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 the Antiques Roadshow recently.

Sophie Neville on BBC Antique’s Roadshow

‘Memory picks and choses,’ as Arthur Ransome said in his autobiography (p33) 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 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

 

A First Edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ – signed by the author – goes for £201 in an auction held in aid of BBC Children in Need

Sophie Neville author of 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

Bidding mounted steadily for a hardback first edition copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, signed by the author.

After 64 bids and it sold for £201

– I am quite blown away. Very many thanks to all our supporters.

100% of the money will be donated to BBC Children in Need – under the auspices of ‘Children in Read’ via the Jumblebee auction site where this illustrated book was listed under the categories of both ‘Autobiography’ and ‘Film & Television’.

To read a free sample of the first section of the 2nd edition – available as an ebook  – click here – then click on ‘Look inside’.

To read reviews on the 2nd edition of this book, please click here

To see more on the second edition of the ebook – click here

‘highly amusing and thoroughly enjoyable’ David Butters

Since the bidding ran so high, I will include a signed copy of the 2nd edition, entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, published by The Lutterworth Press. This contains colour plates with more photos and additional stories that flowed down from the Lake District after the first edition came out.

I’m also including a hardback First Edition of my memoir ‘Funnily Enough’, which has a bit on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ and a signed copy of ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, which has noting about the making of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ but is all about living out the adventurous outdoor lifestyle advocated by Arthur Ransome, so there are four books in the bundle.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

Although surpassed by Phillip Pullman and JK Rowling, I gained far more than authors such as Bernard Cornwall, Jeffery Archer, Sophie Kinsella and Maggie O’Farrell.

Being a filmography, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ sat alongside the bestsellers, ‘Killing Eve’ by Luke Jennings and ‘Kay’s Anatomy’ by Adam Kay, which you can see by clicking here.

This auction of books has already raised £21,841 for BBC Children in Need, which is fantastic. It closed on Friday 13th November at 11.00pm.

If you need to know more about the auction, please contact Paddy Heron at Children in Read: childreninread@yahoo.com

The Puffin paperback copies of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

The school term is over, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is on BBC iPlayer and Christmas missives are arriving in the post. I have just been sent this homemade card from someone who came to the premier of the original film in 1974, when I was fortunate enough to play Able seaman Titty.

Image (75)

~Captain Flint hanging Christmas decorations around his houseboat on a card made from a Puffin book cover~

I dug out the Puffin paperback of Swallows and Amazons my father gave me when I was a girl and read avidly, along with other books in the series, by the time I was eleven years-old. It is a 1970’s edition in which I’d underlined everything Titty said. I must have re-read this copy when busy preparing for filming the 1974 movie financed by EMI.

'Swallows and Amazons' Puffin book cover 1970

Kaye Webb, the editor, had written an introduction saying, ‘This book is about sailing, fishing, swimming, camping, and piratical exploits.’ She wanted to make it available to children, thinking that discovering Swallows and Amazons ‘for the first time must be as exciting as a Christmas morning.’

Underneath, I’d noted down the skills I would need to acquire before playing the part of Titty. ‘Owl Hoot’, was one item, ‘wisle’ (sic) another. I was somewhat apprehensive about dancing the Hornpipe but excited about ‘being a cormorant’, having no idea how cold this experience would prove.

My 1970 Puffin edition of Swallows and Amazons

A new edition of the Puffin paperback was brought out to accompany the film. A still was used from the scene where the Swallows sail both dinghies from Cormorant Island.

Swallows and Amazons 1984 Puffin book cover

Today, I am most interested in Ransome’s prose, amused to find the phrase ‘X marks the spot where they ate six missionaries’ does not appear within the pages of the book. It was given to Titty in 1973 by the screenwriter David Wood. However, there are words of wisdom a-plenty that were not used in the film adaptations:

‘I like cooking,’ said mate Susan.

‘If you want to go on liking it, take my advice and get someone else to do the washing up’, is Mother’s reply. (I wonder who might have said this in reality.)

‘You can be wide awake and not see a thing when you aren’t looking’ is one of Roger’s observations.

