Other Arthur Ransome books adapted for film and television by David Wood

Sophie Neville in Secret Harbour
Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker in 1973
David Wood, who wrote the screenplay for SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in 1973, has recently told me about his  work adapting other Arthur Ransome books – GREAT NORTHERN?, PIGEON POST, WE DIDN’T MEAN TO GO TO SEA and WINTER HOLIDAY – all for Richard Pilbrow of Theatre Project Films.
Richard Pilbrow and Claude Whatham at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water
Producer Richard Pilbrow with Director Claude Whatham in their wet weather gear at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water
‘It was decided that GREAT NORTHERN? should be the follow-up to the SWALLOWS film, because it was ‘different’, being the only book set in Scotland. Also, the villainous birds’ egg collector was a strong adult role – Peter Sellers was mentioned….. We had great fun looking for locations, swooping around in a helicopter over Harris, Lewis etc.
Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton & Sten Grendon with David Wood and Claude Whatham in 1973
Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton & Sten Grendon with David Wood and Claude Whatham in 1973
‘Word got out that I was working on GREAT NORTHERN? and I had a very firm letter from Mrs Ransome saying that no permission had been granted to work on this title, and that it would not be granted!! No reason was given. Years later, the Ransome autobiography suggested that Mrs R didn’t like GREAT NORTHERN? and criticised it to Ransome’s face.  Also, he used sometimes to swan off to the Highlands with his friend, Quiller-Couch (I think) to fish, leaving Evgenia on her own back in the Lake District. The only communication from him would be the occasional delivery on a horse and cart from the railway station of a salmon, caught in Scotland the day before! Maybe she resented Scotland for luring him away! But she was determined that GREAT NORTHERN? the movie would never see the light of day!! But I still wrote a complete screenplay! I did a film treatment for WINTER HOLIDAY, that never got off the ground either.’
David Wood's screenplay of Swallows and Amazons
The script of the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ that I never saw until 2011
PIGEON POST was to be a six-part serial,  a BBC-Theatre Projects co-production.  David remembers that they got as far as looking for locations in the Lake District. I started making preparations to cast the children for this drama which Joe Waters wanted to produce in 1983, directly after making COOT CLUB and THE BIG SIX under the generic title SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS FOREVER! that had been adapted for television by Michael Robson.
‘WE DIDN’T MEAN TO GO TO SEA was also to be a serial. I did a treatment, visited Pin Mill and other locations, and met the man who built one of Ransome’s boats, or maybe worked on it with his father. All the materials and scripts still exist, but they are probably a bit too ‘straight’ for contemporary taste.’
David Wood’s numerous other forthcoming events and theatrical releases are listed on his website.
Sophie Neville with Claude Whatham on Peel Island
Can you help us?  Was Quiller-Couch the friend who whisked Arthur Ransome off to fish in the Hebrides?  Does anyone know where they went?
You can read more about the adventures we had whilst making Swallows and Amazons is these books, available to order online here
'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

David Wood, who wrote the screenplay of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ on Radio 4

BW David Wood
David Wood on Peel Island in 1973 with Claude Whatham, Sten Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville who is wearing David’s velvet hat.

On 19th August 2013, David Wood, who wrote the screenplay of Swallows & Amazons in 1973, took part on the Radio 4 show Quote…Unquote presented by Nigel Rees, an old friend of his from Oxford University. His fellow panelists were Matt Barbet, Katherine Whitehorn and Jenni Murray of Woman’s Hour.  The programme can be heard on BBC i-Player and will be repeated on Saturday 24th August.

The reference to Arthur Ransome is 17 minutes in. David does a wonderful impression of Evgenia Ransome with whom he met for a number of script meetings whilst working on the adaptation. Her husband had died in 1967 and her grasp on his literary estate was legendary.

