The Arthur Ransome Society has launched a new venture: Sail Swallow and Amazon
The classic dinghies from the original Swallows and Amazons 1974 film are being restored by Hunters Yard at Ludham on the Norfolk Broads. We are looking forward to welcoming people to come and sail, or row, the boats in due course. Hopefully, the Amazon may be ready this June, but Swallow‘s keel needs attention so she will be not be seaworthy until next season.
From 28th-30th June 2024, both boats will be appearing at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the 1974 filmat Windermere Jetty in the Lake District. All welcome! We are hoping the dinghies will be joined by some of the traditional steamboats that appeared in the Rio Scenes such as Osprey and the Lady Elizabeth.
I grew up with boats in the garden. My father owned eight at one time, including two coracles and a vintage river launch called Ottor that he renovated himself.
As a young man, while setting up a team to develop the fibreglass hull, Dad raced on the Solent, volunteered on a tall ship, and wrangled an Atlantic crossing on the maiden return voyage of the QE2, taking us children around the liner when it reached Southampton.
I learnt to sail dinghies at Newport Bay in Pembrokeshire, later making my own sail for a Thames skiff so that I could take it down the lake where I grew up in Gloucestershire.
My father wanted a Mirror dinghy, but since they were beyond his budget we had a dubious one-design with a ? on its sail.
Dad bought one of the first Toppers, which seemed quite daring at the time. It had no halyards. Its arrival caused much excitement. Called Earwig, the fibreglass hull was portable but proved precarious, soaking the crew as waves sloshed over her orange deck. I wasn’t much good at withstanding the cold and grew to loath setting off with wet feet.
Playing Titty in original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ involved quite a bit of rowing, which I kept up first as a member of the Collingwood Ladies Four at Durham University and later on the crew of The Drapers’ Shallop, a ceremonial barge that can be spotted on the Thames and River Lea, the Dart or Poole Harbour.
My dedication to fixed thwart rowing enabled me to take part in a Jubilee Pageant for The Queen at Henley, transport a copy of the Magna Carta to Windsor, and man an oar of the royal barge Gloriana in the Boat Race flotilla at Putney a year when Cambridge won.
Belonging to the rowing club,City Barge, enabled me to take part in the Voga Longa in Venice – a 35km marathon – with the gold medalist Ed Coode as stroke. I later rowed a sandalo down the Amstel into Amsterdam standing to row Venetian-style, getting used to the idea of using a forcola in windy weather.
We navigated the shallop down a tributary of the Loire in Brittany, leading a procession of two hundred and forty traditional boats into Nantes for the Rendez-vous de l’Erdre. I was asked to take the helm on the way back, great Dutch barges bearing down on us.
One of my favourite vessels is a two-man canvas canoe my sister found on a rubbish dump. I nearly drowned after getting stuck in a kayak and prefer an open dugout or fibreglass equivalent. These have taken me on adventures in Papua New Guinea, across Lake Malawi and through the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Back in 1978, I helped my father, Martin Neville, to restore a 1901 steamboat called Daffodil, which they kept near Oxford at Port Meadow on the Thames.
We would steam down to Henley each year for the royal regatta or upstream towards Letchlade. You can read about how we renovated here here.
We took a Humber Yawl that Dad built to take part in a Steam Boat Association rally on Windermere and pay homage to launches used in the film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ kept by George Pattinson at the Steam Boat Museum, now known as Windermere Jetty.
I a lot of time on the water while filming the 1984 BBC adaptation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ when we spent three months filming on the Norfolk Broads. The series starred a yacht called Lullaby from Hunter’s Yard, which you can now hire for holidays.
I went away from my wedding in a punt, Dad polling while I sat with my new husband, holding an umbrella while a rainbow appeared over the water.
While serving as President of The Arthur Ransome Society, I gave twelve Q&As at cinemas. Members of SailRansome have often come along with the little clinker-built dinghy used as Swallow, which I helped purchase when she came up for auction in 2010.
I am often asked to write articles about my life afloat, and have spoken at literary festivals, on BBC Radio and on ITV News when I nearly capsized.
It is with The Arthur Ransome Society that I have been able to sail an historic wherry down the Norfolk Broads, take an old German ferry to Lundy Island and cruise down Coniston Water on SL Gondola.
As a member of the Nancy Blackett Trust, I’ve sailed on the Orwell, in the Solent and through the inland waterways of the Netherlands, visiting Middleburg.
I enjoyed crossing the Veersemere to Zierikzee in the wake of my own forefathers.
Over the years, I’ve grabbed the chance to sail yachts to Salcombe, up the coast of Norway and through the Mediterranean but I still love taking out a small boat in the Lake District or on the Norfolk Broads.
