The long-awaited second edition of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS (1974)’ is being published in paperback by The Lutterworth Press on 25th May. Pre-orders are now available from their website here
This memoir of an odd thing that happened in the early 1970s is similar to the first edition but has a new cover and includes a few more stories, photographs and names from the ‘seventies that have floated to the surface. It compliments StudioCanal’s 40th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray and makes a good present for anyone who has grown up watching the 1974 film.
Last weekend Sophie was signing copies of her books at the Tavistock Festival and gave a talk at the Roseland Festival in St Mawes before a screening of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) on Sunday evening at the lovely Hotel Tresanton cinema.
This question has recently been typed into the Google search engine. It has to be said the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is a pretty abstract title. What does it mean? Is it about South America?
The national press brewed a great storm last summer when they discovered that BBC Films and the BFI had changed the lead character’s name to Tatty. When the Daily Telegraph phoned me for comment, I asked if someone had made a spelling mistake. Titty was mistakenly referred to as Tilly in The Times a year before, along with rather an over excited headline:
I’ve received letters addressed to Titty for so long that I couldn’t understand the problem until I typed the name Titty into Twitter. You do not see my face – or anybody else’s. I am not sure if it has been defined by the Oxford Dictionary yet but it seems a titty-tatty is now the term used for a certain kind of tattoo.
Last week I found an interesting document. It is the original contract that my father was sent in April 1973 when I was offered a part in the film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’. It doesn’t refer to Titty at all:
This was the reason why my mother suggested I wrote the name Titania Walker on the front of the ship’s log which you can see if you watch the movie closely. Why Theatre Projects used the classical name I do not know. It could be argued that ‘Swallows and Amazons’ contains traces of Shakespearean influence but Arthur Ransome insisted the name Titty wasn’t short for anything.
People often ask how much I was paid for appearing in the feature film. The contact states, ‘We…
This period refereed to the seven weeks spent filming on location. I paid another £10 a day for dubbing the film and for a pick-up day when we filmed a scene in Surrey. Although publicizing the movie was more demanding than being on location we were neither licensed or paid. I did receive a book token for promoting EMI Films at the Lord Mayor’s Show.
Dubbed it was – into a number of languages including French, Czech and Norwegian:
People imagine that we receive residuals when the film is sold abroad or broadcast on television but we actors are only due a fee if our image is used to advertise a product. This is a few years old but does it count?
Or could this? I saw the image used in a TV commercial with my own eyes, so I’d love to know.
When interviewed aboard the yacht Ransome bought with his royalties, Taqui Altounyan said that on receiving a new copy of ‘The Swallows and The Amazons’, as the first edition was titled, her family were also thrown by the abstract title, wondering if it was about South America. It could be about migrating birds.
You can see Anita Singh’s article that sparked up international debate last summer by clicking here The juxtaposition of the photos is so naughty, but brilliant of course. I’m the one with the telescope.
Members of the Arthur Ransome Group have recently raised questions about what ‘fell onto the cutting room floor’ after we shot the movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in the English Lake District in 1973.
‘I have always had the feeling that the Amazon’s role in the 1974 film was very much secondary to the Swallows.’ Stephen O’Brien posted. ‘This was probably down to much of the Amazon’s footage ending up on the cutting room floor. What do you think?’
The answer is that there were few scenes excluded from the film.
Virginia McKenna as Mrs Walker with Sophie Neville as Titty
The only other scene from Swallows & Amazons that I know was excluded was when the Swallows lay patterans on their way to visit the charcoal burners. The location was in a beautiful spot up above Derwentwater, the dialogue was straight from Arthur Ransome’s book and our performances would have been fluent by the time we shot the sequence.
Suzanna Hamilton, Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West as the Swallows
I can only expect that when the movie came in over-length these scenes were cut as the action was not exciting and had no influence on the plot.
In the original script the Amazons do not really appear until page 41 – which would equate to nearly half-way into the the film. I thought that there might have been one or two shots of the Amazons sailing that were never used, because there was a day spent filming on Derwentwater when Kit and Lesley who played Nancy and Peggy weren’t feeling very well but I’ve checked the script and nothing that they said was excluded. Not one word. Perhaps David Wood who dramatised the book could somehow have increased the Amazons’ parts. However, as Janet Means points out:
‘…in the book we find out more about what the Swallows think but only about what the Amazons do. There is little about the Amazons except when the Swallows are present too (hiding Amazon in the reeds and Nancy berating Peggy for losing Amazon when Titty’s made off with her). There’s lots about the Swallows without the Amazons.’
