Tag Archives: Altounyan children

1 error 2 many

or ‘More notes for a second edition of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’

The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS

Guy Willson, a reader from Papua New Guinea, has written to say: ‘I have read your book and I really liked it.  I could see behind the scenes and often read between your lines as well.’

‘When you were making the movie (in 1973) I was on my way to Norfolk Island as a starting point of my adventures in the South Seas; so I never knew of the release of your film until much later when I had children of my own that had reached the age to go ‘avasting’ and ‘timber shivering’, when we were living in Rye in the 1990’s.’

‘Some years ago I restored a 13ft clinker dinghy and after adding a false keel, added a standing lugsail and trailed her up to Coniston for my children to sail… I had in mind an article from Classic Boat on the Swallow, how the Altounyan children preferred Swallow as a boat because they could stow more things in her and she could still sail well.  I had noticed on a drawing in the article that Ransome had given her an extra 2 or 3 inches of false keel and this helped tremendously in reducing her leeway.  I added a piece of oak to do the same thing but gave her an extra 9” aft and planed it down to a feather edge forward so the she would go about a bit easier. Well, it worked and Eaglet would have done the original Swallow proud.’

Swallow on Coniston

Swallow – the 12′ dinghy used in the film

‘If you would permit me a little correction: you described the rig as being gaff rig, but this is not so.  Both the boats, originals and the ones you sailed were in fact luggers.  The nearest thing to a gaffer among the luggers is the Gunter Rig which has jaws at the front of the yard but is hauled up by a single halyard. You can see this in the Mirror dinghy (in truth it is about halfway between the two). However the lug rig of Swallow is known as a ‘standing lug’ and it can be used to go about freely.  After hauling up the sail on its traveller; the peak of the yard is raised by the downhaul line (usually attached to the bottom of the boom).  This tightens the luff of the sail and lifts the outer end of the boom as well giving the best efficiency to the sail.’

image005

A gaff rigged cutter

‘Lugsails were the working sails of England for most boats less than 60ft but they were usually rigged with a ‘dipping’ lug as the mail sail and a standing lug aft.  This dipping lug had to be dropped and the yard hauled round behind the mast every time they went about.  It was a powerful sail and they found their best expressions in the three masted Bisquines which used to raid British shipping in Napoleonic days.  You can still see them at the classic boat events at Douarnenez and Brests, where I took the gaff schooner Soteria in 2006.’

image002

Soteria at Douarnenez

‘If you had had a gaff rig you would most probably have needed a jib to balance it (unlike the American catboats which have their masts right up in the bow, not even a space for the Boy Roger on those! Thanks for writing a lovely book which I will pass on to my daughter.’

Blu-ray X marks the spot

“X marks the spot where they ate six missionaries”

‘You did such a grand job as Titty and I am not really surprised to find that you are a bit of a wordsmith. I am a missionary (uneaten) in Papua New Guinea and we are planning to sail back there in our steel schooner see www.livingwatermission.org  On our return we will be calling in at Erromanga in Vanuaatu where ‘x’ was the spot where two missionaries were eaten.  Recently the descendant of one of them, John Williams, went to Erromanga for a service of reconciliation.’

If you have noticed any errors in ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’ please use the Comments box to let us know so that we can make corrections! We are about to bring out a second edition. Readers who already have a Kindle edition will be able to update it free of charge.

13 Comments

Filed under Arthur Ransome, boating, British Film, Christian, Dinghy sailing, Film History, sailing film, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized

The Boy Roger and the invention of the asthma inhaler

swa_bw_neg_ 005

John Franklin-Robins as Young Billy, Sophie Neville as Titty and Sten Grendon as Roger

~ Photo (c) StudioCanal ~

I have been deliberating upon points where fiction touches reality. The most significant in my own life is the story behind my fictional brother Roger Walker, one of the lead characters in ‘Swallows and Amazons’. The real Boy Roger was responsible for saving me from acute misery. Whilst I was an asthmatic, Dr Roger Altounyan was behind the invention of the Intal spin inhaler, which bought me instant relief.

About ten years ago I met Dr Bill Frankland, a former POW to the Japanese who became a Harley Street allergist. Bill told me that Roger Altounyan had been a good friend of his. They’d worked together on the Intal project. Roger introduced him to his sister Titty who, as a child had been in the inspiration for the character I played in the film of Swallows & Amazons.

I’d had known that Roger Altounyan had been in the RAF during World War II, but not that he had qualified as a doctor and become an allergist. Bill told me that he used his knowledge of propellers to develop the Intal spin-inhaler and effectively treat asthma.

Dr Bill Frankland

Dr Bill Frankland celebrating his 100th Birthday in 2012 with Sophie Neville

Please click here to listen to his life story on Desert Island Discs

Dr Frankland gave me a set of photos taken at Roger Altounyan’s going-away party in Cumbria when he took his family and friends up Coniston Water on the Gondola. He said that Roger insisted on smoking a pipe even though he was reliant on oxygen and explained that the experimentation was partly responsible for his early death in 1987.

I will explain the connection in further depth.

The well-loved book Swallows and Amazons was written by Arthur Ransome for the children of friends of his after they brought him a pair of red slippers for his forty-fifth birthday in January 1929. He based his main characters, the crew of the Swallow, on these five real Altounyan children who had been staying at Bank Ground Farm in the Lake District,

The character Roger Walker, known when he first started sailing as the Boy Roger, was inspired by Roger Altounyan then about six years old. As a consequence he was obliged to live out his school days under Swallow’s flag, as it where. This may have become tedious, although it was much the same for Sten Grendon who played the part of Roger in the 1974 film.

Altounyan Children - Susie, Taqui, Titty (seated) and Roger

The well-known photograph of the four eldest Altounyan children – Susie, Taqui, Titty (seated) and Roger (copyright ???)

Roger is seen here with three of his four sisters, and below as a boy along with Arthur Ransome obviously playing tennis (copyright: Brotherton Library, Leeds). The story of his family is told  by Jeremy Collingwood in his recent book,  A Lakeland Saga.

Altounyan family with Ransome

Did we depict Roger Walker accurately in the film? May be not! Richard Pilbrow, the producer of Swallows & Amazons  told me that Mrs Ransome was furious that Claude Whatham had cast a boy with dark hair, but she never explained why. She did not like the photograph she had been sent.

swa_bw_neg_ 002Sten Grendon as Roger Walker with Virginia McKenna playing his mother

~ Photo (c) StudioCanal ~

Luckily, when Evgenia Ransome visited the location and actually saw Sten running around at Bank Ground Farm she seemed happy enough and said nothing more. Perhaps Virginia McKenna somehow managed to make everything alright.

Stephen Grendon playing Roger

Sten Gredon playing Roger in 1973

~ Photo (c) StudioCanal ~

What I didn’t know until recently was that Roger Altounyan was an asthmatic.

Roger was specifically allergic to guinea pigs and would routinely experiment on himself. He would not have been allowed to do this by today’s regulations, which some say would have held back the testing definitely. I gather from reading Rodney Dingle’s biography that the model inhaler that he made with a piece of hose pipe worked well, whilst the prototype made professionally did not. If you use an inhaler you will hear that the propeller has to be able wiggle in order for the medication to be successfully diffused into the patient’s mouth and lungs. The discovery was portrayed by David Suchet in a documentary entitled Hair Soup.

Roger Altounyan’s daughter Barbara has just sent me this link where you can read more about Roger and his family.

Dr Roger Altounyan

Dr Roger Altounyan

I was allergic to feathers, not parrot’s feathers, but old pillows and eider-downs. I may owe my life to Roger and his spin-inhaler. The medication certainly helped me enormously and has always given me to the peace of mind that it will give me relief if I do get wheezy.

Further reading: Roger: The Life and Distinguished Achievements of Dr Roger Altounyan, by Rodney Dingle. It is difficult to get hold of but Kirkland Books in Kendal have a copy.

11 Comments

Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

Raising Swallow’s flag higher

DSCF2892

For some time now we have been doing a variety of things to raise interest in Arthur Ransome and his books, particularly the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series originally written for children.

The Royal London Yacht Club recently hosted a Swallows and Amazons weekend for the combined yacht clubs of Cowes on the Isle of Wight and in doing so raised quite a bit of money for charity.

Sophie Neville talking in Cowes

Sophie Neville giving a talk on ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’

Glenridding Sailing Centre in Cumbria have been running Swallows & Amazons Adventure Days on Ullswater and promise to hold more in 2015 . SailRansome have made Swallow, the original clinker built dinghy used in the film, available for families to use there. I took her out in August.