You can read more in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ available on line.
Over the years, I have been suggesting a variety of useful, literary gifts. I brought out this mug featuring a map of the Swallows and Amazons locations on Consiton Water, featuring on the cover of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons.’ It’s currently available online from about £8.86
I’ve brought out maps in a range of colours.
These t-shirts might be useful for anyone liable to get lost.
I’m selling a variety of garments with my Swallows and Amazons map of Coniston Water on the Redbubble site where you can also find cushion covers
along with throws, duvet covers and a variety of products from phone covers to laptop sleeves if you fiddle around with the site here
There is a whole selection of socks, which I have listed here
The Nancy Blackett Trust have wooly hats and some great clothing, embroidered with Arthur Ransome’s good little ship. They have an online shop where you can also find yachting caps here
These new 90th anniversary tea towels make a useful gift for sailors, which can be purchased here
Peter Willis is offering his book ‘A Good Little Ship’ about rescuing Nancy for £10 – a great present for fans of Arthur Ransome.
I love these Swallows and Amazons bookmarks available from sky.n.fern for £2.50. They stock an assortment of unique stationery, which you can see here
I found this spectacle chain decorated with swallows, appropriate for web-footed grandparents, available here
For someone without much space, you can find handmade dolls house miniatures of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books here Each tiny book has tunable blank pages 1:12th the original size. I’m not sure if they are paying royalties to the Arthur Ransome Estate but what a compliment to the author. I’d be thrilled if they made miniatures of my books.
There is ‘Swallows and Amazons’ confetti, for sale on this site. Each heart is about one inch in size and can be used for a table decorations.
This year, I bought packs of book-ish Christmas cards from the charity SchoolReaders. They have a variety here.
Jigsaw puzzles and digitally hand drawn reproductions of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics film poster designed by Arnaldo Putzu for the original movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) are available here
Or you could give a copy of the book on how the original film of Swallows and Amazons was made. Large paperbacks can be ordered from Amazon or direct from the publisher here or other stockists listed here.
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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?”
When Lakeland Arts declared that Antiques Roadshow was coming to Windermere Jetty, I sent the BBC a photograph of some of the props used in the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.
I was hoping their expert on movie memorabilia might be interested in the film posters, but couldn’t think that a hand-whittled hazel bow and arrow could be worth much.
I was keen to talk about the scrapbooks and diaries that I’d kept on location and thought they might want to use photos my father took of George Pattinson whose collection of boats formed the basis of the original Windermere Steamboat Museum. He brought along his 1900 steam launch Lady Elizabeth to Bowness-on-Windermere when we shot the Rio scenes in the summer of 1973 . She was being restored at the museum.
I also suggested they featured Swallow the dinghy we used in the film. A group of us clubbed together in 2010 to purchase her when she came up for auction.
She was valued by Rupert Maas who is a great fan of Arthur Ransome’s books and watched the film himself as a boy. He liked the fact she hadn’t been over-restored. I didn’t know her ribs were made of elm.
The best photograph of Swallow under sail was used on the cover or the first edition of my book about making the 1974 film:
If you enjoy ebooks, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ has links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage. It is available for £2.99 here
The billing from the Radio Times lists the other interesting items on the show. You can watch the episode, mostly shot on a lovely sunny day, on BBC iPlayer. Further details are reported here.
If you would like to find out about sailing ‘Swallow’ yourself, please contact Sail Ransome.
I might appear in the second of the two episodes broadcast from Windemere Jetty – the one shot in rain.
When the BBC rang inviting me to come up, it was clear that I was the antique they wanted to see. The first thing they asked me was my date of birth. This turned out to be due to Covid-19 restrictions but the director did, later, ask if she could call me Titty.
Filming was already in progress when we arrived at the museum. It was a typical day in late September, pouring with rain.
There was a great deal of impressive camera and lighting equipment in evidence but a number of marquees had been erected to keep everyone dry.
We were introduced to the designer, who whisked off various items I’d brought with me to display, and Marc Allum, antiques expert, author and long-time contributor to the Roadshow. He’s tough. It wasn’t freezing but the weather was far from warm.
Once at the water’s edge I met Debbie, the director who was surprised by the length of my hair. I explained it had grown during lockdown having not been cut for a year.
My position was marked by small sticks in exactly the same manner as during the filming of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when I was aged twelve. Camera tape would not stick to the slate shingle.
A measuring rod was used to ensure we remained two meters apart, even whilst on camera, before I was asked to take up the bow and arrow I had helped whittle on location long ago.
