When Lakeland Arts declared that Antiques Roadshow was coming to Windermere Jetty, I sent the BBC a photograph of some of the props used in the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.
I was hoping their expert on movie memorabilia might be interested in the film posters, but couldn’t think that a hand-whittled hazel bow and arrow could be worth much.
I was keen to talk about my scrapbooks and diaries kept on location and thought they might want to use photos my father took of George Pattinson whose collection of boats formed the basis of the original Windermere Steamboat Museum. He brought his 1900 steam launch Lady Elizabeth to Bowness-on-Windermere when we shot the Rio scenes there in the summer of 1973 . She is currently being restored at the museum.
I also suggested they featured Swallow the dinghy we used in the film. A group of us clubbed together in 2010 to purchase he when she came up for auction.
She was valued by Rupert Maas who is a great fan of Arthur Ransome’s books and watched the film himself as a boy. He liked the fact she hadn’t been over-restored. I didn’t know her ribs were made of elm.
The best photograph of Swallow under sail was used on the cover or the first edition of my book about making the 1974 film:
If you enjoy ebooks, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ has links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage. It is available for £2.99 here
The billing from the Radio Times lists the other interesting items on the show. You can watch the episode, mostly shot on a lovely sunny day, on BBC iPlayer. Further details are reported here.
If you would like to find out about sailing ‘Swallow’ yourself, please contact Sail Ransome.
I might appear in the second of the two episodes broadcast from Windemere Jetty – the one shot in rain.
When the BBC rang inviting me to come up, it was clear that I was the antique they wanted to see. The first thing they asked me was my date of birth. This turned out to be due to Covid-19 restrictions but the director did, later, ask if she could call me Titty.
Filming was already in progress when we arrived at the museum. It was a typical day in late September, pouring with rain.
There was a great deal of impressive camera and lighting equipment in evidence but a number of marquees had been erected to keep everyone dry.
We were introduced to the designer, who whisked off various items I’d brought with me to display, and Marc Allum, antiques expert, author and long-time contributor to the Roadshow. He’s tough. It wasn’t freezing but the weather was far from warm.
Once at the water’s edge I met Debbie, the director who was surprised by the length of my hair. I explained it had grown during lockdown having not been cut for a year.
My position was marked by small sticks in exactly the same manner and during the filming of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when I was aged twelve. Camera tape would not stick to the slate shingle.
A measuring rod was used to ensure we remained two meters apart, even whilst on camera, before I was asked to take up the bow and arrow I had helped whittle on location long ago.
The display included Swallow’s burgee. I did ask for the flags to be crossed, but the significance of this was lost on the design team. You will have to write in and explain the importance.
When it came to being given an estimate for the value of what my husband calls ‘my junk’, I was truly amazed, especially since I nearly chucked half of it away in a fit of de-cluttering.
I am sworn to secrecy, so you’ll need to watch the show to find out how much my collection of movie memorabilia is meant to be worth. It should be broadcast on Sunday 21st February 2021 – but will I be on? I know they will feature Swallow this week but my item could either be featured in a different episode or hit the cutting-room floor.
We talked about the film premiere and influence the Swallows and Amazons books have had in encouraging children to get out into the wild. As I walked around the museum afterwards, I found the Lady Elizabeth being restored, which you can see here.
There is already a movie poster at the Windermere Jetty museum. I dug out a large, sepia poster designed for cinemas that has not been seen since 1974 but the BBC were not able to feature these for copyright reasons. Since receiving a valuation, I am getting it framed.
This month I have been re-energised in my endeavour to collect litter by taking part in the Great British Spring Clean under the auspices of Keep Britain Tidy. They encourage their registered #litterheroes to keep a diary:
Day 8: Friday 29 March
I find another unopened can of beer on the pavement in Tooting where I am staying in South London. The general attitude to litter seems almost medieval, accepted as normal and tolerated by residents who rely on road sweepers to clean up rubbish scattered by foxes. My friend did not want me to think of touching it without gloves but she can’t stop the children picking up lost toys. Each time we pass a shopping trolley of garden waste, abandoned in the street, we see it has attracted more litter. How long will it stay there?