John was able to look back to ‘a different, distant life’, which is exactly how it feels when the excitement of Ransome’s world spoils you for the ordinary. It’s true: those involved in outdoor activities develop in leaps and bounds ending up, ‘not at all what they had been.’

What is it about Arthur Ransome’s writing that captures your imagination? Rowing? Sailing? Cooking over a camp fire? Which book has most influenced your life?

Article on Swallows and Amazons on Puffin Magazine
Article on Swallows and Amazons on Puffin Magazine

 

 

The Arthur Ransome Jamboree at Pin Mill in Suffolk

Arthur Ransome Pin Mill Jamboree

On Saturday 13th May members of the Nancy Blackett Trust hosted an Arthur Ransome Jamboree at Pin Mill in Suffolk.

Pin Mill from the Water

Although Ransome is remembered for his ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books set in the Lake District, he moved to the east coast of Suffolk in 1935 where he set a number of other books in the series. 2017 makes the 80th anniversary of the publication of his inspirational sailing book ‘We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea’.

Sophie Neville with Nancy Blackett

You can actually go aboard the Goblin, since she was modelled on his own favourite little yacht, the Nancy Blackett. I joined her at The Royal Harwich Yacht Club where she was moored alongside Peter Duck one of his other much-loved yachts, named after the book he wrote that begins in Lowestoft. I met up with Octavia Pollock, a feature writer from Country Life, and walked down the riverside to enjoy supper at the Butt and Oyster in Pin Mill where Ransome himself often ate.

Map of the Jamboree

Soon after leaving university, I worked behind the camera on the BBC TV adaptations of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, Ransome’s two books set on the Norfolk Broads. The Coots also visit Beccles in Suffolk.

It was the Swallows who made it to Pin Mill and Ransome set his novel ‘Secret Water’ in the Walton Backwaters nearby. I first went there when The Arthur Ransome Society asked me to give a talk about making this BBC TV serial entitled, ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’. I gave another talk about the cast and signed copies of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS and AMAZONS – 1974’.

Pin Mill

~The Orwell at Low tide~

During the Jamboree celebrations, Arthur Ransome’s biographer Professor Hugh Brogan was interviewed by erstwhile BBC reporter Tim Fenton at the Pin Mill Sailing Club where author Julia Jones also spoke about her children’s books.

Sophie Neville opening the Arthur Ransome Jamboree at Pin Mill~ Sophie Neville ~

This VisitEngland event was great fun. There was a geo-caching route along the footpath from Shotley to Pin Mill. Marine artists Claudia Myatt and Christine Bryant hosted drop-in sessions on the riverside where visitors could also find the Rabble Chorus singing.

Nancy blackett product shop

~Mugs with artwork by Claudia Myatt sold in aid of the Nancy Blackett Trust~

There was an outdoor installation of old Pin Mill images enabling you to look back in time. These were taken by Arthur Ransome himself of the building of his boat Selina King at King’s boatyard nearby. It was the first public exhibition of these pictures ever seen and was appreciate by the hundreds of visitors who turned up.

Pin Mill archive photo

The Pin Mill Studio also hosted an exhibition of photographs from the restoration of Melissa, a barge restored to her former glory by Webb’s boatyard, with additional archive images of Pin Mill from the early 1900’s.

The Vintage Mobile Cinema, as seen on BBC Television’s Reel History of Britain, screened unique archive film of Pin Mill and Shotley.

The Nancy Blackett

~The Nancy Blackett in her 85th year~

A Pin Mill ‘Wooden Boat’ race was held along the stream leading down to the river and you could take a ride on the Victorian swing boats on the Common as in years gone by. There was a ‘pirates and seafarers’ fancy dress competition for children and an Arthur Ransome lookalike competition (pipe and moustache) along with stalls and sideshows from local groups, charities and organisations.

Live music, including shanties from Pin Mill favourites, High Water Mark and a performance of We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by pupils from Holbrook Academy who entertained visitors while cream teas, a barbecue and refreshments were served at the Butt and Oyster and Pin Mill Sailing Club.

T-shirts celebrating this special anniversary were sold along with gifts to generate funds for The Nancy Blackett Trust, who celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.

Do let us know if you came along by leaving a comment!

To read more please visit the Nancy Blackett website by clicking here.

