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 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

 

Talking about ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) movie memorabilia on Antiques Roadshow this Sunday 9th May at 7.00pm on BBC One

This Sunday 9th May, BBC Antiques Roadshow returns to Windermere Jetty in the Lake District at 7.00pm.

Swallows and Amazons fans expressed great excitement when the first episode was broadcast from the museum on Sunday 21st February as it featured ‘Swallow’, the dinghy from the original movie made on location in the Lake District in 1973 and brought to cinema scenes in 1974.

‘Such an iconic film,’ the expert Rupert Maas, commented, admitting that it once inspired him to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

He chatted to Rob Boden who looks after Swallow for the organisation Sail Ransome before placing a pretty high value on the old girl.

They had just enough wind to sail off into the sunshine.

I had been invited along for the second episode, recorded the next day, when it poured with rain. While others were arriving with exquisite treasures, I staggered into the museum with two carrier bags of old photographs and what my family regard as clutter.

Rupert Maas was busy valuing a painting by the waters edge but came to say Hello in the lovely new cafe at Windermere Jetty while we watched the expert, Marc Allum value another item.

Marc later walked around to inspect my collection of ‘movie memorabilia’ relating to the film of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974), filmed in the Lake District forty-eight years ago. He liked the programme from the premier and the original black and white film stills, along with the flags kindly sent to me from America by Richard Pilbrow who produced the movie now distributed by StudioCanal who have a remastered cinema Bluray and DVD with Extras.

The camera crew seemed adept at keeping their equipment dry, but lining up shots was tricky since everyone had to be carefully distanced.

Marc Allum socially distanced from Sophie Neville and her bow

I knew that signed, first edition copies of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazon’ are worth up to £11,000. A note sold in an envelope addressed to a Miss Cartmell postmarked 1939 and accompanied by a small card signed by the author with a pen and ink sketch of a sailing boat, sold recently with an estimate of £1,000-1,500 but I did not think my collection of movie memorabilia from the early 1970’s would be worth much.

Marc Allum lining up a shot with Sophie Neville

Marc invited me to take up the bow an arrow, whittled on location during the filming and fletched with feathers from a ‘Red Indian Headdress’ purchased from a toy shop in Ambleside in 1973.

Marc Allum and Sophie Neville with the director

I suggested the director might like to take a shot of the ML Tern as she passed but visibility was too low. Marc concentrated on my collection, which had nearly been thrown out in a fit of de-cluttering years ago. He valued it at far more than I ever would have imagined.

I wondered if my item would ever be included, thinking it could easily hit the cutting room floor, but this well a kind reader alerted me to the Radio Times billing here

To see more photos of BBC Antiques Roadshow at Windermere Jetty, please see the previous post here

You can find the illustrated book on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ here:

For details on the BBC Antiques Roadshow website, please click here They tell me they, “would be delighted to hear of any developments that may occur following the transmission of the programme. For instance, further information about the history of an item occasionally comes to light or a decision is taken to put the featured piece up for sale. Should you have any such news, please contact the Antiques Roadshow Office at antiques.roadshow@bbc.co.uk.”

The episode ‘Windermere Jetty 2 – series 43’ will be on BBC iPlayer here

Detail of an original ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) movie poster hanging at Windermere Jetty Museum

You can read more about how ‘Swallow’ was bought at auction and restored, in Yachts and Yachting and on the Sailransome website.

You can listen to Sophie chatting about the experience on BBC Radio Cumbria here

Swallow’s original burgee and the White Elephant flag captured from Captain Flint’s houseboat, featured in the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Points to add to the 3rd edition of ‘The Secrets of Making Swallows and Amazons’ (1974): Part five

Imdb, the International movie data base, list Billy Mayerl’s composition ‘Marigold’ as being included in the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. This intrigued me. I looked up the music as I couldn’t think where it had been featured. Listen to the original version and see if you can recognise it:

The famous variety and radio entertainer Billy Mayerl playing ‘Marigold’ and other melodies

It was ‘played’ on the radio in the chandlery in Rio, laid over the scene when the film was dubbed at Elstree Studios. We didn’t hear it when we were in the actual shop.

Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West inside the chandlery

The Swallows bought ‘grog’ (ginger beer) and rope for the lighthouse tree. Postcards and wicker shopping baskets hung in the chandlery, which had weighing scales on the counter.

The general Store in Rio
Sophie Neville in Rio with four bottles of grog ~ photo: Daphne Neville

This shot was taken during the filming on the corner of Woodland Road, Bowness-on-Windermere during the filming in June 1973. I wonder who the people in the background were – possibly members of the film crew. The man in the blue top looks like Gareth Tandy the third assistant director who would have been asking passing traffic to wait while filming was in progress. The building looked like this in 2012 but I need a more up to date photo.

Once Tom Kirkbride’s cobbler’s shop, later Mr Cropper’s sweet shop selling rainbow sherbet, Andy Dyker’s Fine Furnishings, a hairdressing salon and now a wood-burning stove showroom

Jenny Maconchy wrote in to say, “It may be of interest that we still have the bamboo fishing rods that were used in the film. They belonged to my father Leslie Borwick and lent to the film crew. They are rather worse for wear but still treasured as I was a big fan of the books when I was young. Unfortunately I was living abroad when the film was made so have no memories of it.”

The Swallows fishing for perch on Elterwater (c) StudioCanal

As a boy, Arthur Ransome had his own perch rod with a colored float to use at Nibthwaite. Towards the end of the filming, Claude Whatham gave Simon West a similar fishing rod, which Ronnie Fraser taught him to use on Derwentwater.

Ronald Fraser behind-the-scenes on Swallows and Amazons (1974)
A member of the Arthur Ransome Group wrote, "I did not realise that the Lakeside Railway had only just re-opened in time for the filming. Of course, although Lakeside Station does get a mention in one of the books, it was the Windermere Station where the Swallows always travelled to. Although Lakeside Station would have been far more convenient from Beckfoot,the Great Aunt always insisted on Windermere as it meant less changes for her. Incidentally both Lake Windermere and Coniston Water had rail connections years ago (which is the likely route for the slate from Slater Bob’s mine although this is not mentioned being outside the scope of a childrens’ story).
With Virginia McKenna at the Haverwaite Railway Station
Viginia McKenna at the Haverthwaite Railway Station in Cumbria soon after it re-opened in May 1973. Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Lesley Bennet and Sophie Neville are with her. The carriage with compartments is in the background ~ photo: Daphne Neville

“‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) was instrumental in helping me through a very stressful period of my life, and writing was a great healer for me. The results of my efforts are in the The Arthur Ransome Society library : ‘Prospectors Afloat’ and ‘Coots in the North’ a completion of the short portion which was published. I will be obtaining ‘The making of Swallows and Amazons’ and no doubt many more of your other publications in due course.” Charles H Ball

The Swallows at the Lighthouse tree Lookout point
Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Stephen Grendon as the Swallows on Wild Cat Island

I’ve just read that in Zulu folklore, the swallow is known as Inkonjany – the one who points the way to summer. “The swallow, and other birds like it, is regarded by our people as a symbol of effort and hard work as well as of unity, because you will see these birds gather together in large groups as they come and go. The name Inkonjany means the little pointer, and it comes from the verb komba, which means to point out something. It was said that if you saw a lot of swallows in the sky, it meant that the summer and the harvest would be very good.” I felt this applied quite well to the Walker family migrating north for their summer holiday and working hard as being the best crew they could be.

One of the film fans has called her hens Titty and Nancy. I’m sure Mrs Jackson would approve. Do use the comments box below to write in with any connections you have to ‘Swallows and Amazons’ and the original film.

