Arthur Ransome at the Langham

An unsigned portrait by Cyrus Cuneo executed at the Langham Sketching Club c.1914

Arthur Ransome and the painter Cyrus Cuneo were both members of the Langham Sketching Club in London. An unsigned portrait of a balding, moustached gentleman, has come to light that is believed to be a sketch of Ransome dated between 1912 and 1914. He is wearing a round glasses, a stiff white collar and sandy-coloured jacket, painting at a desk in front of dark bookcases. You can just see a hint of the pipe in his mouth.

In 2021, Rosebery’s Auctions in London listed this 45.5cm x 30cm oil-on-board painting in their catalogue as ‘a portrait of the artist’ Cyrus Cuneo, but he was dark, clean-shaven and heavy shouldered, having been a professional boxer, as depicted below. When this was pointed out, Rosebery’s replied that it was, ‘just a self-portrait of an artist at the Langham.’ The setting is backed up by a label on the reverse, but the painting is unsigned.

Cyrus Cincinnato Cuneo, special artist of the Illustrated London News, pictured at work.

The painting is similar to the portrait Dora Altounyan painted of Arthur Ransome in early 1932, which was bequeathed by Evgenia Ransome to Abbot Hall museum in Kendal, now curated by Lakeland Arts. He is wearing exactly the same kind of jacket, but has hair the same colour, with a shorter haircut.

Arthur Ransome, aged 48 by Dora Altounyan (c) Altounyan family Lakeland Arts Trust http://www.artuk.org/artworks/arthur-ransome-18841967-145234

In photographs taken before the First World War, Ransome’s hair looks fuller and darker but could, presumably, have been lathered with pomade. He is wearing the pince-nez glasses and holding the same design of pipe in the photo used on the cover of Hugh Brogan’s The Life of Arthur Ransome taken in 1907 when he was twenty-five and kept by his daughter, Tabitha.

Ransome aged 25 in about 1909

He had lost a lot of hair by the time he was photographed skipping down a lane with Tabitha, in 1917 as can be seen in this and another archive shot kept at the Brotherton Library in Leeds.

(c) Leeds digital

The Langham Sketching Club was set up at a stable yard in Gray’s Inn Lane in 1823 as ‘there was a need for a society where professional men could develop life drawing, improve work standards and meet in the company of like-minded artists’. It moved to 1 Langham Chambers, All Souls Place, London WI in 1938 and was henceforth known as The Langham, not to be confused with the Langham hotel.

JP Gulich’s painting of the Langham at about the time Ransome was sketching there, shown here by permission of the Langham Sketching Club

Artists met for two hours every Friday evening in the winter to sketch, take dinner and chat. Members still gather today, bringing food for a candlelit dinner. Ladies were not incorporated until 2018 but there are now as many women as men. They meet on Wednesday evenings in The Upper Hall at St Columba’s in Pont Street.

The Langham only closed after being bombed in WWII – but went online during Lockdown (c) David Eccles 2021

Cyrus Cuneo, who studied art in Paris under Whistler, joined ‘The Langham’, as it is known, about 1903 and became Chairman in 1908. His son, the artist Terence Cuneo, was born in 1907. Cyrus sadly died of blood poisoning in 1916 after getting scratched by a hat pin at a dance, but his wife and biographer, Nellie Cuneo described ‘some gay, mad times’. Fellow members included the equine artist Alfred Munnings and Arthur Ransome. A reference in early 1914 states: ‘About this time Cyrus gave up doing the two hour sketches at the Langham Sketch Club, and started doing portraits of the members at work. Afterwards some of these were sold to sitters, who included Arthur Ransome.’

Arthur Ransome? At what age? The ears and cheeks are particularly characteristic. Photo(c)Sophie Neville

How well does this painting compare with a photographic portrait dated 1932? The eyebrows look right.

