Tag Archives: buoyancy aids
This summer, I grabbed the chance to sail Arthur Ransome’s favourite little ship, the Nancy Blackett. If you recognise her it might be because she was his model for the Goblin in ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea‘, possibly the most exciting and touching of the Swallows and Amazons series of books. I re-read it while we were in Dutch waters aboard the main character herself.
~ Beach End Buoy at the mouth of the River Orwell in Suffolk ~
In the story, the Swallows – John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker – promise their mother that they will not go to sea, but disaster strikes when the Goblin slips her anchor in thick fog, while her owner is ashore, and gets swept out past the Beach End Buoy at Harwich. The wind rises and the children find themselves sailing across the North Sea in a terrific storm before a friendly Dutch pilot guides them into Flushing.
~ Nancy in the old lock at near the medieval port of Veere ~
This year we joined Nancy when she had already made the crossing to the Netherlands but we did take her through an old lock built in the same style as the one the Swallows encountered, all be it at the other end of the canal. It was as if we had sailed into the pages of the book and lived out the adventure ourselves, learning about ropes and reefing each nautical mile.
Mooring up could be tricky, especially since Nancy is an old lady with a bow-sprit, but unlike Susan and Titty, I never felt sea-sick for a moment.
~ Learning how to hoist the mainsail ~
~ Sophie sailing in salt water ~
~ Looking out for Dutch barges ~
Local author Veronica Frenks came out with us one morning, taking us up a creek to see the traditional Dutch barges and historic ships that she often writes about. She soon made plans to write about Arthur Ransome for Spiegel der Zeilvaart, a Dutch periodical. Here she is at the helm:
To read about sailing Nancy on the River Orwell in Suffolk, where she is based. please click here.
To read about sailing Nancy on the Beaulieu River and the Solent, please click here
If you would like to grab a chance to sail Nancy or find out more about the Nancy Blackett Trust, please click here
This post comes with a huge thank you to readers who have taken the trouble to write in, send emails or add reviews on Amazon about ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’
‘I very much enjoyed reading about all the background and stories of what is one of mine and my children’s favourite films.’ David Hambelton, Oxford
‘…an absolutely fascinating account…about a film we all thought we knew so well. Like so many members of The Arthur Ransome Society I am an utter devotee… I’m finding the background to filming quite fascinating, and if I had thought it possible, yours is the book I have always longed for to exist. I’ve been absorbed in it ever since it arrived, forcing myself to take it slowly and not gobble it up in one go. Of course I’ll be back to it soon, dodging back and forth in tune with your narrative, indenifying particular scenes.’ Jeremy Gibson, Witney
‘If you liked the film, you MUST read this book. “Titty” is enthralling, and the story of the film is almost as exciting as the real story by Arthur Ransome. Essential reading for devotees.’ Chloe Randall, Scotland
Children still ask me questions that never occurred to me:
‘How did it feel to be on the island by yourself?’ Alex aged 7. The truth of course is that I was never on the island by myself. Perhaps I should have been left there for a while so I could experience it. I would have relished the chance.
Another boy asked, ‘How did you do the water?’
This took my breath away for a second. ‘How did we do the water? The water was real, and it was very cold,’ I replied, explaining that we actually shot the film on four different lakes in Cumbria, all of which you can discover for yourself.
Have your children any questions? I’d love to hear them.
For more reviews of The Making of Swallows & Amazons on Amazon, please click here.
To see more still from the film that can be purchased as framed prints or on mugs etc please click here for StudioCanal’s website.
To find out more about The Arthur Ransome Society please click here
When I appeared on Channel 5 recently Matthew Wright asked, “… if it’s possible to have a Swallows and Amazons childhood these days – and if today’s kids would actually have the skills to survive.”
I received so many interesting comments on Twitter and Facebook that I thought I should copy them here, hoping it is OK by those who took the time to write in.
“Would they survive? Hmm. Better drowned than duffers…” Fergus
“Of course it’s possible – we do it every time we are on holiday at www.lowwaterend.co.uk real Swallows and Amazons location. Our kids love it….” Kate
“I think few parents would look at a small sailboat & Coniston Water or Windermere, and give the go-ahead for children ages 12-7 to sail & camp by themselves. However, there are a lot of really wonderful parents who sail & camp WITH their children, and then allow independent exploration with help nearer at hand.” Elizabeth (USA)
“OK – so we cheat a little – in that we stay in the cottage rather than in tents on Wild Cat Island – but it has got a little busy there of late. Trying to bring a boat or canoe into the secret harbour is more like trying to park in a multi national supermarket car park, but very little has truly changed on the island and if you can see past the bright orange and red buoyancy aids of the temporary visitors, one can still imagine being the Walker children. And if you get the island to yourselves – it’s pure joy. We frequently issue the owl hoot just to let our kids know that food is ready! As for the lagoon downstream – it’s still there – our kids have taken to canoeing as far downstream as they can – wading in low water and paddling down rapids where they can. They take no mobiles, IT equipment etc – and they are gone for hours making maps of the stream and naming the shores, fallen trees etc.” Kate
“I’ve just been reading my daughter the bit in Winter Holiday where Dick rescues the cragfast sheep by inching his way along a rock ledge. “Would you be able to do that?” I asked her. “No, I’d be much too scared!” she replied. And I said “Good!”.” Valerie
“Some risks are too high, too likely to leave the child unable to enjoy a normal life afterwards. Examples: diving into rivers with rocks, driving way above the speed limit, using illegal drugs/binge drinking. There are risks that simply have too high a chance of a serious bad outcome. I like the “Roots & Wings” approach. While they are young, you teach how to make a reasonable decision about any given risk, then as they mature, let the child figure out more on their own.” Elizabeth
“It isn’t only duffers who come to grief, and even if it was, duffers deserve to be protected from their own stupidity. So, I prefer the idea of teaching children what the risks are and how to manage risk so that they can then do things that look highly risky without there being any great risk. What is wrong is to shut children’s lives down instead of teaching them how to be safe and free, and that’s the most dangerous route of all because it sets them up for empty lives which will lead them on into a prolonged and deep exploration of alcohol and drugs. Freedom is essential for good mental health and needs to be maximized, but learning about risk management is a crucial part of that. So, how do you teach risk management without it being dull? Get out there with your children and join in with the play. Point out the possible dangers along the way, not in a lecturing way, but simply by telling little stories about idiots who came to grief by making mistakes. It doesn’t take long to make a dangerous environment safe for children to play in by putting ideas in their heads as to all the easy ways to be killed or injured by the apparatus at hand. If they know what the unexpected dangers are, they will be armed against making them. If they die after that, then it will be against the odds – it would have been more dangerous not to let them out.” David
“Agree 100%. In my mind, risk-averseness is one of the great failings of my fellow modern Americans. Never be sorry for a might-have-been.” Sandy
If you have views on the subject, or want to see more on outdoor pursuits discussed on the programme, send an email to: email@example.com
To watch a recording of the programme please click here
with Kate McIntryre who loves the outdoor lifestyle
Thanks to the encouragement and help of my blog followers and Arthur Ransome enthusiasts around the world, I have managed to put my diaries, letters, old photographs and documents together into a 68,000-word memoir.
“Sometimes extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people. Little girls can find themselves becoming film stars. Long ago, and quite unexpectedly, I found myself appearing in the EMI feature film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons, made for a universal international audience. I played Able-seaman Titty, one of the four Swallows. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I became Titty for a while, wearing thin cotton dresses and elasticated navy blue gym knickers, which the camera crew soon referred to as passion killers. The book was written in 1929 and although the film adaptation was made in the early 1970s it had an ageless quality and has been repeated on television year after year, typically on a Bank Holiday between movies starring Rock Hudson or Doris Day.
I got the part of Titty because I could play the piano. Although I had no ambition to be an actress, at the age of ten I was cast in a BBC dramatisation of Cider with Rosie. They needed a little girl to accompany the eleven-year-old Laurie Lee when he played his violin at the village concert. I plodded through Oh, Danny Boy at an agonising pace.
‘Do you think you could play a little faster?’ the Director asked.
‘No,’ I said, flatly. ‘These are crotchets, they don’t go any faster.’
Claude Whatham must have remembered my crotchets, for two years later, in March 1973, my father received a letter. It arrived completely out of the blue, from a company called Theatre Projects.
We are at present casting for a film version of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS which Mr Whatham is going to direct. We were wondering if you would be interested in your daughter being considered for one of the parts in this film.
From ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville
Preview copies of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ at the Cruising Association dinner at the Water’s Edge Bar and Restaurant, Mermaid Marina on the River Hamble.
“This heart-warming memoir is illustrated with colour photographs, most of them taken at the time by Sophie’s family, and contains links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage for readers with browser-enabled tablets. It delivers a double helping of nostalgia for both fans of the era of Arthur Ransome, and the groovy times of the early 70’s.” ~ from the Amazon Kindle description
Also available for other reading devices on Smashwords
Thank you again for all of your time and patience, and to those of you who contributed comments, questions, and aspects of local history on this blog. I would love to know what you think of the book!
If you would like a copy but don’t have a Kindle, worry not. We have added a link whereby you can download a free Kindle app. Please go to my Book Page and scroll down for the details.
This summer thousands of children aged between six and fourteen have been auditioning for parts in the new adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s inspirational book ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I have been introduced to quite a few of the girls interested in playing Titty. Their parents often ask what the audition process was like for us, back in 1973, long before the advent of email and Youtube when casting directors only ever worked in Hollywood.
For me, the process was pretty quick. I had worked for the Director, Claude Whatham before, when I had a small part in the BBC film of Laurie Lee’s book, ‘Cider with Rosie’. After meeting Claude again at an interview held at Richard Pilbrow’s Theatre Project’s offices in Long Acre on a sunny day in March 1973, I was invited to go to Burnham-on-Crouch for a sailing weekend that was to constitute the final audition. This proved something of an endurance test. It was miles from where we lived. The weather was awful with driving rain and rough seas. The only warm piece of clothing I had was a knitted hat. We slept in cabins aboard a permanently moored Scout Boat with flowery orange curtains. There were no parents around to boost our moral. The sailing was challenging and I felt bitterly cold.
Our producer Richard Pilbrow bought his two children, Abigail and Fred. With him was Neville Thompson, director Claude Whatham, and David Blagden who was to be the sailing director. He told us that he had read ‘Swallows and Amazons’ forty-two times, which sounded daunting. I had read all the books but could not see myself as Titty. She had thick dark hair in all the pictures and I was bossy – far more like Mate Susan. We didn’t read from a script. We weren’t asked to improvise or act out a scene. There was no film-test, but 8mm movie footage was taken. I wonder if it still exists.
Out of an initial 1,800 who applied, twenty-two children were short-listed for the six parts of the Swallows and the Amazons. While there were only two or three boys up for the role of Roger there were five girls auditioning to play Titty. At one stage Claude had a chat with all five of us in our cabin, all the Tittys. The others were all so sweet that I didn’t think I stood a chance. I was undeniably gangly and felt that I kept saying the wrong thing.
‘Did you take the helm?’
‘Oh, we all helmed like any-thing.’
One of the other girls auditioning for Titty looked incredibly together. She had pretty, fashionable clothes and would make a point of brushing her hair and wearing jewelry, just as Mummy would have liked me to have done. While I was used to boats my sailing wasn’t up to much. I was completely in awe of Kit Seymour’s seamanship and how the fast she got the dinghies to whizz through the driving rain.
A decision must have been made pretty quickly as all local education authorities demanded at least six weeks to process our licences to work on a film. It was 1973, casting time must have been scarce and I’m afraid the children finally cast all ended up coming from the south of England: Middlesex, Berkshire, Gloucestershire and London. None of us went to stage schools or had theatrical agents, apart from Suzanna Hamilton who went to the Anna Scher after-school Drama Club in Islington. But before we knew it our hair was cut, transporting us back to 1929 and we were out on Lake Windermere realising the dream.
‘Did you have a pushy Mum?’ I am asked.
‘Oh, yes!’ She was brought up reading Noel Streatfield’s ‘Ballet Shoes’, longed to act herself and so was keen for me to be in ‘Cider with Rosie’. She made the effort to take me along to a drama club and to a huge audition in the Stroud Subscription Rooms, however I only got the little part of Elieen Brown was because I could play the piano. My mother did force me to take my music to the third audition, which of course enabled me to out-shine the others. I was not a hugely talented pianist and ended up having to practice for eight hours a day before I could master the accompaniment to ‘Oh, Danny Boy’ featured in the film. It was shear hard work that won through in the end.
We were all lucky to be the right age at the right time. I was perhaps the most fortunate because at twelve I was really too tall for the part of Titty. I was a year older and a good two inches taller than Simon West who played my elder brother, but Claude must have known that he could cheat this on-screen.
‘Are you glad you did it?’
Yes, it was fun – wonderful to spend a summer in the Lake District. A chance grabbed. I had not been yearning to act but took a great interest in how the movie was made. In the end the experience set me up for something of a career in television behind the camera and gave me the confidence to a number of things that might otherwise have remained a dream.
Nancy had been brought up from her birth at Woolverstone on the River Orwell in Suffolk to Buckler’s Hard on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire for The Arthur Ransome Society International Annual General Meeting held at Brockenhurst College near by.
Apart from being Arthur Ranomse’s model for the Goblin in two of his books in the Swallows and Amazons series ~ We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water ~ the Nancy Blackett has recently appeared in Sally Potter’s feature film Ginger and Rosa.
I went to visit her when she was open to visitors at the Boat yard at Bucklers Hard on Sunday 26th May.
We emerged having wondered how Arthur Ransome managed to fit himself into the heads, which are right in the bows. Apparently he used to sit there smoking his pipe. How his wife squeezed herself in I do not know – she was 6’3″ tall.
