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.
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.
The Queen was able to visit Bowness-on-Windermere with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956
She visited Coniston and Tarn Hows in 1980 and returned to Bowness-on- Windermere with the Princess Royal in 2013 when they took the Tern up to Ambleside.
I feel that the Queen would have enjoyed Ransome’s sense of humour. A few of the amusing things she said are captured here:
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‘.
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 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.
People often write to say how much they have enjoyed the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (U) produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1974, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. It was last screened on Talking Pictures TV on 8th September 2022 and is on Netflix in Europe, suitable for all ages.
‘Is it a good movie?’ people enquire of Google.
Dame Margaret Drabble told Claude Whatham, the director, how much she loved Titty in his filmof Swallows and Amzons, which was a huge compliment.
Helen Fielding mentions the DVD of Swallows & Amazons 1974 in the first edition of ‘Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy’ claiming it to be more edifying for her children to watch than ‘Beverley Hills Chihuahua 2‘.
The arts curator David Banning profiled the 1974 movie of Swallows and Amazons in his book on films made in Cumbria and the Lake District, which you can see here.
Trevor Boult, who writes books on ships and sailing, is a great fan. He kindly donated the royalties from his most recent book Boats Yet Sailing to The Arthur Ransome Trust. You can order a copy direct from the publisher here.
For a list of well known people who love the Swallows and Amazons books, please click here
Do you know of any other authors who have written about the film? Please leave any information in the comments section, below.
You can read the first section about how the film was made back in 1973, for free, on the Amazon preview of the ebook here:
What is most memorable about the making of Swallows and Amazons for you?
I love exploring the places Arthur Ransome features in his stories. We were privileged to live out the pages of the book on location in the Lake District, but sailing in nothing but a short cotton dress and a pair of navy blue gym knickers was decidedly chilly – we earned our passage.
Would you consider Susan to be an influence on Titty within the story?
Susan made camping on the island possible. Suzanna Hamilton, the remarkable British actress who played Susan in the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, became our rock without becoming prim or losing the joy and excitement of adventure. She went on to play leading roles in a number of major movies including ‘Out of Africa’ opposite Meryl Streep and ‘1984’ with John Hurt and Richard Burton. She is still working on cutting edge productions and recently had a guest appearance in ‘Eastenders’.
Is there anything you think should always be included in different versions of ‘Swallows and Amazons’?
You must feature the green parrot! It’s vital to enter the world of a 9-12 year old child, capturing the trepidation. It would be interesting to adapt Arthur Ransome’s books without featuring adults, or only including them as shadowy facilitators.
How did you feel about playing a part where you were able to be the cunning and playful younger sister?
In real life, I was the elder of three sisters so took on the roles of both John and Susan. Playing Titty felt something of a release. I was freed from the responsibility of taking the helm.
Titty is well-read and bright, creative and imaginative but I wouldn’t call her cunning. She longs to be alone on the island to experience what it was like to be Robinson Crusoe, which is why she volunteers to stay behind to light the candles, but is that a cunning plot? She is an innocent.
What was your favourite line in Swallows and Amazons?
Titty’s lines are challenging and can only be uttered with humour and an acceleration of charm. I rather enjoyed, ‘X marks the spot where we ate six missionaries’, although I don’t think it can be found in the book. ‘Thank you so much for letting us see your lovely serpent’ would probably be disallowed these days.
Did you have a favourite scene?
Finding the lighthouse tree was a short sequence that worked well. We shot it on the banks of Derwentwater towards the end of the filming. But I most enjoyed our day with the charcoal burners. They were wonderful.
What did you enjoy most about filming in the Lake District?
We loved High Force, the waterfall, and exploring the mossy woodlands. Secret Harbour on Peel Island is very special, as is One Tree Island where we found the treasure.
Do you feel that you and your character influenced children?
Even now, nearly 48 years after the film was released, I receive correspondence from people telling me how the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ influenced their lives or helped carry them through a tough patch. It is always wonderful to hear how Titty has inspired others.
Maurice Thomas who used to live in Cockermouth wrote: ‘My mum and my Auntie Gladys took me to see this little children’s flick in 1974/5 as it was a double bill with ‘The Railway Children‘. I remember ‘The Railway Children‘ reasonably fondly, but ‘Swallows & Amazons‘ had me utterly mesmerised.’
If you were to give any advice to actors wanting to perform in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ what would it be?
Visit the locations. Go to Bank Ground Farm and run, fast, down the field to dip your hands in the lake as Arthur Ransome did as a child. Capture that feeling and carry it with you as you sing out the lines.
And be prepared for the impact the story will have. It could follow you all your life.
To read another recent interview with Authors Reach please click here
If you would like to read more about the secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons, you can ‘Look inside’ the ebook free of charge here: