‘Unlike other films, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is within children’s reach,’ I’ve been told. It’s true. Any child can pretend that their bed is a sailing dinghy taking them to a deserted island. And when you are a little bit older – it’s not impossible to join a sailing club or go camping.
We took Swallow to join the Aldeburgh Junior Lapwings on the River Alde in Suffolk.
One intrepid sailor had bought her own Lapwing for £100, raising the money by busking in Aldeburgh High Street. Tilly renovated and varnished the clinker-built dinghy herself.
She can be seen here teaching the younger children how to owl hoot, playing ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ on her thumbs.
The children went fishing for crabs, which they later raced down the slipway.
They went in search of treasure – if that is what you call a scavenger hunt –
before sailing back to camp by the mud flats, cooking out in the open and sleeping in tents.
They launched their dinghies, raised their red sails
and headed off, catching the tide.
Swallow, the dinghy used in the 1974 film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ acted as flag ship.
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 was sure that people would rather be out in the sunshine but it was well attended.
After watching a clip of Ginger and Rosa, the BFI/BBC feature film directed by Sally Potter that starred Nancy Blackett, 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. Think of joining The Nancy Blackett Trust and sailing her yourself.
Jim and Jill Searle of the Norfolk Country Sailing Base in Ludham helped us find traditional boats for the BBC adaptation of Coot Club and The Big Six set on the Norfolk Broads. Jill kindly sent me a copy of this photo taken of Lullaby just after she was chosen to play the Teasel back in 1983. Her costume consisted of a false transom, which is still at Hunter’s Yard in Ludham today.
Roger Wardale took this photograph included in his book, Arthur Ransome on the Broads , which Amberley Publishing brought out in full colour. He tells of Arthur Ransome’s half-dozen or so holidays on hired yachts and of the young people who sailed in the fleet, including Titty and Taqui Altounyan.
Roger found out that the Ransomes hired a 23′ Fairway’ yacht from Jack Powles of Wroxham. This had a Primus stove with a special cooking locker in the well. It sounds well kitted out with a wash-basin and self-emptying WC in a separate compartment. The three Somnus spring-berths had drawers underneath and there was even a wardrobe. Like the Teasel, she was built of mahogany with a ‘bright varnish finish’ and, given a fair wind, would have zipped along at quite a speed.
Roger said that he spent six days trying to find places Arthur Ransome visited that had not changed since the 1930’s. He found it difficult. What he did discover was the dinghy used to play Titmouse in the BBC TV series. She can still be visited at Hunter’s Yard.
It is still possible to hire the mahogany hulled, gunter-rigged yachts much as Arthur Ransome and his wife did in the 1930’s, together with a sailing dinghy or rowing boat. There are fourteen sailing cruisers in the Hunter’s fleet and none have an engine. They have lifting cabin tops so you have more headroom when you moor up. Lullaby, built in 1932, is 28ft long with four berths. Her mast can be lowered with counter weights so she can be taken under bridges with a clearance of six foot.
Roger Wardale says that in the 1930’s, many of the yachts had a ‘self-acting’ jib but Ransome considered it too large. There were times when he lowered it, only to find ‘he sailed better without it!’ They still have self-acting jibs but the size may have been altered.
Roger also found a cruiser similar to Janca, the 1930’s cruiser who played the part of the Margoletta. She was skippered by Julian Fellowes in his glorious role as a Hullabaloo, the spiteful, arch-baddie of Coot Club.
Back in 1983 we were hugely helped by a number of Norfolk boatmen who knew the broads well.
You will have to let me know the name of these gentlemen who spent long hours helping us in the summer of 1983.
Filming from one boat to another is tricky and much patience was need. In many ways the easiest boat to film with was the Death and Glory. She can still be found moored somewhere on the Broads.
I well remember setting up this shot for the cover of the abridged version of the two stories, which was brought out by Puffin to accompany the series. It shows the Death and Glory complete with her green chimney. The big secret was that the interior of the cabin was larger than the exterior. we puzzled over Ransome’s drawings only to decide that he had cheated the measurements too.
Bruce McCaddy and his team built the set inside a modern boat shed where it was kept for ‘rain cover’, since the interior scenes could always be shot if it was wet. It included ‘camera traps’ or sections that could be removed so the scenes could be shot. I never went inside but the boys loved it. In fact the weather was glorious. We enjoyed such constant sunshine in the later part of the shoot that we filmed the interiors when it was dry and so warm the boys got quite over-heated.