The Telegraph listed ‘Swallows & Amazons’ as Film of the Week when it was broadcast on ITV3 in the UK recently. It was also shown on GEM television in Australia last Friday. Sophie has been answering questions about making the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ at the Curious Arts Festival. If you have one, please use the comments box below.
On 26th July Sophie Neville, spoke to Dan Damon on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday morning programme ‘Broadcasting House’ about the enduring success of the film. To read more, please click here.
When the EMI/Theatre Projects film of Swallows & Amazons was released forty-eight years ago, Puffin books brought out a paperback featuring the dinghies near Cormorant Island on the front cover. The photograph was taken on Derwentwater at the point in the story soon after Titty has been found to have captured the Amazon. Did you ever have one of these?
Nancy and Peggy Blackett are featured on the back cover, hiding in the reeds at the mouth of the Amazon River. We were invited to a Puffin Club party at the Commonwealth Institute to launch the book. It was re-printed twice in 1974, which might reflect the popularity of the film. 75,000 copies were brought out.
Unbeknownst to me, Heinemann Educational books brought out this cover in 1982.
The photograph would have been shot when we were rehearsing the scene when the Swallows first land at Peel Island on Coniston Water. It was mid-May and I got terribly cold in my thin cotton dress. Suzanna wasn’t feeling well and were all tired, as you can see.
Almost thirty years after Richard Pilbrow released the movie, a hardback was produced with a tinted black and white still from the film taken when we were fishing in Shark Bay. This was shot on Elterwater, a small reedy lake near Windermere. We have Arthur Ransome guardians to thank for this. The draft copy had a rather clonky cartoon that they were not happy with. It can be seen by clicking here.
This book cover was advertised every day for a week on the front cover to the Daily Mail and profiled in the magazine as one of their thirty books featured in their Children’s Golden Library collection.
The offer was featured nationally in a television commercial. I saw the advert myself a couple of times and wondered what effect the promotion would have. Simon and I weren’t given any warning and received no remuneration for having our faces spun around in the advertisement, although a box of books arrived unexpectedly at my house. I gave one to the lady who was translating Swallows and Amazons into Chinese.
This hardback is often available on eBay, where I found this 1992 edition published by Cresset Press. I hadn’t seen it before. Suzanna Hamilton thought the choice of photograph rather bizarre.
I preferred the still from the movie used on the cover of the first VHS tape.
This is probably because it reminded me of the 1970 Puffin book cover that I read as a child and took with me to the Lake District when we started filming in May 1973. I underlined all Titty’s dialogue in pencil.
The cover of this audio cassette tape ‘talking book’ is quite interesting. Which scene does it depict?
Mike Dennis wrote in to say:
‘It’s an abridged version read by Bernard Cribbins, originally released as two cassettes. He does a good job but I seem to remember the adaptation is a bit rushed towards the end to get the whole story in to the time limit of the cassettes (2 hours), it was released by EMI’s ‘Listen For Pleasure’ division.
The publishers, Red Fox, commissioned an illustration for their cover along the same lines, depicting the characters in the 1974 movie.
The current designs for Arthur Ransome’s paperbacks were on display at the V&A after winning the Book Cover Illustration Award. Association with the movie can hardly be claimed, but hopefully the film will have helped to keep Ransome’s stories on the shelves of bookshops worldwide.
Possibly as a result of this, or perhaps because they just liked the colours of the design and the book, Apple iPad featured the cover on their illuminated advertisements seen around London:
I walked up the steps of Tower Bridge underground station to see Swallow’s flag flying: fabulous!
Robert Thompson has made an online survey including covers of all the children’s books by Arthur Ransome, which you can access by clicking here.
Does anyone know of any other book or audio tape covers that used photographs from the film? Do add your comments in the box below.
David Stott has emailed me, sending a photo of himself with his friends in the summer of 1973:
‘It was taken at college just before l started work on Swallows and Amazons… I am the one on the right with the yellow sweater. Love the hairstyles. Fashion-wise it was the era of Crimplene, as evident in my friend Pauline’s dress. I remember I wore a brown Crimplene jacket when I was driving the unit car.’
For the last twenty-six years David has been the resident proprietor at the Crossways Hotel near Willmington, a beautiful Georgian restaurant with rooms in East Sussex near Glynebourne, which makes the perfect place to stay if you are lucky enough to get tickets for the opera.
David recently added more tales of impro-parrot-y to the comments:
‘I also remember the incident when Ronnie Fraser sang “Drunken Sailor”. I delivered him back to location from a very drunken session at The Lodore Swiss Hotel, dragging him from the bar. He was not a pretty sight. Was it that the same afternoon that he had to fall into the lake? My memory is a little sketchy, but l seem to remember he was pretty far gone on that occasion as well.’
‘My neighbour Mrs. Dora Capstick was employed to show Captain Flint how to play the accordion. Of course I think the music was dubbed at a later date.’ I can only suppose that she taught him how to play the sea shanty, What shall we do with the drunken sailor? since that is what he was playing in the shot at the end of the film.
‘I had forgotten the name of the parrot lady, Mrs. Proctor, she lived in a cottage in one of the old yards in Kendal. I was scared to death of Beauty and I don’t know how you could bear to have him on your shoulder.
‘I vaguely remember your mother and I was friendly with Jean McGill the unit nurse who was another local Ambleside Girl.’
‘I was friendly with some of the production assistants but cannot remember their names. Quiet a few hours were spent on the double-decker buses that were used on location.
‘Another memory I have is having to wait for the London train to collect the rushes then get them back to the Kirkstone Foot Hotel for an evening screening and felt very privileged when l was allowed to stay and watch them.’
Does anyone else remember helping to make the movie Swallows & Amazons, or coming to watch the filming in 1973? Please do add your memories in the comments box below.
The classic movie of Swallows & Amazons is often broadcast on BBC TV. If you would like to know more about how the film was made you can find the details on this site or leave any questions in the comments box below.
To read about our first day’s filming at Haverthwaite Railway Station click here and keep reading.
Do you know what lake we were on in the photograph below? We were busy loading urns of tea into a run-around boat to take out to the film crew who might have been on Cormorant Island. If you click on the photo you will get to the page of my diary, kept in June 1973, which describes this day.
There are still many questions about the making of the movie that remain unanswered.
This shot was taken while setting up the scene at Peel Island when Captain Flint brings Sammy the Policeman to question the Swallows. If you click on the photo you will find the photograph that the journalist ended up with. Titty’s hand is still on Captain Flint’s arm.
Making a movie is very different from watching one. Here is a record of Titty rehearsing the shot when she moves the camping equipment for fear of a tidal wave. It was a cold day on Coniston Water. The jersey came off when they went for a take.
Here you can see Lesley Bennett, playing Peggy Blackett, careening Amazon at Beckfoot. The same 35mm Panavision camera was focused on Kit Seymour, playing Captain Nancy.
The location used for Beckfoot and the Amazon boathouse can be found at Brown Howe on the western bank of Coniston Water. If you click on the photograph of Peggy you can read more about what happened that day.
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You can read the full story about the making of Swallows and Amazons here:
My mother had found a purple suede Donny Osmond hat. Amazing. We were shivering, wearing our costumes in London to promote the film of Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’ produced by Richard Pilbrow back in 1973 and released by EMI in April 1974. It’s forty years since we went up for a sailing weekend at Burnham-on-Crouch to audition for the parts.