One scene in the DVD of the film actually gets cut out of the television version. The clue is that it comes just before this photo was taken in Bowness-on-Windermere for Lancashire Life kindly sent to be by Stephen Sykes of Hill Top near Haverthwaite.
Sten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows in Rio, an official still from the film published in Lancashire Life in 1974
Our sad news is that Denis Lewiston, the brilliant Director of Photography on Swallows & Amazons (1974), died recently. After a long and fulfilling career he will be remembered fondly and admired for the numerous films he made, seeking excellence with every sequence.
When the movie Swallows & Amazons was released forty years ago the mere idea of Blu-ray or DVD recordings had not been dreampt of. When my father asked about acquiring a copy of the film he was quoted £450 for a set of 35mm reels designed to be projected on a cinema screen. The sum was more than I received for working on location, even though I had a lead part. I was, however, sent a copy of the LP brought out to accompany the film. It was narrated by David Wood who wrote the screenplay and included Wilfred Joseph’s full score. You can still buy these online today.
Although we were never informed, I now discover that at one time you could buy film clips on Supper 8, to project at home. You could probably still find this on eBay.
When home video recorders first came out in the late Seventies I was working for Virginia McKenna. I remember her husband Bill Travers telling me that they had decided to go for Beta rather than VHS. Almost inevitably Swallows & Amazons was released on VHS, in a big fat box, and came into its own as families snuggled down to watch it at home on rainy afternoons. There were a number of cover designs:
This one distributed by Warner Bros. is featured on the international movie data base. Click on the image more information and other cover designs.
Readers have sent in an image of the reverse:
There have been different versions marketed all over the world. The movie became so popular in the Baltic and Czech Republic that it has been dubbed a number of times:
For years the DVD has been sold as a double bill with The Railway Children, which was also financed by EMI Films.
This is the double-bill released by StudioCanal:
In 2008 a DVD of very good quality was released by the Daily Mail, with a picture of me looking like a baby monkey on the wrapper. We were given absolutely no warning. The first I knew of it was a friend ringing up to ask me if I could spare a DVD for his kids, ‘Someone’s swiped the office copy.’
It was featured on the front cover for seven days, as well as in the magazine. I am often asked if we get residuals for distribution rights or when our images are used to promote newspapers but I have never received anything. This version did at least have end credits. There are reviews on Amazon about a DVD that lacked these. I was amazed that anyone even noticed but viewers assured me it was an outrage.
I am glad the movie can be watched and enjoyed by successive generations of children. The most inspirational cover of all was on that very first boxed VHS, which featured us sailing up Derwentwater:
In 2014 a remastered Blu-ray and DVD with an Extras package was launched by StudioCanal to celebrate the 40th Anniversay. If you are thinking of buying a copy, this is the one to get. It is available on Amazon by clicking here.
There was also an edition in French:
They later issued a DVD (without extras) adding striking new graphics to the old poster. A sticker advertising the 2016 film of Swallows and Amazons was added to promote the release:
Does anyone know of any other VHS or DVD covers? Do add your comments in the box below.
Our first major public appearance for the promotion of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was The Lord Mayor’s Show . For the first time since the filming we climbed into our costumes and then into Swallow who had been mounted on low-loader. Afloat on a float, we made ready to sail through the City of London.
It must have been early November and was so very cold before we set off that we needed to keep our own coats on. We were anxious this would spoil things for people. I’m sure it would not have made much difference. Did anyone know who we were? The film hadn’t come out. We were riding on the wave that Arthur Ransome and his books were so well loved by the people of our nation.
What was fun, if a little odd, was that it was the first time, indeed the only time, that the Swallows and the Amazons had been in a dinghy together. As we were taken through the streets of London passers-by started to wave at us and we waved back. Soon it was waves all round. Being Titty, I had Swallow’s flag to fly. John let Nancy take the tiller.
We were amazed to find huge crowds of people had gathered and that it was all rather fun. I don’t know why but Sten must have joined my mother on the pavement by the time this shot was taken. I can see the back of his head in this next photograph. He is wearing the tartan hat Claude Whatham bought him at Blackpool fun-fair.
Jeremy Fisher Frog was leaping about in front of us, which was rather amazing. With him danced other representatives from the Tales of Beatrix Potter, The Royal Ballet’s wonderful feature film that also came out in 1973/4. We were marking the 35th anniversary of EMI, whilst bringing the Lake District to London Town, which is something we all could celebrate.
Since we didn’t have to talk to anyone, we were able to enjoy being involved in the pageant, which included so many icons of British Life.