Day 9: Saturday 30 March
I’m off to Premier Radio’s Woman to Woman conference in central London. Litter in the streets seems to be an indication of poor diet. You can see what is being recklessly consumed: sugar-laden drinks, sweets, flavoured crisps, fast food, alcohol. Do we have a natural urge to discard what is bad for our bodies?
Cable ties lie the pavement in Westminster. Although not cheap, builders seem to cut and cast these aside. I picked up a handful that could easily be re-used. PVC cable ties were originally manufactured by my father. He would have wept to see how many are wasted or left to pollute the Earth.
Day 10: Sunday 31 March
Back on the south coast, I find an empty beer bottle, coffee cup and two dog poo bags sitting on the flood defence gate over the Lymington River, left as if for passers-by to admire while they take in the view over the nature reserve. What next? Have these items been carefully placed for me to collect? What if they fall into the river? Could the beer bottle ever jam the sluice gates open and cause flooding? The plastic will be washed into the sea. I give in and collect the items, only grateful they don’t have to be fished out of the brambles.
I go out latter for ten minutes, finding a full bottle of beer along with a large number of cans on a footpath leading to the pub. Some of the tins have been minced by a hedge trimmer, which is maddening. We must clear the verges this spring before vegetation grows. I retrieve another expensive roller from a boat trailer and a various car parts that owners might like returned.
Day 11: Monday 1 April
The police arrive to examine the HP laptop and jewellery box I found chucked in the river last week. A silver bracelet engraved with the name Shirley lies inside. Everything is taken to the police station. The officer recommends putting a photo on Facebook in an attempt to find the rightful owner. My post soon has 92 shares. I only hope it is not too upsetting.
~Do you know anyone called Shirley who is missing this?~
I also post a photo of a strange car part found yesterday and am told it is from a Mercedes. A grateful lady comes to collect the roller from her boat trailer. I continue picking up litter from the lane alongside the Lymington River and spot something familiar. It is the mud-guard that fell off my husband’s car weeks ago. I am thrilled. He says, ‘Oh, I thought it would turn up some time.’
Day 12: Tuesday 2nd April
The council message me to ask if I can tell them where three road signs I dragged out of the ditch can be located. I find one has already disappeared from the verge where I left it. I collect a rusty car radiator and two buckets of rubbish from the lane running alongside the nature reserve. Its raining, the dog won’t join me and am beginning to feel morose when I am struck by the sight of a double rainbow, arching over my buckets left in a gateway. It is as if I am being thanked for all I am doing.
Day 13: Wednesday 3rd April
I resume collecting bottles and cans from the lane wearing rubber gloves and Wellington boots, jumping into the ditch in an effort to extract bottles and cans before they are washed into the sea. What do you conclude when you find a lipstick in a wild, marshy place? I discovered a handbag not far away and kept searching the area, coming across an iPhone and an Acer laptop.
Back at home, I go through the handbag with care, looking for something with the owner’s name, as the police officer taught me. I ring the number on a pile of identical business cards and eventually get through. The owner is travelling through London on a bus. Her bag had been stolen from her car ages ago but she sounded very pleased to hear from me and said she’d come to retrieve it.
Day 14: Thursday 4th April
As requested, I’ve been posting photos of my litter activity on social media, desperately trying to edit attractive photos of garbage for my Ingram feed. I begin to lose followers on Twitter but gain others as support grows. Encouragement helps no end.
People are making a difference but the task seems endless. One volunteer from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust filled a long-wheel based Land Rover with rubbish from the Lymington causeway last year. Although an ecologically sensitive area it has somehow attracted more rubbish.
Today it was cold and raining hard. The road drains were blocked. I wonder why? I reached down to pick up one piece – just one piece – but if I don’t a dolphin could die.
Signing copies of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ in Cumbria
1 – How did you get the part of Titty?
