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:
Tom Stoppard, the playwright,said he turned books over as a child hoping they might be ‘Swallows and Amazons’. (The Guardian) In Hermione Lee’s recent biography of Tom Stoppard, she notes that as an eight-year-old boy, ‘The first real book he picked up, soon after getting to England, was Arthur Ransome’s Peter Duck, the third in the Swallows and Amazons series, a 1930s epic of Atlantic Ocean travel, shipwreck, hostile pursuit and secret treasure. He spotted on the jacket that Ransome had written some other books too. ‘My method of searching for these books had a sort of pathos about it: I simply went around picking up any book I saw lying about to see if it was called Swallows and Amazons. But it never was.’ Luckily he found a full set of Arthur Ransome books at school. ‘Stoppard, that enchanting master of the English language, was a Czech refugee, and Ransome was therefore one of his early English-language influencers.’
Melanie Philips lists Swallows and Amazons as one of the ‘great childhood books’ that ‘stay with us for ever’. ‘Books that make a profound impression on us in childhood can form part of our mental scaffolding throughout our lives.’ The Times
When asked , “What was it that first gave you the reading bug,” author Sarah Moss said, “Arthur Ransome: Swallows and Amazons. I was an outdoor child — though not always by choice — and I knew and loved the landscapes where the series is set. I re-read them with my children and they are classics with strong, likeable, flawed characters, a family dynamic that’s in some ways more interesting to me as an adult (John has some serious issues with the patriarchy) and a satisfying interest in fruit cake and pork pies. (Daily Mail)
Tony Ross – illustrator of Horrid Henry and The Little Princess, said, “I absolutely loved this book as a boy. I read it when I was ill with the mumps. The simple line drawings were just wonderful; they gave the feeling of wide open spaces and freedom. When you’re bound up in bed, when your jaw is aching and your face is the size of a football, it’s nice to be wafted out into the water. Swallows and Amazons gave me a lifelong love of sailing. I’m a bad sailor, but I love messing about on boats.” Daily Telegraph
Sir Antony Jay, the author and co-writer of Yes, Minister and Yes,Prime Minister, who was editor of the BBC Tonight programme and Head of Television Talk Features, was a fan. Janet Means of the Arthur Ransome Group said that when she was a child, and he was a very young BBC producer, that he used to lend her Swallows and Amazons books.
I had been asking if Agatha Christie referred to any of Arthur Ransome’s books. She didn’t, but I’ve been told that in the recent adaptation of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Frankie Derwent reads Swallows and Amazons aloud to a young boy who has had a traumatic experience that day, as he falls asleep. The passage she reads includes: “But the big hills up at the lake helped to make him feel that the houseboat man did not matter. The hills had been there before Captain Flint. They would be there for ever. That, somehow was comforting.” The book was adapted for television by Hugh Laurie.
Julian Fellowes acted in the BBC adaptation of Coot Club but I’m not sure if he has referred to Swallows and Amazons in any of his novels of screenplays.
Tony Collins, who brought out 1,400 books as a publisher, mentions that he grew up reading Swallows and Amazons in the first page of his new memoir How to Make Mistakes in Publishing.
Sometimes it’s the Swallows and Amazons lifestyle that people speak of. Santa Montefiore ~ ‘I had an idyllic Swallows and Amazons childhood growing up in a beautiful Jacobean house on a farm in Hampshire.’ Guardian
Frances Wheen who wrote the a-claimed biography of Karl Marx joined us at Pin Mill for a marathon reading of We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea hosted by the Nancy Blackett Trust
Brian Doyle, the publicist of many iconic movies including the original film of Swallows and Amazons, wrote about Arthur Ransome in his book, The Who’s Who of Children’s Literature, claiming that he launched a ‘new age’ in children’s literature by writing about his own childhood by the lakes he loved so much. He is featured in these books about making the film, available from all the usual sites online
For a list of other well known writers who have been inspired by Arthur Ransome, please click here.
Many esteemed authors have written biographies of Author Ransome and the places that inspired him. Here, I list novelists who acknowledge Ransome as an inspiration or have references to his books within their own work. It is a list that will no doubt grow. Please add copiously to the comments below.
Sir William Golding, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, mentions Swallows and Amazons in Lord of the Flies.
Debbie Welch points out thatMonica Edwardshas Andrea reading We didn’t mean to go to sea in Punchbowl Midnight. ‘She slams it down when Peter has let Midnight (the calf) out.’ TARS member Elizabeth Williams said that Pigeon Post is being read in Summer of the Great Secret. “Monica Edwards was a great Ransome fan. She wrote a letter to him after the publication of Great Northern? There isn’t a record of a reply.”
