People often write to say how much they have enjoyed the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (U) produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1974, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. It was last screened on Talking Pictures TV on 8th September 2022 and is on Netflix in Europe, suitable for all ages.
‘Is it a good movie?’ people enquire of Google.
Dame Margaret Drabble told Claude Whatham, the director, how much she loved Titty in his filmof Swallows and Amzons, which was a huge compliment.
Helen Fielding mentions the DVD of Swallows & Amazons 1974 in the first edition of ‘Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy’ claiming it to be more edifying for her children to watch than ‘Beverley Hills Chihuahua 2‘.
The arts curator David Banning profiled the 1974 movie of Swallows and Amazons in his book on films made in Cumbria and the Lake District, which you can see here.
Trevor Boult, who writes books on ships and sailing, is a great fan. He kindly donated the royalties from his most recent book Boats Yet Sailing to The Arthur Ransome Trust. You can order a copy direct from the publisher here.
For a list of well known people who love the Swallows and Amazons books, please click here
Do you know of any other authors who have written about the film? Please leave any information in the comments section, below.
You can read the first section about how the film was made back in 1973, for free, on the Amazon preview of the ebook here:
‘Titty from Swallows and Amazons’ often gets typed into the Goggle search engine but when I attempt to use it as a ‘tag’ a message pops up saying: ‘Sorry, you are not allowed to assign the provided terms.’ I can only conclude that Google lacks literary enlightenment but the BBC were happy for me to talk about Titty on BBC Antiques Roadshow recently.
‘Memory picks and choses,’ as Arthur Ransome said in his autobiography (p.33) but those who love his novels often wonder what would have happened to the characters when they grew up. It dawned on me that this might be one reason why people are interested to know what we all did with our lives. I played Titty Walker in Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. In 1962, the film actress Susan George played the same character in the black and white BBC television serial of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with her hair in pigtails. She was called Kitty, apparently with Arthur Ransome’s approval. BBC Films decided to call the Able seaman ‘Tatty’ in the 2016 movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’, when she was brilliantly played by Teddy-Rose Malleson-Allen who went on to star in ‘Four Kids and It'(2020).
The character was inspired by a real little girl, Titty Altounyan, who stayed at Bank Ground Farm (or Holly Howe) when visiting her grandparents who lived above Coniston Water. In 1939, Miss Joyce Cartmell acquired a signed note from Arthur Ransome explaining that, ‘Titty is short for Tittymouse which is what she was called when she was a baby. Nobody ever calls her anything but Titty now’. It appears that Ransome was also asked for a photograph of himself, to which he responded, ‘Too ugly’.
Edward Thomas (1878-1917) described Arthur Ransome as ‘exuberant, rash and intelligent.’ In 1973, I can only assume the film director Claude Whatham was looking for the same spirit in us children. It was certainly captured by Wilfred Joseph’s nautical film score.
What constantly impacts me is the number of people who write in to say how much they wanted Titty to become their best friend. In many ways the characters from Ransome’s books become friends for life. You can easily gain others who have the same outlook on life by joining The Arthur Ransome Society, who offer activities and grants for young people as well as adults with a literary bent. You too can stay at Bank Ground Farm and run down the field to dip your hands in the lake.
You can read more about making the movie in the multi-media ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’.
When I was last in the Lake District, I grabbed the chance to climb to the top of Gummer’s Howe to look down on the ‘Great Lake in the North’. Arthur Ransome, who once lived at High Nibthwaite, must have gazed at this exact, same view. ‘Native shipping’ was passing a wooded island and a bay where I could see a yacht was moored. It was like looking down on the chart I once drew for the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ first screened in cinemas forty-seven years ago in April 1974.
Looking to the south, I could see Lakeside Station and the Haverthwaite steam railway running alongside the River Leven where we began filming back in May 1973. The renovated line had only been running for two weeks but we were instantly transported back to 1929, when Ransome wrote the book in a grey barn nearby.
Michael Johnson left a comment on the Arthur Ransome Group Facebook page saying, ‘The Lakeside & Haverthwaite is a lovely line, but frustratingly slow. It’s such a short line that the journey would be over within a few minutes even at a modest speed, like 25mph. Drivers are under standing instructions to drive at little more than walking pace so the journey takes at least 15 minutes. That way everybody thinks they’ve got their money’s worth!’ I hadn’t noticed when travelling on the line myself a few years ago.
Ransome wrote: ‘Windermere is the lake, a bit disguised’ although he used many locations found on Coniston Water that perhaps he wanted to keep more secret. However, it is clear that Rio is his name for Bowness-on-Windermere, which I was able to explore recently. This was the jetty where the Boy Roger was left guarding Swallow.
Charles Elliot from Bowness remembers us, “filming in the bay with some actors in a rowing boat. There was no security so I walked down the jetty right behind the camera.” Was this captured by the Guardian newspaper here?
It’s possible find some of the locations and even some of the traditional boats that appeared in the movie. The natives may be able to help you. Brian Salisbury said, “The village store was my grandfather, Tom Kirkbride’s cobblers shop from mid-1930s to mid-1950s.
Stan Cropper took it over and added the LH extension.” He said of our set designer, “They did it up with the original red wooden finish.” The cat was called Rusty.
After he posted this photo on Facebook, Harry Hodgson wrote to say, “I remember looking at all the 1930’s products in the windows.”
This behind-the-scenes cine footage shot by my father in 1973 shows the film extras getting off the coach at Bowness and a scene being shot on the jetty:
Stephen Newton and Phil Procter would go and watch the filming in their dinner break from Borwicks Aquatics. “There was a band playing in the bandstand and a bloke on a pushbike with a front box selling ice cream. You can see this in the film when the kids are on the pier in the background.”
In many ways, the 1974 film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has become a touchstone to re-set our lives. Nigel Young writes: “On arrival back from touring, I’d get to Oxenholme station and rush home, change into my boots and head to the hills passing through Bowness…. I’d look across the lake and count the trees on the small beach, seven in all? and in my mind’s eye try to place the bandstand which features in the film so prominently. I’d look for the jetty where Roger was confronted by a blazered gent in whitened shoes asking him about his boat and think… ‘What have they done with it?’
“Then I’d look at the landscape and note all the changes since the making of the film before heading home where I’d immediately put the film on, grab a glass of white wine and just sit and watch it, getting transported back in time to another way and another space, but that space still exists in some strange dimension for me, and I feel in touch with the lakes and in touch with a past I can totally relate with. John wears one of those stripy S buckle belts on his shorts. I had one too!
“You were well cast, almost as if you were a family before you all started and the cinematography, especially where the sailing sequences are concerned, is something out of this world. Whoever shot and edited the footage for the film were totally at one with the story and the locations….. And Ronald Fraser !! …well I would say he really did ‘Swim’ …… I was Principal of an Outdoor Education Centre on Windermere for over a decade and I am aware of just how cold the lake can be in winter or summer….and there goes ‘Ronald’ getting thrown off the plank by you guys into Coniston or Windermere which ever, they are both as cold as each other!”
To read a previous post on finding the film locations and taking the Lakeside and Haverthwaite steam train, please click here
You can read more about the film locations used in ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ published by The Lutterworth Press who can send you a copy.
After a career as a foreign correspondent, which took him to Russia, Egypt and China, Arthur Ransome wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the hills above Windermere in 1929.
He was inspired partly by his own childhood holidays in the Lake District and partly by the Altounyan children who brought him a pair of red slippers for his birthday to thank him for enabling them to learn to sail on Coniston Water where their grandparents lived.
The first edition came out on 21st July 1930, with no illustrations apart from Spurrier’s map on the end papers. The illustrated hardback published by Jonathan Cape came out on 1st December 1930, in time for Christmas. It was followed by another eleven (and one unfinished) book in a series that was to be translated and published all over the world.