The Nancy Blackett by Claudia Myatt

A Forward to ‘Swallowdale’ illustrated by Zdenek Burian

Albatros Media in the Czech Republic have re-published a hardback edition of ‘Swallowdale’ by Arthur Ransome, illustrated by the great Czech artist Zdenek Burian.

Sophie Nevilleova

The forward has been written by me, Sophie Nevilleová.

I was commissioned by Ondřej Müller, Fiction Program Director, thanks to an introduction by Petr Korbel, a feature writer in Prague. My somewhat daunting task was to introduce the well-loved story that comes with classic illustrations.  I took the opportunity to recommend that readers book a holiday in Cumbria, which has been so badly hit by the recent floods. It’s always exciting to find the actual locations described in a novel, particularly one you know well.

Do tell any Czech friends or collectors of Ransome’s books about this publication. Click here for  the sales site.

Albatros Media bookmark

Here is the English version of my contribution:

Of all Arthur Ransome’s books, it was Swallowdale that inspired me to go camping. I have since pitched my tent all over the world from Papua New Guinea in the Pacific to Patagonia, which I crossed on horseback. I once spent six months driving down through Africa, sleeping in a tent and using all I had learnt from this beautifully written book. Not long after this expedition, I started to draw maps in the hope that I that might encourage others to travel and explore the world as the Swallows did.

Back in 1973 I had the great privilege of playing the part of Titty in the movie of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ that has been translated into Czech twice. Throughout my life I have received letters from people telling me how Arthur Ransome’s books have given them direction in life, encouraging them to set sail and explore unchartered waters.

If you ever visit the English Lake District take the charcoal burners’ advice and keep a good lookout for adders but in searching for Swallowdale one thing is for sure, you will be walking in Arthur Ransome’s footsteps. He was taken to the summit of Old Man Coniston, the mountain known in the book as Kanchenjunga, as a small baby and rowed into the secret harbour of Peel Island, or Wild Cat Island as the Swallows called it, when he was a boy.

The people of Cumbria still welcome visitors, indeed you can stay at the farm known as Holly Howe and it is possible to take a boat out on the lake below it. Coniston Water is not an exact replica of the map in the book, but you can enjoy looking for Horseshoe Cove and the Amazon boathouse. Rio can be found on Windermere where you might also find the Peak of Darien along with native steamers. Titty would encourage you to let your imagination take you further and I am sure Roger would suggest you take a fishing rod.

Even if travelling does not appeal to you, ‘Swallowdale’ is such a vivid story that you will sail back in time to 1931 quite effortlessly. This classic book is a full of wonderful imagery from ‘black wretched thoughts…crowding in like cormorants coming to roost’, to potatoes being in bad mood. It is enjoyable on many levels. I laughed when Titty decided, ‘Miss Turner could hardly be dead if she was complaining of cold plates’ and was uplifted by her joy at discovering, ‘the most secret valley that ever there was in the world.’

I am so pleased that Albatros Media are able to bring you this beautifully illustrated edition, to read, enjoy and perhaps pass on to others. 

Czech skull logo

Swallows and Amazons flags on the back cover

Why is ‘Swallows and Amazons’ so inspirational?

'John, Titty & Susan on the Swallow' by Fadi Mikhail
‘John, Titty & Susan on the Swallow’ by Fadi Mikhail

As you can see from these paintings, Fadi Mikhail, the artist famous in the UK for painting one of our Christmas stamps and being commissioned by the Prince of Wales, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was certainly inspired by the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ made in 1973. He has kindly let me publish this remarkable series of paintings.

Look-Out-Another-boat
‘Look out! Another boat’ by Fadi Mikhail

Since my last post, comments have flooded in as to why the simple story is so popular:

John-And-Susan-Coming-About
‘John and Susan coming about’ by Fadi Mikhail

‘…the Swallows don’t own ‘Swallow’ – they’re having a farmhouse holiday and the boat belongs to the farm, and that could just have happened to any of us. Norman Willis… used to rise up against critics who considered that children from poorer backgrounds should read books full of gritty reality related to their daily lives: he pointed out that they wanted to escape from their daily lives for a few precious hours, not always into a zone of dragons and princesses but into an alternative realistic world.’ Jill Goulder of The Arthur Ransome Society.