There are some very well considered reviews of the DVD on the Amazon site. Those who mention how children feel include:
Swallows and Amazons Forever! I recently bought this for my 9 year old daughter and 7 year old son for Christmas, the film having been one of my favorite children’s films when I was young – before animated space-zombie-machines ruled the earth. Both children thoroughly enjoyed the film and after the first 5 minutes of watching, I felt like I’d only watched it very recently: The genuine proof of a time-less classic. A great film even by today’s standards if you like to let your kids just be kids…… S.Tully, 2011
A really lovely DVD: My 8 year-old daughter loves Famous Five style adventure books so hoped she might enjoy the Swallows and Amazons DVD. I was however a little concerned that she might find it a little old fashioned. I needn’t have worried, as she loved it and watched it over and over again. A very sweet and enjoyable adventure. ~ Smudge, 2012
A double helping of nostalgia For adults, this DVD is a double scoop of nostalgia – for the original Swallows and Amazons books and the era they were set in and for the 1970s when this film was made. The film is a pretty good adaptation of the book, with just a few incidents omitted, such as the final stormy night on the island. The actors, child and adult, are well-cast. Seeing Virginia McKenna again recalls films of the 1960s such as ‘Born Free’ and ‘Ring of Bright Water’.
I wondered how children would react to this, brought up as they are these days on CGI, Harry Potter and all the rest. However, my son (9) was gripped from start to finish. I think what is appealing is the sheer independence of the children, their capability and the good old-fashioned adventures outdoors messing about in boats. Overall, a good unpretentious piece of family entertainment. ~Secret Spi, Germany 2010
This is a fantastic movie. My daughter (6 yr old) loves the adventures that the children put together using their imagination. It is a fabulous childhood, the one we all use to have. Good clean fun for the whole family and the child actors are obviously having a great time as well. Highly recommended. J.Kennedy, Sydeny Australia 2010
Excellent kids adventure: I loved this as a kid and I bought it having read the story to my two boys. It is as good as I remembered it and I was completely amazed that my two boys love it as much as I did, if not more. They watch it again and again ~ Aldous Huxley, 2010
Classic kids film – just watch it with a group from 4 years to 11 and they all loved it. ~ Mike, 2011
Great film for children: we were extremely pleased to find this on DVD after our daughter, aged 5, is loving reading through the books together. It is a very informative & sweet adventure tale. It is so nice to find a traditional film she can safely watch & enjoy. ~ KTP, 2011
Still as good as I remember!! I have watched with my girls and they both love this as much as I did and still do!!! Good adventurous fun with no bad language, I would recommend. ~ Angel, 2011
Excellent DVD for children 5 and upwards. My grandchildren greatly enjoyed it as I enjoyed the books when I was a youngster. ~ John 2011
I found very different reviews written by children on an online Film Club site:
‘I liked this film it was adventurous to be honest but at the same time it was boring. I would love to have an uncle like him and I would love to be allowed to be free and go anywhere without my mum FREAKING out. I like how amazons were enemy’s to swallows but they became friends and they were a good group. The character I liked most was titty because she was the HERO!’ ~ Sade (2008)
This film is brilliant but what i don’t get is that there mother just let them sail onto this adventurous island, putting that behind it is brilliant, Mr Loftus said i look like one of the actors. Wouldn’t you love to go and camp on a island in the middle of a lake, i certainly would. Ellis (14) 24:1:11
I did’nt think it was as good as James Bond.I did’nt engoy the old English or the music because it did not fit in the film. from dominic (8) 8:10:12
‘I really liked this film because it was fun and adventerous’ ~ Robbie (12)
this film was ok but when i heard what we were watching i thought it was a non-fiction film about birds in the amazon not about two groups of children on adventures i do not reccomend this to anyone. Max (9) 20:11:12
I fourt that it was good. Daniel (5) 14:11:12
It was really good when the children were having a pillow fight with the Amazons (they are the baddies). Carly (10) 13:11:12
I thought Swallows and Amazons was a brilliant movie . I especially liked how there is a lot of adventure and excitement!My favourite part is when there on the young pirates uncles bout and they push the uncle into the water. The only bad thing is that there weren’t many funny bits and I like a bit of humour. Other thing I liked was that it was set on a deserted island and they had to look after themselves and they had to buy their own food and cook their own food. I’d like to do that!!! For Swallows and Amazons I would give it a 4 star rating. Issy (9) 8:11:12