I paid homage to copies at the Windermere Jetty museum where you can find Arthur Ransome’s desk and typewriter on display with a view looking out over the lake.
Boats, props and film stills from the 2016 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ are on display, along with a poster of the 1974 movie, depicting Titty in a pink blouse.
I was fascinated to find sketches of Titty in Arthur Ransome’s notebook.
A number of Ransome’s original illustrations were on display and I came across the first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in a glass case.
You can read about the making of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) in this illustrated book by Sophie Neville available online:
The premier of the feature film Swallows & Amazons was held on 4th April 1974 in Shaftesbury Avenue, in London’s West End. Those who watch it on television today, or have the DVD, are amazed to hear it was first released more than forty seven years ago. Please forgive me if you have seen this photos before but it seems quite a date to celebrate.
The Royal Gala Matinee was held in aid of the charity KIDS, which works with disabled children, young people and their families. The society is still going strong and has been celebrating its own 40th anniversary recently.
We arrived by taxi with my house mistress, Sister Allyne, and head mistress Sister Ann-Julian, who had travelled up from Wantage in Oxfordshire for the occassion.
Of all films, they found The Exorcist was showing at the same cinema. I gazed up at the billing outside the entrance, more interested in seeing the names of Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser with the romantic design of the graphics spelling out Swallows & Amazons.
The first thing that happened was that I was whisked off for lunch with the five other children in the cast by Claude Whatham, the director. He chose a bistro where I chose hamburgers and chips. I’m not sure what the rest of my family did, but can only presume they found something to eat.
We arrived at the ABC cinema to find they had already taken their seats in the audience. We met up with Ronald Fraser and Richard Pilbrow, the film producer, who introduced us to Princess Helena Moutafian, Patron of KIDS, who the Earl and Countess of Compton had brought to celebrate the film’s release and help raise funds for the charity. Mummy had instead I made a curtsey to each person I was introduced to. Did this include members of the Press?
We also met a number of Ladies: Lady Bridport, Lady Onslow, Lady Nelson of Stafford, Lady Harford and others listed below who must have arrived with their children. It was all quite something.
Please note that Simon West, (to the right in the top photo) was wearing a tie that matched exactly with the floral print of his shirt. This was the height of fashion in 1974, something I have yet to see revived or replicated. Suzanna and I both wore pinafore dresses. These have not experienced a revival either, although Suzanna’s Laura Ashley print would be considered a treasured vintage piece. My mother was horrified that Ronald Fraser had his collar button undone, but I think that was a nod to trendy-ness. He also wore a badge in support of the charity pinned to his lapel. Badges were all the rage at the time and collected by all.
As you can see, we met Bobby Moore, the Hollywood actress Patricia Neal, the Norwegian Bond Girl Julie Ege and Spike Milligans’ family. Will Travers, now the CEO of the charity Born Free, came to represent his mother, Virginia McKenna who sadly couldn’t be with us.
A commemorative programme was being sold with a sepia version of the film poster on the cover:
Inside there were several pages about those who appeared in the film. I still have a copy:
The opposite page:
It wasn’t until years later that I was shown copies of the stills used to advertise the film inside cinemas.
The original film posters, which once hung in the London Underground, have become collector’s items, valued at about £240 each on eBay. Studiocanal, who now own the film rights, have a selection of posters available as framed prints if you click here.
This was the version used as an advertisement in the Sunday Times forty years ago.
‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle and for other e-readers via Smashwords. It has been described by one reviewer on Amazon as the equivalent of DVD Extras, as it explains how we made the movie in the Lake District, back in the summer of 1973, as well as how the film was promoted and received in the UK.
While the paperback includes a number of illustrations, but this ebook is unique in that it gives links to behind-the-scenes footage shot on location by my parents.
The classic movie of Swallows & Amazons is often broadcast on BBC TV. If you would like to know more about how the film was made you can find the details on this site or leave any questions in the comments box below.
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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You can read the full story about the making of Swallows and Amazons here:
The Premiere of Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was held at the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue on 4th April 1974. Can you imagine the shock of finding a picture of myself on the cinema tickets when they arrived in the post?
There were adverts in the newspapers. It was to be a Royal Gala charity matinee in aid of the charity KIDS.
I didn’t know what to wear. I wished that we’d been able to put on our costumes but it was clear I had to find an appropriate dress. Sadly, I had grown out of the one we bought in Carnaby Street. Shoes were another problem.
Nowadays one would be inundated by offers of designer dresses to model on the red carpet. As it was, my mother bought me green pinafore dress that I agreed would work for an afternoon event. I was not so happy about wearing ballet shoes. Please note these were real ballet shoes and I was now thirteen. I would have preferred court shoes with buckles. Ironically these zoomed out of fashion whilst ballet shoes have been loved by all ever since. My bobbed hair had grown out but Mummy put it in Carmen rollers. I am not sure the result was that successful but I liked it at the time.
My sisters were terribly brave and wore velvet with their ballet shoes. The dress from Carnaby Street was slightly large for Perry, seen here on the left, but she coped. At least it was fashionable. Mum bought herself a blue outfit that was deemed the height of fashion. When I arrived in London I found Suzanna had found a Laura Ashley pinafore whilst the Amazons had both got away with wearing trousers. They looked far more sophisticated.
There was an awful lot of fuss about who should or could come and who couldn’t . Mum had insisted on bringing, not friends of mine, but two of the nuns from my school.
So, I went off to my first premiere with my headmistress, Sister Ann-Julian and my housemistress, Sister Allyne. Not very cool in a thirteen year old’s world. The Exorcist was out at the same time. They made no comment.
In fact Sister Allyne proved the very best person to take. She was a performer herself. I am pretty sure she had been Australia’s foremost flautist. She must have understood the turmoil in my little head and was undoubtedly praying for me. I would not be surprise to learn that spiritual protection was granted by her presence alone. She would have been an exorcist in her own right – a real one. Perry remembers that she had been sick in the taxi. This was probably because she didn’t travel much.
Claude Whatham defied any plans my mother might have made by taking the six of us in the cast, and only the six of us, out to lunch at a wonderful bistro where we able to order beef-burgers, relax and enjoy ourselves.
There was no red carpet when we arrived at the cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue but rather smart programmes were sold, one of which I still have. Until that point I had no idea that it was to be a Royal Gala held in aid of charity.
I was suddenly acutely aware of how I came across on the big screen. As the film was shown I groaned inwardly. It was like seeing endless photographs of oneself which were not exactly glamorous. I cringed. All Sister Allyne said was how much she enjoyed seeing the owl – a natural history shot that was added after all our hard work and effort on the drama.
My mother was terribly impressed by the special guests. Princess Helena Moutafian was present with Earl Compton, chairman of the charity KIDS. I’m afraid I don’t remember meeting them but was interested to hear that she later became patron of the Young ME Sufferers Trust.
We walked down onto the stage with Ronnie Fraser to be presented to the audience. Sadly Virginia McKenna could not be there, although she sent her eldest children – Will and Louise Travers. Bobby Moore, who’d played for England came with his family, as did Mrs Spike Milligan. The Hollywood star Patricia Neal, who won an Oscar for her leading role in the Paul Newman film Hud and appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s , brought her sweet little girls. Julie Ege was a lovely Norwegian actress who appeared as Voluptua in Up Pompeii with Frankie Howard. I think Richard Pilbrow might have known her as he had produced the West End version. She was known as a Bond Girl since she’d appeared in ‘On her Magesty’s Secret Service’ with Diana Rigg when George Lazenby played Bond and Telly Savalas was Bolfeld. We didn’t know any of this but I think having a Bond Girl at your premier was quite the thing.
I have a few precious posters of the film. The colour poster, which hung in the London Underground is still on the cover of some of the DVD’s. I always quite liked the design, except for the rather jarring colour of my blouse, which for some reason is pink. Far more attractive were the huge sepia posters hung outside cinemas. They were very special. I still have one but it’s enormous and I am unsure what to do with it.
What the papers had to say about the film was a different matter. The first time we saw Swallows and Amazons was not at the film the premiere but at ‘The Preview’. This was held at a viewing theatre in London to which I assume journalists were invited. I only wish they’d been asked to bring their children. The cast was re-united, meeting up with various members of the production team, to see the film for the very first time. We were utterly amazed at how sunny everything looked. Denis Lewiston’s insistence that we should wait for clouds to pass, while we shivered, had paid off. It was wonderful to see how the film had been put together. We had not known that Claude would add shots of wildlife, which add so much to the movie. I loved the scene he included of cattle standing in the still lake at dawn.
You can read about how we made the film and find more photos in these publications available online or to order from libraries.
It was found on e-bay, a hand-coloured print that must have been used to publicise the movie in cinema foyers. It has to be one of my favorite stills, bought by someone who kindly brought it to Coniston Water on the day in April 2011 when we re-launched Swallow beside the pier at the Bluebird Cafe. Everyone was fascinated. I’d never seen it before but it has memories of a good day, spent not on Coniston but further north on Derwentwater.
When Richard Pilbrow’s movie of Swallows and Amazons was first shown on British television in 1977 a trailer was made by ITV to advertise it. This started with the shot of me saying, ‘They’re pirates!’ People loved that trailer. Everyone was going around saying, ‘They’re pirates!’ If it was my best performance the reason was that I had been lying on a red ant’s nest – and they were biting. The other secret is that that lighthouse tree is not a tree. Not one that was growing. It was a big log that Bobby Props had stuck in the ground making the ants very angry indeed.
This was the second location for ‘Lookout Point on Wild Cat Island’. It was on a promontory that overlooks the bay where the houseboat was moored on Derwentwater. There were bushes but no sadly big pine trees. The log was planted so that our director Claude Whatham could get what is called a two-shot of the Swallows watching Nancy sail past Captain Flint’s houseboat, while Peggy raises the skull and crossbones. As we were keeping low the height of the lighthouse tree was not an issue. So, the secret of Wild Cat Island is that it was filmed in three different places as well as being depicted in the opening titles as Rampsholme, an island on Derwentwater. I think this is faithful in that Arthur Ransome indicated by using annotated postcards that wanted the fells that one would see from Castle Hill as a backdrop for his story. In her book, In the footsteps of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ Claire Kendall-Price provides a wonderful map and guide showing how you could walk from Keswick to find some of the locations. We didn’t use Blake Holme on Windermere at all even though Arthur Ransome had envisaged the camp fire as being there. Richard told us it had become a real camp site by 1973 with caravans on the nearest shore.
Just prior to this scene when we spot the Amazons for the first time, I was working on the chart while Susan was sewing a button onto Roger’s shirt. The needle stuck into him as he flung himself down on the grass beneath the lighthouse tree. Since needles are small you can hardly see what is happening but I think it is a detail that Arthur Ransome would have appreciated. I wonder if the same sort of thing had happened to him as a child? He used his memories of Annie Swainson throwing him across her lap to darn his knickerbockers whilst they on him, just as Mary Swainson frequently has to darn Roger’s shorts after sliding down the Knickerbockerbreaker rockface in Swallowdale. Claire Kendall-Price describes this and where it all happened beautifully.
Here is the diary entry I kept for that day in the Lake District ~
Suzanna’s diary is more succinct ~
I don’t know why she felt depressed. Perhaps it was the ants. She was on more of them than me and they were not waving. They were very angry.