“They’re pirates!” Sophie Neville as Titty
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.
Sophie Neville at the Curious Arts Festival
This beautifully made documentary, presented by Griff Rhys Jones, examines Ransome’s life as a war correspondent in Russia from 1913 to 1919 when he was so close to the action, in dialogue both Lenin and Leon Trotsky, that the question has been raised as to whether he was a British spy.
Hugh Brogan, Ransome’s biographer explains that he’d originally ran off to Russia to escape from his melodramatic wife, Ivy Walker in 1913. After using his time to record Russian fairy stories, that can still be read today in his book, ‘Old Peter’s Russian Tales‘, he was employed by a national British newspaper to report on events leading up to the Russian Revolution. Black and white archive footage, along with photographs Ransome took himself, illustrate this well.
The BBC’s erstwhile political correspondent John Sergeant, explains the significance of certain survival strategies Ransome used, such as using ‘his practical skill to outwit people’, over extracts from the feature film ‘Swallows & Amazons‘, produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973.
The scenes from the movie also show how the story Ransome wrote when back in the Lake District, was in many ways an outworking of feelings accumulated while he was working in Russia. By being away and concentrating on his writing, he neglected his daughter just as Uncle Jim was not around for the Blackett girls.
In the dramatised documentary, the beautiful actress Alina Karmazina plays Evgenia, the girl Ransome fell in love with while he was filing reports from Petrograd. They later escaped over the border, trading her copper kettle for freedom of passage.
If the BBC had contacted Richard Pilbrow he would have been able to send them this letter. It was written to Neville Thompson, the online producer of the film, by Evgenia, who had become the second Mrs Ransome. It has never been published before. She gives the address as her retirement home near Banbury but it shows what kind of girl she was:
When Mrs Ransome saw the finished film in 1974, her only comment was that the kettle was of the wrong period.
The story of the Ransome’s escape from Russian has been told by Hugh Lupton, Arthur Ransome’s great nephew, who gave us a rendition recently at The Arthur Ransome Society meeting near Bungay. It can be listened to on CD, available on CD from Burning Shed.
The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome can be watched on BBC iPlayer
When the EMI/Theatre Projects film of Swallows & Amazons was released forty 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.
Unbeknownst to me until this afternoon, 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 we all felt a bit 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. 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:
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 have been on display at the V&A having won 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.
Arthur Ransome was born in on 18th January 1884. This Saturday will be his 130th anniversary.
Around the world, those who loved his books will be celebrating his birthday. Around the UK, from the South Coast to Giggleswick in North Yorkshire and up in Scotland, various branches of The Arthur Ransome Society are holding events.
There will be a Birthday Parley in High Wycombe, another in Glasgow and one in Exeter. In the North of England they’ll be a cake with a secret message in the manner of Winter Holiday. There will also be a lunch party at the Devon Hotel under the castle at Arundel, on 19th January.
Saturday 18th January will mark the last performance of the Theatre by the Lake’s production of the musical Swallows and Amazons at Keswick in Cumbria when members of the audience are invited to come dressed up as pirates. There will be prizes for the best outfits. The Arthur Ransome Trust have had a display up in the Circle Bar since the play opened in November, which I gather has been widely praised.
I will be going to Shotley in Suffolk to help TARS EAST to celebrate from the Shipwreck Restaurant, whilst gazing out across the Orwell where Arthur Ransome spent so much time sailing.
As you can see in the Comments below, Pamela Copley has just written from Australia to say:
‘There is a celebration of AR’s birthday in a suburb of Melbourne on Saturday – straight after the AGM. There will be a member from the UK group too.
Cheryl Paget tells me that, ‘In New Zealand members have met in Auckland for a weekend of Ransome inspired activities. We have sailed under the Auckland Harbour Bridge in a 57ft ketch rigged deck scow, toured the historic naval town of Devonport and walked to the top of the dormant volcano of Rangitoto. We had a fiendishly hard quiz last night and ate a birthday cake to celebrate AR’s 130 birthday and today we are off to watch sharks. Come and join us next year for our annual birthday weekend in the South Island!’
‘We don’t have Ransome’s birthday event in this January. We would like to have a small exhibition in this year. Because in 2014, publication of new Japanese translation of Ransome saga will be complete. I am so happy that we can celebrate Ransome’s 130th Anniversary unexpectedly.’
The musical Swallows and Amazons will be performed in St. Louis, MO on January 25th and 26th by the Centre of Creative Arts (COCA). Produced by the COCA Theater Company, the musical is directed by Alec Wild and Shanara Gabrielle, with musical direction by Neal Richardson. The cast includes St. Louis actors Maria Knasel, Steve Isom, Taylor Pietz and Pete Winfrey.
So, this week, I ask the question: How has Arthur Ransome influenced your life?
What impact have his classic books, or the adaptations of Swallows and Amazons for film, television or the theatre, had on your family?
Do add a line or two to the Comments below.
I am guilty of denial. When people asked, ‘How has Swallows & Amazons influenced your life?’ I’m afraid I used not to be that forth-coming, because I had moved on from acting in films. If you had asked me in 2010 I would have shrugged and said, ‘Not much.’
But then I stopped and thought again.
How much time I have spent exploring wilderness areas? I’d forgotten that it was the maps in Ransome’s books that attracted me to reading Cartography at university. I went to draw numerous maps all over the world.
I love living outdoors. I love fell walking, mud-flats, and being out on the high seas. I would drop everything to sail to China or the Caribbean tomorrow. I put this down to the fact that my father took us sailing and camping even before I read Ransome’s books. But who influenced Dad? Born in 1929, he was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome and would eagerly wait for the next book about the Swallows and the Amazons to be published. It would be a longed-for Christmas present.
It then occurred to me that John’s careful planning, Susan’s packing, Titty’s log and Roger’s humour still steer my life. The food, the phrases, the urge to travel, became part of my life long ago. I’ve lived under Swallow’s flag.
I for one, sail into the year ahead with Titty’s words still singing in my ears,
‘Here we are, intrepid explorers, making the first ever voyage into uncharted waters? What mysteries will it hold for us, what dark secrets shall me revealed?’
Swallows & Amazons was broadcast recently on ITV3.
If you would like to know more about how the film was made you can find the details on this site.
Do leave any questions in the comments box below.
They will be answered by Sophie Neville who played Titty.
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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If you have ever wondered what Nancy Blackett is doing now – here she is. Built by Hillyards of Littlehampton in 1931 she was bought by Arthur Ransome with royalties from Swallows and Amazons and became both the inspiration and model for his book about the Swallows’ unplanned voyage to Holland ~ We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea, in which she was known as the Goblin. She also appears in Secret Water.
I was at the Royal Harwich Yacht Club to give a talk on making the BBC adaptations of two other Arthur Ransome books set in East Anglia, Coot Club and The Big Six.
I thought that people would rather be out in the sunshine or watching the Wimbledon finals but it was well attended.
After watching a clip of Ginger and Rosa, the BFI/BBC feature film directed by Sally Potter that Nancy Blackett starred in last year, we wandered down to the jetty in front of the new club house, and grabbed a chance to go out on the Orwell.
Soon sails were being hoisted and we were underway, sailing down river in the evening light.
Conditions were perfect for Nancy, a 28 foot Bermurdan cutter.
I took the helm, whilst the others did the hard work.
We were soon sailing past Pin Mill, which also features in the book.
Some members of the crew were experienced sailors,
others had previously managed to avoid spending much time on the water, but we all had a wonderful experience and were sad when the sails were stowed for the night.
We saw a couple of Thames barges also coming in, as Nancy settled down after a successful day.
For more photos please click here