In March 1973, a letter arrived, out of the blue, inviting me to audition for a role in ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I was twelve years old, an ordinary school girl at a convent in Berkshire. I’d read the Arthur Ransome books but had no idea I was up for the lead in a major EMI feature film intended for a universal international audience. The movie was directed by Claude Whatham. Back in 1970, he’d cast me as Eileen Brown, opposite a boy playing Laurie Lee, in the BBC’s first adaptation of ‘Cider With Rosie’. It was a role that demanded learning a piano piece so complicated it took twenty-one hours to master, but I did it. Claude must have respected my hard work. I was too tall to play Titty but, after a sailing audition at Burnham-on-Crouch, I was offered the part. He cast Sten Grendon, who’d played the young Laurie Lee, as Roger, Suzanna Hamilton was Susan and Virginia McKenna starred as our mother. She later admitted to finding her character rather dull but it was her name, in lights outside cinemas, that drew big audiences. We’ve kept in touch. She is still acting, aged 87, and has led the Born Free Foundation’s international campaign to redeem the lives of wild animals held in miserable conditions since 1998.
With Virginia McKenna on location at Bank Ground Farm near Coniston, in 1973
2 – Why was it so suitable for you?
We loved visiting the Lake District as a family. My father helped the Maryport Button Factory with their publicity and once took us to stay on a farm near Castle Craig above the River Derwent. I spent my childhood camping and messing about in boats, adding a sail made from a dust-sheet to an old rowing skiff. The great thing about the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was that Simon West, who played Captain John, was an exceptional sailor. He went on to become a national champion. Kit Seymour, who played Captain Nancy, also had a natural command of the waves. It shows on screen. They were able to handle our small boats when squalls rolled down from the fells. I didn’t have their innate understanding of the wind but it was Titty’s job to row everywhere – back from the charcoal burners and off to One Tree Island on Derwentwater. “Pull harder, Roger!” I managed to row Amazon out of Secret Harbour in one take, with the cameraman and a massive 35mm Panavision Camera on board.
Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville in Swallow, 1973
Casting-off Swallow was more of a challenge. It doesn’t show on a small screen, but when ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is screened in cinemas, you can spot the sequence when I slip on a rock with the telescope in one hand. I was up to my waist in water but got back on my feet and battled on, waving as the others sailed up Coniston Water. I knew how difficult the shot was to achieve and was desperate to do my best for Claude Whatham.
3 – Did it fire your wish to work in TV?
No! It was directing plays while reading Anthropology at Durham University that ignited a desire to work on television dramas. However, the experienced I’d gained acting in movies helped me win a place on the BBC TV Graduate Trainee scheme. After working on ‘The Russell Harty Show’, I grabbed the chance to cast children on the adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s books set on the Norfolk Broads: ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’. I found Henry Dimbleby, then aged thirteen, to play the lead and spent three months on location with Julian Fellowes and Rosemary Leach – who I’d met when she played Laurie Lee’s mother. I later worked on ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Eastenders’ and ‘My Family and Other Animals’, before producing an INSET series, directing one episode at a village school in Cumbria. I began casting children in the Lake District to appear in BBC adaptations of Arthur Ransome’s Lakeland books but they were axed, which was sad, as we were all set to make ‘Swallowdale’ and ‘Pigeon Post’ on the high moors.
4 – What does the Lake District in general, and Keswick in particular, mean to you?
We live on the south coast but take the train north at any opportunity. I’m now President of The Arthur Ransome Society and came up for a fabulous weekend in May when we sailed from the jetty at Bank Ground Farm – Holly Howe in Ransome’s books. I gave an illustrated talk on the secrets of making ‘Swallows and Amazons’ at the Bassenthwaite Institute, using behind-the-scenes photographs taken when we were filming on Derwentwater forty-five years ago. We shot all the scenes involving Captain Flint’s Houseboat in a bay on the western shore. She was played by the Lady Derwentwater, converted for the drama by Ian Whittaker, a talented young set dresser who went on to win an Oscar for set decoration on the feature film ‘Howards End’ starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. We shot the lighthouse tree scenes near Friar’s Craig and used Lingholme or One Tree Island for Cormorant Island, where Titty finds the treasure chest. We enjoyed making Ronald Fraser, the film actor playing Captain Flint, walk the plank and sailed up Derwentwater to the strains of ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’, played as the end credits roll. Forty years later, Suzanna Hamilton and I were asked to lunch with Richard Pilbrow the producer of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. Buskers were singing this song outside the restaurant in Covent Garden. We couldn’t believe the coincidence.
