Tag Archives: Nancy Blackett

Sailing the Nancy Blackett in Dutch waters – part two

Nancy Blackett, the 28 foot cutter that Arthur Ransome bought with Spanish gold, as he called his royalties from ‘Swallows and Amazons’, is an old lady now. Built by Hillyards of Littlehampton in 1931, she turns eighty-five this year and yet looks pristine. If you ever wanted to sail the Goblin in ‘We Did Mean To Go To Sea’ you must know that it was Nancy who took this starring role in Ransome’s novel, first published eighty years ago.
Nancy Balckett in Middleburg photo Sophie Neville

Nancy Blackett

I arrived in the Netherlands this summer to find Nancy receiving visitors at a nautical festival in Midddleburg, while a jazz band played on the quay.  She was moored by a lifting bridge in the centre of town, neatly rigged and ready for anything. After taking a look at a number of old gaffers, her crew enjoyed a cold beer and walked down the canal to vittel-up at a supermarket before having dinner in what was once a packing house for silks and spices imported from the East Indies.
Nancy seen through the bridge in Middleburg

Nancy seen through the swing bridge in Middleburg

As the swing bridge rose the next morning, we made way and motored down the wide canal to Veere, mooring up by the grassy port bank. 
Hollyhocks of Veere

Hollyhocks of Veere

After being granted permission to go ashore, I passed the historic town well and walked down lanes bordered by hollyhocks to visit the museums of this ancient port. They house a number of charts and medieval maps that would have delighted the Swallows, along with old photographs of Dutch natives in traditional dress. I was tempted to buy a pair of clogs to take home for Bridget.
The waterways of Zeeland

The waterways of Zeeland

We left Veere to explore the islands and creeks of the Veersemeer before sailing down-channel and through a modern lock into the Oosterschelde estuary formed by the River Scheldt. It was once an important shipping route that bought wealth to the Netherlands but is quieter now. I spotted a seal and watched a cormorant swallow a large eel, that wriggled and jiggled inside its gullet.
Windmill of Zeeland

A windmill of Zierikzee

After negotiating the impressive Zeelandbrug that spans the delta, we sailed down to Zierikzee where you can climb the church tower, if you dare, and look out across the once fortified town. The windmills, ornate spires and ancient buildings help one to imagine what life must have been like in the 1500s when it became famous as a trading centre for salt and madder. I found scold’s stones and a whaler’s kayak from Greenland at the Stadhuis Museum in Zierikzee where Veronica Frenks was once the curator.
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The lock gates of Zierikzee

Our skipper, Ian McGlynn, wondered if we could sail back under an arch of the Zeelandbrug instead of waiting for one section of the road to lift. Built between 1963 and 1965 the Zeeland Bridge is more than five kilometres long and hardly comparable to the arch of Potter Heigham but Mate Judy Taylor didn’t want to take any risks. We had Nancy’s new mast to consider.
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Crewing the Nancy Blackett

It was only on our last evening-but-one that rain hit us. We’d had blue skies and sunshine all week. As the salt water was washed away from Nancy’s portholes I opened the pages of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ to find Ransome’s illustrations and read the final passages of the Swallows’ unplanned voyage to Holland. The book is eighty years old this year and yet moves me still. There is Nancy, portrayed as the Goblin moored up in a foreign port, which is where we left her to be enjoyed by other members of the Nancy Blackett Trust.
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Nancy Blackett in Zeeland

 A marathon reading of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ is planned, to celebrate the 80 year anniversary of its publication, at Pin Mill Sailing Club on the Orwell in Suffolk on Saturday 21st October 2017.
Pin Mill from the Water
To read more about Nancy or join the Nancy Blackett Trust please click here
Nancy has been featured by Country Life in a July issue you can read here
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We Did Mean To Go To Sea by Octavia Pollock

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Do you have any questions about the making of ‘Swallows & Amazons’

“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 shaking cocktails

Sophie Neville at the Curious Arts Festival

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Filed under 1973, Acting, adventure, Arthur Ransome, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Dinghy sailing, Emi film, family Entertainment, Family Film, Film Cast, Lake District, Movie, questions about filmmaking, Richard Pilbrow, sailing film, Swallows and Amazons, titty, Vintage Film, Virginia McKenna

‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ along with a letter from Mrs Ransome herself

Members of The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have alerted me to the fact that ‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ is currently available for viewing on BBCiPlayer.

Griff Rhys Jones

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 filmSwallows & Amazons, produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973.

Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West above Derwentwater in 1973

Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West, 1974

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.

Captian Frlint with Nancy and Peggy

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:

Mrs Ransome1

Page two:

Mrs Ransome page 2 trimmed

When Mrs Ransome saw the finished film in 1974, her only comment was that the kettle was of the wrong period.

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker camping on Peel Island, Conioston Water in Cumbria

Was Susan a portrayal of Evgenia? Here she is played by Suzanna Hamilton.

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 Homing Stone by Hugh Lupton

The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome can be watched on BBC iPlayer

by clicking on the photo here

Griff Rhys Jones - BBC

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Filed under 1973, adventure, Arthur Ransome, Biography, British Film, Family Film, Film History, Lake District, Letters, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story, Vintage Film

Book covers inspired by the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’

Stephen Grendon, Simon west, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton on the cover of the 1974 Puffin edition of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton on the cover of the 1974 Puffin edition of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome

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?

Swallows and Amazons ~ Puffin edition, 1984

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.

Swallows & Amazons  Heinemann Educational Books

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.

Sophie Neville and Simon West on the cover of 'Swallows and Amazons' published by the Daily Mail

Sophie Neville and Simon West on the cover of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ published by the Daily Mail in 2003

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.

Swallows and Amazons promoted by the Daily Mail

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.

Swallows and Amazons in the Daily Mail -

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.

'Swallows and Amazons' book cover 1992

I preferred the still from the movie used on the cover of the first VHS tape.

'Swallows and Amazons' on VHS

The cover of the original VHS version of  ‘Swallows & Amazons’

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.

'Swallows and Amazons' Puffin book cover 1970

The publishers, Red Fox, commissioned an illustration for their cover along the same lines, depicting the characters in the 1974 movie.

Swallows and Amazons book cover by Red Fox

The current designs for Arthur Ransome’s paperbacks are 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.

S&A book cover in the V&A

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:

Apple iPad ad featuring Swallows and Amazons

I walked up the steps of Tower Bridge underground station to see Swallow’s flag flying: fabulous!

Apple iPad ad in the London Underground

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.

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Bestseller, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Lake District, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton

How did Arthur Ransome influence your life?

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.

Sophie Neville at The Nancy Blackett Day

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!’

Mikako Tarashima wrote from the Arthur Ransome Club in Japan to say:

‘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.

Nancy

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.

Arthur Ransome's cutter the Nancy Blackett sailing on the Orwell

Arthur Ransome’s cutter the Nancy Blackett on the Orwell in July 2013

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.

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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?’

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Aboard the Nancy Blackett at Buckler’s Hard

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Swallows & Amazons ~ broadcast recently on ITV3

Behind-the-scenes while filming 'Swallows & Amazons' in 1973

Behind-the-scenes while filming ‘Swallows & Amazons’ in 1973

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.

Sophie Neville having her hair cut on location for the part of Titty Walker in 1973

Sophie Neville having her hair cut on location for the part of Titty Walker in 1973

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.

Wardrobe Master Terry Smith and Sophie Neville in her costume to play Titty. But what is the name of the boatman? Doers anybody know?

Wardrobe Master Terry Smith and Sophie Neville in her costume to play Titty. But what is the name of the boatman? Does anybody know?

There are still many questions about the making of the movie that remain unanswered.

A journalist on Peel Island

Does anyone know the name of this journalist who visited us on Peel Island?

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.

Sophie Neville with 35mm Panavision Camera

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.

Beckfoot

Lesley Bennett as Peggy: Claude Whatham directing the scene with Kit Seymour

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.

Amazon Boathouse

Kit Seymour playing Nancy Blackett and Lesley Bennett playing Peggy Blackett

If you would like to get future posts, please click the Follow button at the bottom of the side-bar.

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

Sailing the Nancy Blackett

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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.

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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.

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I thought that people would rather be out in the sunshine or watching the Wimbledon finals but it was well attended.

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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.

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Soon sails were being hoisted and we were underway, sailing down river in the evening light.

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Conditions were perfect for Nancy, a 28 foot Bermurdan cutter.

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I took the helm, whilst the others did the hard work.

Pin Mill in Suffolk

We were soon sailing past Pin Mill, which also features in the book.

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Some members of the crew were experienced sailors,

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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.

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We saw a couple of Thames barges also coming in, as Nancy settled down after a successful day.

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For more photos please click here

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