I thought swallos and Amazons was very wonderous,adventerous,inspiering and competative.They are brilliant actors.Even though it was made in 1974 it is mind blowing Sophie is my faverout actor she is very brave and kind but the rest are very nice to.I dont know what else to write.If you ever watch this movie you will know what im saying and im sure you will think what i writ to Megan (9) 2:10:12
The film was excellent! I shown me how people camped in the olden days (even though it was discusted when they used dirty water wich had mud in it to drink.) Where did the amizons get their weapons from?I haven’t seen a film like this before. Fabian (9) 8:11:12
‘This very facinating film from the 1970’s has a very swashbuckling theme to it as in a war people in a family set off to a island in a boat called swallow and end up finding another twin set of girls shipwrecked off of their uncles house boat and then the girls start to try and get cunning and vicios and start to wreck all of the things that are nice going on on the island and I would reccomend this film to children aged 6-10 years old as it has a a lot of singing that might put people off a bit from liking this film that has a lot of songs and sing alongs so I would encourage lots of younger children to like or even watch this film so stay tuned to find out some of the other daredevil acts that these people perform in the film……
I loved Swallows and Amazons because I love adventure films.I’d like to stop on the island myself with a couple of my friends.It was really exiting when the children tried to capture each others boats.I really liked the parrot.The film was really exiting and I enjoyed it. Amelia, (9) 28:01:13
This film had some good points and bad points, the director Cluade Whatham could have possibly made a bit more of an effort? Another downside was the fact that the film didn’t really excite me much as it came to the end and it went on a bit too long. Four childeren discover an island and decide (with thier mothers permssion of course) to sail over to the island and make a camp, but when they get to the island they bump into the Amazons (to young sisters who came to the island for summer and formed a mini crew) who drag them into an adventurous war with thier uncle, will it all work out for this mischievous bunch of childeren? I reccomend this film mainly to any adventurous childeren who want to grow up and explore the world! Even though I’m into adventures I was a bit boring, but thats my opinion, other people may be excited out thier socks! So to sum it all up in two words- Mildly entertaining Annie (11) 28:9:12
What an adventurous movie! this film was awesome!!. Its really hard to tell what genre it was though, its like all these different things mashed into one movie. The children take a boat and find an island in the middle of the lake. I would love to go on that island!. I would recommend this movie to anyone because its spectacularly amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gracie (11) 25:9:12
I’m Surprised, I thought’ Yeah its a classic BORING but when I watched it I actually quite enjoyed it. I liked it when Roger looked in a telescope and said “I cant see anything!” but actually he still had the cap on. Sophie (9) 3:6:12
‘It would make a superb lighthouse,’ but not for a good few years yet. The scots pine planted by The Arthur Ransome Society on the northern end of Peel Island was growing well when I last paid it homage. I hope I don’t spoil the magic if I explain that the pine used in the 1973 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is on a promentary above Derwentwater. An appropriate tree was chosen that overlooked the location we used for Houseboat Bay.
If you can avoid being distracted by Bavid Bracknell’s trendy two-tone trousers you can see a bit more of the lighthouse tree location with the lake beyond. I’ve been told it is Friar’s Crag. Can anyone tell me more about the bay on Derwentwater where Captain Flint’s houseboat was moored for the film?
As a child reading Swallows and Amazons I was always deeply impressed that Captain John managed to climb the pine tree in Arthur Ransome’s drawing. Simon West was able to use branches but he really did climb quite high. The camerman had a scaffold tower.
Suzanna wrote that, ‘In the late afternoon the Amazons were filming on the pontoon. Kit wasn’t feeling well.’ Lesley was feeling a bit better. There was a ‘flu-like bug going around. Neither of them look that well in the resultant photograph but they survived.
If you would like to read more, upload a copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1976)’ for sale on Amazon Kindle and other e-readers for £2.99
If you ever see a cormorant you must sing out, ‘They’ve got India-rubber necks!’