'The Swallows in the boat' by Fadi Mikhail
‘The Swallows in the boat’ by Fadi Mikhail

‘What I liked most about these stories was that the Swallows and Amazons and their friends behaved like real children, but lived in a completely different world from the one I inhabited. I’d camped with the Girl Guides, but the Swallows and Amazons had astounding freedom – camping alone on an island, going out at night and sailing wherever they liked without needing to ask permission.’ Emily Lock ‘…the books gripped my imagination forever’. Please click here to read Emily Lock’s full review.

Titty-and-John-Eating-Apples
Titty and John eating apples by Fadi Mikhail

Christopher Tuft thought the enduring success is, ‘Because it’s a wonderful adventure story, with well rounded characters, played out in a beautiful setting, reminding us of a time now gone.’

The-Swallows-In-The-Wood
‘The Swallows in the wood’ by Faid Milhail

‘The combination of practical realism – everything that happens could happen – and the child’s viewpoint makes the story and it’s sister volumes almost unique even now,’ Andrew Craig-Bennett of The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook.

'John and Susan hoisting the sail'by Fadi Mikhail
‘John and Susan hoisting the sail’ by Fadi Mikhail

The whole series of books clearly have a worldwide following popular from one generation to another. ‘I don’t find this surprising. I got my first Arthur Ransome book (Swallowdale) as a present, in 1948. At the time it was a copper-bottomed dead cert as a present for any child, couldn’t be criticised, known to be virtuous, and incidentally known to be good. All that is still true and has been for decades. I don’t think it could fail to be up there. Children may now prefer Star Wars, Lego books or Minecraft (my grandsons certainly do), but books are still *bought* by adults.’ Peter Ceresole Roger-In-The-Boat ‘The book has lasting appeal, particularly for children, because there is nothing in the adventures of the Swallows and Amazons that readers feel they could not do themselves. They felt they could sail a dinghy like the Swallows. I know, because when adults came aboard Ransome’s restored boat Nancy Blackett in recent years, many had tears in their eyes and said: ‘I learned to sail from the books; and Arthur Ransome was the biggest influence on my life.’ The story is not like so many others an unachievable fantasy. This must stem in part from the fact that the characters are based on real children and on Ransome’s observation of those real children. The quality of the plotting is superb. Ransome was utterly clear about the stories he wrote, sometime writing chapters in the middle of the book before writing earlier ones. His prose is spare and simple and very easy to read, and bears comparison with the writing of Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels — another writer with appeal to both children and adults.’ Michael Rines Do add your own thoughts in the Comments below.

The-Swallows-Chasing-The-Amazons
‘The Swallows chasing the Amazons’ by Fadi Mikhail

Hugh Shelley wrote, in his Bodely Head Monograph of Arthur Ransome, that it is the joy with which the story is written that makes Swallows and Amazons a great book. In many ways it is a reflection of Arthur Ransome’s own childhood holidays with his brother and sisters on Coniston Water. And even today, children can discover the places mentioned for themselves. Holly, aged six, wrote to me recently saying, ‘My Mummy and Daddy took me to Wild Cat Island. It was my favorite day… When I am bigger I want to be like Titty.’

Roger-Ties-The-Swallow-Down
‘Roger ties the Swallow down’ by Fadi Mikhail

While ‘nearly all enduring books do so because of the writing,’ as another reader commented, children enjoy the camaraderie and the action that have been captured in these semi-abstract oils.

'Titty and John at Camp' by Fadi Mikhail
‘Titty and John at Camp’ by Fadi Mikhail

Some of these paintings have already sold, some are available from the Lawson Gallery in Cambridge, some from Gallery Rouge in St Albans, at Highgate Contemporary Art, the Aubrey Gallery in Great Dunmow and direct from Fadi Mikhail, the artist himself. You can see more here.

John-Susan-&-Roger-Waving-To-Titty
‘John, Susan and Roger waving to Titty’ 60x50cms  by Fadi Mikhail depicting Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Simon West and Sten Grendon in a scene from ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

Why is ‘Swallows and Amazons’ still a bestseller?

