The cutting room floor

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.

BW Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville

Virginia McKenna as Mrs Walker with Sophie Neville as Titty

One featured Virginia McKenna and Mrs Batty’s clock, which can still be found at Bank Ground Farm, our location used for Holly Howe. It was shot on the second morning and I fear that our director Claude Whatham might have taken it out because my own performance was rather stilted. I had quite a bit to say, most of which was really rather bizarre:

15th May deatil of outtake
The pages of my diary written on 15th May 1973

15th May detail  page two

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. BW The Swallows make Patterans

 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 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 dramatized 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.’ 

Nancy and Peggy Blackett
Kit Seymour with Lesley Bennett 

One scene in the DVD of the film used to be 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.

Lancashire Life May 1974 - S&A - Contents photo only 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

There are a few scenes in the screenplay that were never actually shot, but that’s on a different tack. To read more, please see: The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons.

Dennis Lewiston, director of Photography on 'Swallows and Amazons'  ~photo:Richard Pilbrow
Denis Lewiston, director of Photography on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ ~ photo: Richard Pilbrow, taken on Derwentwater in Cumbria, 1973

The illustrated paperback entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) can be ordered from libraries worldwide or purchased online.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

Swallows and Amazons mugs make great Birthday presents or gifts for sailors

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For some time now, I’ve had a Swallows and Amazons mug at home, which I use to keep my pens in. Featuring the design of the Jonathan Cape book jacket, it was given to me by Scruffie Buchanan who stocked the full set of Arthur Ransome mugs in her shop aptly called The Museum of Childhood. I treasure it as a part of mine. It is difficult to find these now. Thy have become collectors’ items.

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Not long ago I was presented with this handsome mug from Hill Top Cottage at Ealinghearth, by Stephen and Janine Sykes when they showed me around the Ransome’s last home, which they have restored in the Lake District.

The Swallow is moored in Secret Harbour

I’ve just discovered that it is possible to buy mugs depicting scenes from the film of Swallows & Amazons (1974). This one (above) is quite fun as it resembles the cover of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’  There are others:

Captain Flint walks the plank

There are various scenes, but if you want to drink to Captain Flint walking the plank, you can.

Swallows & Amazons film poster on a mug

My favourite design shows the film poster of Swallows & Amazons, which comes in two ways.

Swallows & Amazons poster on a mugThere are a variety of other stills from the film to chose from. These mugs and other movie merchandise such as mouse-mats, jigsaw puzzles and framed prints can be purchased from StudioCanal, the film’s distributors, who have an online shop.

Meanwhile, Jago Silver has designed these Expresso mugs that are great for camping.

You can check the size on Jago’s website here.

Swallows and Amazons mug by Jago Silver

Just when I was wondering if there were any more ‘Swallows and Amazons’ inspired mugs, I was sent this beautiful depiction of Hill Top near Haverthwaite, showing the view Arthur and Genia would have enjoyed in their twilight years. Here are two views of the same mug:

I am not sure if they are for sale but you can rent the holiday cottage at the far end of the building. Please click here for details. Tell them I sent you! 

Photos of this historic mug were taken by Craig Wadhurst.

These bone china mugs depicting Ransome’s yachts Peter Duck and the Nancy Blackett cost £10, or lessor a pair, and are available from The Nancy Blackett Trust here. They also sell a selection of books, audio books and videos for Arthur Ransome enthusiasts.

I have had decorative maps of Arthur Ransome locations around Windermere and Coniston applied to mugs available from Redbubble. Here is one featuring the cover of my book available here.

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These come from Australia, so take a while to arrive but are good quality.

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

The most popular is the mug with the map of Coniston Water, which you can find here

If you like using thermal cups with lids, the decorative map of Coniston Water can be found here

The Swallows and Amazons map of Windermere on a thermal cup can be found in a different colour-way here

A full range of items in this range including t-shirts and bags can be seen on a previous post here.

Map showing ‘Swallows and Amazons’ film locations around Coniston Water

Nancy's Swallows and Amazons mugs

The most beautiful range of Swallows and Amazons china including these small coffee mugs featuring the map from the book (above) and this plate, were once available from The Nancy Blackett shop but you might find they have sold out.

swallows-and-amazons-china

They do stock larger, more practical mugs depicting ‘Swallow’, and the ‘Nancy Blackett’ for £8.50 each here.