You can read more in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ available from libraries, bookshops or direct from the publisher . The Nancy Blackett Trust have signed copies and it can be purchased online here:

There is also a similar multi-media ebook entitled, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons'(1974). You can see inside the first section for free here

Memories to add to the third edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ – part three

“One pandemic discovery for my family was 1974’s ‘Swallows and Amazons,’ a charming British film about kids just playing on a lake. On their own, they’re plenty capable of making their own tents and adventures”, the US film critic Jake Coyle wrote in a review for the Associated Press of a new movie released on Netflix called ‘Yes Day’.

Many people have fond memories of watching the original movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when it first came out in cinemas nearly forty-seven years ago and list it in their Top Ten feature films of all time.

David Kerr wrote: “I first saw the film while I was a junior projectionist. I was 17 at the time. My cinema was called the Astor in Bromley, part of south east London. While an independent cinema, we took the ABC circuit films. Somewhere, I have the LP record and a poster of the film. I went on to a career spanning 40 years in international film distribution.”

“It remains one of my top ten films even to this day. I worked for 20th Century Fox…Polygram…and United International Pictures which distributed Universal, Paramount and Dreamworks films. I had a good career and witnessed the good the bad and the ugly during my travels.”

Simon West and the camera crew at Bank Ground Farm

“From memory, I can recall that the film was released over the Easter school holidays in 1974. It’s just been helped as I have found a press ad online and it lists South London unusually running the film first on April 14th.”

Finding Swallow
Simon West, Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville with the director Claude Whatham

“I believe the film was supported by ‘The Lion at Worlds End’ …the documentary that Virginia and Bill Travers made with George Adamson about returning an African lion to the wild. I know I ran the film again either in 1975 or ’76 as an afternoon matinee only with a Kung Fu adult programme in the evenings.”

Brenda Bruce and Simon West on location above Coniston Water

“The film means a lot to me and has done so since 1974. It made me revisit the books…which I still read (currently dipping in and out of an old hardback edition of ‘Pigeon Post’) but I believe I had only read one during my childhood, which I think was ‘Swallowdale’. I also embarked on a number of holidays in the lakes because of the film. That first year I camped on a farm at Torver on the west side of Coniston.”

Simon West as John Walker studying the chart at Holly Howe before the voyage.

“The reason I include it in my top ten is simple. It is pure storytelling that takes the viewer on an adventure. You do not notice the individual aspects of film making you just become engrossed in the story. And that is what a good film should do. I watched it again just last week on a streaming service… It makes me smile ….what more can I say.”

Virginia McKenna with Sophie Neville on location at Bank Ground Farm

John Rose wrote: “I can remember watching the film in 1974 with my mum and grandma when I was a nine or ten year-old, at the then called Mecca Cinema in Horsham, Sussex (sadly now demolished). I remember loving the natural setting and the adventure in the film and remember it being thrilling and suspenseful! Still my favourite film, so cheerful and up-lifting. The lovely music! All still brings a tear to my eye.  Back then in the ’70s we didn’t have the lakes but at every opportunity our little band of local children would run off over the fields playing, building camps and climbing trees in the woods – such happy, carefree days.”

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Sten Grendon in Swallow

Last time the film was broadcast on BBC Two, David Stott, who worked as a unit driver on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when he was fresh out of college, wrote in to say: “I remember how cold you all were whilst filming the swimming scene.  The lily pond scene brought back memories of a very wet day on Pull Wyke caravan park.  Most of the day was spent in the two double decker buses that were your school room and the canteen waiting for the rain to clear. Everyone was so grateful to pack up and go home.”

Sten Grendon as Roger with Suzanna Hamilton as Susan

 

“I had many incidents with the parrot that I had to collect in the morning and return at night.  I hated the bird, often it was let free in a bathroom at Kirskstone Foot and l would have to catch it and put it in its travel bag. I notice in the film that it is chained down whilst it is sitting on your shoulder.”

Kit Seymour as Nancy, Sophie Neville as Titty and Beauty playing Polly the green parrot.

 

“I would spend a lot chatting to Ronnie Logan the hairdresser while the shooting was taking place, such a nice man.”

“The day they filmed the walking the plank scene I remember very well.  I took Ronnie Fraser to the Lodore Swiss hotel at  lunchtime and he was really very well plastered by the time I got him back for the afternoon filming.  I suppose it was the only way they managed to get him in the water.  He was not a happy chappy that afternoon when I eventually took him back to Ambleside.”

“I had to put the rushes on the train to London in the evening and collect developed film (how times have changed).  One of my treats was that I was allowed to watch the rushes with the production team in the evening. Watching it again this afternoon was a real trip down memory lane.  I cannot believe that I was a student starting out in life at the time and now l am a pensioner.  Where has all that time gone?”

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Peel Island in 1973
 
You can read more in the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’
.
 
 

You can see some of the illustrations here:

Quotes for the 3rd edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’

Movies are made for watching. In the end, they belong to those who love them and it is wonderful to hear of the impact they have had on people’s lives.

The screenwriter Caleb Ranson wrote: “You’ve no idea how thrilling this is for me to hear from you. Swallows & Amazons was a life changing cinema visit for me, set me off on my path writing/producing TV/films. I played the soundtrack album every night for years. And I love your book BTW, bought it when it first came out.”

Paddy Heron of Children in Read describes the movie Swallows and Amazons(1974) as “a national treasure of a film.”

Nigel Seymour wrote to say, “that the original film has an ambience which cannot be calculated.  It sits in time, yet it is as fresh as if it was made yesterday!” An international musician today, Nigel believes, “It possesses a simplicity of life we’ve lost, so watching it is a refreshing reminder of great days… a journey into another dimension and another world steeped with love and belonging, adventure and moral understanding, which is shared between a family and accepted. The characters are brought to life almost as if they are an infinite, integral part of the immortality of the story, each giving that picturesque understanding the viewer finds impossible to explain. After watching this film one arrives back in real time with a resounding bang! We wonder why such a simple story can create such an iconic understanding. Why watching this film can make you feel happy, totally complete and yearning to return again and savour that wonderful, eternal landscape we have all learned to grow  and love as the Lakes.”

Tracy Kenny from Ketts Books wrote: “Swallows and Amazons is a firm family favourite in our house and for a while there, your movie was the only film my eldest would watch!”

The author Catherine Randall said: “I lived and breathed Swallow & Amazons including your film. Knew nearly all the words!”

The fan letters continue to arrive. Each one treasured.

Nigel Young writes: “‘Swallows and Amazons’ is one of those films which sets itself  in that timeless space no one can quite fathom or understand, almost verging on ‘Immortality’.  I’m sure no one at the time working on it ever thought the film would achieve the cult status it seems to enjoy today. You are possibly smiling when you read this, but it’s a true reflection of a film, which is more than a film and touches on those beautiful innocent moments and times which have been lost forever.”

Charles H Ball wrote: “‘Swallows and Amazons’ was instrumental in helping me through a very stressful period of my life… I will be obtaining ‘The making of Swallows and Amazons’ and no doubt many more of your other publications in due course. “

C.H.B. left a review of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ writing: ‘the feelings of anybody who would have loved to have had the opportunity of actually taking part in the film are summed up by Nancy Blackett when the D’s are explaining how they managed to get to the North Pole a day earlier than planned. ‘And you two came by yourselves and got here through that blizzard?’ said Nancy. ‘However did you find the Pole?’ ‘The blizzard helped really,’ said Dorothea. ‘We were sailing,’ said Dick………..’And we’ve gone and opened the stores,’ said Dorothea. ‘And eaten some of them. You see we lost our food when the sledge turned over and the mast broke…’ ‘Capsized!’ cried Nancy. ‘Mast gone by the board! Oh. you lucky, lucky beasts!’ Some of us will forever envy the lucky children who had the opportunity of a lifetime.

I hope to include all these quotes in the 3rd edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, to be brought out for the 50th Anniversary of the films release in April 2024. Do leave a comment below or write in, letting us know what the film meant to you or how it effected your life.