An orange flag has been labelling the Vintage paperback edition of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ as a #1 Best Seller in the Amazon UK sales.  Not bad for a book written 88 years ago.

I was asked to give a talk at the International Annual General Meeting of The Arthur Ransome Society recently, when I was able to ask learned members, ‘What has made it such an enduring success?’

Is it that ‘Swallows and Amazons’ set in the Lake District where so many of us long to spend our holidays?

Or that we can buy a set of wooden postcards depicting Ransome’s inspirational illustrations?

wooden_postcard_swallows_and_amazons_large

Is it because the stories are driven by the characters of the children themselves, as Jill Goulder has observed, and that adults are relegated to native status, featured as little as is possible so that we enter a child’s world? Do children relish the idea of independence and being in control of all they do, as John and Nancy seem to be? Is it that dressing up as pirates is cool?

swallows_and_amazons_wooden_postcard_sailing_large

Swallows and Amazons is about the importance of listening to children. It’s about integrity. Do we love the fact that Titty, the lowly able-seaman comes out as the unexpected hero? It was, after all, a brave thing to capture the Amazon at night and perhaps even braver still to return to Cormorant Island with Roger to look for the treasure no one believed was there.

Could it be because the story is about sailing, instructional on how to handle a simple dinghy? Claude Whatham, who directed the 1974 movie, recognised Ransome’s skill in describing how to make a camp was of huge appeal to children. Do we like to learn without the indignity of being taught?

Arthur Ransome’s style of writing is certainly vivid, drawing you into the world he created having been inspired by reading ‘Robinson Crusoe’ ‘Treasure Island’ and exotic tales himself. Martin Smith, whose comments on this strand have been endlessly interesting, has observed that there is something of ‘The Tempest’ by Shakespeare in the adventures set on Wild Cat Island.

Ransome was able to draw on years of experience as a writer before he launched the Swallows & Amazons series and this shines through. Since really only six children and two adults appear in his first book we get to know them well and are ready to welcome others such as Dick and Dorothea when they come along in Winter Holiday.

swallows_and_amazons_wooden_postcard_jetty_large

Is it because, ‘nothing happens in the books that couldn’t really have happened’, as Caroline Lawrence wrote recently in The Outlaw, a magazine written for children who readily identify with the characters. You can certainly enjoy looking for Ransome’s locations yourself. Those who do so are almost certain to buy the books for their own offspring.

Adults read the books, saying they bring great solace, evoking nostalgic memories and taking them back to a carefree childhood when summer days were spent devising camps and imaginary sailing adventures. Perhaps the traditional values act as an anchor in our stormy lives.

wooden_postcard_swallows_and_amazons_discovery_large
Despatches?

One thing is for certain. While many of the forty-two books Arthur Ransome wrote are now seen as obscure, his series of twelve ‘Swallows and Amazons’ novels line the shelves of almost every bookshop in Britain and are ever popular overseas. The Arthur Ransome Society has a thriving membership, enabling families to live the adventures for themselves. You can find out about joining yourself by clicking here.

The new feature film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ starring Ralp Spall, Andrew Scott and Kelly Macdonald and released in 2016 has hopefully brought the story to the nation’s consicousness. It has begun to win awards in the USA where it is being released in cinemas by Samuel Goldwyn.

The film adaptation of ‘Swallow & Amazons’ made in 1973 and repeated on television so many times, helped to keep the flags flying. It too has been labelled as ‘a timeless classic’ and ‘an enduring success’. StudioCanal released a 40th Anniversary DVD with footage so beautifully restored that if it wasn’t for the extras package you might think it had been shot last summer.

The restored DVD of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’

Coot Club new DVD

To mark the 30th anniversary of its original broadcast on BBC One, Revelation Films have re-released the DVD of Swallows And Amazons Forever! 

The television adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s classic books Coot Club and The Big Six, “Swallows and Amazons Forever!” is an eight-part drama serial made on location in East Anglia in 1983, broadcast on BBC TV in 1984.

Norfolk County Sailing Base, Ludham

The Titmouse

As Revelation Films say, ‘Set on the Norfolk Broads in the 1930s, the BAFTA-nominated BBC production is packed full of lively characters, beautifully authentic scenery and plenty of adventure.’