The display included Swallow’s burgee. I did ask for the flags to be crossed, but the significance of this was lost on the design team. You will have to write in and explain the importance.
When it came to being given an estimate for the value of what my husband calls ‘my junk’, I was truly amazed, especially since I nearly chucked half of it away in a fit of de-cluttering.
I am sworn to secrecy, so you’ll need to watch the show to find out how much my collection of movie memorabilia is meant to be worth. It should be broadcast on Sunday 21st February 2021 – but will I be on? I know they will feature Swallow this week but my item could either be featured in a different episode or hit the cutting-room floor.
We talked about the film premiere and influence the Swallows and Amazons books have had in encouraging children to get out into the wild. As I walked around the museum afterwards, I found the Lady Elizabeth being restored, which you can see in a previous post here.
There is already a movie poster at the Windermere Jetty museum. I dug out a large, sepia poster designed for cinemas that has not been seen since 1974 but the BBC were not able to feature these for copyright reasons. Since receiving a valuation, I am getting it framed. You can read more about the artist, Arnaldo Putzu on this website here.
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
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”.’
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:
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.
Please add any questions about how the movie was made to the Comments below.
For the latest edition of the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons(1974)’ with details of the film locations and what those who appeared in it are doing now, Please click here
You can read the first section for free in the ebook, entitled ‘The secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’ This is similar to the paperback but has a few more stories for adult readers and links to behind-the-scenes cine footage. It can be downloaded from iBooks, iTunes, Smashwords,Kobo and Amazon Kindle
For homeschooling ideas, why not get hold of a copy of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in French or enter Into Film’s movie review writing contests? Read more here.
It would be lovely to hear from anyone who saw it in the cinema when it first came out in cinemas in the summer of 1974 – more than forty-five years ago.
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.
~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.
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.
According to Trade News, 75,000 copies of a new Puffin paperback were brought out to accompany the original film. A still was used from the scene where the Swallows sail both dinghies from Cormorant Island. It retailed for 35p. Meanwhile Jonathan Cape printed 12,500 copies with the original dust jacket to accompany the release on 4th April 1974.
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?
Lat time ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) was screened on BBC Two, at least one film fan held a TV party with a 1930’s theme. Others ‘stoked up the wood-burner and settled down to spend an afternoon re-living summer in the Lake District’, adding, ‘It is as if Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – a timeless classic to watch again and again.’
For the latest edition of the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons(1974)’ with details of where the film was made and what those who appeared in it are doing now, Please click here
The ebook, entitled ‘The secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’ is similar with a few more stories for adult readers and has links to behind-the-scenes cine footage. It can be downloaded from iTunes, Smashwords,Kobo and Amazon Kindle
It would be lovely to hear from anyone who saw it in the cinema when it first came out in cinemas in the summer of 1974 – more than forty-five years ago.
Simon Hodkin kindly sent in this cinema programme that he has kept since watching the movie when he was a boy growing up in North Wales.
Arthur Herbertson managed to track down these rare publicity sheets for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ typical of movie games of the period:
Arthur has a collection of the four jigsaw puzzles and the Puffin paperback that came out with the film.
There was a vinyl LP narrated by the screenwriter David Wood that you can still purchase.
Arthur found a publicity brochure that I had never seen before.
To read comments from people who saw the film at the cinema in 1974, please click here
The original story was written by Arthur Ransome in 1929 ninety years ago, so the film hits the half-way mark between the original readers and today’s audience. It’s funny, the critics in 1974 are asking the same question as raised in the billing this week: Do ‘modern youngsters struggle to relate to such old-fashioned game playing’?
Do add your thoughts to the comments below.
~Billing in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times 2019~
In my role as President of The Arthur Ransome Society, I was interviewed by Chris Opperman for a new documentary produced by David Webb on the Walton Backwaters, known by Arthur Ransome enthusiasts as ‘Secret Water’.
The 75 min DVD entitled ‘Walton’s Secret Backwaters’ is compatible with all DVD players displaying the DVD Video & PAL logo. It can be purchased online here
Chris Opperman, who chatted to me at the Royal Harwich Yacht Club on the Orwell, has sailed in the area for years. After a career in newspapers, he produced programmes for Radio 4 and the World Service before presenting the breakfast News and countryside documentaries on BBC Radio Suffolk.
As President of The Arthur Ransome Society, I represent the 1,000 or so members of the literary society devoted to the Swallows and Amazons books, including those set in East Anglia. There is usually a lot of flag flying since many members also sail. Swallow, the dinghy used in the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has taken part in Swamazons events on the Walton Backwaters since she was renovated in 2011.