And then, if you are on a long journey you can add, ‘ Cormorants. We must be near the coast of China. The Chinese have cormorants. They train them to catch fish for them. Daddy sent me a picture.’
If you ever get lost – or the journey really is a long one, you can say,
‘Here we are intrepid explorers making the first ever voyage into unchartered waters. What mysteries will they hold for us? What dark secrets will be revealed?’
They were most complicated speeches to deliver afloat, ones I had to learn. In the end the second part was heard OOV – out of vision. I could have read the lines. But then they wouldn’t have stayed in my head forever, as they have.
If, on your journey, you happen to see a man sitting in a chair writing notes you score high and can say, ‘What’s that man doing? He’s probably a retired pirate working on his devilish crimes.’
(I’m a bit hestitant about that one because my Aunt Hermione really was approached by pirates when she was sailing round the world. The Daily Mail published her dairy chronicling the adventure; a full page double- spread with photographs no less. Rather sadly they ran headline ‘Intrepid Pensioners…’ What a swizz. She should have lied about her age and said she was 27 instead of 60. Well perhaps 57, what with the photos.)
The scene behind the camera that day on Derwentwater was rather different from from the scene in front of it.
I’m pretty sure that the photographs below were taken this same day. Please let me know if the far bank is indeed Derwentwater or if I am mistaken and this was shot on Coniston.
I got cold sailing but it was a glorious sunny day with a fair wind. We achieved a huge amount even if Cedric fell in. As you can see, some of the boatmen and crew were wearing life jackets, others were not – including my mother. We wore BOAC life jackets for rehearsals but Swallow is a safe little boat – her keel ensuring we didn’t capsize if we happened to jibe and we never fell in. The pontoon was really rather more dangerous being a raft with no gunwale. Any one could have misjudged their step and plopped overboard. Luckily we were not stiffled by Health and Safety in those days – only the rigorous demands of movie insurance companies.
I’m sure we had already shot the first two scenes of the day when I was in Amazon, setting the anchor and later hearing the robbers. I expect Claude needed to re-shoot for technical reasons. Day-for-Night filming requires clear, sunny days and he would have needed still water.
I have some of my father’s 16mm footage showing us at around this stage in the filming. It was shot on a different day but shows us on the shores of Derwentwater, waiting around before rushing off across the lake in motor boats to finish filming before Claude lost the light. You see the pontoon and a safety boat towing Swallow, me snapping bossily at Roger to get a move-on, (unforgiveable but I was 3 years older than him and irritated to distraction), the third assistant Gareth Tandy in blue with glasses, our sound recordist Robin Gregory throwing his arms wide open, Kit Seymour and Lesley Bennett by the lake shore, David Blagden with his short hair-cut splicing rope, me in my Harry Potter-ish blue nylon track-suit top with Albert Clarke the stills photographer, Swallow and some mallard duckings.
If you are enjoying this blog, please find an expanded version of the story in the ebook, available from all online retailers such as Amazon Kindle for £2.99 and on Goodreads here It has also been published in two illustrated paperback versions, which make good presents.
Ronald Fraser with Wardrobe Master Terry Smith being transported to the Houseboat played by The Lady Derwentwater
My diary entry for 24th June 1973 is not exactly revealing. As it was raining steadily in the Lake District, I was given a second day off. ‘We had a quirte morning,’ I wrote. I am sure I needed one. After a heavy week’s filming I’d spent the official ‘Unit Day Off’ writing five end-of-year exam papers, answering correspondence from school friends and going to Kit Seymour’s thirteenth Birthday party. I must have been exhausted. Legally I was meant to have two days off a week. This was the first time it had been possible.
Suzanna Hamilton’s diary adds little more, but my mother was on set, as was a journalist from The Guardian, so I can tell you what happened. I can even tell you what the location caterers from Pinewood cooked that day: Melon, followed by roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, boiled or roast potatoes, peas and carrots with apple crumble or tinned peaches served with custard or evaporated milk. It was a Sunday. Suzanna noted that we had ‘salad for super’, her favorite food.
“The houseboat has been converted from a pleasure steamer,” wrote Michael McNay in the Features section of The Guardian, “the whole of the superstructure fore faked up by props, the cabin aft converted into a retired colonist’s sittingroom – African rug, flowery curtains, assegais on the walls, an ebony elephant with silver howdah and trappings, a walnut wireless cabinet, tall brass oil lamps, a pile of 78rpm records, a silver mounted cricket ball (presented to G.Gumbleton, 1899, for the highest individual score of the season), a chest, a writing desk and an ancient upright Imperial.” I have typed this up exactly as it was published on 7th July 1973.
By props, I don’t think Michael McNay meant pit-props. He was talking about the work of the design team headed by Simon Holland. Ian Whittaker, who later won an Oscar for set dressing, helped Simon to create Captain Flint’s cabin with one of the Prop men who is photographed here. Does anyone know his name? I think it might be Terry Wells. I expect the cane chairs and side table were being temporally stored on the roof when this snap shot was taken so as to make space for camera and lights. The gaffer and camera crew would have been in the process of setting up inside the cabin. Sound would not have settled in yet. How do I know that after all these years? I can see the recordist’s arm at the left of the photograph. I still remember his coat.
“Ronald Fraser, alias Uncle Jim, is tapping away at a book.” Michael continues. “Last minute panic: who can type out quickly a folio of copy to leave nonchantly in the roller?” That would have been Sue Merry, the continuity girl. The first scene was probably the one in which Uncle Jim is typing with the green parrot on his shoulder when a firework goes off on his cabin roof. I wonder if Arthur Ransome had ever been disturbed by the Altounyan children in such a way. Did he use an Imperial typewriter?
The film crew were on location on Derwentwater. “By now, the houseboat has been moved and moored to the western shore just off a promontory that is being faked up as one end of Wild Cat Island.” The houseboat, really one of the stars of the movie, was being played by a long-time resident of Cumbria, The Lady Derwentwater. A 56 foot motor launch, owned by the Keswick Launch Company since 1935, she returned to real life after the filming, rather like I did. She still carries up to 90 passengers. You can go out on her today.
My father, who is keen on steamboats, had been off to find the real houseboat that Arthur Ransome had in mind. Am I right in thinking this must have been the original Gondola? I expect she was too un-seaworthy for the production team to contemplate using in 1973. A reliable, water-tight boat that could be towed into the location used for Houseboat Bay was needed. Last year we went to see TSSY Esperance at the Windermere Steamboat Museum in Cumbria, which is another Victorian steam yacht invisaged by Ransome as a possible model for Captain Flint’s houseboat. It is a beauty but we did get a better view of the lake from of the cabin windows in the Lady Derwentwater.
“The rain has stopped, the mist is lifting from the 1,500 foot ridge of Cat Bells. Fraser climbs gingerly aboard, awkward in co-respondent’s brown and white shoes, rosy make-up and moves into the aft cabin.” McNay continues. He is describing the main scene to be shot that day. “John, alias Simon West, is in a rowing boat 15 feet away… The problem this time is that the rowing boat has to remain anchored but look as though Simon is pulling steadily in towards the houseboat and the anchor rope has to remain hidden.” This must have been so that Swallow could be lined up acurately and remain in focus for the camera. It is one of the secrets of making the film that I have been asked about directly.
“Simon shows Claude Whatham how he’ll manage it. Quick rehearsal inside the cabin. Ronald Fraser on his knees by the chest folding a white pullover, catches sight of approaching boat, mimes angry surprise. Told not to jerk head so far back. Instead jerks eyebrows up. The cabin is no more than eight foot by ten and contains besides Fraser and the props, four men on a camera, one on lights, and the continuity girl.” McNay had not included Claude the director, who I know would have squeezed in since these were the days before monitors from the camera feed. And he was small. The sound recordist was bigger but may have just planted a microphone on the desk.
“On the small aft deck Pilbrow is for the next few minutes going to be redundant.” This is Richard Pilbrow, who now lives in Conneticut and I am sure will read this post. “He is a mild, inoffensive looking man producing his first film. He is 40… looks like your friendly local antiques dealer. He and Whatham are a good team: Whatham is slight, energetic and calm. He has time, even as a sequence is being set up, to ask the Press if they can see enough of what’s going on from the crampt aft deck of the housebaot. It’s a cheerful crew, (Denis Lewiston the DOP) watching clouds overhead with benign suspicion, taking light meter readings inside and out-side the cabin every 30 seconds.
‘Action,’ said quietly into the cabin.
‘ACTION,’ across the lake to Simon. The clapperboard shows 461 take 1. Fraser folds the pullover, looks up, jerks eyebrows in angry surprise, camera swings round to follow Fraser’s gaze through the window, Simon pulls on left oar, keeps the rope hidden.
‘Once more please. Stand by. Action. ACTION (461 take 3) …. CUT.’
There’s a consensus that the third take was best. Ten minute break while the suceeding sequence is prepared: Fraser rushes out on deck and tells Simon to clear off. That too is filmed in triplicate. The time is 12.45. They started work at 6.30, began filming at 12.25 and they’ve got maybe 45 seconds in the can. Everybody seems pleased.”
A bright sunny day on Derwentwater. I wore what was my favourite costume, not least because I had the option of wearing a vest beneath the blouse and I didn’t have to worry about the divided skirt. I went to such an old fashioned school that I had a pair of grey flannel culottes myself, to wear on the games field, and thought them very much the sort of thing Titty would have worn. Roger, meanwhile was in long shorts or knickerbockers as the real Altounyan children would have called them, kept up with a snake belt. His even longer underwear was an item requested by Claude Whatham the director who, being born in the 1920s himself, had worn exactly the same sort of underpants as a child. As the day warmed up Claude stripped down to a pair of navy blue tailored shorts and sailing shoes. We were on a desert island after all. Even if it was a desert island in the Lake District.
In Arthur Ransome’s book of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ the hunt for the treasure is slightly different and Captain Flint’s trunk lies buried under rocks. I wasn’t expecting the set-up with the tree trunk, although I think it works well and looks good, giving movement to the sequence. The only hesitation was that Claude didn’t want me to get hit by the rocks as they slid off. This was a pity as I would have jumped aside.
I am not sure why the Amazon had not been bailed out. I can remember having to lie in the bilge water, which proved cold and uncomfortable. Perhaps it gave my performance an edge. Titty would have been cold and stiff after a night wrapped in the sail. Great grey clouds were gathering by then and we were all getting tired.
Being together in a confined space becomes difficult to endure after while, not least when the space is a pontoon on a lake with not much to sit on. Small boys tend to muck about and become annoying when they are bored. The time had come when someone was going to crack – and they did. The result was silence. A sobering moment. And one very wet pair of knickerbockers.
In the end three of us went home in wet underwear. Gareth Tandy, the third assistant director – who I think was only about 18 – was pushed in to the lake, this time to great hilarity.
The big question, of course, it what is the name of the island on Derwentwater that we used as the location for Cormorant Island? Duncan Hall has written in to suggest it is called Lingholm Island (or possibly One Tree Island)What is the name of the larger island, seen in the background of shots, that represents Wildcat Island? Is it Rampsholme Island?
I have one behind-the-scenes clip of the crew on the pontoon – shot on a sunny day, I think at the southern end of Coniston Water. It looks most bizarre. It was. You can see how cramped and overloaded we were and guess at the patience demanded of us all. Imagine how long it took to set up shots, while totally exposed to the elements. It was quite a stable raft but when we went for a take it was vital that everyone kept completely still or there would have been camera wobble. We used a conventional boat with a cabin when we filmed ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ on the Norfolk Broads ten years later in 1983. It proved much easier – but had more wobble.
You can read more about ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974) in an ebook available on Amazon Kindle and other platforms.