David Wood, who wrote the screenplay to Swallows and Amazons fifty years ago

Sophie Neville and David Wood appearing on CBBCTV

David Wood, the award-winning playwright who adapted ‘Swallows and Amazons’ for the big screen in the early 1970s, wrote to say, “A fan recently reminded me that SWALLOWS, the film, will be celebrating its 50th birthday next year! Hard to believe, but true!”

He’s right. The Royal Gala that launched the film was held at the ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue on 4th April 1974. I still have the dress I wore and found a copy of the programme signed by other children in the cast. You can see photos in post I wrote about it here.

“I couldn’t attend the premiere,” David said, “I was rehearsing in Manchester!” This was a pity as it would have been amazing to watch the first film he’d written on the big screen with members of the cast present.

The programme of the Royal Gala Premiere of 'Swallows and Amazons' 1974
A signed programme from the premiere of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ held on 4th April 1974

The event was followed by the publisher Kaye Webb’s Puffin Show at The Commonwealth Institute in Kensington High Street where the dinghy Swallow was on display from 9-21st April. I remember going along to meet readers. One of them wrote to me years later, thrilled that she’d won a new copy of the book. You can read her letter and find the Puffin Post article in an earlier post here.

Kaye Webb's Puffin Club 1974
Kaye Webb’s Puffin Club Show – April 1974

“Do you think anyone will do anything to celebrate the anniversary? Are there any producers or distribution companies that might be approached? I am in touch with Richard Pilbrow, in America. I might drop him an email… Let me know if you think we ought to try to do something… a special screening, perhaps?”

When I suggested a few News presenters who might be interested in becoming involved, David replied saying:  

“John Sergeant and I were at Oxford together, and performed in revue and cabaret….I directed him in a musical!

“Libby Purves interviewed me a few years ago at The Story Museum, Oxford. I was on Midweek twice too….”

“Have never met Ben Fogle, but years ago I knew his mother, Julia Foster. Her first husband was Lionel Morton, pop singer and Play School presenter, who played Owl for me in the first London production of THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT WENT TO SEE……in 1969!!!!!!”

“I was delighted that Virginia McKenna got her Damehood! Well deserved.”

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of making the film in the Lake District. I explained that I had been invited to give a talk to members of the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Kensington in April, hoping her could join me.

“I will put your April 18th talk in the diary – not sure yet if I will be free to come! But would appreciate you asking if I could attend. Last time I was there I gave a magic show for the members’ children!! About 50 years ago….just like the film!”

“The plans sound exciting. I wonder if the Arthur Ransome Society, to whom I gave a talk not long ago, might be interested in arranging something…”

They are. The idea is to put on an event at Windermere Jetty Museum in July 2024, under the auspices of Lakeland Arts. The Arthur Ransome Society are hoping to have both Swallow and Amazon there.

David then wrote to say: “The Cinema Museum, a rather wonderful institution in the Kennington area of South London, have pencilled Saturday April 6th 2024 for two screenings of SWALLOWS, to celebrate fifty years.” We have been invited to give Q&As and sign copies of our books. “Martin Humphries, who runs the Cinema Museum, organised a similar event about IF…., when I did a Q&A after the screening.”

This year is also the 50th Anniversary of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway where we spent the very first day of filming on 14th May 1973.

I have details of my own forthcoming talks and events on another page here.

Any other ideas are invited! Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

7 thoughts on “David Wood, who wrote the screenplay to Swallows and Amazons fifty years ago”

  1. I am sure there will be many things going on next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the film. It would be incredible if yourself, David Wood, perhaps even Virginia McKenna were present at some of them.

    1. Virginia might come to a screening at BFI. We could suggest a ‘Dame Virginia McKenna Season’. It would be great to have a screening to raise funds for her Born Free Foundation.

  2. The 50th anniversary must be a good enough reason to get one of the terrestrial broadcasters to reshow the film? Anyone at StudioCanal actively pursuing this? Someone must know the right people to make this happen! Film4 or even BBC2 would be great.

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