In Bohemia in London, published in 1907, Arthur Ransome writes: ‘Another famous artists’ club is the Langham Sketch Club, whose rooms are close behind the Queen’s Hall. Artists meet there regularly, and draw and make pictures all in a room together, with a time limit set for the performance. At intervals they exhibit the harvest of their evenings on the walls. They also have merry parties, for men only, when the doors are opened by fantastical figures, and scratch entertainments go on all the time, and there are songs and jovial recitations. Nights are as merry as any, and the rooms are full of celebrated men, and men about to be celebrated; for the club does not tolerate bunglers.’ (In the Studios p.81)

Steven Spurrier’s illustration for Swallows and Amazons, a version of which was used on the cover when it was first published by Jonathan Cape in 1930

The artist Steven Spurrier, who drew the iconic map of Ransome’s ‘Great Lake in the North’ used on the dust jacket of the first editions of Swallows and Amazons, joined the club in 1906. He sketched groups sitting at different levels, on an assortment of furniture, as they drew. Some are balding and mustached, pipe smoking gentlemen, sketching under electric light. Most are wearing a jacket with a collar and tie. One could almost be Ransome.

Steven Spurrier RA, RBA,ROI (1878-1961) worked in charcoal or ink and wash, capturing the informal atmosphere. Did Ransome ever meet him at the club? He so loathed his illustrations commissioned by Jonathan Cape that, apart from the map, they were never used. Clifford Webb took on the challenge before Ransome produced his own line drawings and maps for Peter Duck, as if they had been drawn by his characters.

Nellie Tenison Cuneo illustrated a large number of books including The Girl Crusoes: A Story of the South Seas by Mrs Herbert Strang. Take one look at her paintings of girls with boats inside and you can imagine the impact they would have on Titty’s character.

Illustrations by Nell Cuneo

Carole Cuneo, President of the Cuneo Society, recognised the portrait. ‘Yes, definitely by Cyrus, from the Langham Sketch Club, and definitely of Arthur Ransome.’ Although, as quoted above, her grandmother claimed, ‘some of these (portraits) were sold to sitters, who included Arthur Ransome’ one can only presume that he did not buy this one. Could there be another?

Carole first knew this picture in the 1950’s. It hung on the wall of her father, Terence Cuneo’s studio at Ember Lane in East Molesey, London, until after his death in 1996, when she inherited it. Carole clearly remembers Terence saying it was a portrait of Arthur Ransome. She had sold it, with other paintings to Sim Fine Art in about 2011, when it was sold again before turning up at Rosebery’s auction. It was purchased for £480, just under the estimated price, by the editor of the Cuneo Society Journal. Carole has provided him with a written statement to record the painting’s provenance for the future. He contacted me to find out about other portraits of Ransome and I was able to see the framed painting at his house in 2021. This shows an open box of paints and a vessel that could have held water. Magnus Smith of The Arthur Ransome Society points out that whilst Arthur Ransome’s pencil sketches and pen and ink drawings are well known, did he ever use paints?

Sophie Neville with the portrait by Cyrus Cuneo

Cyrus Cuneo, who exhibited at the Royal Academy, Royal Institute of Oil Painters and Glasgow Institute of Fine Art, was a distinguished illustrator and figurist, originating from America. If this is a hither-to unknown portrait of Arthur Ransome, it is an important discovery that will be of interest to the Arthur Ransome Trust, Lakeland Arts and members of The Arthur Ransome Society worldwide.

Ref: ‘Cyrus’ Ransome’ by David Bennett, Cuneo Society Journal Vol 5 Number 2

You can read more about Cyrus Cuneo here and about the history of the Langham Sketching Club here.

Terence Cueno’s art studio can bee seen in this film but I couldn’t spot the portrait of Ransome.

The prolific artist Terence Cuneo, Cyrus’s son

First published in Mixed Moss 2022, the Journal of The Arthur Ransome Society

Discovering more about the film poster design for the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)

Sophie Neville as Titty in 'Swallows and Amazons' (1974) by the film poster artist Arnaldo Putzu
Sophie Neville portrayed by Arnaldo Putzu

Who painted the film poster?

I have only just learned that it was the Italian artist Arnaldo Putzu.

Thomas Connery enlightened me, writing: ‘Whether it be Space 1999, The Railway Children, The Rollers or Jaimie Sommers, he always captured likeness’ of stars faithfully and remarkably accurately.’ 

I agree. He portrayed Virginia McKenna well. I wonder how large the original painting was and if any of the sketches have survived.

Virginia McKenna in 'Swallows and Amazons' (1974) by the film poster artist Arnaldo Putzu
Virginia McKenna in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974)

I have been given brown eyes and look a bit worried but am hugely honoured to have been featured at all. Kit Seymour looked far more cheery.