Click here for Quote…unquote on BBC i-Player presented by Nigel Rees

David Wood on QuoteUnquote

Here is the exact page of the script they were referring to:

'Better drowned than duffers' - David Wood's 1973 screenplay of Arthur Ransome's famous telegram

This was shot on location in the field below Bank Ground Farm in the Lake District. Richard Pilbrow, the producer, gave me a copy of this still, part of which was used on the front cover of both the Express and Daily Telegraph after the film was released in 1974.

If not Duffers...
Simon West as John Walker, Sophie Neville as Titty and Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan in Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ released by EMI in 1974

Suzanna Hamilton wrote in her diary that David Wood came to visit us on location in Cumbria on 29th May 1973, as you can see in the contact-sheet photo above.  She had appeared in photo-captions illustrating a story called The Treasure Seekers that she thought he had narrated on the BBC Children’s programme Jackanory. David is not so sure, although he narrated three other series of Jackanony including The Hobbit, which is about to be released as a BBC CD.

Suzanna's diary mentioning David Wood

Here is another page from the screenplay of Swallows & Amazons (1974) with more stage directions than dialogue.

Battle of Houseboat Bay ~  David Wood's original screenplay

At the beginning of Nigel Rees’ radio programme there is a reference to The Gingerbread Man, one of David’s original theatre plays written for children. This was premiered at the Swan Theatre, Worcester in 1976. My mother appeared as Miss Pepper in a subsequent production at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.

A production of 'The Gingerbread Man' at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, 1976
A production of ‘The Gingerbread Man’ at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, 1976

In April 2013 David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s classic book Goodnight Mr Tom won the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and Family, which is really exciting.

For more information about David Wood’s plays, books and magic shows – please click here

Suzanna’s diary about filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on location in the Lake District in 1973

Suzanna Hamilton as Susan with Sophie Neville as Titty busy writing the ship’s log

Something very exciting happened last week. Suzanna Hamilton came to see me, bringing the photographs that she was given during the filming of Swallows and Amazons along with a bundle of papers. I immediately recognised the blue bound diary that she had kept.  Her God-given sense of humour fills the pages.

Although Titty was the one who always kept the ship’s log in Arthur Ransome’s stories, we children all kept journals during the filming as part of our school work. It was quite a task.

Suzanna Hamilton's Diary prior to the fiming of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Suzanna’s diary gives the story of making the film of Swallows and Amazons from the perspective of an actress, the actress she was then and ever more will be. Even before we began filming she was  getting as excited as Susan about grog and molasses, calling us by our charcter names as Claude Whatham suggested.

Suzanna Hamilton's Diary on the filming of 'Swallows and Amazons' 1973

Anna Scher ran the most wonderful children’s theatre club in Islington, which Zanna went to after school, along with Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson. I visited Anna Scher’s Theatre Club ten years later when I was casting children for the BBC drama serial of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’. Although I didn’t find anyone there who could sail I held Anna Scher in huge admiration and respect, using her exercises when I was auditioning kids in Norfolk. She did so much for the young people of east London, giving children confidence with self-discipline aquired during their drama lessons and workshops.

David Wood, who wrote the screenplay of Swallows and Amazons, was already well known as an actor. Mum was rather in awe of him since he had played Johnny in Z Cars and had starred the feature film ‘If…’   alongside Malcolm McDowell. He had been a storyteller on the BBC Childrens Television programme we all adored called Jackanory.  Suzanna had been involved in the same series when E.Nesbit’s ‘The Treasure Seekers’ had been read.  She had also appeared in ‘The Edwardians’  form the book by E.Nesbit directed by James Cellan Jones in 1972. By coincidence Pauline Quirke played Eliza in ‘The Story of the Treasure Seekers’ in 1982 and I worked with her a few years later on Rockliffe’s Babies. My mother appeared in a pantomine David Wood wrote called The Gingerbread Man when it was produced at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. She wore red with a pill-box hat as Miss Ginger.

Suzanna Hamilton's diary of filming 'Swallows and Amazons in 1973

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker camping on Peel Island, Coniston Water in Cumbria, the Lake District

You can read more in the ebook ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974) available from Amazon Kindle and all ebook retailers.

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