3rd June 2017, marked the 50th Anniversary of Arthur Ransome’s death – a day to remember his books and the inspiration they have brought to our lives, not least since he encouraged the pursuit of outdoor activites such as sailing and camping, along with reading, writing and keeping a ship’s log. I’m not sure what he’d think of some of the conversations I’ve had about Swallows and Amazons but at least his well-loved story is being talked about.
Last time I gave a Q&A about the 1974 movie of ‘Swallow and Amazons’ at a cinema, I was interviewed by the actress Diana Quick, which was wonderful as she was so easy to talk to. She asked a few questions that have not come up before.
Did you children feel the film was like the book?
Very much so, I’d read most of the books in the series and ‘Swallows and Amazons’ twice. Richard Pilbrow, the producer was aiming to keep as close to the Arthur Ransome’s well-known story as possible. I never saw David Wood’s script, but simply sung out Titty’s dialogue from my Puffin paperback. It was amazing to find ourselves in Secret Harbour, just has Ransome had depicted it. We were rather disappointed that the storm scene was cut but could appreciate that ‘you can’t have everything’.
How much time did you have to get to know one another?
Not long, only two or three days. The weather wasn’t that good but we were taken out sailing which was fun and Virginia McKenna was wonderful at getting us to play games that broke the ice. We played consequences with folded strips of paper, the results of which made us laugh a great deal.
Would you have felt able to take a boat out as Titty does, on your own at night?
Yes, I managed to launch Amazon and row her out of Secret Harbour in one take, but I was aged twelve, rather than nine, which is Titty’s age in the book. Amazon was a very easy dinghy to handle and had been used in the BBC serial made in 1962, when Ransome was alive.
Although he claimed to have read ‘Swallows and Amazons’ forty-two times, David Blagdon, our sailing director, forgot that Titty was meant to sail Amazon back to Wild Cat Island, so I never practiced taking the helm, or sailing her alone. In the end the Mate Susan took my place, which I felt was a bit of a shame as in the book Titty sailed her back with John crewing.
It is interesting that Titty, the most adventurous character was played by you who have gone on to lead an adventurous life.
It may be partly the way I’d been raised. My father grew up reading the first editions of Ransome’s books in the 1930s and we often went camping as a family, certainly every summer holiday. My mother still goes camping at the age of eighty.
Perhaps the director, Claude Whatham recognised an adventurous spirit. I always need to see around the next corner. I was hugely inspired to travel by my father and by friends at university, particularly Alastair Fothergill who has spent his whole life travelling while making wildlife films, most recently African Cats, Chimpanzee, Bears and Monkey Kingdom for DisneyNature.
Have you got any tips for camping?
Yes! There is an art to camping:
- You can always fill a metal water bottle with hot water at night and use it as a hot-water bottle in your sleeping bag. If you get thirsty later you can always take a drink without having to get up.
- I usually keep my clothes for the next day with me in my sleeping bag so they stay warm and dry.
- It’s important to keep tents clean. Never brush your hair inside a tent and never let anyone step of the fly sheet when they are folding it up otherwise you risk having footprints on the ceiling.
- Make sure you keep a supply of dry firewood.
- There are dangers to camping: always set down a cup on the ground before filling it with boiling water from a kettle. It is too easy to get burnt by super-heated water if you hold it.
- I pack a leather glove or pot holders for cooking over camp fires.
- Take care about where you place knives, barbeque grids or pans as it is easy for others to tread on them in the dark.
- Make sure your torch is in the same place every night. I keep a small torch in my washbag.
- Take a hair-dryer. If there is ever an electricity supply you can use it to heat your tent or dry out wet clothes and sleeping bags. We got soaked riding through New Zealand once but arrived at a sheep shears’ shed and found great comfort in drying our socks. I gave this task to rather an annoying German man who took such pride it doing the job thoroughly that he regained our respect on a number of levels.
- Enjoy every moment.
If anyone has any questions, please leave a comment below.
If you would like to read more about my current adventures please click here
StudioCanal hold a vast selection of the best photographs from ‘Swallow and Amazons’ in their libray and have an on-line shop here.