Kit Seymour as Nancy in ‘Swallows and Amazons’1974

A version of the artwork was used on cinema tickets, establishing the green parrot as one of the stars. I do like the way that Roger’s head looks out from the oval. This one gives Amazon a dark sail and shows the Amazons adopting different poses from on the poster. Nancy has folded arms and Peggy has her hands on her knees. Her stance is comic but a bit improbable. They have the wind behind them. What if the boat had gybed?

Premier ticket for the Gala of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

The ticket matched the souvenir programme for the film premier held in Shaftesbury Avenue on 4th April 1974. You can see inside this in an earlier post here.

Swallows and Amazons premier programme
The programme from the 1974 premier of the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’

I also have a large sepia poster given to my mother by a cinema. I can remember being too shy to ask for it, but she persevered. I haven’t seen another since.

As children, we all asked, ‘Who was sailing the boats?’ Magnus Smith, who now looks after Swallow, says that you can tie off the mainsheet and Susan could just about be controlling Swallow’s tiller, but Amazon looks a bit precarious. I don’t expect Arnaldo had any experience sailing dinghies. Ours were on a collision course, pitched at odd angles with rather high reefing points but he added a swashbuckling spirit, and a bit of white water spray, which is always exciting.

Swallows and Amazons (1974) sepia film poster (c) StudioCanal
Arnaldo Putzu’s poster for the EMI film Swallows & Amazons (1974)

Arnaldo Putzu (1927-2012) began working for Rank in the 1950s and moved to London in 1967. He worked on the advertising material for many iconic movies including That’ll Be The Day, featuring David Essex and Ringo Starr, which Claude Whatham directed in 1972 prior to working on Swallows and Amazons for EMI Films. Is that the cover of the LP in the right hand corner? Claude Whatham gave me a copy. It included the song ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’.

That'll be the Day -the film post by Arnaldo Putzu
Poster design by Arnaldo Putzu

This one is bordered by fairground lights, where as ours had been given the feel of a treasure map, with the credits on the reverse, which was clever. The original lettering, trendy in the mid-seventies, faded from fashion for a while but came back on-trend for the 40th Anniversary. The painting was somehow ageless, being used for the DVD cover up by StudioCanal until 2016. They still sell it as a jigsaw puzzle or on a mug.

According to The Guardian, ‘Putzu created some of the most famous Italian film posters of the 50s and early 60s, painting such stars as Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.’ By 1973 ‘Putzu found himself the top-rated and most in-demand poster illustrator working in Britain. His output over the 1970s included oddball Hammer Horror fantasies such as Creatures the World Forgot and Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. For the Get Carter posters he put the ruthless gangster (played by) Michael Caine into an unlikely floral jacket, demonstrating the whimsical humour that makes his best posters unforgettable.’ An original of this poster signed by Michael Caine was once valued by Sotherby’s at between £4,000 to £6,000.

You can see more of of Putzu’s artwork here.

Lesley Bennett in 'Swallows and Amazons' (1974) by the film poster artist Arnaldo Putzu
Lesley Bennett in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974)

Lesley Bennett, who played Peggy, still has her copy of the original film poster. She should probably get it signed by the actors. Others were pasted in London Underground stations, which I found alarming as a child.

Lesley Bennett who played Peggy in Swallows and Amazons 1974

I spied a framed poster on display at Windermere Jetty Steamboat museum, where it was featured on BBC Antiques Roadshow. There is more about the movie memorabilia, which was valued by the expert Marc Allum, here.

Swallows and Amazons film poster
Sophie Neville at Windermere Jetty museum in 2020

Some originals have been for sale on this site here. Studiocanal sell various prints here.

You can read about the adventures we had making the movie in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ and the multi-media ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ which retails for £2.99. You can ‘Look inside’ and read the first section for free here:

Swallows and Amazons, 1974 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video where you can watch the film trailer. HotDog.com has a review of Amazon’s streaming service, including a 30-day free trial offer.

Celebrities who love ‘Swallows and Amazons’

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.

Griff Rhys Jones at Pin Mill for a reading of ‘We Didn’t Mean to Go To Sea’

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.

Geraint Lewis of The Arthur Ransome Trust sailing with John Sergeant

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.