On the morning of 27th May we had a quick look around the historic village of Bucklers Hard,
including the Master Builder’s Hotel,
before finding Nancy at the marina.
After climbing into our life-jackets, we left the mooring and motored down the Beaulieu River.
Once we reached the Solent, our sails were hoisted and we were sailing towards the Isle of Wight.
Peter Willis, Chairman of the Nancy Blackett Trust was with us.
It was exciting to take the helm as we made our way up to Lymington on a broad reach at about 4 knots, at first against, then with the tide.
Having left at about 10.00am we reached the Royal Lymington Yacht Club soon after 3.00pm and moored up for the night.
We had enjoyed perfect conditions and the most wonderful experience.
Nancy’s crew then welcomed aboard sailors from the Royal Lymington Yacht Club who were keen to see around her.
If you would like to sail the Nancy Blackett do visit her website and join the trust. The next meeting will be on Saturday 6th July when Sophie Neville has been asked to give a talk on ‘Filming ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ in Norfolk’.
The Nancy Blackett was recently profiled on BBC 1 by Coutryfile when Matt Baker went out on her first sail of the season.
Here is a compilation of the programme made up by the Nancy Blackett Trust:
I saw so many children when I was casting Coot Club and The Big Six that I could have left the BBC and set myself up as an independent casting director, but I was twenty-two and all I wanted to do was to join the film crew on location in Norfolk. I was just not sure how.
Andrew Morgan was a lovely director with two children the same age as those in our cast. To my surprise, I met him with his family one weekend on Port Meadow near Oxford. They had a narrow-boat moored at Bossom’s Boatyard where my father kept his steamboat Daffodil. Arthur Ransome would have approved.
Andrew had previously directed action dramas such as Secret Army, Blakes 7, Buccaneer, Triangle, Kings Royal and two episodes of Squadron, which Joe Waters had produced. Andrew, who was good at delegating, later declared himself, as he cued the steam train on the North Norfolk Railway, to be a director who specialised in films about different forms of transport. He very graciously asked me if I would work on location in the formal role of chaperone to the children whilst preparing their performances for the scenes ahead. He anticipated being out on the water in a boat without enough time to go through the children’s lines with them.
Once the casting was complete and licenses for each child safely lodged with various education authorities I took a weeks’ leave before returning to the production office on Shepherd’s Bush Green, where I helped book transport and accommodation. Filming on the Norfolk Broads for three months took quite a bit of preparation. While Joe and Andrew were casting the adult parts, we had to find a local tutor, buy life jackets and make numerous arrangements idiosyncratic to our particular production. The most exciting of these was commissioning the animal handler, Jan Gray of Janimals, to find a pug dog to play William. She bought a puppy so that he could be accustomed to his character name, travelling by boat, working with children and specifically trained to walk across mud. William had no idea of the stardom that awaited him. He ended up spending a great deal of his life in Gretchen Franklin’s arms playing Willy in Eastenders.
The day came when I packed up the little room I had been renting in Shepherd’s Bush from the actress Zelah Clarke and drove to the Dimblebys’ house in Putney to collect Henry. As he had just passed his Common Entrance he’d been let off school earlier than most thirteen-year-olds and we motored up to Norwich in a jubilant mood, singing most of the way. Whilst most of the production team and crew had found holiday cottages, I was to live at Sprowston Manor, the unit hotel with Caroline Downer, Henry and the other actors including the Matthews twins who travelled up with their mother. It was terribly grand. We had small quiet rooms at the back.
Liz Mace, our production manager, had taken my advice and scheduled ‘running around scenes’ for the first few days of filming, so that the children could get used to working with the film crew. The whole series was shot on 16mm by a wonderful, patient lighting-cameraman called Alec Curtis. We were very lucky to get him. He’d just finished The Kenny Everett Television Show and had worked on a huge number of well known comedy dramas ~ The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin with Leonard Rossiter, Fawlty Towers for John Cleese, The Morecambe & Wise Show, Sorry!, To the Manor Born and a BBC thriller called Scorpion. Alec had made God’s Wonderful Railway and was more than happy working with Andrew on the Bluebell Line for the opening scenes of Coot Club. Filming from a boat presented many more challenges, not least simply keeping the camera horizontal, but Alec was ever patient and kind. And always wearing a sun hat.
I had drawn Andrew endless diagrams of Claude Whatham’s camera pontoon, built with a flat surface to accommodate camera track, that used to make Swallows and Amazons in the Lake District. However a more normal and faster vessel was chosen as the camera boat for the Broads. It had to travel around quite a bit since a far greater variety of locations was required than we had in Cumbria. We also had a couple of glass fibre run-around boats which would sometimes be used for the camera, especially in backwaters too shallow for the larger boat.