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.
Here is the exact page of the script they were referring to:
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.
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.
Here is another page from the screenplay of Swallows & Amazons (1974) with more stage directions than dialogue.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.