William
Weighing Pete’s big fish at the Roaring Donkey

Jake, Mark and Nic with Sam Kelly playing Captain of the Catchalot

The new version of the DVD includes the option of subtitles. The packaging and menus have been completely redesigned, and if you take a look at the DVD extras package you can see photographs that I took on location  that give an insight into the production.

Julian Fellowes in 'Coot Club'
Julian Fellowes in ‘Coot Club’

The big thing is that the picture quality has been digitally restored, with amazing results. This short Youtube clip shows the amazing difference in the quality.

Release Date: 19 May 2014 | RRP: £15.99 | Certificate: U | Discs: 1 | Run Time: 202 Minutes

Coot Club

To read about making the BBC drama series please click here

To purchase a copy of the new DVD on Amazon.co.uk for £11 please click here

 I’m told  DVDs can be viewed on a multi-region or region-free DVD player

I have given illustrated talks on how the serial was made to members of The Arthur Ransome Society and at the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club where a number of the boats featured in the series were gathered for the occasion. Please click here to see more.

Sophie Neville and Titmouse

For those who don’t know the stories~

‘Coot Club’

Whilst travelling to Norfolk to stay on a boat with family friend Mrs Barrable, Dick and Dot Callum meet Tom Dudgeon and the members of Coot Club. After being told that they won’t be learning to sail, their disappointment quickly turns to excitement as an adventure begins to unfold. Will they be able to protect a precious coot’s nest whilst hiding Tom from the awful Hullabaloos, who are hell bent on ruining everyone’s holiday? Creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, stars as Jerry the Hullabaloo in this delightful film.

Coot Club - book cover

The Big Six

When Dick and Dot return to Norfolk to stay with Tom, they find themselves caught up in a brand new adventure. The Death And Glories are being accused of setting moored boats adrift but the three boys maintain their innocence. With the whole town against them, it’s up to Coot Club to gather evidence and prove that someone else is responsible for these crimes. The Big Six is born. Dr Who’s Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton star in this fitting adaptation of the classic story.

Coot Club - Teasel and Titmouse - photo Jill Searle

The yacht Lullaby playing the Teasel in ‘Coot Club’, seen here being delivered to location on South Walsham Broad

Book covers inspired by the film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ 1974

Stephen Grendon, Simon west, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton on the cover of the 1974 Puffin edition of 'Swallows and Amazons'
Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton on the cover of the 1974 Puffin edition of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome

When the EMI/Theatre Projects film of Swallows & Amazons was released forty-six years ago, Puffin books brought out a paperback featuring the dinghies near Cormorant Island on the front cover. The photograph was taken on Derwentwater at the point in the story soon after Titty has been found to have captured the Amazon. Did you ever have one of these?

Swallows and Amazons ~ Puffin edition, 1984

Nancy and Peggy Blackett are featured on the back cover, hiding in the reeds at the mouth of the Amazon River.  We were invited to a Puffin Club party at the Commonwealth Institute to launch the book. It was re-printed twice in 1974, which might reflect the popularity of the film.

Unbeknownst to me, Heinemann Educational books brought out this cover in 1982.

Swallows & Amazons Heinemann Educational Books

The photograph would have been shot when we were rehearsing the scene when the Swallows first land at Peel Island on Coniston Water. It was mid-May and I got terribly cold in my thin cotton dress. Suzanna wasn’t feeling well and were all tired, as you can see.

Sophie Neville and Simon West on the cover of 'Swallows and Amazons' published by the Daily Mail
Sophie Neville and Simon West on the cover of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ published by the Daily Mail in 2003

Almost thirty years after Richard Pilbrow released the movie, a hardback was produced with a tinted black and white still from the film taken when we were fishing in Shark Bay. This was shot on Elterwater, a small reedy lake near Windermere. We have Arthur Ransome guardians to thank for this. The draft copy had a rather clonky cartoon that they were not happy with. It can be seen by clicking here.

This book cover was advertised every day for a week on the front cover to the Daily Mail and profiled in the magazine as one of their thirty books featured in their Children’s Golden Library collection.

