The original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) screened on Wednesday 18th December on BBC Two

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Please click here for details of the broadcast

If you enjoy ‘Swallows and Amazons’ do think of joining The Arthur Ransome Society who often visit the film locations or the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook where you will meet like-minded people – of all ages. Most are dinghy sailors who love the books.

At least one film fan held a TV party with and 1930’s theme to celebrate. Others stoked up the wood-burner and settled down to spend an afternoon re-living summer in the Lake District. It is as if Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – a timeless classic to watch again and again.

Swallows & Amazons film billing

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 Making of Swallows and Amazons' by Sophie Neville

The ebook, entitled ‘The secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’ is the same 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

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

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.

9a. Leaflet programme for S and A film Theatr Clwyd 1976_reverse.JPG

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.

9. Leaflet programme for S and A film Theatr Clwyd 1976_front

Can anyone remember the films scheduled later that long hot summer of 1976: ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973) with Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt and Sterling Hayden, ‘What Next’ and ‘Black Beauty’ starring Mark Lester?

Swallows and Amazons comic 1

Swallows and Amazons comic 2

Arthur Herbertson managed to track down these rare publicity sheets for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ typical of movie games of the period:

Swallows and Amazons 1974 camp scene

Arthur has a collection of the four jigsaw puzzles and the Puffin paperback that came out with the film.

Puzzels

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.

Swallows and Amazons sales book 2

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.

Radio Times billing of Swallows and Amazons Christmas 2019

~Billing in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times 2019~

What Sophie did next –

TWT Ride 2018 Sophie Neville with 14 riders

The 4th Waterberg Trust Challenge Ride, which set off on 21st January 2018, proved fast, fun and fulfilling. Thanks go to all those who sponsored me on Justgiving.com and helped me to raise funds in other ways.

TWT Ride 2018 Sophie Neville with giraffe at Ant's Nest - photo Ant Baber

Crossing the game reserves of South Africa was a joy, especially since we encountered a number of newborn animals.

TWT Ride 2018 with zebra - photo Ant Baber

50% of funds raised go to Save The Waterberg Rhino to support the war against wildlife poaching.

TWT Ride 2018 photographing rhinos

50% of funds go to community projects that uplift the people of the region. You can see more photos of the projects supported here

TWT Riders 2018 learing about community projects in the Waterberg

Riders paid their own travel costs. We had a great team who’d worked hard on both their fitness and fundraising.

TWT Ride 2018 cantering up to Jembisa

Some days were long but we were blessed with good weather. When the going got tough, we dismounted and walked.

TWT Ride 2018 dismounting to tackle a steep hill - photo Sophie Neville

Seven different game reserves were traversed in six days, with 187kms being clocked up on the GPS.

TWT Ride 2018 coming to the end - photo Ant Baber

I felt hugely encouraged by everyone who supported me on social media and returned with dreams of exploring further afield. You can see more photos of the ride on The Waterberg Trust website.

TWT Ride 2018 Sophie Neville against sunset

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What you can do to help

Sophie Neville with Save The Waterberg Rhino game scouts

A Little Bit of Film History

Contact sheet - Sophie Neville with Amazon's anchor

~ Titty with Amazon’s anchor ~

When I first posted an extract from ‘The Secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons’ on a literary website, someone wrote a review assuming it to be a novel. They must have thought that I was some poor creature who had imagined the whole thing. The reviewer considered the plot too far-fetched and fantastical – as you might if it had not been true.

‘You must have been dreaming.’

‘But Captain Flint, there were burglars, you’ve got to believe me.’

Poor Titty! No one ever believed her. Fortunately quite a bit of documentary evidence exists to support the fact that a certain feature film was made in the Lake District in 1973. I do wish I’d kept a copy of the book review though.

Contact sheet - finding Titty in Amazon

~ The Swallows find Titty sleeping in Amazon near Cormorant Island ~

Contact sheet - Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville sailing Amazon

~ Titty and Susan sail Amazon back to Wild Cat Island ~

Contact sheet sailing Swallow & Amazon in 1973

~ Sailing Swallow and Amazon on Derwentwater ~

Contact sheet - sailing Swallow & Amazon on Derwentwater

I was encouraged to collect things as a child, in case they might one day be of value. Back in 1973, I was given a number of black and white photographs and contact sheets of stills taken by Albert Clarke on the set of ‘Swallows & Amazons'(1974) – if you can call Derwentwater a movie set. I pasted some of these in a scrapbook but others remained in a roll that has only recently been returned to me. Each sheet looks roughly like this:

The Making of Swallows & Amazons contact sheet - both boats

The eye is easily tired by looking at the whole set but scanning and editing reveals a little bit of film history in every shot. I can see here that Titty wasn’t letting Amazon’s anchor down, she was hauling it in while Susan was at the helm, with a fair wind in her sails. This must have been quite tricky.

Sophie Neville pulling up Amazons' anchor

You can tell by the numbers above each shot how many were taken and in what sequence. presumably 2003 photographs had been snapped by the time the Swallows found Titty moored near Cormorant Island.

Contact sheet - filming Swallow

~ These bizarre shots show the film crew afloat on their pontoon ~

The photographs below show Virginia McKenna rowing away from Peel Island on Coniston Water in a native canoe with DoP Denis Lewiston and his 35mm camera, which is pretty unique.

One thing is certain, if these contact sheets had not been given to me they would have been thrown out and yet, over time, they have become precious. Do add a comment below if you would like to see more.

It is quite interesting to see which shots were chosen for the press. You can see a few of the action shots used in magazines of the time by clicking here. Newspapers tended to chose photographs akin to portraits as you can see here.

Recent newspaper articles tend to use a black and white film still that was clumsily tinted giving the lake water an unreal and bright blue hue as you find here.

Some of the black and white prints are now held at BFI. StudioCanal hold a vast selection of the best photos in their library and have an on-line shop here. I have included about a hundred behind-the-scenes snaps taken by my parents in the latest edition of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ recently published by The Lutterworth Press, available from libraries, bookshops and online stockists including The Nancy Blackett shop, where proceeds go towards the upkeep of Arthur Ransome’s favourite little ship.

9780718894962_cover Amazons.indd

Arthur Ransome, his boats and the Altounyan family

‘Paddling with Peter Duck’, John McCarthy’s  documentary for BBC Radio 4, can currently be listened to on IPlayer Radio. It is about the boats owned by the author Arthur Ransome and includes extracts read from his classic book Swallows and Amazons by Kate Taylor.

While the broadcast is a portrayal of Arthur Ransome and his boats, it touches on his friendship with the Altounyan family who inspired him to embark on writing the series of twelve Swallows and Amazons books. It is easy to understand this when looking at their photographs.

Family Photo with donkeys

The Altounyan children with friends in Syria.

The girls seem to be Taqui, Brigit and Titty

Could it possibly be Arthur Ransome sitting on the right? He visited the family in Syria in 1932, when he must have been about forty-eight, but was never known to have worn shorts, although it would have been exceptionally hot in the Middle East. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Possibly Arthur Ransome in bow of Peter Duck the boat he took to Syria

Is this Arthur Ransome ? sitting on the bow of Peter Duck in Syria, the chap wearing the same hat and clothes as in the photo above? He took this  dinghy out to Syria as a gift for the Altounyan  children and wrote his novel Peter Duck while he and his wife Evgenia were  staying with the family in Aleppo.

Possibly Arthur Ransome in the Altounyan's dinghy Beetle II on Amouk in Syria

Possibly Arthur Ransome sailing Beetle II the Altounyans’ gunter-rigged dinghy at Amouk in Syria

Dr Ernest Altounyan 1935

Ransome’s friend Dr Ernest Altounyan in 1935

Dora Altounyan 1935

Dora Altounyan (nee Collingwood) in 1935

Was she the model for Mary Walker, the Swallows’ mother who grew up in Australia?