Ben Fogle interviewing Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville on Countryfile

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.

Libby Purves afloat

A keen sailor, she also took part in the marathon reading of We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea organised by The Nancy Blackett Trust who own and look after the Goblin, the yacht portrayed in the story.

Libby Purves reading ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’

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.” He told The New York Times: “As a very young kid, I loved the Arthur Ransome novel Swallows and Amazons. It’s about a group of children having adventures in England. Now I read it to my grandkids. It’s a beautiful book.” I met Richard 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 months later, 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

Peter Willis on Ransome’s yacht Nancy Blackett with Kevin Dawson and John McCarthy

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.

Sophie Neville with David Dimbleby on location in Norfolk back in 1983

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.  

Congratulating Ben Ainslie on his Olympic gold medal

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.

Alan Smith in the doorway of the train with his friend John Eccles

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.

The list continues in the next post here.

The end-title theme music to ‘Swallows and Amazons’ composed by Wilfred Josephs

You can read about The Making of Swallows and Amazons in paperback or on Kindle. The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons is available on all the ebook platforms. There is a review here.

The Making of Swallows and Amazons by Sophie Neville
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ by Sophie Neville

Sophie Neville interviewed by Jadzia Smeaton on The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)

Sophie Neville author of The Making of Swallows and Amazons
Sophie Neville

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’.

Time Out – April 1974

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:

Swallows and Amazons themed gifts

Over the years, I have been suggesting a variety of useful, literary gifts. I brought out this mug featuring a map of the Swallows and Amazons locations on Consiton Water, featuring on the cover of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons.’ It’s currently available online from about £8.86

Design and cartography by Sophie Neville

I’ve brought out maps in a range of colours.

Swallows and Amazons mugs
Mugs printed with maps used to illustrate Sophie’s books

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.

This year, I bought packs of book-ish Christmas cards from the charity SchoolReaders. They have a variety here.

A subscription to a magazine such as Practical Boat Owner makes a present that comes every month.

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.

Jago Silver has produced a selection of ‘Never Stop Exploring designs. He has a beautiful Ship’s Log sketch book here

Jago Silver sketch book

and other lovely things designed in Cornwall

One of Jago Silver’s designs

Jigsaw puzzles and digitally hand drawn reproductions of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics film poster designed by Arnaldo Putzu for the original movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) are available here

Or you could give a copy of the book on how the original film of Swallows and Amazons was made. Large paperbacks can be ordered from Amazon or direct from the publisher here or other stockists listed here.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

You can find ‘Swallows and Amazons’ mugs and other gifts here

A signed first edition paperback of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ sells for £251 in an auction in aid of BBC Children in Need

I woke up this morning to find an anonymous donor bid £251 for a signed first edition of my book ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’. The money raised goes directly to BBC Children in Need, where it is carefully monitored.

Books listed in the category Auto Biography/Biography

Nearly eight hundred amazing books had been donated to the Children in Read charity auction organised by Paddy Heron, which raised a staggering total of £24,888.

Online bidding began about seven weeks ago and was advertised by the authors themselves on social media.

Rare copies of my first edition paperback of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ are often priced highly on Amazon so, when the bidding went above £75, I promised to include a signed first edition hardback of my memoir ‘Funnily Enough’, which includes a brief section on appearing in the film.

‘Funnily Enough’ an illustrated diary by Sophie Neville

When the bidding went above £101, I promised to add my third illustrated memoir about Swallows and Amazons style adventures in Africa, written in letter form.

Ride the Wings of Morning by Sophie Neville
‘Ride the Wings of Morning’ by Sophie Neville

However, £251 is so very generous that I am off to my archive store to see if I can find a hand-painted map to include in the package.

Map showing the film locations around Windermere

I drew three different maps showing our film locations in the Lake District and reproduced them in different colour-ways, using one on the cover of my original ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, which is still available on Kindle and any of the ebook outlets.

You can see a selection of my other maps on my Instagram page here

I added these ones to mugs and other useful items available to order from Redbubble They make good presents.

Swallows and Amazons mugs
Mugs printed with maps used to illustrate Sophie’s books

Sophie’s socks

Everyone needs at least one pair of socks for Christmas. I have had the greatest fun designing a whole range, including a few pairs of socks featuring ‘Swallows and Amazons maps here.

ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (2)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (3)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (4)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (5)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (6)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (7)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (8)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (9)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (10)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (11)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (12)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (13)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (14)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (15)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (16)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (17)ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1 (18)

The selection of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ themed socks are printed with hand-painted maps of locations from my book, which you can see here

ur,socks_flatlay_medium,square,600x600-bg,f8f8f8.1u1These high-quality goods are manufactured by Red Bubble in Australia who offer excellent service. Please click on the image you like to be taken to the sales portal.

Being custom-made they cost from £12.89 a pair but please use my discount code: CYBER5

Here’s a link to the help center – https://help.redbubble.com/hc/en-us.

A signed, first edition copy of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ is being auctioned in aid of BBC Children in Need

Are you looking for a special Birthday or Christmas present for someone who happens to love the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)?

Sophie Neville
Author Sophie Neville

Paddy Heron of Children in Read has a huge number of amazing books listed in a charity auction being held to raise funds for BBC Children in Need. Nearly £21,000 has already been pledged, which is amazing. We have 3 days left to bid, so you have time to chat to the family!

‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ is listed as Lot 298, in the section ‘Film & Television’ above Nigella Lawson’s book ‘Coot, eat, repeat’.

Listing in the Film and TV section

To place a bid, click on this link: https://www.jumblebee.co.uk/childreninread2021?cid=2431

and scroll down until you see the image of the book you would like to bid on, then click on the price button and you can enter a bid when the large image pops up. You don’t pay until you win on the final day. I will pay the postage within the UK and inscribe the copy to whom you wish.

What the bidding page looks like

We now have another bid for £101. Copies on Amazon.UK – where is it has 47 reviews, are now listed as costing about £76. I promised that if the bidding went higher than £78 I would personally inscribe this large paperback edition and include a signed first edition hardback copy of my autobiographical book ‘Funnily Enough’, worth £15, which includes a few pages about filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the Lake District.

‘Funnily Enough’, Sophie Neville’s illustrated diary

I said that the bidding goes any higher than £101, I will include a copy of ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, my memoir about leading a Swallows and Amazons style life camping in Africa:

Ride the Wings of Morning by Sophie Neville
Ride the Wings of Morning by Sophie Neville

To read about taking part in the same auction last year, please click here

If you need to know more about the auction, please contact Paddy Heron at Children in Read: childreninread@yahoo.com

Listings in the AutobiographyBiography section

The lighthouse tree lantern from Swallows and Amazons (1974) has come to light

I received an interesting series of emails recently from a stone mason called Philip Chatfield:

“Hi Sophie, I was watching ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the old classic, on Talking Pictures TV… great channel. Curiously, I have, hanging in my cottage ceiling timbers, the lantern you used for the Lighthouse on Wild Cat Island !!!!!!”

The lighthouse tree lantern today

‘Lanterns like this pattern are not common, so I presume it must be the one used in your 1974 film. I like to think so. There is a hole in the top of my lantern which has been plugged up and holes in the base too. If you use the lantern with candles, which is what I always do. then you cannot have a hole in the top of the lantern. Heat goes up and out of it and the rope or wooden handle may catch fire! It is stopped up with a small bolt with a flat rounded top.’

The holes would have been made to insert an electric light behind the candle so that it would show up on film.

Sten Grendon (Roger), Suzanna Hamilton (Susan) and Sophie Neville (Titty) at the lighthouse tree in the 1974 movie of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’

It certainly looks like the lantern we used, which I knew well at the time. A hurricane lamp is used in the book Swallows and Amazons. John, ‘tied the other end round the oil box at the bottom of the lantern’, although candle lanterns were used to mark Secret Harbour.

You can see the lantern lying near Swallow’s mast

The black lantern was packed into Swallow on the voyage to the island, visible when the Walker children narrowly miss the Tern. You can see it lying in the shallow basket.

Film stills taken by Albert Clarke in 1973

It was rather uncomfortable to lean over when handing Roger the telescope.

Swallow nearly collides with MV Tern

The basket was taken out of Swallow at the landing place and Titty moves it up the beach ‘for fear of tidal waves.’ See if you can take some screen shots of it hanging from the lighthouse tree.

