was given the study once used by the English author Lewis Carroll. I’m not sure if that inspired him to write children’s books but he certainly borrowed the term galumphing from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

~ Lewis Carroll’s plaque at Rugby School ~

I never knew that Rusland, where Arthur and Evgenia Ransome lie buried at St Paul’s Church, means ‘Land of the Rus’ – the name for Russia, where of course they met in what was then Petrograd when Evgenia was working as Leon Troski’s private secretary. Thanks to the feature writer Maggie Dickenson, I’ve learned that this kneeler at St Paul’s was embroidered by Jean Hopkins:

Cross flags at Rusland Church where the Ransomes are buried - photo Sophie Neville

Brian Crawley has just written in to say that, in 1973, our visit to the charcoal burners was filmed less than a mile to the west of the church in Glass Knott Wood. I gather the remains of the wig-wam’s fireplace can still be seen. I didn’t know it was so close, and just assumed we had been in the Grizedale Forest. I’ll have to add it to my map!

The Russian edition of Swallows and Amazons, that can be borrowed from The Arthur Ransome Society library, has proved a great source of reference. Donated by the Gatchina Library it is the only copy in the UK. I learnt from the comments at the back that the Black Jack is a pirate flag, which I’ve always called a Jolly Roger, and that ‘in one’s mind’s eye’ is an expression used by William Shakespeare in Hamlet. “Tip us a stave” means “give us a song”, a term used in Treasure Island.

Other flotsam and jetsam on my tide-line  is  a wonderful quote to accompany this behind-the-scenes photograph when re-reading Winter Holiday written by Arthur Ransome in 1933:

What’s in that box?” asked Roger.

It’s just about big enough for you, isn’t it?” said Captain Flint.

Sten Grendon in the camera box~ Sten Grendon playing Roger in the Panavision camera box in 1974~

A member of the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook commented on how annoying it was that Ronald Fraser made a funny face when he first sipped the tea Suzanna Hamilton offered him. Captain Flint ALWAYS enjoyed Susan’s tea.

Contact sheet - Ronald Fraser with Lesley Bennett

There was some discussion amongst members of the same Arthur Ransome Group about how female characters depicted in ‘Swallows and Amazons’. Eddie Castellan wrote: Ransome is remarkably non-sexist for his era and remains so by today’s standards. Mind you, most great storytellers realise that weak female characters are simply dull… great storytellers seem to give women better roles than mediocre ones.’ 

Contact sheet - Claude Whatham directing on the houseboat

Fionna Grant added: Arthur Ransome had a range of roles for his female characters from Nancy to Susan to Titty…. not only represented, but honoured for their contribution to the group… All the kids in Swallows and Amazons are encouraged to learn through achievement but they are also allowed to choose their own path, follow their own interests.

Contact sheet - Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville on Cormorant Island

At a talk given about the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen given by Simon Browne, at a meeting of The Arthur Ransome Society, we were given a definition of the word Hero: one who combats adversity through integrity, bravery or strength, often sacrificing personal concerns for the greater good.

Titty was brave but all she really did was to grab a chance to swipe Amazon. It meant she had to sleep on board, which was rather uncomfortable, but what made Titty a true heroine in the film was her determination and persistence: she woke up early and persuaded Roger to help her find the treasure hidden on Cormorant Island. Like Ransome himself, she was prepared to grab a chance, take a risk – even if it meant being cold and uncomfortable for a while.

Contact sheet - blurred images of Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville rowing to Cormorant Island

I received another lovely note on Facebook from Zena Ashberry (nee Khan) who appeared as a film extra in the Rio scenes shot at Bowness-on-Windermere when she was a little girl, despite being of half-Asian descent:

‘I was nine at the time and my sister was eight. I remember going through an audition – which was really just a panel of three or four men looking at Mum, my sister and me to see if we would be in keeping with the ‘look’ of the film. They seemed very keen on having Mum. My sister, at the time had sandy coloured hair and so was not at all problematic, however I was very dark and because they wanted Mum they said that they could hide ‘it’ by putting me in a white dress and hat! How times have changed…obviously I remember other things too, like feeding the horses which pulled the open carriage and the horse standing on my foot oouuch!, the strange awkwardness of having to act ‘naturally’ whilst being watched through a camera, having to repeatedly carry out the same activity to ensure a good shot – how many times did we throw stones into the lake? The ice-cream tricycle with real ice cream mmmm a treat … being watched by crowds of tourists gathered along the footpath and flower beds. It was a strange and unreal experience, doing what as children we would normally do but doing it in ‘dressy-up’ clothes that weren’t from our own dressy -up box and playing the game with Mum and her friends with total strangers telling us what we should do…just a bit bewildering really, but funny in retrospect.’

Contact sheet - Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton night sailing

Please let me know if you have any points of interest that I could add to ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ that you think might of interest to readers. The great thing about ebooks is that they can be updated and re-loaded free of charge.

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

I’m hoping to give a number of talks on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ this summer. Please click here for details.

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

16 thoughts on “Longing to add more stories to ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’”

  1. Well done Sophie, another collection of interresting additions! At this rate you will have enough for a 3rd edition!

    I agree with the comments about Ransome’s female charachers, though for me the strongest are Nancy and Titty for very different reasons, Susan and Peggy have their strengths. More importantly his writing for all four is so different from other writers of the time. It is this that I feel contributes to the fact that he is still as popular today and held in high regard.

    Once again, thank you and more please!

    1. I’ll keep scanning the tide-line for more! Sometimes I think I should have done more research but I was taken around Rugby School to find out more about Arthur Ransome and no one told me he had been allocated the study used by Lewis Carroll. Now I can’t remember where I read about this, but I’d taken the photo of the plaque. It’s in the school chapel.

  2. More lovely snippets, meat and drink to us followers!

    Ronald Fraser – sigh – how could the director have got the casting so wrong… He’s wince-makingly patronising, whereas Jim Turner was absolutely in the children’s world. I recall a TV version of The Treasure Seekers where James Wilby played Albert’s Uncle in just that way.

  3. You mention the 2 burials in Rusland Church graveyard, do you remember that your visit to the charcoal burner was filmed less than a mile to the west of the church in Glass Knott Wood. This is not at the side of Coniston Water where the smoke was seen by the children when on the lake. It took me a chance encounter after several years of research to find its location. I gave you a postcard of the site when we met in Kendal.By another co-incidence I recently met Martin Altounyan who still lives close to the Rusland Valley but used to live very close to the Glass Knott charcoal burn site.

    1. That is interesting! I must add your point to the Blog post. I have your post card but didn’t know that Glass Knott Wood was so close to Rusland Church. Martin Altounyan and his twin, Barbara Altounyan are coming to the Arthur Ransome Society IAGM at Coniston 25th-28th May, which should be fun. Are you coming!?

  4. “Tip us a stave” means “give us a song”. It is used in Treasure Island, which is probably where Ransome got it from. I presume it relates to a stave of music.
    I certainly agree that one of Ransome’s strengths is his use of female characters. As a child I imagined myself as combination of both John and Nancy. The only other female character from children’s books that I remember looking to emulate is Peter (Petronella) Sterling from the Lone Pine books.

  5. I read some of the ‘Lone Pine’ series after I had discovered and read Ransome, the one thing I liked about them (as there were more books) was tha Saville had more time to let the characters mature.

  6. More great stuff, thanks Sophie. This is all really interesting. Like you, I didn’t know about Ransome having Lewis Carroll’s study at Rugby.; but I did know that ‘Rusland’ meant the same as ‘Russia’: the Land of the Rus. Do keep the extra snippets coming please, Sophie; they are all fascinating.

      1. I will if I can think of anything. Mr Martin Honor is correct about ‘tip us a stave’ deriving from the musical stave the notes are written on. And I’m pretty sure that the ‘Jolly Roger’, as well as being the ‘Black Jack’ was also known as the ‘Black Jake’, if I remember correctly.

          1. I might have dreamt about Black Jake being the name of the flag, I’m afraid. I’ve been looking it up and I can’t find the reference I thought I had. It isn’t mentioned in Charles Johnson’s ‘History of Pyrates’ (Charles Johnson was a pen-name of Daniel Defoe, by the way). The name ‘Black Jack’ comes from the colour, ‘black’ and the term for a flag, ‘jack’. The name ‘Jolly Roger’ is supposedly due to it being the flag of Bartholomew Roberts who wore a red coat. He was called Black Barti (or Barti Dhu) and, by the French, due to his red coat, ‘Le Joli Rouge’ (The Pretty Red). This nickname became anglicised and transferred to his flag as ‘Jolly Roger’.

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