The Queen and members of the Royal Family who love ‘Swallows and Amazons’

HM Queen Elizabeth II was given Swallows and Amazons as a girl and, according to Arthur Ransome, ‘said very nice things’ about his books. He wrote to his mother saying that Queen Mary had purchased a copy of Swallows and Amazons in 1930. Elizabeth, The Queen Mother also ordered a set. I wonder if they have first editions in the Royal Collection.

Titty’s chart

The Queen told the author Peter James that Swallows and Amazons was the first book she could remember reading. He has written about his time at Buckingham Palace meeting other authors here.

Archive photographs show The Queen at Girl Guides’ camp enjoying rowing and a Swallows and Amazons lifestyle, as you can see here. In this film clip, she looks a bit like Captain Nancy playing with her sister Peggy, a name that is short for Margaret:

Our late Queen kept a large flock of 200 racing pigeons at Sandringham all her life. This uncut Movietone footage shows the two princesses being shown a carrier pigeon. Could they have been influenced by Arthur Ransome’s book Pigeon Post?

In 1940, Claude Whatham, who went on to direct the original film of Swallows and Amazons, was commissioned by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose to paint a series of pantomime pictures on the walls of Windsor Castle. One can presume they had a chat. I have just been asked to provide photos for a new documentary for Channel 5. You can read about this wartime story on a previous post of mine here. She loved appearing in the three pantomimes that they put on, when she played the principal boy.

Claude Whatham’s paintings at Windsor Castle

The Queen was able to visit Bowness-on-Windermere with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956

She visited Coniston and Tarn Hows in 1980 and returned to Bowness-on- Windermere with the Princess Royal in 2013 when they took the Tern up to Ambleside.

I feel that the Queen would have enjoyed Ransome’s sense of humour. A few of the amusing things she said are captured here:

HM King Charles loved Swallows and Amazons as a boy. I’ve read that it was his favourite book. I met him when speaking about otter conservation but did not mention the fact I had played Titty in the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons‘.

King Charles III speaking to Sophie Neville

HRH The Queen Consort has also expressed a love for Swallows and Amazons, recommending it on her Reading Room site as one of her top six books for children.

‘When asked what her favourite children’s books are, the Duchess revealed them to be Moorland Mousie by Golden Gorse… and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome,’ which the Duchess described as “just a really good adventure story, full of a lot of imagination.” Hello magazine and Royal Central.

She also recalled her own experiences receiving new books as a child. “I still remember the intense excitement I felt as a child when choosing books to buy with my pocket money — Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons — and the joy of knowing that these precious books, clutched tightly in my hands, were my very own,” she wrote.

The Duchess of Cambridge cooking on a campfire in Cumbria

The Duchess of Cambridge is vaguely related to Arthur Ransome. His brother-in-law Hugo Lupton, was cousin to Kate’s great-grandmother Olive. You can read a little more here.

The Duke of Edinburgh endorsed what he called ‘the Swallows and Amazons spirit’. In 2014, Alan Hakim of The Arthur Ransome Society spotted a copy of The Big Six in his study aboard HMY Britannia. You can find a list of authors and well known people who love the books here.

Many thanks to members of the Arthur Ransome Group for help with this article.

Please add any more information in the comments below.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ by Sophie Neville

Celebrities who love ‘Swallows and Amazons’

When Jonathan Cape first published Swallows and Amazons on 21st July 1930 for the price of 7/6d, it was eagerly received by numerous authors including JRR Tolkein and AA Milne. I’m often asked which well known people alive today have expressed an interest in Arthur Ransome’s series of books.

Griff Rhys Jones, who presented The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome using clips of the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons in which I played Titty, joined me at Pin Mill in Suffolk for a marathon reading We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, the book that tells of the Swallows’ hair-raising voyage to Flushing. You can find Griff’s books here.

Griff Rhys Jones at Pin Mill for a reading of ‘We Didn’t Mean to Go To Sea’

John Sergeant, the veteran newscaster, has made a number of documentaries about Arthur Ransome, chatting to Griff on The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome, and The Secret Life of Books.

Geraint Lewis of The Arthur Ransome Trust sailing with John Sergeant

Ben Fogle interviewed Suzanna Hamilton and myself on Countryfile and Big Screen Britain after exploring the locations around Coniston Water. You can watch the episode here.

Ben Fogle interviewing Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville on Countryfile

Libby Purves, author and broadcaster, is now President of The Arthur Ransome Society. She refers to Swallows and Amazons in at least one of her novels.

Libby Purves afloat

A keen sailor, she also took part in the marathon reading of We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea organised by The Nancy Blackett Trust who own and look after Goblin, the yacht portrayed in the story.

Libby Purves reading ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’

Dame Ellen McArthur, yachtswoman and Patron of The Nancy Blackett Trust, claims that Arthur Ransome’s novels inspired her to sail. She gives Swallows and Amazons a good mention in her book Taking on the World. Ellen was portrayed by Suzanna Hamilton in a Stephen Sharkey play at a festival at the Southall Playhouse. Suzanna played Susan Walker in the 1974 film of Swalllows and Amazons.

Sir Richard Branson often says how much he loved the book as a boy, describing it as, “a lovely kids’ adventure book.” I met him years ago when I worked on The Russell Harty Show. To may amazement, he recognised me when I was filming in the street in Kensington, so perhaps he has watched the original film of Swallows and Amazons.

John McCarthy, the journalist and keen sailor, made a radio programme called Paddling with Peter Duck, sailing Swallow, the dinghy featured in the 1974 film. You can sail her yourself via SailRansome.com

Peter Willis on Ransome’s yacht Nancy Blackett with Kevin Dawson and John McCarthy

Theresa May said she loves Swallows and Amazons. ‘When she was young she appears to have enjoyed reading… listing… Swallows and Amazons among her favourites.’ Mirror and Daily Mail She gave a copy to Baroness Davidson, once leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.

Dame Judi Dench also read the book as a girl: “…Swallows and Amazons, I remember that very well indeed.” Good Housekeeping

David Dimbleby loves gaff-rigged boats and recently helped with PR at the London Boat Show. He visited us on the set of the BBC Drama serial Swallows and Amazons For Ever! filmed on location in Norfolk.

Sophie Neville with David Dimbleby on location in Norfolk back in 1983

Sir Ben Ainslie ~ Steven Morris of the Guardian reports: “He recalled how he started sailing in Cornwall on the creeks around Falmouth as a boy. Ainslie has called it a Swallows and Amazons kind of childhood. He had friends on the other side of the creek so he sailed over to see them.”

Ben lived in Lymington – and came to our club to celebrate after the Olympics.  

Congratulating Ben Ainslie on his Olympic gold medal

Nikki Henderson, the youngest ever Clipper Around The World yachtswoman was inspired by the book Swallows and Amazons naming Swallow and one of the coolest sailing boats ever in Yachting World as reported by the Nancy Blackett Trust.

Alan Smith of BBC Radio 4, appeared as a boy in the scenes shot at Bowness. He was on location at the Haverthwaite Railway Station in May 1973 on the first day of filming Swallows and Amazons(1974) with Virginia McKenna who starred in the film as Mrs Walker. To read more, please click here.

Alan Smith in the doorway of the train with his friend John Eccles

Miranda Hart (Miranda, Call the Midwife, Not Going Out) “Oh, I love these wonderful stories about outdoor life in one of the most beautiful parts of our country – the Lake District. Camping, sailing, exploring, discovering – it’s still the stuff of dreams for me. My favourite character was Peggy. She was shy and a little nervy but always kept up with her sister, who was captain of their boat. It was rather like me and my sister; although I was the elder, I was the shyer one, and often had to rely on my little sis to do the grown-up things. And I have to say Peggy is my favourite character still, because that’s partly who my dog is named after. I love that this book celebrates the importance and joy of friendship. But above all it harks back to a time when children had to use nature and their imagination to have fun through the long summer holidays. No iPads on tap here. I hope it inspires kids and adults who may have forgotten about the bliss and thrill and beauty of nature to rediscover it.” You magazine.

The list continues in the next post here.

The end-title theme music to ‘Swallows and Amazons’ composed by Wilfred Josephs

You can read about The Making of Swallows and Amazons in paperback or on Kindle. The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons is available on all the ebook platforms. There is a review here.

The Making of Swallows and Amazons by Sophie Neville
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ by Sophie Neville

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