Do let me know if you know of any other Swallows & Amazons mugs and where they can be found in the comments below.

Adaptations of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ discussed in the Independent by Jonathan Brown

Author Arthur Ransome loathed BBC’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’, his diaries reveal

Swallow in 'Swallows and Amazons' 2016

When the BBC announced plans to recreate the classic outdoor children’s sailing adventure Swallows and Amazons it was hailed as a blockbusting antidote to the health and safety culture of the mollycoddled video-game generation…

However, previously unread diaries of its creator, Arthur Ransome, reveal that the author considered the corporation’s last attempt to bring his much-loved story to life to be a “ghastly mess” marred by “dreadful ham” acting. The diaries reveal how Ransome clashed repeatedly with BBC executives in the early 1960s when the BBC commissioned a six-part dramatisation for television, starring Susan George, then aged 12, as Kitty (changed from the original Titty) Walker.

Ransome, then in declining health, was living in virtual retirement in his remote Cumbrian cottage Hill Top overlooking the spectacular Rusland valley with his wife Evgenia – the former secretary to Leon Trotsky, whom he met while working as a foreign correspondent and spying for Britain in revolutionary Russia. It was a spartan existence, often with no electricity or running water.

In a series of brusque entries at odds with his generally affable demeanour, he describes how he repeatedly fought with BBC executives over attempts to introduce two new characters – Ernie and Sam – to the story. Both he and his wife attempted to rewrite the script after concluding that one episode was “bad beyond belief”.

Rupert Hart-Davis with Arthur Ransome

At his home Hill Top with his publisher Rupert Hart-Davies

“I have agreed to Genia’s proposal that we shall wash our hands of the film leaving it to Mr Walls [of the BBC] to play the farceur as much as he likes. They may be right in thinking that vulgar ham acting is what the T.V. gapers want,” he wrote in July 1962.

Ransome was particularly unimpressed with the performance of popular British actor John Paul as Captain Flint – the character… said to be based on Ransome himself – describing it as “dreadful HAM”.

On attending a screening at the Hammer Theatre in Wardour Street, central London in October 1962, he concluded: “Saw the ghastly mess they have made of poor old Swallows and Amazons … MacCullogh [his friend Derek MacCullogh, former head of children’s broadcasting at the BBC who was also known as the presenter Uncle Mac] did not come possibly to avoid trouble with his employers.” It was eventually broadcast the following year.

Stephen Sykes now owns Hill Top and has restored the Ransomes’ former home. He is also helping transcribe the author’s sparsely detailed diaries from his years at Hill Top, which are kept at Leeds University’s Brotherton Library. Sykes said the writer received £3,500 for agreeing to the BBC broadcast – a considerable amount of money. “He was clearly making a very good living out of the rights to Swallows and Amazons. This was his baby and he had obviously pored over it. It is a very leanly written story and it was pretty clear it was written by a journalist because of its clarity, because there is nothing extraneous,” he said.

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Hill Top in the Lake District today

“He is extremely protective of his own work. He felt he didn’t want a word changing, and that he had honed the story down and it was what it was,” he added.

swallows and amazons map tea towel

Swallows and Amazons was first published in 1930. It recounts the adventures of the children from two families who while away an idyllic summer getting into scrapes sailing their dinghies across Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. As well as the television series, many theatrical and musical adaptations have been staged, and the story was made into a film in 1974 staring Ronald Fraser and Sophie Neville.

When the latest project was announced in 2011, head of BBC Films Christine Langan said it would seek to encapsulate a forgotten era of childhood adventure “from the pre-health and safety generation”.

Producer Nick Barton of Harbour Pictures, who is collaborating on the film with the BBC, the Arthur Ransome Society and the author’s literary estate, said it had not been decided yet whether the children would be shown sailing without their life jackets.

But he said viewers could expect to experience the full majesty of the book’s setting. “The lakes and the mountains are very big and we are keen to recreate that grandeur of the scenery in the film,” he said. A spokeswoman for BBC Films said: “The film is still in development.”

To see a copy of the original article online, please click here

To contact Stephen Sykes at Hill Top, the Ransome’s last home, please click here

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