The same lantern was used in the movie ‘Far From the Madding Crowd'(1967) starring Alan Bates, Peter Finch, Terence Stamp and Julie Christie.

Terrence Stamp with the lantern

You can also see it hanging from a farm cart.

The same lantern

Philip says, ‘Clearly all the props went back to the Turk Phoenix shed near Teddington after shooting.’

Mike Turk’s warehouse full of film props

‘I never thought about it before but I used to work on a sailing ship called Grand Turk, which was owned by Mile Turk of Turk Phoenix who did a lot of film work.’

SV Grand Turk with Philip Chatfield firing a live shot on the Solent.  “That would have given Captain Flint’s houseboat a shaking up!”

‘The Grand Turk played the HMS Indefatigable in ‘Hornblower’ with Ioan Griffiths and co. While I was on board (as Third Mate and Gun Captain) I needed more props for the gunnery dept. The lantern was one of the props we had on board. It came from Turk Phoenix who still had one of the boats used in your wonderful film.’

Swallow at Mike Turk’s warehouse in 2010

‘Mike Turk’s business provided nautical props.’ When Mike reached the end of his life and fell ill, many of these were sold at auction in 2010, including the dinghy that played Swallow in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974), which was purchased by group of film fans now known as SailRansome.

Swallow prepared for auction in 2010

‘Before my time on Grand Turk I spent five years working on a lovely old square rig ship called MARIA ASUMPTA. Back in 1991 we sailed from London’s St Katherine’s Dock to Ipswich. We anchored off Shotley on the Orwell pretty much where the GOBLIN in Ransome’s book ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go to Sea’ book was set. As we hauled up our anchor we brought up a small kedge anchor. I still have it. At the time I was convinced it may have been from the story or even the sailing trip the story was originally based on. Who knows, but it is a lovely anecdote.  We had sailed the autumn before to Flushing in Holland and did a tour of the inland waters of Holland.’ 

Philip Chatfield with a kedge anchor

‘Sadly, Maria Asumpta was lost off Padstow in May 1995 with the loss of three crew. Thankfully I was one of the survivors.’

Maria Asumpta wrecked on a desolate shore

‘You can just see me standing staggering, second from the left, in a state of shock. Three were lost but I was amazed more weren’t, frankly. My friend the bosun Graham is sitting on the stern about to leap off. He survived, just. The ship had been built in Barcelona and launched in 1858.’ By the 1990’s it was the oldest square rigger still sailing.’ A true ship wrecked sailor! What would Titty say?

Philip Chatfield in HMS Victory working on a carving of Lord Nelson in 2008

‘As a stone carver and sculptor I make memorials. A few years ago I was asked to do the memorial for one of my old school teachers and eventually his wife, who now shares his grave in Monmouth. She was Helen Bucknall but her mother was Mrs Henry Clay. The Ransome book  ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ is dedicated to Mrs Henry Clay no less. Henry Clay was a friend and colleague of Ransome’s on the Manchester Guardian, also a keen sailor. I think Helen and her family were the inspiration for the story in the book. So Helen has a carving of the yacht they sailed as children on the large Welsh slate memorial in Monmouth cemetery.’

‘The galling thing for my friends, whose mother was Helen, is that they can’t find the original first edition of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ that Ransome signed. Hope it turns up. At least that charming card exists. Love his little sketch of the dinghy.’

‘Anyway, hope this is of interest… well done for all you do.  I have a hard copy of the book on order! Can’t wait. Very best wishes, Philip Chatfield’

The lighthouse tree lantern today

To read more about some of the Swallows and Amazons movie memorabilia, including Swallow’s flag and the fishing rods, please click here

To read more about ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ – click here

This lovely documentary shows Philip’s recent work on railways:

Alan Smith of BBC Radio 4 remembers being a film extra as a boy in the original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)

The original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was screened on Talking Pictures TV recently. The BBC Radio 4 newscaster Alan Smith, wrote to me recently, saying:

“It’s Alan Smith here – lovely to have all those memories flooding back! I’ve been through the family archive of photographs and have uncovered two pictures which I’m sure you won’t have:

Brian Doyle, Terry Smith and Graham Ford, with Virginia McKenna, Kit Seymour, Sten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Lesley Bennett (photo: Eileen Smith)

“The first picture is fairly obvious – it’s you and the other cast members in the car at Haverthwaite station. This will have been taken by my Mum at the time the ‘official’ photo was taken.” This was on 14th May 1973 when a reporter from the Times came to witness our first day of filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’. The station had only been re-opened two weeks earlier.

The cast of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) at Haverthwaite Railway Station with Jim Stelfox. Robin Smith is at the window, Alan Smith and John Eccles are standing in the doorway.


“The photo (below) shows (left to right) my brother Robin, me and our friend John Eccles standing in front of a pony & trap. This picture was also taken at Haverthwaite, probably by my mother. John came along with his grandparents Patsy and John, and everyone remarked on how distinguished Mr Eccles senior looked in his boater and blazer!

Robin Smith (6), Alan Smith (9) and John Eccles (7) at Haverthwaite Railway Station with the props lorry in the background


“Please feel free to use these pictures however you’d like – I wonder if they’ll prompt others who were there to unearth similar memories?!”


“We had a lovely two days as extras on the film. I remember there was a casting one Sunday morning at St Anne’s Hall (an old church which is now converted to flats) in Ambleside. This is where anyone who wanted to take part went along to meet the director and wardrobe people. My mother was given instructions re the dress-code for Robin and me, and we were asked to meet in Ambleside town centre a couple of weeks later to board a bus which took us to the first location (Haverthwaite).”  This took place about two weeks before the film. Eileen Smith ran the Gale Crescent Guesthouse in Ambleside although none of the crew stayed there. My mother, Daphne Neville, went along to help the wardrobe master, Terry Smith, fit the film extras with costumes.

Alan’s brother, Robin Smith, made it onto a jigsaw puzzle released with the film

Alan couldn’t think why his Dad didn’t come along. It might have been the threat of haircuts. No man in Cumbria under the age of seventy could be persuaded to have a 1929 haircut, apart from Jim Stelfox the station master and my own father, Martin Neville, who appeared in the Rio scenes shot at Bowness.

You can see a quick flash of Alan and his family near the bus in this behind-the-scenes cine clip, shot by my father with a 16mm Bolex borrowed from his company:

Behind-the-scenes footage taken by Martin Neville

Alan watched this and wrote, “My brother and I are convinced that the boy on the right of the frame at 0’06” is Robin, and the woman standing next to him in the hat with the red band is my mother, Eileen (I appear to have gone in search of ice cream or something, as I’m nowhere to be seen!).

“A couple of seconds earlier at 0’04” I’m almost certain the woman standing in front of the red bus with the large bag is John’s grandmother Patsy Eccles, and the the man in the white blazer, trousers and hat is John Eccles senior, Patsy’s husband. I have very fond memories of Mr & Mrs Eccles – they were a lovely, kind couple who were almost like an extra set of grandparents to Robin and me.

Other children who took part, featured in the local newspaper

“We may only have been extras, but it was so exciting for all of us! The first day’s filming was spent getting on and off the train, followed by what seemed like endless trips up and down the line (this would have been when you and the other actors were in the next carriage filming the early scenes).

Some of the other film extras with Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville


“The second day was a few days later at Bowness Bay. This must have been some feat to achieve as the road was closed to traffic and any clues from the 1970s such as road signs had to be covered up or disguised!

Is Alan fighting with his brother in this shot, top right?

“Both days had a very big effect on me. As a child I’d always been fascinated by radio, film & television, and this brought my imagination to life. It also lit a fuse under my ambitions to do something in broadcasting. The result is I’m now a news presenter on Radio4, doing the news in programmes such as Today, PM and The World at One, so I have a lot to thank Swallows and Amazons for! My work means I now live in Buckinghamshire, but I get back to the Lakes 5 or 6 times a year, and I know that when I hang up my headphones for good, that’s where I’ll live.”

Although born in Edinburgh, Alan’s family moved to Cumbria when he was two years old. He and his brother, Robin, enjoyed an idyllic ‘Swallows and Amazons’ childhood growing up in the Lakes. They didn’t get into sailing but loved hill walking. You can see his BBC profile here

Zena Ashbury and her mother, in front of Brown’s coach returning the film extras to Ambleside at the end of the day’s filming in Bowness.

%d bloggers like this: