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:
When the movie Swallows & Amazons was released forty years ago the mere idea of Blu-ray or DVD recordings had not been dreampt of. When my father asked about acquiring a copy of the film he was quoted £450 for a set of 35mm reels designed to be projected on a cinema screen. The sum was more than I received for working on location, even though I had a lead part. I was, however, sent a copy of the LP brought out to accompany the film. It was narrated by David Wood who wrote the screenplay and included Wilfred Joseph’s full score. You can still buy these online today.
Although we were never informed, I now discover that at one time you could buy film clips on Supper 8, to project at home. You could probably still find this on eBay.
When home video recorders first came out in the late Seventies I was working for Virginia McKenna. I remember her husband Bill Travers telling me that they had decided to go for Beta rather than VHS. Almost inevitably Swallows & Amazons was released on VHS, in a big fat box, and came into its own as families snuggled down to watch it at home on rainy afternoons. There were a number of cover designs:
This one distributed by Warner Bros. is featured on the international movie data base. Click on the image more information and other cover designs.
Readers have sent in an image of the reverse:
There have been different versions marketed all over the world. The movie became so popular in the Baltic and Czech Republic that it has been dubbed a number of times:
For years the DVD has been sold as a double bill with The Railway Children, which was also financed by EMI Films.
This is the double-bill released by StudioCanal:
In 2008 a DVD of very good quality was released by the Daily Mail, with a picture of me looking like a baby monkey on the wrapper. We were given absolutely no warning. The first I knew of it was a friend ringing up to ask me if I could spare a DVD for his kids, ‘Someone’s swiped the office copy.’
It was featured on the front cover for seven days, as well as in the magazine. I am often asked if we get residuals for distribution rights or when our images are used to promote newspapers but I have never received anything. This version did at least have end credits. There are reviews on Amazon about a DVD that lacked these. I was amazed that anyone even noticed but viewers assured me it was an outrage.
I am glad the movie can be watched and enjoyed by successive generations of children. The most inspirational cover of all was on that very first boxed VHS, which featured us sailing up Derwentwater:
In 2014 a remastered Blu-ray and DVD with an Extras package was launched by StudioCanal to celebrate the 40th Anniversay. If you are thinking of buying a copy, this is the one to get. It is available on Amazon by clicking here.
There was also an edition in French:
They later issued a DVD (without extras) adding striking new graphics to the old poster. A sticker advertising the 2016 film of Swallows and Amazons was added to promote the release:
Does anyone know of any other VHS or DVD covers? Do add your comments in the box below.
The 40th Anniversary of the filming of the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974). This was marked by a number of events:
Dulwich Film screened ‘Swallows & Amazons’(1974), produced by Richard Pilbrow and directed by Claude Whatham. The film was introduced by Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Sten Grendon who played the Swallows. They answered questions about how it was made after the screening at the Michael Croft Theatre.
Michael Croft founded the National Youth Theatre. One of his students was Simon Ward, who went on to star as James Herriot in the film version of‘All Creatures Great and Small’, which Claude Whatham directed in 1974 after finishing ‘Swallows & Amazons’. Sophie Neville was invited to watch the filming in Yorkshire, meeting Anthony Hopkins and members of the cast and crew who had worked on Swallows & Amazonsin 1973. Brenda Bruce played Mrs Harbottle and Wilfred Josephs composed the music, Terry Needham was the Location Manager and Ronnie Cogan the Hairdresser.
‘I didn’t meet James Herriot until I worked in production at the BBC on Russell Harty in 1982. He was charming – an incredibly confident man. I don’t remember his wife being interviewed but she came with him to the studio and struck me as being terribly nice. She wore a proper dress, which is more than could be said for anyone else in the Green Room.’
Sophie Neville gave a 40th anniversary talk on ‘Filming Swallows & Amazons in 1973′ for members of The Arthur Ransome Society gathering for their AGMat Brockenhurst College in the New Forest. ‘Swallow’ , the dinghy from the 1974 film,was moored at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River for members to sail.
Arthur Ransome’s boat The Nancy Blackett ~ The Goblin in Arthur Ransome’s book ‘We didn’t Mean to Go to Sea’ was also the Solent for this event and for the Old Gaffers Yogaff regatta at Yarmouth, Isle of Wight
Meanwhile in the Lake District there were two wonderful events:
Our director, Claude Whatham had a problem. Despite two attempts he had failed to shoot the key scene when the Swallows, who had just arrived at Holly Howe, discover the Peak at Darien and look out over the lake to spot Wild Cat Island for the very first time. He saw it as crucial to the motivation of the story.
Claude had shot the sequence of us running down the field at Bank Ground Farm in the evening light. He had what would technically be called our POV (point of view) of the island. He had nothing in between. There was no dialogue but without the right light the sequence would not cut together. And now it was raining, endlessly. We waited around all day, yet again, hoping for the weather to clear. It did not.
I can’t believe that we went, what would now be termed, wild swimming in the Lake District after making such a fuss about recording the swimming scenes at Peel Island. Even if it was raining the water must have been fairly warm. I don’t suppose we were in for that long. I’m now rather shocked that we dried our hair by sticking our heads out of the windows of the mini-bus. We could have all been decapitated.
While Claude was busy looking at the sky I spent the rest of the day industriously sticking small photographs into my scrap-book. Mum had her camera films developed by Triple Print so that she had some to give away. This was the result:
Two of these tiny photographs show us sitting in the Grizedale Forest with Wilfred Josephs who composed the music for Swallows and Amazons. He had visited us on location when we were shooting the charcoal burners scenes. If I blow up this tiny photograph you can see a little more of him.
Wilfred had written a canon with the idea that he could do something musical with our voices. Our efforts were being recorded by Robin and his assistant when Mum took these snap shots. The words went in a round, like this:
Swallows: ‘Swallows sail the ocean-wide, Natives we can not abide.’ (Sung in a high register)
Amazons: ‘We are the Amazons.’ (Sung beneath us in a low register)
What Wilfred soon discovered was that, apart from Lesley Bennett, we were all pretty useless at holding a tune. Whatever was recorded on that day near the charcoal burners’ hut never made it to the final sound track – or even the LP that EMI brought out to accompany the movie.
Mum was thrilled to meet Wilfred Josephs. He was fantastically talented, with a huge list of credits to his name. Born in 1927, he qualified as a dentist at the Universtity of Durham ~ where I also studied ~ before becoming a full-time composer in the early 1960s. His career was launched when his Requiem in memory of the Jews who were lost to the Holocaust won La Scala. He went on to compose 12 symphonies, 22 concertos and was commissioned to write a number of overtures, ballets, operas and other vocal works. In the field of television he is perhaps most well know for producing the theme music for I,Claudius, Enemy at the Door, The Prisoner and Pollyanna. He worked for Claude Whatham on the movie score for All Creatures Great and Small that starred Anthony Hopkins and Simon Ward, as well as the television drama W.Somerset Maugham and the serial Disraeli, which Suzanna Hamilton appeared in.
In the early 1970s Wilfred had also composed the theme music for Claude’s BBC play of Laurie Lee’s auto-biography Cider with Rosie, which Sten and I had acted in. Wilfred Josephs sadly died at the age of seventy, but I found that someone has put his haunting composition for Cider with Rosie onto YouTube. It was so good to hear it again. It comes with colourful cider-making images but – unless passionate about cider – you can have a look at more of my scrapbook while you listen to it. Like the film-score to Swallows and Amazons the orchestra was conducted by Marcus Dods.
Some of these tiny photographs from the contact sheets that Richard Pilbrow gave us are fascinating.