Sophie Neville sailing Swallow

Swallow, the dinghy used in the 1974 film on Ullswater this summer

We’ve been using the Draper’s shallop to teach children how to row on the River Lee under the auspices of Countryside Live. We have now taught hundreds of children most of whom have never been in a boat before. The idea is to inspire them to join the Sea Scouts or a local rowing or canoeing club.

DSCF2934

Countryside Live at Lee Valley 2014

Another boat you can sail is the Nancy Blackett portrayed as Goblin from We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water. It only costs £15 a year to join the Nancy Blackett Trust. This is wonderful for anyone living near the Orwell as Ransome once did.

The Arthur Ransome Society, known as TARS, is welcoming new members to its six regional branches. Next year an international gathering is being planned in East Anglia over the May Bank Holiday when we hope to be able to take short trips on the wherry Albion and visit Hunter’s yard to meet Teasel, Titmouse, Dreadnaught and Death and Glory ~ the boats used in the BBC dramatisation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, when the Albion played Sir Garnet skippered by Jack Watson. Revelation Films have digitally remastered the series, which they have available as a new release entitled ‘Swallows & Amazons Forever!’  I’ve been asked to give a talk on how the BBC serial was made.

I’ve been promoting StudioCanal’s re-release of the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons on Radio Cumbria, Premier Radio, Lakeland Radio and Channel 5’s live TV programme The Wright Stuff. There’s a lot going on in the media with recent pictorials in Country Life, The Lady and Cotswold Life magazines as well as newspapers and colour supplements.

Sophie Neville Q&A in Kendal

Q&A with a large cinema audience in Kendal this August

We brought the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons back to cinemas in London, Ambleside, Kendal and to Hastings on Pirate Day. I took Captain Flint’s trunk along and wore a tricorn hat only to be told by one little boy in the audience, ‘I hate pirates. They are my enemies.’  Other children asked,  ‘Did you enjoy being in the film?’ and ‘Were the spiders in your tent real?’

When we were in Kendal, the curator of the Museum of Lakeland Life gave a talk to the cinema audience bringing along the actual red slippers given to Arthur Ransome by the Altounyan children in 1929 which inspired him to write Swallows and Amazons.

Swallows & Amazons on the Houseboat

An offical still from the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (c) StudioCanal

Some schools have Swallows and Amazons as a set book. I was invited to give a talk at Walhampton School who claim a ‘Swallows and Amazons ethos’. They aspire to giving their pupils as much of an exciting outdoor education as possible with sailing and exploring on the curriculum. School House magazine backs this up saying, ‘There is a distinct ‘Swallows and Amazons’ spirit that burns brightly here.’

The Arthur Ransome Trust have a range of exhibitions, displays and resource materials. Do check out their website and future events. Meanwhile All Things Ransome have been quietly offering a veritable library of information along with a media vault. The Arthur Ransome Society has a large library of books in Dumfries where the 2016 IAGM will be held.

Swallow on Coniston

Swallow sailing from Wild Cat Island (C) StudioCanal

 

What could you do to keep Ransome’s writing on book shop shelves?

Could you organise an event at your local sailing club? Or request a screening of newly restored version of the film at your local cinema?  One is being planned in Oxford with hopefully another at Wolverstone.  PictureHouse cinemas are particularly open to the idea of screening classic family films.

I am planning ‘An Arthur Ransome Day’ at my local Waterstones and another at our library. How can we make this special and attract people off the street?

Do add your ideas to the comments below.

 

Easy things you can do right now to help promote the books:

Request a book or DVD from your local library.

Add a review to on-line sites. This leads to increased marketing of books, audio books or DVDs.

Click here for Books by Arthur Ransome on Amazon UK

Add a comment about the DVD of the film. Click here for StudioCanal’s new DVD on Amazon UK

Click here for the Amazon UK site for the DVD of the BBC serial of ‘Coot Club and The Big Six’ 

Other ideas:

Join The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook. They always have  lively discussions.

There are a number of Twitter sites you can follow.

Contact BBC TV to ask for your favourite TV or radio programmes on Arthur Ransome or his books to be repeated: Click here for the site.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Arthur Ransome, Cinema, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Film, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton