Memories of making ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974): part six

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker in the 1974 movie

‘Titty from Swallows and Amazons’ often gets typed into the Goggle search engine but when I attempt to use it as a ‘tag’ a message pops up saying: ‘Sorry, you are not allowed to assign the provided terms.’ I can only conclude that Google lacks literary enlightenment but the BBC were happy for me to talk about Titty on BBC Antiques Roadshow recently.

Sophie Neville on BBC Antiques Roadshow

‘Memory picks and choses,’ as Arthur Ransome said in his autobiography (p.33) but those who love his novels often wonder what would have happened to the characters when they grew up. It dawned on me that this might be one reason why people are interested to know what we all did with our lives. I played Titty Walker in Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. In 1962, the film actress Susan George played the same character in the black and white BBC television serial of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with her hair in pigtails. She was called Kitty, apparently with Arthur Ransome’s approval. BBC Films decided to call the Able seaman ‘Tatty’ in the 2016 movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’, when she was brilliantly played by Teddy-Rose Malleson-Allen who went on to star in ‘Four Kids and It'(2020).

The character was inspired by a real little girl, Titty Altounyan, who stayed at Bank Ground Farm (or Holly Howe) when visiting her grandparents who lived above Coniston Water. In 1939, Miss Joyce Cartmell acquired a signed note from Arthur Ransome explaining that, ‘Titty is short for Tittymouse which is what she was called when she was a baby. Nobody ever calls her anything but Titty now’. It appears that Ransome was also asked for a photograph of himself, to which he responded, ‘Too ugly’.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917) described Arthur Ransome as ‘exuberant, rash and intelligent.’ In 1973, I can only assume the film director Claude Whatham was looking for the same spirit in us children. It was certainly captured by Wilfred Joseph’s nautical film score.

What constantly impacts me is the number of people who write in to say how much they wanted  Titty to become their best friend. In many ways the characters from Ransome’s books become friends for life. You can easily gain others who have the same outlook on life by joining The Arthur Ransome Society, who offer activities and grants for young people as well as adults with a literary bent. You too can stay at Bank Ground Farm and run down the field to dip your hands in the lake.

Staying at Bank Ground Farm – ‘Holly Howe’ with TARS

You can read more about making the movie in the multi-media ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’.

And in the illustrated paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ by Sophie Neville available online and from the Nancy Blackett Trust


Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

15 thoughts on “Memories of making ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974): part six”

  1. Hi Sophie, I’ve just seen you on the AR and was very surprised you weren’t still nine years old and messing about in boats! I read your book Funnily Enough a few years ago and really empathised with you, your family, your CFS and your Christianity, but the way you came across showed you are someone who is just able to see the hilarious side to pretty well everything. In fact I shall read it again as after the year we’ve all had one needs to get laughing again!! Just ordered the Making of Swallows and Amazons from …… well …. Amazon! Have also read Riding the Wings of Morning! Big smiles here!

    1. Thanks so much for writing in. I hope you enjoy ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’. Someone thought it was a novel, ‘a good idea but a bit far-fetched’, which made me roar with laughter. Would you honour me by leaving short reviews on the Amazon pages for the books? You write so well.

      1. Certainly I will! I left one on Goodreads for Funnily Enough many years again!! Will do the same on Amazon, but will probably read them again first! It’s ok I’m a quick reader! 🙂

            1. I have to eat fresh (unfrozen) duck and liver or kidneys in an effort to get as much vitamin B into my system as possible. I don’t like offal much but eating liver pate seems to work. Freezing food kills so much vitamin B its no wonder so many battle with fatigue or clinical depression.

              1. Absolutely! I take Vit B50 complex amongst many other vits and minerals. I do hope you recover quickly!

        1. I recovered – as you know from reading ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’ – but have just spent five weeks in a similar state brought on by the AstraZeneca vaccine. I’m dreading the booster.

          1. Oh no!!! I had the Pfizer and was ok, but I usually feel pretty c**p so wouldn’t really notice the difference. I knew that being in a different climate helped you to recover, but what a bummer!! I’ll send you my email address.

  2. I also have just seen you on Antiques Roadshow – brilliant! And there are some great reminiscences and back-stories in this blog, thank you Sophie.

  3. I have recently purchased two other films brilliantly produced from Arthur Ransoms books Coot Club and The Big Six. I wondered what had happened to the young actors and actresses in the two films. I did find something for most of the child stars but nothing for the twins. I would like to ask what happened to Sarah and Claire Matthews who played Port and Starboard in Coot Club as I cannot find anything they did after coot club. Also are there any plans to make into film any other Arthur Ransom books as both the films mentioned above are brilliant, its a shame no more were done at the time.

    1. Claire and Sarah appeared in another drama but then returned to normal life in Sussex where they still live. Sadly, we produced no more Arthur Ransome book adaptations at the BBC, although ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was brought out by BBC Films in 2016. The books are quite expensive to bring to the screen but what you can watch is ‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ an excellent drama documentary on BBC iPlayer. It is presented by Griff Rhys Jones and shot on location in Russia.

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