Roger at Dovedale

Roger Altounyan as a boy


Roger sailing off Peel Island 1978 by Asadour Guzelian

Dr Roger Altounyan sailing ‘Mavis’ on Coniston Water.

Sadly there is no sign of the original Swallow bought at the same time as Mavis by Arthur Ransome and Ernest Altounyan in Barrow-in-Furness, and later sailed by the Ransomes on Windermere.  Mavis was later re-named Amazon by Brigit Altounyan, the youngest of the five Altounyan children, known as The Ship’s Baby.

Brigit seated

Brigit Altounyan as a girl

Brigit married, becoming known as Brigit Sanders and later became President of The Arthur Ransome Society. The original lugsail dinghy Mavis or Amazon can be visited in the Coniston Museum in Cumbria. To read more please click here to see this previous post.

Ernest Altounyan sailing Mavis on Coniston

Dr Ernest Altounyan on Coniston Water with ‘Mavis’, one of the dinghies that inspired ‘Swallows and Amazons’

These unique photographs were recently found in Cheshire by the antiques dealer John Jukes who asked me if I could return them to the Altounyan family. This I have done and show them here by kind permission of Roger’s daughter, Barbara Altounyan. Please do not copy these photos.

To listen to John McCarthy’s  Radio 4 broadcast, please click here

Questions I’m asked at cinema screenings of Swallows & Amazons (1974)

Over the next few days I am going to be giving Q&A sessions at cinemas screening StudioCanal’s newly restored version of Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (U) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film’s release in 1974.

Ronald Fraser walking the plankSten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows making Ronald Fraser walk the plank. Where are the Amazons?

If you can come, please do bring a question. I am always very interested in those asked by the children. They can be quite difficult to answer:

‘What did it feel like to be alone on the island?’

Titty alone on Wildcat IslandTitty leaving her tent on Wild Cat Island

‘Where you really able to keep the parrot?’

swa_bw_neg_ 021 Kit Seymour with Sophie Neville  and Polly in the Houseboat

‘How long did it take to film?’ is another question I am often asked. The answer is quite complicated.

Then I ask,  ‘Would you like to know about the mistake I made?’

swa_bw_neg_ 043The crew of the Swallow leaving Holly Howe 

I started singing, ‘Adieu and Farewell’, when the sea shanty Spanish Ladies is always sung: ‘Farewell and Adieu…

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies, 
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we’re under orders
For to sail to old England,
And we may ne’er see you fair ladies again.
We’ll rant and we’ll roar, like true British sailors,
We’ll range and we’ll roam all on the salt seas;
Until we strike soundings
In the Channel of old England,
From Ushant to Scilly ’tis thirty-five leagues.

swa_bw_neg_ 042Virginia McKenna watches the Swallows sail from the jetty at Bank Ground Farm on Coniston Water. Can you spot the safety officer – a frogman just visible right of shot?

I noticed that one inconsistency made by the design team was that the swallow flew down our flag whereas it always flies up Swallow’s burgee in Arthur Ransome book illustrations. I count it as a subtle differentiation that I reproduce whenever I draw the crossed flags myself.

Swallows & Amazons flags for book

 

When I was writing ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ I noticed that, while the title of the book is ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the graphic designer working on the film always used an ampersand, making it SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in the 1974 film.

There is another odd thing right at the end of the film, as the credits roll. See if you can spot what it is.

This week there are a number of screenings in Cumbria:

Royalty Cinema Bowness-on-Windermere 6th, 7th August http://bit.ly/1nCooVq

Roxy Cinema Ulverston 6th, 7th August http://bit.ly/1nYKgKn

Zeffirellis Ambleside  6th August (with Sophie Neville Q&A) http://bit.ly/X8BYFU

Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal  7th August (with Sophie Neville Q&A) http://bit.ly/1jTanmg

For details of screenings at PictureHouse cinemas across the UK please click here.

(All photographs on this page are copyright StudioCanal. To see more stills and merchandise available please click here. )

The cutting room floor

Members of the Arthur Ransome Group have recently raised questions about what ‘fell onto the cutting room floor’ after we shot the movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in the English Lake District in 1973.

‘I have always had the feeling that the Amazon’s role in the 1974 film was very much secondary to the Swallows.’ Stephen O’Brien posted.  ‘This was probably down to much of the Amazon’s footage ending up on the cutting room floor. What do you think?’

The answer is that there were few scenes excluded from the film.

BW Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville

Virginia McKenna as Mrs Walker with Sophie Neville as Titty

One featured Virginia McKenna and Mrs Battys clock, which can still be found at Bank Ground Farm, our location used for Holly Howe. It was shot on the second morning and I fear that our director Claude Whatham might have taken it out because my own performance was rather stilted. I had quite a bit to say, most of which was really rather bizarre:

15th May deatil of outtake
The pages of my diary written on 15th May 1973

15th May detail  page two

The only other scene from Swallows & Amazons that I know was excluded was when the Swallows lay patterans on their way to visit the charcoal burners. The location was in a beautiful spot up above Derwentwater, the dialogue was straight from Arthur Ransome’s book and our performances would have been fluent by the time we shot the sequence. BW The Swallows make Patterans

 Suzanna Hamilton, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West as the Swallows

I can only expect that when the movie came in over-length these scenes were cut as the action was not exciting and had no influence on the plot.

In the original script the Amazons do not really appear until page 41 – which would equate to nearly half-way into the the film. I thought that there might have been one or two shots of the Amazons sailing that were never used, because there was  a day spent filming on Derwentwater when Kit and Lesley who played Nancy and Peggy weren’t feeling very well but I’ve checked the script and nothing that they said was excluded. Not one word. Perhaps David Wood who dramatised the book could somehow have increased the Amazons’ parts. However, as Janet Means points out:

‘…in the book we find out more about what the Swallows think but only about what the Amazons do. There is little about the Amazons except when the Swallows are present too (hiding Amazon in the reeds and Nancy berating Peggy for losing Amazon when Titty’s made off with her). There’s lots about the Swallows without the Amazons.’ 

One scene in the DVD of the film actually gets cut out of the television version. The clue is that it comes just before this photo was taken in Bowness-on-Windermere for Lancashire Life kindly sent to be by Stephen Sykes of Hill Top near Haverthwaite.

Lancashire Life May 1974 - S&A - Contents photo only Sten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows in Rio, an official still from the film published in Lancashire Life in 1974

There are a few scenes in the screenplay that were never actually shot, but that’s on a different tack. To read more, please see: The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons.

Dennis Lewiston, director of Photography on 'Swallows and Amazons'  ~photo:Richard Pilbrow
Denis Lewiston, director of Photography on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow, taken on Derwentwater in Cumbria, 1973

Our sad news is that Denis Lewiston, the brilliant  Director of Photography on Swallows & Amazons (1974),  died recently. After a long and fulfilling career he will be remembered fondly and admired for the numerous films he made, seeking excellence with every sequence.

To see some of the shots Denis set up for the film of Swallows & Amazons,  please click here for the BFI site.

Captain Flint’s Houseboat revisited

DSCF7742
SY Gondola on Coniston Water today

When people see the Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston today, in all her re-built glory, she seems rather plush to have been cast by Arthur Ransome as Captain Flint’s houseboat. The main reason for assuming that she was used as the model for the illustrations is because Arthur Ransome grabbed a post card of the Gondola and drew on it to give the first illustrators of Swallows and Amazons some idea of his vision. However Ransome’s biographer Roger Wardale tells me it was a former steamer on Windermere that he had in mind: the S.L Esperance. Ransome was known to have been spotted looking through her cabin windows and much admired her distinctive bow, designed to cut through cat ice as she went daily up the the Lakeside Railway station.  

Houseboat  bay in 1963
Esperance in Rayrigg Bay, Windemere ~ photographed by Martin Neville in about 1963

When I was first taken up to the Lake District in 1963 my father found what he thought was houseboat bay on Windermere and took this shot of a vessel that must be SL Esperance. She does look very like the first professional drawing submitted to illustrate Swallows and Amazons.

Stephen Spurrier's unused illustration of Swallow sailing past Captain Flint's houseboat
Stephen Spurrier’s unused illustration of Swallow sailing past Captain Flint’s houseboat

Arthur Ransome’s terse note reads: ‘The ass has forgotten the mast’. Today the Esperance is lying at the Steamboat Museum on Windermere, where we went to visit her in 2011. Built at Rutherglen in 1869 she is nearly 65 foot long with a 10 foot beam.

Esperance at the Windermere Steamboat Museum
SL Esperance at the Windermere Steamboat Museum in 2011

She did not always have such a traditional appearance. Roger Wardale kindly sent me this photograph showing what she looked like in the 1930s.

'Esperance' in the 1930s when she was owned by Sir Oliver Scott.
‘Esperance’ in the 1930s when she was owned by Sir Oliver Scott.

The cabin has since been removed from her rear end.

DSCF7695
SY Esperance at the Windermere Steamboat Museum in 2011

SY Esperance now looks more like this illustration – or could do. Although she has a setting for a mast the reality is that she has seven windows, whereas Clifford Webb’s illustration shows her with only six.

Clifford Webb's illustration of Captain Flint's houseboat
Clifford Webb’s illustration of Captain Flint’s houseboat

I have no idea if anyone could film aboard her today when safety regulations are so strict.

Claude Whatham discussing plans with sailing director David Blagden (in the white hat) and Richard Pilbrow on the aft deck of the houseboat with Molly Pilbrow looking on ~ photo: Daphne Neville
Claude Whatham took advantage of the larger cabin windows in the Lady Derwentwater whilst filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Back in 1973 Richard Pilbrow was obliged to use the Lady Derwentwater, still owned by the Keswick Launch Co. She has quite a different stern from the illustrations but was licensed to carry 90 passengers, which must have allowed him to take a seventy-strong film crew on board. At least she was given a mast. You can envisage Ronald Fraser, as Captain Flint, angrily stamping out the firework on the roof.

One advantage of the Lady Derwentwater was that the windows of her cabin enabled the director to get a good view of the lake, which he made use of when Captain John rowed over from Peel Island to visit Captain Flint and pass on the charcoal burners’ warning.  She couldn’t be moved to another lake, but Derwentwater is surrounded by such dramatic fells that the director, Claude Whatham used this to his advantage. A postcard of Friar’s Crag near Keswick was used by Ransome to give his illustrator an idea of what the Peak of Darien was like, even though he had originally based this on the rocky promontory at Waterhead on Windermere. Roger Wardale tells me the Ransomes would sail there in Swallow and stop for tea before heading back south.

Sophie Neville at the Windermere Steamboat Museum
Sophie Neville at the Windermere Steamboat Museum

Was the Gondola so very different? Ransome had known her since spending his own childhood holidays on Coniston, when she was in service.  While staying at Nibthwaite he became a good friend of the Captain, or so the story goes. Back in 1973 the Gondola looked like this – her roof too curved to run along, her bow rising up a little too dramatically to accommodate the foredeck of a retired pirate busy writing up his devilish crimes while his a cannon lies glinting in the sunlight, ready to fire.

Was this the houseboat Arthur Ransome had in mind? ~ photograph taken by Martin Neville in 1973
Photograph of the Gondola on Coniston Water taken by Martin Neville in 1973

To read more about Esperance, please click here

For more about the Steamboat Museum with a photograph of Esperance, please click here

To read more, from another perspective please click here