The Queen and members of the Royal Family who love ‘Swallows and Amazons’

HM Queen Elizabeth II was given Swallows and Amazons as a girl and, according to Arthur Ransome, ‘said very nice things’ about his books. He wrote to his mother saying that Queen Mary had purchased a copy of Swallows and Amazons in 1930. Elizabeth, The Queen Mother also ordered a set. I wonder if they have first editions in the Royal Collection.

Titty’s chart

The Queen told the author Peter James that Swallows and Amazons was the first book she could remember reading. He has written about his time at Buckingham Palace meeting other authors here.

Archive photographs show The Queen at Girl Guides’ camp enjoying rowing and a Swallows and Amazons lifestyle, as you can see here. In this film clip, she looks a bit like Captain Nancy playing with her sister Peggy, a name that is short for Margaret:

Our late Queen kept a large flock of 200 racing pigeons at Sandringham all her life. This uncut Movietone footage shows the two princesses being shown a carrier pigeon. Could they have been influenced by Arthur Ransome’s book Pigeon Post?

In 1940, Claude Whatham, who went on to direct the original film of Swallows and Amazons, was commissioned by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose to paint a series of pantomime pictures on the walls of Windsor Castle. One can presume they had a chat. I have just been asked to provide photos for a new documentary for Channel 5. You can read about this wartime story on a previous post of mine here. She loved appearing in the three pantomimes that they put on, when she played the principal boy.

Claude Whatham’s paintings at Windsor Castle

The Queen was able to visit Bowness-on-Windermere with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956

and with the Princess Royal in 2013 when the took the Tern up to Ambleside.

HM King Charles loved Swallows and Amazons as a boy. I’ve read that it was his favourite book. I met him when speaking about otter conservation but did not mention the fact I had played Titty in the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons‘.

King Charles III speaking to Sophie Neville

HRH The Queen Consort has also expressed a love for Swallows and Amazons, recommending it on her Reading Room site as one of her top six books for children.

‘When asked what her favourite children’s books are, the Duchess revealed them to be Moorland Mousie by Golden Gorse… and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome,’ which the Duchess described as “just a really good adventure story, full of a lot of imagination.” Hello magazine and Royal Central.

She also recalled her own experiences receiving new books as a child. “I still remember the intense excitement I felt as a child when choosing books to buy with my pocket money — Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons — and the joy of knowing that these precious books, clutched tightly in my hands, were my very own,” she wrote.

The Duchess of Cambridge cooking on a campfire in Cumbria

The Duchess of Cambridge is vaguely related to Arthur Ransome. His brother-in-law Hugo Lupton, was cousin to Kate’s great-grandmother Olive. You can read a little more here.

The Duke of Edinburgh endorsed what he called ‘the Swallows and Amazons spirit’. In 2014, Alan Hakim of The Arthur Ransome Society spotted a copy of The Big Six in his study aboard HMY Britannia. You can find a list of authors and well known people who love the books here.

Many thanks to members of the Arthur Ransome Group for help with this article.

Please add any more information in the comments below.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ by Sophie Neville

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)

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