Swallows and Amazons promoted by the Daily Mail

The offer was featured nationally in a television commercial. I saw the advert myself a couple of times and wondered what effect the promotion would have. Simon and I weren’t given any warning and received no remuneration for having our faces spun around in the advertisement, although a box of books arrived unexpectedly at my house. I gave one to the lady who was translating Swallows and Amazons into Chinese.

Swallows and Amazons in the Daily Mail -

This hardback is often available on eBay, where I found this 1992 edition published by Cresset Press. I hadn’t seen it before. Suzanna Hamilton thought the choice of photograph rather bizarre.

'Swallows and Amazons' book cover 1992

I preferred the still from the movie used on the cover of the first VHS tape.

'Swallows and Amazons' on VHS
The cover of the original VHS version of  ‘Swallows & Amazons’

This is probably because it reminded me of the 1970 Puffin book cover that I read as a child and took with me to the Lake District when we started filming in May 1973. I underlined all Titty’s dialogue in pencil.

'Swallows and Amazons' Puffin book cover 1970

The cover of this audio cassette tape ‘talking book’ is quite interesting. Which scene does it depict?

Mike Dennis wrote in to say:

‘It’s an abridged version read by Bernard Cribbins, originally released as two cassettes. He does a good job but I seem to remember the adaptation is a bit rushed towards the end to get the whole story in to the time limit of the cassettes (2 hours), it was released by EMI’s ‘Listen For Pleasure’ division.

The publishers, Red Fox, commissioned an illustration for their cover along the same lines, depicting the characters in the 1974 movie.

Swallows and Amazons book cover by Red Fox

The current designs for Arthur Ransome’s paperbacks were on display at the V&A after winning the Book Cover Illustration Award. Association with the movie can hardly be claimed, but hopefully the film will have helped to keep Ransome’s stories on the shelves of bookshops worldwide.

S&A book cover in the V&A

Possibly as a result of this, or perhaps because they just liked the colours of the design and the book, Apple iPad featured the cover on their illuminated advertisements seen around London:

Apple iPad ad featuring Swallows and Amazons

I walked up the steps of Tower Bridge underground station to see Swallow’s flag flying: fabulous!

Apple iPad ad in the London Underground

Robert Thompson has made an online survey including covers of all the children’s books by Arthur Ransome, which you can access by clicking here.

Does anyone know of any other book or audio tape covers that used photographs from the film?  Do add your comments in the box below.

If you enjoyed watching ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on ITV3 last weekend

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

If you would like to know how the movie of Swallows & Amazons was made and know where the real locations can be found, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ is currently available as an ebook on Amazon and Smashwords for £2.56.  The paperback was launched to mark the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, by Classic TV Press.

Do you know where the Peak of Darien can be found? photo: Roger Wardale
Do you know where the Peak of Darien can be found?

The book, which is suitable for any age group, is based on the diary that I kept when I played the part of Titty Walker in 1973. It is illustrated with behind-the-scenes photographs and memorabilia such as one of the tickets to the Royal Gala premier in Shaftesbury Avenue held on 4th April 1974. You will also find out what the actors who played the Walker family ~ the Swallows ~ are doing now.

The joy of the ebook is that it includes a number of home-movie clips that my parents took of life behind the scenes that you can play wherever you have internet access.

Classi Boat magazine Books ~ Feb 2014
A review of the ebook in Classic Boat magazine ~ Feburary 2014

If you have any questions about making the film, please add them to the comments below, and I will get back to you.

Richard Kay's column in Daily Mail Friday Nov 22nd1
A review of ‘the Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ in Richard Kay’s column in the Daily Mail ~

There were rather over-excited headlines in the Times and Telegraph when the ebook was launched but they only spoke of the legendary drinking of Ronald Fraser. Please don’t worry – there is nothing X-rated about the book – it is just the price one pays for half a page in a daily newspaper, especially since it came out on a Saturday.

The Times Sat 23 Nov 20131

The ebook has been doing well in the Amazon charts and hit Number 1 in the category ‘Stage and Theatre’.

Lymington Times 4th Jan 2014

A preview of what the book holds in store can be watched here:

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ – the book trailer

Very many thanks to all those who have left customer reviews on Amazon. It is always exciting to find out how the book has impacted others, especially those who love the Arthur Ransome books.

To read more reviews please click here