I hadn’t met a Pearly Queen before, but there was a whole clan of them in their glorious suits, lovingly embroidered with mother of pearl buttons. I resolved to collect enough to adorn my own jacket. My favorite view was of HM the Queen’s gold state coach pulled by her lovely white horses, six in hand. I’d been to see them at the Royal Mews when we came up for my first interview at Theatre Projects offices in Longacre when I first met our director Claude Whatham.
My mother took a photograph of the Queen’s Drum Horse. Much later she found that he was a stallion, on offer as part of a British Horse Society breeding improvement scheme. He was brought over to service her Irish mare Gerty. The result was a lanky skewbald called Nimrod, an enormous gelding who Andrew Parker Bowles rejected on behalf of the British Army. This proved an error. Like most heavy horses Nimrod was just slow to grow. He eventually became a national dressage champion, although not in our hands.
We have one last photograph which shows that the float in front of us depicted an EMI film crew, with 2K lights, a camera and technicians. It is studing this photograph that made me feel that we were not in Swallow as the transom seems so differnet. I don’t suppose anyone else noticed.
Funnily enough I was in a boat for the Lord Mayor’s Show this year. We rowed up the Thames in the Lord Mayor’s procession on Saturday 12th November.
I am on the crew of the Drapers’ Barge, Royal Thamesis a 33 foot shallop, which I last rowed on the tideway for the re-creation of Nelson’s funeral covered by Sky TV. You may have seen her taking part as the in the Queen’s Jubilee Pageants. We have been asked to take part in the procession of boats that heralds the Lord Mayor’s Show this coming November.
This colour footage shows various aspects of the Lord Mayor’s procession in 1973 including the Queen’s Gold State Coach built in 1762 and a float with Daleks, which must represent Doctor Who, a series I worked on about ten years later when at the BBC.
At The Cannes Film Festival, Harbour Pictures, in association with BBC Films, announced that they plan to re-make Swallows and Amazons based on Arthur Ransome’s iconic book that was written in 1929. As a result a debate broke out, not about whether this is a good idea, but whether the characters should wear life jackets.
Ironically Sophie Neville, who played Titty in the 1974 feature film of Swallows and Amazons nearly drowned over Easter last year because she was wearing a buoyancy aid. ‘My sister insisted I wore a big old fashioned life-jacket as an example to her children. When I capsized it trapped me inside my canoe. I’d lost my paddle and hung upside down, in the cold water, unable to get out. I was literally plugged inside and couldn’t get free.’
(for alternative photo image see http://bit.ly/jZMn1O image from fotolink.pl of Steven Grendon & Sophie Neville rowing Swallow in the EMI 1974 feature film Swallows and Amazons)
The EMI film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons was made entirely on location in the Lake District 1973. ‘It can get quite gusty on Coniston Water but we never fell in,’ Sophie remembers. ‘We had a wonderful time.’
Ten years later the BBC made the drama series Swallows and Amazons Forever! an adaptation of Ransome’s later books Coot Club and The Big Six, which are set on the Norfolk Boards. Julian Fellows featured as a Hullabaloo, an enraged tourist driving a motor cruiser.
In both the film and television series the decision was made to be true the 1930s period in which the books are set and let characters – adults and children alike (plus pug dog), go out on the water without life vests. They carried knives, lit fires and sailed at night without lights in boats that had no buoyancy aids. Lanterns were hung in tents and arrows were fired at other children. The boys in Norfolk also rode bikes without helmets, but that is how life was led in the 1930s. No one had safety belts in cars. Not much safety gear had been invented. ‘You wouldn’t film Elizabeth the Golden Years with Cate Blanchett in a BHS riding hat, or Russell Crow playing Robin Hood in a jockey’s helmet. No one moans about that. When filming Swallows and Amazons we wore life jackets when setting up shots and had a lifeguard in a zoomy rubber boat on constant stand-by when filming, but you wear period costumes in a period film and that is it.’
Sophie worked for the BBC behind the camera on the crew of Coot Club and The Big Six. She said what concerned her in Norfolk was the thought of someone getting trapped between a moored boat and the staithe wall or getting bashed when boats passed under the famously low bridges. ‘This situation won’t exist in the Lake District when Swallows and Amazons is made into a film again. They will have a wonderful – inspirational – time.’
Meanwhile if you are planning on going canoeing – sign up for a safety course first and wear the proper gear. This is the year 2015 and buoyancy aids are available…
Sophie Neville with Swallow by Coniston Water, holding an original publicity still from the EMI feature film of Swallows and Amazons.