If you are keen on dinghy sailing and looking for adventure, this is a book to accompany you through the summer months ahead. It is full of sound advice from Roger Barnes who learnt to sail on Windermere in Cumbria and is now President of the Dinghy Cruising Association. He has written for Classic Boat, Watercraft,Dinghy Sailing Magazine and currently writes for Classic Sailor.
Roger emailed me to ask if I had a photograph of us sailing Swallow without life jackets. I supplied him with this shot my mother took in 1973 since I am standing in the dinghy. I am not sure how we managed to go about when we sailed off, as it also contained the parrot’s cage.
I will certainly take The Dinghy Cruising Companion with me if I manage to get Swallow to Brittany in the near future. As you can see from the cover Roger often takes his own boat to regattas in France.
I bought my copy of Roger’s paperback online but it’s available from all good bookshops. To find out about sailing Swallow, the dinghy used in the 1974 film of Swallows and Amazons, please click here for Sail Ransome.
‘I’ve just read this delightful ebook – thank you so much for writing it! I’m sure you must get messages all the time like this, but I hope you will deservedly enjoy hearing that I absolutely adored the film of S&A and learned your name, along with all of the other actors and actresses off by heart from the record, which I played and played.
‘I also had the jigsaw of the campsite scene, which I thought was an incredible piece of merchandising (and it was, for its day).
‘I read my first S&A book (Swallowdale, but never mind) in the summer holidays when I was 7, and rapidly recruited my best friend Linda to being a fan. One of our mums spotted that the film was on at our local cinema in Dundee that Christmas, but the next day was the last date it was showing – so we were collected early from our school Christmas party, so that we could make it in time. We were in heaven. The next Easter, our families took us to the Lake District (staying in Coniston) for the first of many holidays there. We remember “finding” Gondola submerged in the reeds, and sailing with our dads over to Bank Ground and seeing the two dinghies named Swallow and Amazon. We soon found a favourite picnic on the shore close to Peel Island, and in later years, my dad and I rowed over to the Island in a rubber dinghy, which was tremendously exciting. Fascinating to hear about the artificial shingle beach!
I was interested to read that one of your qualifications for getting the job was that you could row, and that you’d practised at home in a Thames Skiff. Many thanks again for giving me such a delightful film to immerse myself in as a child. Helena Smalman-Smith
‘We love your book and tales of filming.’ Love Ambleside – on Twitter
‘…the girls adore your film of Swallows and Amazons. In fact, I fear it is thanks to your film rather than the book that my Swallows and Amazons camping weekend was full to bursting. I also have friends in Suffolk who would happily hot foot it across the country with their three children to hear you!’ Grainne Dennison (teacher and Ransome fan).
‘My daughter is 11 today & this is her favourite present! Titty was always Moira’s favourite character from the books AND the film, she is thrilled!’
‘My daughter LOVED your book! She couldn’t help sharing gems & finished it in a few days on hols. Magic! My turn now!’
‘I have been hesitating to write, but I do want to tell you how much I enjoyed reading ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’. It made watching the film so much more enjoyable. I came to Arthur Ransome late in life, but I’ve read all of them, and have a complete collection of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ adventures.’ Mark Cheng, Bedford
‘I really love the Swallows and Amazons movie. I actually went to see it at the pictures in London, with my family when it first came out, but I was only about 4 or 5 years old, so I don’t remember much about that day. But of course I have watched it many times over the years and since I have the DVD I make a point to watch it at least once every year. You are my favourite as you are so charming!!’ Robert Newland, Dorset
If you have a memory of the film, do leave a comment in the box below.
This question has recently been typed into the Google search engine. It has to be said the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is a pretty abstract title. What does it mean? Is it about South America?
The national press brewed a great storm last summer when they discovered that BBC Films and the BFI had changed the lead character’s name to Tatty. When the Daily Telegraph phoned me for comment, I asked if someone had made a spelling mistake. Titty was mistakenly referred to as Tilly in The Times a year before, along with rather an over excited headline:
I’ve received letters addressed to Titty for so long that I couldn’t understand the problem until I typed the name Titty into Twitter. You do not see my face – or anybody else’s. I am not sure if it has been defined by the Oxford Dictionary yet but it seems a titty-tatty is now the term used for a certain kind of tattoo.
Last week I found an interesting document. It is the original contract that my father was sent in April 1973 when I was offered a part in the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’. It doesn’t refer to Titty at all:
This was the reason why my mother suggested I wrote the name Titania Walker on the front of the ship’s log which you can see if you watch the movie closely. Why Theatre Projects used the classical name I do not know. It could be argued that ‘Swallows and Amazons’ contains traces of Shakespearean influence but Arthur Ransome insisted the name Titty wasn’t short for anything.
People often ask how much I was paid for appearing in the feature film. The contact states, ‘We…
This period refereed to the seven weeks spent filming on location. I paid another £10 a day for dubbing the film and for a pick-up day when we filmed a scene in Surrey. Although publicizing the movie was more demanding than being on location we were neither licensed or paid. I did receive a book token for promoting EMI Films at the Lord Mayor’s Show.
Dubbed it was – into a number of languages including French, Czech and Norwegian:
People imagine that we receive residuals when the film is sold abroad or broadcast on television but we actors are only due a fee if our image is used to advertise a product. This is a few years old but does it count?
Or could this? I saw the image used in a TV commercial with my own eyes, so I’d love to know.
When interviewed aboard the yacht Ransome bought with his royalties, Taqui Altounyan said that on receiving a new copy of ‘The Swallows and The Amazons’, as the first edition was titled, her family were also thrown by the abstract title, wondering if it was about South America. It could be about migrating birds.
You can see Anita Singh’s article that sparked up international debate last summer by clicking here The juxtaposition of the photos is so naughty, but brilliant of course. I’m the one with the telescope.
Titty was the name of an imaginative and ‘highly original’ little girl who Arthur Ransome first got to know in the Lake District when she was aged eight. I met her niece Barbara Altounyan recently. She was most amused that I had once played her Aunt Titty.
~Sophie Neville playing Titty Altounyan in the 1974 film ‘Swallows & Amazons’. Official photograph taken a Bank Ground Farm above Coniston Water copyright: StudioCanal~
I’d brought Barbara some long lost family photographs that included some of Titty’s wedding in Aleppo. They are beautiful.
Titty on the arm of her father, Dr Ernest Altounyan in Aleppo, 1954
Titty on her wedding day with her husband Melkon Guzelian, her sister-in-law, her father Ernest Altounyan, her mother Dora and brother Roger, far right. You can also see Roger, Ernest and Dora below, with Roger’s wife standing far right.
There is also a more informal shot.
‘Don’t you want to know about Titty?’ Barbara asked me. ‘She was a very detailed person and quite a perfectionist.’ I knew she was a wonderful artist who had studied under Henry Moore at the Chealsea School of Art, but was unwilling to ever attempt to sell her work. I was also told she also had long legs. I only hope that I have represented her well.
Titty Altounyan at her sister Brigit’s wedding to John Sanders in 1953
(NB: Ransome did not write ‘Swallows and Amazons’ while on holiday on Coniston Water as was stated in the programme. To see a photograph of Low Ludderburn, the house above Windermere where Arthur Ransome lived and wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’ please click here and scroll down.)
David Stott has written in to say, “When l got the job driving for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ l think I took over the production car when Jean McGill started driving you children around in the mini-bus.” This must have been in May 1973 when the original film of Arthur Ransome’s classic book was being made in Westmorland.
David explained that, although he lived in Ambleside, he has not seen Jean since the filming, so enjoyed reading that I had been in touch with her. “Jean’s Mum was called Girlie and she used to run a nursing home on Lake Road. Jean had a brother who was nicknamed Blondie. We would often have a cup of tea with Girlie in the nursing home kitchen.”
David has all sorts of memories of filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in the Lake District that I knew nothing about. “Jean mentioned that she took Ronnie Fraser for an early morning glass of champagne to get him going. I remember having to take him to the Lodore Swiss Hotel in Borrowdale while filming on Derwentwater. He would order what he called, ‘A Frazer’, which was some sort of vodka cocktail.” David was only about seventeen at the time. Driving Ronald Fraser around must have been something of an eye-opener. “I remember bringing him back to film ‘walking the plank’ and he was very drunk at the time. Expect he needed it for the cold water. He could be a little difficult when he had had a few.”
“I was rather star struck when l was driving Virginia McKenna,” he admitted. “On one occasion I had to drive her from the farmhouse on Coniston to Grange railway station. She was telling me all about filming ‘Born Free’ with the lions and I drove a bit slowly as l was enjoying her company. We arrived rather late and l had to throw her and her luggage onto the train just as it was leaving.” I asked Virginia about this but she couldn’t remember ever being late for the train. I can only imagine that David must have coped well.
“On another occasion I think l had Richard Pilbrow in the car,” he was the producer of the film. “We were driving back from Derwentwater when a cow jumped off a bank and landed on the bonnet, causing quiet a lot of damage. I was dreading going back to Browns Motors and telling Alan Faulkener the owner what had happened.” Richard is still alive and well.
David, who now owns Crossways Hotel near Glynebourne, comes from an old Cumbrian family. His grandmother lived at High Green Gate, the farm next door to Beatrice Potter Hilltop. “My great grandfather was Farmer Potatoes in the ‘Tale of Samuel Whiskers’. It was sketched from a photograph that my mother still has. There is shortly to be an article in Cumbria Magazine about Beatrice Potter’s relationship with the Postlethwaite family.”
One of our locations – Haverthwaite Station today
“My father was the local joiner in Ambleside. He also kept about 1000 hens and delivered eggs around the hotels at the weekends. My brother and l would often help him on a Saturday morning.” David obviously knew the roads of Cumbria well.
“It’s Jean!” It was Jean McGill ringing from Bowness in Cumbria. She had been our driver and the unit nurse on the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ made in the Lake District from May to July 1973, released a year later in 1974.
“I’ve never seen the film,” Jean declared, “but I loved your book about making it. It brought back such memories.” I urged her to tell me more. “I remember when Suzanna Hamilton cut her hand whittling wood. It was bleeding like anything. I bandaged it up nicely but the director was horrified and made me take the dressing off again.” I think this was when we were in the middle of filming on Peel Island. The accident put an end to our wood carving hobby, which was a shame. We’d been using a Swiss Army knife to make our own bows and arrows with Bob Hedges the prop man.
” You children persuaded me to go out to dinner with Ronnie Fraser! Why I went, I haven’t the foggiest. He was a rough character – very coarse.” Ronald Fraser was the movie actor playing Captain Flint. “I used to have to drive him to the local hotel in the mornings and order champagne to sober him up.”
“How would champagne have helped to sober him?”
“I don’t know. He told me it would.”
“I think he’d been divorced for a while at the time.”
“I wouldn’t have married him in the first place,” Jean assured me.
Jean had been taken on as the unit nurse after the first nurse proved rather out of her depth. I thought she was a State Registered Nurse but she corrected me. She had 26 years experience in nursing becoming a hospital sister but was never an SRN. “I was a driver for Browns (of Ambleside)” and as such was paid to work on the film. “I wasn’t paid to be the unit nurse. It didn’t matter, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
I only found out recently that my mother hadn’t been paid to be a chaperone either, despite the responsibility as well as her legal obligations. It was hardly a big budget movie. Like Jean, she was simply thanked with a bouquet of flowers at the end of the filming.
Jean was one of the few local people who worked on the film throughout the seven weeks we were on location. Her local knowledge made all the difference as she knew the roads well, took short cuts to avoid the traffic and knew the best swimming spots when the weather warmed up.
I reminded Jean about the early 1970s – what we ate and how we dressed. ” I bought a pair of jeans for the first time in my life. It was so hot that I changed into shorts while we were on set. You children took the jeans and stitched a big red heart on the backside.” There was a craze for adding embroidered patches to denim clothing. These were expensive to buy but we persuaded to Sten Grendon’s mother to make red hearts for everyone’s jeans. “It made walking through Ambleside very embarrassing.” Jean sounded as if she was still recovering from the indignity 43 years later. “It mucked me up!”
Jean went on to drive for Mountain Goat Tours in Cumbria and worked in a doctor’s surgery before becoming a registrar for ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’. “I’m a coffin-kicker now,” Jean told me cheerfully. She never worked on another film but kept a copy of the original screenplay and other memorabilia.
Not long after I spoke to her a brown paper package arrived in the post. It contained an envelope with the writing,
FOR THE ATTENTION OF TITTY
‘Still looking for the photographs. Will send to you when I find them. 43 years old? It was this tatty when I got same! Jean.’
And this is what the envelope contained:
Here is Jean in her red top talking to my mother in her Donny Osmond hat:
Since Classic TV Press published ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ in 2014, a number of facts have floated to the surface. The most amazing recollection was one that occurred to my mother.
‘The letter inviting you to come for an interview for a part in the film was addressed to your father. He was working abroad when it arrived. I never, ever opened his mail but something urged me to open that one envelope. It was a good thing I did as he was away for three weeks and we would have missed the opportunity altogether.’ She was amazed by the contents and replied at once, sending a photograph to Theatre Projects. I think it was this rather miserable one of me wearing a Laura Ashley dress.
Sophie Neville in 1972
A date was made to meet the director. I now remember that I was taken up to Long Acre in the West End to meet Claude Whatham very soon after Dad arrived back from his business trip. We walked through Soho and visited a Chinese grocery store on the way home.
Daphne Neville on HTV in 1973
‘I was never paid to work on the set as chaperone,’ Mum told me. ‘Neither was Jane. We were just happy that our expenses were covered but it ended up costing me quite a bit as I had to travel back to Bristol to work now and again.’ She was working for HTV as a television presenter alongside Jan Leeming, who is currently appearing on ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’. For the photo of them both on an HTV West show, please click here
Jean McGill said she didn’t get paid for acting as the Unit Nurse, as far as she could remember, ‘But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.’
The most exciting thing was meeting Kerry Darbyshire, who played Vicky’s nurse, at Zeffirelli’s cinema in Ambleside for the 40th Anniversary screening of the film. I learnt to my horror that I had mis-spelt her name in the credits I gave the actors. All I had to go on was her signature in the back of my copy of the hardback book of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ where I’d collected autographs.
Kerry laughed, telling me, ‘I should have had more legible handwriting.’ She appeared in the film quite a bit. ‘It was a pity I wasn’t able to bring my own child. She was the exact same age and colouring as the little girl they found to play baby Vicky.’ Kerry was with us in the compartment of the train on day one of the shoot. ‘I found it very difficult to laugh with you when the train went into the tunnel.’ I couldn’t think what she meant at first but it was the laughter that followed Virginia McKenna’s line: ‘He’d say, “Just look at that scenery”.’ at the moment the train goes into a dark tunnel. ‘You children found it no problem at all, but I couldn’t laugh. I was too shy.’ Zeffirelli’s are next screening ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) at 7.30pm on 2nd March.
I never knew the name of the snake wrangler – who brought the charcoal burners’ adder along, but Ken Foster wrote in recently to say it was his father, John Foster whose family farmed near Satterthwaite. He was once employed as an assistant at the fresh-water biology research establishment at Windermere and became a biological specimen supplier. You can read more about his unusual occupation here
Simon West, who played Captain John, remembered that Claude Whatham often used to take us for a quick run before going for a take. It freshened us up and was appropriate when we had to run into shot, slightly out of breath.
One little girl wrote to tell me how she pulls her dress over her knees just as I did when I played Titty, as I got rather cold in a scene when were were first sailing Swallow to the island.
George Marshall, the veteran film accountant, assured me we had a very talented film crew. Mark Birmingham, a film producer currently working on the bio-pic of Noel Coward, knew quite a few of the individuals working on ‘Swallows & Amazons’ and told me of the amazing careers they went on to lead. ‘Your Best Boy, Denis Carrigan, went on to run Sherperton Studios.’ Denis worked closely with Ridley Scott who made many great films there. ‘Sadly one of the other electricians died when he grabbed a live cable.’
Other people have written with interesting stories relating to the film locations.
‘The shop in Woodland Road was my grandfather Tom Kirkbride’s cobblers shop from 1930s to 1956,’ Brian Salisbury wrote. ‘After he retired, the wooden building became Stan Cropper’s sweet shop doing a roaring trade with the boys at St Mary’s Boys School just along the road and the newly built Droomer Estate.’ This was the shop where we bought rope for the Light House Tree that is now a barber’s in Windermere. To read more about this location and others in Windermere, please click here
Albatros Media in the Czech Republic have re-published a hardback edition of ‘Swallowdale’ by Arthur Ransome, illustrated by the great Czech artist Zdenek Burian.
The forward has been written by me, Sophie Nevilleová.
I was commissioned by Ondřej Müller, Fiction Program Director, thanks to an introduction by Petr Korbel, a feature writer in Prague. My somewhat daunting task was to introduce the well-loved story that comes with classic illustrations. I took the opportunity to recommend that readers book a holiday in Cumbria, which has been so badly hit by the recent floods. It’s always exciting to find the actual locations described in a novel, particularly one you know well.
Of all Arthur Ransome’s books, it was Swallowdale that inspired me to go camping. I have since pitched my tent all over the world from Papua New Guinea in the Pacific to Patagonia, which I crossed on horseback. I once spent six months driving down through Africa, sleeping in a tent and using all I had learnt from this beautifully written book. Not long after this expedition, I started to draw maps in the hope that I that might encourage others to travel and explore the world as the Swallows did.
Back in 1973 I had the great privilege of playing the part of Titty in the movie of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ that has been translated into Czech twice. Throughout my life I have received letters from people telling me how Arthur Ransome’s books have given them direction in life, encouraging them to set sail and explore unchartered waters.
If you ever visit the English Lake District take the charcoal burners’ advice and keep a good lookout for adders but in searching for Swallowdale one thing is for sure, you will be walking in Arthur Ransome’s footsteps. He was taken to the summit of Old Man Coniston, the mountain known in the book as Kanchenjunga, as a small baby and rowed into the secret harbour of Peel Island, or Wild Cat Island as the Swallows called it, when he was a boy.
The people of Cumbria still welcome visitors, indeed you can stay at the farm known as Holly Howe and it is possible to take a boat out on the lake below it. Coniston Water is not an exact replica of the map in the book, but you can enjoy looking for Horseshoe Cove and the Amazon boathouse. Rio can be found on Windermere where you might also find the Peak of Darien along with native steamers. Titty would encourage you to let your imagination take you further and I am sure Roger would suggest you take a fishing rod.
Even if travelling does not appeal to you, ‘Swallowdale’ is such a vivid story that you will sail back in time to 1931 quite effortlessly. This classic book is a full of wonderful imagery from ‘black wretched thoughts…crowding in like cormorants coming to roost’, to potatoes being in bad mood. It is enjoyable on many levels. I laughed when Titty decided, ‘Miss Turner could hardly be dead if she was complaining of cold plates’ and was uplifted by her joy at discovering, ‘the most secret valley that ever there was in the world.’
I am so pleased that Albatros Media are able to bring you this beautifully illustrated edition, to read, enjoy and perhaps pass on to others.
If you live in France you can order a Kindle copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ – which is full of behind-the-scenes photos and links to home-movie footage taken on location, although the text is in English. The paperback makes a good present for students of Media Studies, Drama or Film:
Swallows & Amazons tours of the Lake District ~ including a trip on the steam train, led by Peter Walker of Mountain Goat in Windermere can be booked for groups by request. A must for overseas visitors. To read about this do go to: ‘In Search of our old Film Locations’. For booking details please click here.
Swallow, the dinghy used in the film, is currently in East Anglia. For opportunities to sail her yourself please click here
I wanted to thank all those who have sent letters and emails about ‘The Secrets of Making Swallows & Amazons’. These have come in from around the world. Many people have taken the time and trouble to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, which is hugely appreciated.
I have been asked to write about other classic dramas I’ve been involved with but before I move on, I thought I could post some of the feedback and comments that have come in:
‘It’s my favourite book!’ a little girl said on spotting ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ on sale at Brantwood
‘It’s wonderful! (almost as great as reading the original book) Carl – USA
“Thank you” for writing that marvellous book, “Secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons”. I purchased it on my Kindle from Amazon thinking it would be my “summer holiday” read – but was truly unable to put it down so it only lasted a day or so! As a devoted Arthur Ransome fan (and proud dad to two daughters – 13 and 10 – who love the books and film also) your words really brought the film to life. Such wonderful stories in the book. How I wish that Claude had also made ‘Pigeon Post’ with the same cast! There are few films (and books) that evoke childhood in this way. ‘Swallows & Amazons’ will always take me back to being ten years old, and your film was one of the truly rare occasions when a film adaptation did justice to the book. I guess it’s because everyone involved truly loved the story – it shows. Thank you again for sharing those few weeks in 1973.’ Paul – To read his review please click here
‘…I loved the movie when I was young. I only saw it once but was given the LP by my Godmother and played it — on my parents’ radiogram — until I knew it by heart. When I took my own children to see the movie (in the Aldeburgh Cinema a few years ago) I was still word perfect, much to their embarrassment! We now have the DVD and it was the movie of choice for my children a couple of summers ago so they are now pretty word perfect too! It’s great that the old film is going to be re-released at the same time as the new is coming out, though we are looking forward to that too.’ Lucy
I’ve just read this delightful ebook – thank you so much for writing it! …Many thanks again for giving me such a delightful film to immerse myself in as a child.’ Helena
I have just finished reading ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’. Apart from your wonderful narrative, what a task you undertook, I especially enjoyed reading all the amazing credits you’d researched on the film makers! John