At Windermere Jetty museum – to see the amazing boats

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) 

In the summer of 1973, I was transported to the shores of Windermere, ‘The Great Lake in the North’ to appear as ‘Titty Walker’ in the classic movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, starring Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser.

The Swallows approach the jetty in Rio. Which launch is moored outside the boat sheds?

We were fortunate enough to film the scenes set in Rio at Bowness-on-Windermere before the original green boat sheds were demolished in favor of an amusement arcade.

Rio – or Bowness-on-Windermere in 1973 – with SL Elizabeth ~ photo: Martin Neville

George Pattinson brought along his steamboat the Lady Elizabeth, which you can see here beyond the Windermere skiffs pulled up on the shore.

George Pattinson in his steam launch Elisabeth ~ photo: Martin Neville

George’s personal collection made up the basis of the Steamboat Museum now rebuilt and known as Windermere Jetty, where we found the Lady Elizabeth under restoration.

Eighteen foot long, she was built in New York State in about 1900 and brought to England, so was likely on Windermere in 1929 when Arthur Ransome wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’. She sank off Cockshott Point beyond Bowness, but Mr Pattinson salvaged and renovated her in 1955. You can read more here.

The Lady Elizabeth under restoration at Windermere Jetty
The Lady Elizabeth under restoration at Windermere Jetty

Other exhibits included the exquisite steam launch Osprey, in fine fettle with her copper steam kettle kept brightly polished. I knew her from taking part in a Steam Boat Association rally on Windermere in 1991. 

The RNSA dinghies used to play Swallow and Amazon in the 2016 movie can also be seen in the wet dock at Windermere Jetty.

Look up, and you can spy a green beetle on an old burgee. 

Arthur Ransome’s dinghy Conch-y-bonddhu, known as Scarab in his books, is on display with Beatrix Potter’s rough, flat-bottomed rowing boat (the pointed bows of which can be seen here hanging on the wall to the right).

It was good to be able to examine Conchy’s rigging. You can read about her here.

The museum has many other treasures including the hull of the oldest yacht in existence in the Lake District.

Every one of the forty boats exhibited has a story to tell.  You can find out more about visiting Windermere Jetty on their website here.

The Windermere skiffs can still be seen up the road in Bowness where you can begin to look for locations used in the original film.

If you don’t already have a copy you can read about ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ here. This includes maps and chapters on how to find the film locations.

To learn more about the film locations, please click here.

The ebook on ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, which is similar, is available on all ebook platforms, including Kindle here.

A weekend spent steam boating on Windermere in 1991, is featured in ‘Funnily Enough’, a diary of a year when everything changed, can be found here.

Looking towards the jetty featured in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) at Bowness-on-Windermere

I look forward to returning to Windermere Jetty when the Lady Elizabeth is on back the water! The museum will be opening soon.

You can read about the 1901 steam launch Daffodil that I helped to renovate here.

Sophie Neville visiting Windermere Jetty – photo: Caroline Robinson

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 original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ featured in the Radio Times as Film of the Day on Sunday 30th August 2020

‘Swallows & Amazons'(1974) starring Virginia McKenna was broadcast on BBC 2 on Sunday 30th August 2020, recalling the adventures of the Walker and Blackett families on a ‘Lake in the North’ in August 1929 before the school term began. Hailed as ‘The feel-good film of Lockdown’, it transports us back to a time of freedom, celebrating the beauty of the English Lake District. It is available on BBC iPlayer here.

You can watch a short re-mix here:

It was wonderful to see the feature film heralded as Film of the Day but Hilary Weston of The Arthur Ransome Society pointed out that there are a few errors in the write up.

Arthur Ransome wrote the novel ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1929, published on 1st December 1930. There are 12 books in the series, however only five are set in the Lake District. ‘Missee Lee’ sees the Swallows and Amazons exploring the South China sea with Captain Flint, while Dick and Dororthea join them all on the Sea Bear to cruise the Otter Hebrides in ‘Great Northern’. The 13th story in the series, an unfinished manuscript entitled ‘Coots in the North’, is set in Cumbria.

Props used in the original film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

Arthur Ransome died in 1967, aged 83, so was not around to see this feature film made. He had been grumpy about the 1963 BBC serial made in black and white, which starred Susan George as ‘Kitty’ (rather than Titty). His wife Evgenia was determined to avoid what they called a ‘Disneyfication’ of the books and kept a tight hold on the script, character names, locations and casting of Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 adaptation. As a result, David Wood’s screenplay adheres to the story and was approved by Mrs Ransome who gave the go ahead. On watching the finished film, her only adverse comment was that one of the kettles used was of the wrong period.

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker with Sten Grendon as Roger

Arthur Ransome’s father died when he was thirteen and the theme of fatherlessness flows though his books granting the young characters independence. In ‘Swallows and Amazons’ it is Nancy and Peggy, the Amazon pirates, who have no father.

Kit Seymour as Nancy & Lesley Bennett as Peggy Blackett sailing Amazon

The story opens when the four elder Walker children are given permission to sail off to camp on an island by their father who is absent, in Malta with the Navy, and sends the famous telegram: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN (with no apostrophe)

Swallows and Amazons
Simon West, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton receiving the telegram from Father.

Vicky, the fifth sibling and baby of the Walker family, keeps the Swallows’ mother at Holly Howe farm on the mainland. Tension is created after the Amazons let off a firework on their uncle’s houseboat while he is absorbed in his writing and ignoring them. He shook his fist at the crew of the Swallow assuming they were responsible for the damage and was labelled ‘Captain Flint’.

A Theatre Project by Richard Pilbrow

Richard Pilbrow describes in his memoir, ‘A Theatre Project’, how the idea of adapting ‘Swallows and Amazons’ came to him as he watched the sun set over Windermere one night when visiting the Lake District. He put the idea to Nat Cohen of EMI who was looking for a classic book adaptation similar to ‘The Railway Children’, which had been a box office success. Nat Cohen hadn’t heard of Arthur Ransome but his assistant loved his books and raved about the idea. EMI Films provided the initial budget of £250,000 although more was spent. It was directed by Claude Whatham who may well have been influenced by the Children’s Film Foundation but he was regarded as avant guard at the time and, like Richard, motivated by the beauty of the Lakes.

Richard Pilbrow and Claude Whatham at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water
Producer Richard Pilbrow with Director Claude Whatham in Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water

The original poster for the film used an ampersand in the title graphics but this was lost as it was translated, sold worldwide and remastered. Someone who must love the old film said the error in the write up was that it was only given three stars. The DVD now has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon but it only gets 6.5 out of 10 on IMDb – the International Movie Data base, which is equivalent to three stars. You can add a review on this site here.

Mark Walker of the Arthur Ransome Group added: And they got the title of the article completely wrong. “Film of the *Day*”, indeed..!! Film of the Year, Decade, Century, Millenium….any of the above could have been more appropriate..!!

If you would like to learn more about the original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ there is now a paperback entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’  It can be ordered direct from the publishers and is available from Waterstones

A second edition of the ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons(1974), the first section of which you can read for free here.

Points to add to the third edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) – part one

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville in Swallow about to leave the Houseboat. Amazon’s white sail can be seen the other side ~ photo: Daphe Neville

Viewers of the original film Swallows and Amazons'(1974) have written to point out that when the Amazons sailed up to Captain Flint’s houseboat there was a terrible crash. I found the quote from ‘The Picts and The Martrys’, which made me realise why this horrified anyone who knows the characters well:

“…when you come sailing along and fetch up with a bump against Jim’s new paint.”

“We never do,” said Nancy. “Remember when we came and made you and Uncle Jim walk the plank last summer? We were aboard and rushing the cabin before you knew we were anywhere near.” ‘Picts and Martyrs’ by Arthur Ransome p.14

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Captian Flint's Houseboat
Simon West as Captain John and Sophie Neville as Titty taking Captain Flint’s Houseboat : photo~ Daphne Neville

Jane Sullivan noticed Captain Flint yelled, “Death or Glory!” as the Swallows and Amazons laid siege to his houseboat. ‘Is that a pre-echo of the East Anglian stories?’ she asked.

Jane also noted: In the closing credits, I notice they spell For Ever as two words, which it is as it should be, rather than the modern way which confuses the adjective “forever” with the adverbial phrase “for ever”.’

Peel Island whilst we were filming in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

Most people are familiar with the fact that Peel Island was used as the location for Wild Cat Island in the 1974 film.

Peter Dowden of the Arthur Ransome Group, pointed out that Peel Island is a classic example of a rocher moutonnee or sheepback, shaped by glacial erosion. Larger examples in Sweden are known as flyggbergs. Others comment that it’s easy to imagine the island as Captain Flint’s schooner the Wild Cat, which sails to the Caribees in ‘Peter Duck’ and is set on fire by Gibber the monkey in ‘Missee Lee’.

Peter also wrote about burgees. He noted, ‘Traditionally, creatures shown on flags face towards the “hoist” – the bit of the flag that is attached to the mast. So head near the mast and tail near the flappy part of the flag (called the ‘fly’). He went on to say, “someone did the research and Arthur Ransome drew the Swallow flag both beak to hoist and beak to fly!”

Our art director, Simon Holland, made what I considered the mistake of having the swallow on Swallow’s burgee flying away from the mast. 

My publisher asked me to draw our crossed flags, a sketch which was later stolen and used all over the place from the call sheet of the 2016 movie to badges for sale on eBay.

Paul Thomas, of the Arthur Ransome Group, explained that Swallow and Amazon are standing lugsail dinghies, rather the balanced lugsails as I had been told. “Swallow’s keel was designed for sailing in shallow estuaries and grounding on shifting shoals with sails tanned to protect them from rot and sunshine.”

“What is particularly impressive, to me,” Roger Barnes, president of the Dinghy Crusing Association, commented, “is how well done the sailing scenes are, and sometimes in pretty strong winds. Most sailing in films is really unconvincing.” Roger added: “The boom jaws off the mast as they first approach Wild Cat Island is the only major flaw with that aspect of the film.” I had never noticed! We were bitterly cold on that day when we first sailed Swallow in front of the camera.

Roger Barnes’ illustrated book, The Dinghy Cruising Companion, published by Bloomsbury, included my behind-the-scenes photo of Swallow, where you can see the jaw back in place.

You can also see the jaws in this film still (c) Studiocanal:

The Swallows on their voyage to Wildcat Island
Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West as the Swallows sailing on Coniston Water in 1973 (c)StudioCanal

Please do add a comment below or write in with any points you notice that I can add to a third edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, an ebook available from a variety online stockists. You can look at the first pages here.

My Swallows & Amazons maps on clothing and gifts

If you know an Arthur Ransome enthusiast with has a birthday coming up, I have put together a collection of useful clothing for men and women. You should be able to find discount codes for Redbubble, the manufacturer here

There are an assortment of T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, pullovers available, each printed with hand-painted maps with the locations from the original film of Swallows and Amazons. You can choose your own colour, style and design.

Coniston Water Lightweight grey sweatshirt

Coniston Water Classic t-shirt

Windermere white pullover sweatshirt

Windermere tri-blend t-shirt

Coniston water v-neck t-shirt

Coniston Water hoodie

For zipped hoodies, with designs on the front or back, click here.

Windermere baseball shirt

Socks always make a good gift. We have an assortment.

Swallows and Amazons socks

Sophie Neville's Map of Coniston Water on Socks

Socks with a my Swallows and Amazons map of Coniston Water

I’ve designed a set of women’s clothing and gifts, which I’ll post next week.

Other useful Swallows and Amazons gift ideas can be found here

These high-quality goods are manufactured by Red Bubble in Australia who take care of all custom charges. If you are asked to pay customs, send then a picture of the proof of payment of the customs charge and they’ll sort it out.

Here’s a link to the help center – https://help.redbubble.com/hc/en-us.