Nevil Shute mentions Swallows and Amazons in No Highway. Eddie Castellan of the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook writes: ‘Ronnie Clarke is spotted reading Coot Club as a bedtime story in the closing pages of The Rainbow and the Rose.’
Katie Fforde, president of the Romantic Novelists Association, mentions Arthur Ransome in her novel A Vintage Wedding. Martin Allott spotted this, explaining, ‘It’s a gentle romance about the love lives of three female friends who set up a wedding planning business… Lindy mentions some favourite books, one of which is Old Peter’s Russian Tales.’
Liz Taylorson has recently brought out a romance entitled Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm that not only features the book Swallows and Amazons but makes quite a thing of Titty’s name. You can find the extract here.
Kit Pearson wrote the Guests of War trilogy (The Sky is Falling, Looking at the Moon and The Lights Go On Again). Adam Quinan explained that they are about a British sister and brother evacuated to Canada during the early days of the Second World War. ‘The older sister loved Ransome’s books and compares his stories to Ontario lakeside cottage life.’
In Red Letter Holiday by Virginia Pye the mother of the family is reading Swallows and Amazons aloud.
Magnus Smith says that How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger and Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr mention Ransome’s books.
In The Boyhood of Grace Jones by Jane Langton, an American book from 1972, the main character is obsessed by the books, and fantasizes about being as good a sailor as John Walker .
Libby Purves, now President of The Arthur Ransome Society, mentions Swallows and Amazons in her novel Regatta. I need reminding if she mentions Ransome in her other books.
Victor Watson references Swallows and Amazons in his Paradise Barn quartet. I think one of the kids wants to borrow it from the library.
The Swallows and Amazon series gets mentioned An Island of our Own by Sally Nicholls, Coming Home by Rosamun Pilcher and Impossible!by Michelle Magorian. Does she also mention We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea in Goodnight Mr Tom?
Clare Havens refers to Swallows and Amazons in The Bellamy Bird, a novel which she asked Virginia McKenna to narrate when it came out as an audiobook.
Tessa Hadley wrote a short story featuring Swallows and Amazons, which Tessa Jordan says, ‘contains the most remarkable depiction of the spell cast by Swallows and Amazons.’
Other authors, playwrights and illustrators have expressed their love for the Swallows and Amazon series:
Philip Pullman chose We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea as one of his 40 favourite children’s books in a Waterstones promotion and borrows Ransome’s phrase ‘signaling to Mars’ from Winter Holiday in La Belle Sauvage.
Jeanne Birdsall‘s Penderwicks books are highly recommended for young Ransome fans. Alan Kennedy has also written in what has become a Ransome genre.
Katherine Hull and Pamela Whitlock were young fans of Arthur Ransome who helped and encouraged them to publish their novel The Far-Distant Oxus.
Jon Tuckerhas written a series five Those Kids books set in Tasmania and New Zealand that bring Ransome into the 21st Century.
Inspired by Ransome,Duncan Hallbrought out the Brambleholme series of books for children aged 8-80 set in the Yorkshire Dales.
Julia Jones, whose Strong Winds series begins around the Shotley Peninsular where the Ransomes once lived, is a great fan of the Swallows and Amazons series. She has been sailing Arthur Ransome’s yacht Peter Duck since she was a little girl and mentions his books in her novels. She writes on behalf of other authors who quote Swallows and Amazons: ‘All of us are honest about our inspiration: we acknowledge Arthur Ransome in our credits / we join The Arthur Ransome Society / introduce a Swallows and Amazons-reading child into our stories and in my case, at least, get our lead characters thinking desperately ‘what would the Swallows do next?” You can read more in her article about authors who have been inspired by Ransome’s writing entitled X Marks the Legacy.
Julia reminds me that Marcus Sedgwick has written a whole novel based on Arthur Ransome’s adventures in Russia where he met Evgenia, the woman who was to become his second wife, entitled Blood Red, Snow White. I have a copy.
The Duke of Edinburgh is reputed to have spoken of a ‘Swallows and Amazons spirit’ or ‘the spirit of Swallows and Amazons’. The books are certainly loved by many.
I was interviewed by the antiques expert Marc Allum who reckoned my collection of memorabilia from the 1974 film would be worth about £5,000. You can read more about this here. I have a feeling this episode recorded at Windermere Jetty might be repeated someday soon.
Rupert Maas the art expert on BBC Antiques Roadshow, who watched the film as a boy, said that the Arthur Ransome books inspired him to sail across the Atlantic. He valued Swallow, the dinghy we used in the movie at more than £10,000.
Jeffrey Archerwas inspired by the book: “I love Swallows and Amazons because it has the sense of children working together. It was very moral in that it made clear that individuals don’t matter.” (The Independent) “Swallows And Amazons was unputdownable – though I did not try to emulate their adventures.” (My Weekly)
Kate Adie, the News correspondent, who, on ‘I’ve never seen Star Wars’ (BBC Radio 4 ), gave ‘Swallows and Amazons’ 10/10 a few years ago.
Labi Siffre, the singer-songwriter said on Great Lives that Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books taught him responsibility and a morality that shaped and influenced his life.
Jane Garvey, of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, chose We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea as one of her five favorite books. “I’ve no idea why I loved this book so much, but I know I did. It’s one of the Swallows and Amazons series, and involves an accidental trip to Belgium. I found it absolutely hair-raising – I’m not exactly intrepid myself so it probably petrified me.” (The Week)
David Bellamy, the botanist and television presenter who lectured at my university ‘… said he was inspired in his love of nature as a boy by the books of Sir (sic) Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons. “By the time I was 14 I’d read all his books and saved up so that I could go to the Lake District to camp and learn to sail. It tipped me towards natural history.”’ The Guardian
Norman Willis, former General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and president of the European Union TUC, became President of The Arthur Ransome Society, which is going from strength to strength.
AA Gill, the British journalist said, “Swallows and Amazons:- Being dyslexic, I started reading late and this was the first book without pictures that I read on my own. My Grandmother gave it to me for Christmas when I was nine. It took me about three months to read but I was gripped.”
Adam Hart-Davis, the cycling TV presenter, actually met Arthur Ransome as a boy. He has often spoken at The Arthur Ransome Society’s events and has written a number of non-fiction books on what the past has done for us.
Benjamin Britten who was born in Lowestoft had a well known love of Swallows and Amazons and was keen to base a children’s opera on one of the books. ‘So desperate was he for Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea that at one point he swapped his composition draft of the newly completed cantata Saint Nicolas for a copy of the book!’ BrittenPears Arts
Dick Strawbridge, and Dr Alice Roberts the anthropologist, presented a documentary devoted to the landscapes that inspired Ransome as an author in both the Lake District and East Anglia, which was repeated on television recently. I think Dick Strawbridge may have stumbled on the drystone remains of the the charcoal burners’ hut that we used in the original film, without knowing it. You can watch their explorations here:
When Jonathan Cape first published Swallows and Amazons on 21st July 1930 for the price of 7/6d, it was eagerly received by numerous authors including JRR Tolkein and AA Milne. I’m often asked which well known people alive today have expressed an interest in Arthur Ransome’s series of books.
Griff Rhys Jones, who presented The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome using clips of the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons in which I played Titty, joined me at Pin Mill in Suffolk for a marathon reading We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, the book that tells of the Swallows’ hair-raising voyage to Flushing. You can find Griff’s books here.
John Sergeant, the veteran newscaster, has made a number of documentaries about Arthur Ransome, chatting to Griff on The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome, and The Secret Life of Books.
Ben Fogle interviewed Suzanna Hamilton and myself on Countryfile and Big Screen Britain after exploring the locations around Coniston Water. You can watch the episode here.
Libby Purves, author and broadcaster, is now President of The Arthur Ransome Society. She refers to Swallows and Amazons in at least one of her novels.
Dame Ellen McArthur, yachtswoman and Patron of The Nancy Blackett Trust, claims that Arthur Ransome’s novels inspired her to sail. She gives Swallows and Amazons a good mention in her book Taking on the World. Ellen was portrayed by Suzanna Hamilton in a Stephen Sharkey play at a festival at the Southall Playhouse. Suzanna played Susan Walker in the 1974 film of Swalllows and Amazons.
Sir Richard Branson often says how much he loved the book as a boy, describing it as, “a lovely kids’ adventure book.” I met him years ago when I worked on The Russell Harty Show. To may amazement, he recognised me when I was filming in the street in Kensington, so perhaps he has watched the original film of Swallows and Amazons.
John McCarthy, the journalist and keen sailor,made a radio programme called Paddling with Peter Duck, sailing Swallow, the dinghy featured in the 1974 film. You can sail her yourself via SailRansome.com
Theresa May said she loves Swallows and Amazons. ‘When she was young she appears to have enjoyed reading… listing… Swallows and Amazons among her favourites.’ Mirror and Daily Mail She gave a copy to Baroness Davidson, once leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.
Dame Judi Dench also read the book as a girl: “…Swallows and Amazons, I remember that very well indeed.” Good Housekeeping
David Dimbleby loves gaff-rigged boats and recently helped with PR at the London Boat Show. He visited us on the set of the BBC Drama serial Swallows and Amazons For Ever!filmed on location in Norfolk.
Sir Ben Ainslie ~ Steven Morris of the Guardian reports: “He recalled how he started sailing in Cornwall on the creeks around Falmouth as a boy. Ainslie has called it a Swallows and Amazons kind of childhood. He had friends on the other side of the creek so he sailed over to see them.”
Ben lived in Lymington – and came to our club to celebrate after the Olympics.
Nikki Henderson, the youngest ever Clipper Around The World yachtswoman was inspired by the book Swallows and Amazons naming Swallow and one of the coolest sailing boats ever in Yachting World as reported by the Nancy Blackett Trust.
Alan Smith of BBC Radio 4, appeared as a boy in the scenes shot at Bowness. He was on location at the Haverthwaite Railway Station in May 1973 on the first day of filming Swallows and Amazons(1974) with Virginia McKenna who starred in the film as Mrs Walker. To read more, please click here.
Miranda Hart (Miranda, Call the Midwife, Not Going Out) “Oh, I love these wonderful stories about outdoor life in one of the most beautiful parts of our country – the Lake District. Camping, sailing, exploring, discovering – it’s still the stuff of dreams for me. My favourite character was Peggy. She was shy and a little nervy but always kept up with her sister, who was captain of their boat. It was rather like me and my sister; although I was the elder, I was the shyer one, and often had to rely on my little sis to do the grown-up things. And I have to say Peggy is my favourite character still, because that’s partly who my dog is named after. I love that this book celebrates the importance and joy of friendship. But above all it harks back to a time when children had to use nature and their imagination to have fun through the long summer holidays. No iPads on tap here. I hope it inspires kids and adults who may have forgotten about the bliss and thrill and beauty of nature to rediscover it.” You magazine.
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:
I am writing to you for the first time, having found that you are the president of Arthur Ransome Society. Attached is a photo I took with Titty and her husband at their bungalow by the Coniston Water in 1985.
My name is Yoichiro Yamada. I have been with the foreign ministry of Japan since 1984. I am currently teaching at a university (and will return to the ministry next year).
I have held this photo in my album for 36 years now. It looks glossy because it is a digital photo of the original one.
I have cherished the memory of meeting Titty and her husband, but have never written to anyone about it before. When I was around 12-13 years old, I was fascinated by Arthur Ransome stories. I read all the volumes in the Japanese translation. Since then, I wanted to live in the U.K. some time in the future. My dream came true when I entered the foreign ministry and was sent to Beaconsfield (RAEC Center) for language training in Russian.
Taking advantage of that opportunity, I went to the Lake District, and after some luck, met Titty and her husband in 1985. I believe I was the only Japanese to have done so.
By coincidence, I have recently come to know about your society. I saw some photos of Ms. Mavis Altounyan (including those of her wedding), and was immediately convinced that it’s the same two persons that I met in 1985. I thought that I should write to you.
The original photo is in my father’s house, which has become vacant because he recently began to live in a pensioners’ home. So I cannot make a better copy of the original photo unless I go to that house by myself (which I intend to do this summer). I believe that in the same album there still remains a sheet of paper on which Titty made an autograph “Titty A.B.” for me (or perhaps “Titi A.B”…I cannot remember which way she wrote). I remember she said as she wrote it, “this is how I used to sign my name when I was very young.”
I hope this story and the photo are of interest to you and your society. Yours, sincerely,
Yoichiro (Giro) Yamada
I am no longer President of The Arthur Ransome Society, but I thought that others who love the Swallows and Amazons series of books would like to read this letter and asked permission to publish it, along with his photos.
I never met Titty Altouyan and was too shy to contact her but did rescue family photos of her wedding in Aleppo, which you can see on an earlier post here.
Here is another picture of her at her sister, Brigit’s wedding:
You can read a little more about her life and the origin of her name here.
Over the years, I have been suggesting a variety of useful, literary gifts. I have just brought out this mug featuring a map of the Swallows and Amazons locations on Consiton Water, currently available online from £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.
Jago Silver has some new ‘Never Stop Exploring’ cards, journals and notebooks, which you can find at his online shop here
This year, I bought packs of book-ish Christmas cards from the charity SchoolReaders. They have a variety here.
Here is something for sailors, which could include a voucher to sail Swallow, the dinghy from the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, which you can find out about here.
A digitally hand drawn reproduction of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics film poster for the original movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) is available here
Or you could give a copy of the book on how the film was made. Large paperbacks can be ordered from Amazon or direct from the publisher here or other stockists listed here.