Meeting fans of Swallows and Amazons at Keswick in July
I meet people from far and wide who tell me the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ inspired them to visit the Lake District. It has been broadcast on television every year for the last forty years and was last shown in Australia on Boxing Day. It has been dubbed into Czech twice and is often shown at festivals as only ‘U’ certificate movies can be screened outdoors. I just hope this has proved a blessing to the people of Keswick, which I so loved visiting as a child. I thought the 2016 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – that I appear in for approximately two seconds – would overshadow the classic version but it has simply raised awareness along with DVD sales. Fan mail continues to arrive. A beautiful card came today. Arthur Ransome would have been touched. It had fish on it.
Editorial coverage and a literary award for ‘Funnily Enough’
5 – Do you want to mention mental health/physical health issues are always in the news?
I find that many of my readers are stuck in bed or battling with ill-health. I hope they are amused and uplifted in some way by stories in my books. ‘Funnily Enough’, a diary I kept after collapsing at the BBC, is about my own struggle with what I am pretty sure was a tick-bourne disease. I lost my job but recovered in Southern Africa, where I fulfilled Titty’s dream of seeing “forests full of parrots” and produced decorative maps for a living, inspired by Spurrier’s illustration on the original cover of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I used maps and details from my sketchbook to illustrate a paperback entitled, ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, which is out in colour as an ebook.
On the crew of the Gloriana in the Boat Race Flotilla in March featured on BBC Television
6 – What else?
People often ask how ‘Swallows and Amazons’ influenced my life, keen to know what I am doing now. I am still keen on rowing. I completed the Voga Longa, a 32 kilometre marathon through the Venetian lagoon with Olympic gold medallist Ed Code and was on the crew of The Queen’s row barge Gloriana for the Boat Race Flotilla this year. This summer, I grabbed the chance to row through the canals of Amsterdam, which was fascinating. However, it was the Amazons bows and arrows that impacted my life. After learning to shoot on the shores of Coniston Water, I was cast as an archery champion in another movie and have since won three Ladies Championships. I met my husband at an archery match. My stepson shot for England in July, winning a tri-annual match against the Royal Company of Archers (so proud!) I gave a talk recently demonstrating how the arrows in ‘Swallows and Amazons were’ fired over my head. The shot looks so dangerous that it was cut from the TV version of the film, but is included in the re-mastered 40th Anniversary cinema Blu-ray version, which we are now able to watch on the big screen.
Rowing in from De Hoop Rowing Club in Amsterdam, July 2018
‘I bought a signed copy of The Making of Swallows & Amazons and have just finished reading it. It’s a lovely, flowing read and I loved all the interesting details, especially chapters 12 to 18 in the later half of the book… I shall treasure it.’ Nigel
‘I am thoroughly enjoying reading your diary entries and hearing how life was on set etc… All the things I have always wanted to know about the film are in the book! I do hope you have lovely memories of all the locations you filmed at, especially Bank Ground Farm. Jonathan, who now owns the place and does all the farming has made my family and I very welcome indeed! (only) we can not tack up the field as they are growing it for Silage!!!! Thank you for inspiring my family and I so much! Yours sincerely, Benjamin’ (aged 10) ‘P.S. We’re off to Wild Cat Island tomorrow!’
Simon West as Captain John by the lighthouse tree
‘All of your recollections are insightful and tinged with humour (as always). In particular the story about Mrs Batty locking out the film crew and all the Cumbrian characters that were involved in the film. I didn’t know George Pattinson appeared in the Rio scene either, and I can just imagine the giggles you must have had when watching the double-deckers playing footsie with one another!’ David.
Lesley Bennett and Kit Seymour as the Amazons stranded on Wild Cat Island
‘Good little book full of information and funny tales.’ Jennifer
‘This book has rekindled my interest and memories from the 70’s when I first saw the film and read all the books, so well written and very entertaining, in some ways it ll seems a long time ago but this book makes it seem like yesterday! Thoroughly recommended.’ Richard on Amazon.co.uk
‘Loved your book about filming Swallows & Amazons – my favourite childhood film, very nostalgic.’ Nicola
‘Just wanted to say how much I am enjoying The Making of Swallows & Amazons. What a wonderful time you all had… I have all the books & love the film & TV series Coot Club and The Big Six, so it’s fab to read about them.’
Sten Grendon, Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton in Swallow