In real life it was Arthur Ransome’s sister Joyce who had a green parrot. She sent him its feathers to clean his pipe. Do all children dream of owning one, or was it just me?
Do all children dream of living on a houseboat? Going out across Derwentwater for tea in Captain Flint’s cabin was fun. He had laid on such a lavish one. It was a pirate feast.
We hadn’t actually seen Captain Flint walk the plank at this point, but together as Swallows and Amazons, we could all imagine it.
Suzanna described the afternoon quite differently. Her focus was on the food.
The green parrot had very sharp claws. If my eye’s are watering in this scene it is because they were digging into my shoulder. A piece of foam rubber was slipped under my blouse but it didn’t do much good. He really wasn’t a very tame parrot and had to have a chain around one leg in case he took flight. I was really rather worried he would nip me but ploughed on with the dialogue. If this is convincing it was because I needed to get through my close-ups before I lost part of an ear.
Despite this concern, I did rather want a parrot of my own. A tame one. Not long after we finished filming my parents came across a green parrot called Chico who was remarkably friendly, a sweet bird who soon came to live with us. He chatted away in Spanish and was good company. I went everywhere with him – even taking him out rowing on the lake.
I am often asked if Captain Flint’s parrot really did speak. He could certainly talk. I remember something along the lines of , ‘Who’s a pretty boy, then?’ delivered in a broad Lancashire accent. ‘Pieces of Eight’ was beyond his natural vocabulary and was dubbed on later along with music from the accordion. Ronald Fraser couldn’t really play this. Having said that, all music from instruments played on screen is added later so that the sound runs seamlessly no matter how the editor cuts the shots together. The accordion had been muted by Bobby Props.
Did the wishful lines given to Titty by the screen-writer David Wood cast light on my future? Rather unusually for an English child of the 1970’s I had already been to Africa. My family grew coffee on a farm between Arusha and Moshi in Northern Tanzania where I had been the summer before we made Swallows and Amazons.
I did not see forests of green parrots there, although, much later in my life I often saw Meyer’s parrots in the palm trees above our camp in Botswana. They would clatter about looking for wild dates while I sat painting maps I had made, just as Titty would have done.
You can read more about our adventures filming on Derwentwater here: