David Wood, who originally worked with Evgenia Ransome to adapt her husband’s book Swallows & Amazons for the big screen in 1973, has recently written to tell me:
‘Several attempts were made to follow up SWALLOWS. I did a screenplay of GREAT NORTHERN?, plus detailed treatments of WINTER HOLIDAY (for film) and WE DIDN’T MEAN TO GO TO SEA (for television), plus a six-part serial based on PIGEON POST. But all of them bit the dust!!!
Claude is the only director for whom I worked as an actor on film (SWEET WILLIAM), television (CHERI, DISRAELI) and stage (VOYAGE ROUND MY FATHER), as well as working with him as a writer (SWALLOWS and a film that never got made called THE HEYDAY).
Claude Whatham must have made the BBC adaptation of Colette’s novel Cherijust before Swallows & Amazons as it was broadcast in April 1973. Brenda Bruce, who I knew as Mrs Dixon, played Charlotte whilst David was Desmond, supporting Scott Anthony and Yvonne Mitchell as the lovers Cheri and Lea.
David Wood played Lord Derby in the 1978 BBC costume drama Disreali that Claude Whatham directed. Whilst Ian McShane had the title role, the part of Queen Victoria was given to Rosemary Leach, who later played Mrs Barrable in the BBC serial of Coot Club and The Big Six. Suzanna Hamilton appeared in it too as one of the princesses. She must have been about seventeen – a good age to be zooming about in a crinoline with scooped up hair. It would have been quite a contrast to playing Mate Susan on Peel Island in the Lake District.
When he was in his twenties David starred in the feature film if…. with Malcolm McDowell. You can get it on DVD or watch the Youtube pasted in the Comments below. I’d love to see the wartime drama Aces High, the movie directed by Jack Gold in which David played Lt Tommy Thompson opposite Simon Ward, Peter Firth and Christopher Plumber as well as Malcomb McDowell. John Gielgud played the Headmaster in scenes shot at Eton in this film, while Arthur Lowe played his house master in if… I am not sure which school they used. You will have to let me know. Arundel?
In 2004 David was awarded an OBE for services to literature and drama. I was not surprised. His output has been prolific. To find out more about his work as an author and playwright do watch this short BBC documentary Meet the Authorpresented by Nick Higham.
Something very exciting happened last week. Suzanna Hamilton came to see me, bringing the photographs that she was given during the filming of Swallows and Amazons along with a bundle of papers. I immediately recognised the blue bound diary that she had kept. Her God-given sense of humour fills the pages.
Although Titty was the one who always kept the ship’s log in Arthur Ransome’s stories, we children all kept journals during the filming as part of our school work. It was quite a task.
Suzanna’s diary gives the story of making the film of Swallows and Amazons from the perspective of an actress, the actress she was then and ever more will be. Even before we began filming she was getting as excited as Susan about grog and molasses, calling us by our charcter names as Claude Whatham suggested.
Anna Scher ran the most wonderful children’s theatre club in Islington, which Zanna went to after school, along with Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson. I visited Anna Scher’s Theatre Club ten years later when I was casting children for the BBC drama serial of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’. Although I didn’t find anyone there who could sail I held Anna Scher in huge admiration and respect, using her exercises when I was auditioning kids in Norfolk. She did so much for the young people of east London, giving children confidence with self-discipline aquired during their drama lessons and workshops.
David Wood, who wrote the screenplay of Swallows and Amazons, was already well known as an actor. Mum was rather in awe of him since he had played Johnny in Z Cars and had starred the feature film ‘If…’ alongside Malcolm McDowell. He had been a storyteller on the BBC Childrens Television programme we all adored called Jackanory. Suzanna had been involved in the same series when E.Nesbit’s ‘The Treasure Seekers’ had been read. She had also appeared in ‘The Edwardians’ form the book by E.Nesbit directed by James Cellan Jones in 1972. By coincidence Pauline Quirke played Eliza in ‘The Story of the Treasure Seekers’ in 1982 and I worked with her a few years later on Rockliffe’s Babies. My mother appeared in a pantomine David Wood wrote called The Gingerbread Man when it was produced at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. She wore red with a pill-box hat as Miss Ginger.