At least one film fan held a TV party with and 1930’s theme to celebrate. Others stoked up the wood-burner and settled down to spend an afternoon re-living summer in the Lake District. It is as if Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – a timeless classic to watch again and again.
For the latest edition of the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons(1974)’ with details of where the film was made and what those who appeared in it are doing now, Please click here
The ebook, entitled ‘The secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’ is the same with a few more stories for adult readers and has links to behind-the-scenes cine footage. It can be downloaded from iTunes, Smashwords,Kobo and Amazon Kindle
It would be lovely to hear from anyone who saw it in the cinema when it first came out in cinemas in the summer of 1974 – more than forty-five years ago.
Simon Hodkin kindly sent in this cinema programme that he has kept since watching the movie when he was a boy growing up in North Wales.
Arthur Herbertson managed to track down these rare publicity sheets for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ typical of movie games of the period:
Arthur has a collection of the four jigsaw puzzles and the Puffin paperback that came out with the film.
There was a vinyl LP narrated by the screenwriter David Wood that you can still purchase.
Arthur found a publicity brochure that I had never seen before.
To read comments from people who saw the film at the cinema in 1974, please click here
The original story was written by Arthur Ransome in 1929 ninety years ago, so the film hits the half-way mark between the original readers and today’s audience. It’s funny, the critics in 1974 are asking the same question as raised in the billing this week: Do ‘modern youngsters struggle to relate to such old-fashioned game playing’?
Do add your thoughts to the comments below.
~Billing in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times 2019~
Everyone uses mugs – if only to store pens and pencils. These new bone china cups depicting Ransome’s yachts Peter Duck and the Nancy Blackett are available from The Nancy Blackett Trust here. The trust also sells a selection of books, audio books and videos for Arthur Ransome enthusiasts with any profits going towards the upkeep of the historic vessel.
Here are some of their other useful mugs that could be bought as a pair or set of three, easily sent through the post:
An article first published in Mixed Moss, 2019, the journal of The Arthur Ransome Society:
‘I can’t see it,’ the man was standing in the rain outside the cinema, ‘you said Swallows and Amazons has parallels to missionary life but I don’t get it.’ He was a vicar, camping with his family in the Lake District. After spending a week at the Keswick Convention, he’d brought his children to see the original film Swallows and Amazons (1974) at the Alhambra where I was giving a Q&A after a screening of the movie.
‘I once went on a short-term mission to Australia,’ I told him. ‘People would ask me if I was going to convert the natives.’ I explained the archaic idea of berating aboriginal people filled me with horror but use of the word ‘natives’ reminded me of Swallows and Amazons. This led me to consider how deeply Arthur Ransome was influenced by missionary journeys of the early 1900s. As the author, Julian Lovelock points out, ‘exploring, trading and being a missionary were, in Victorian times, all shades of the same colonial activity. Dr Livingstone is often described as an ‘explorer-missionary’. This is the 80th Anniversary year of the publication of Secret Water where ‘missionaries’ enter Ransome’s world in their ‘mission ship’ Lapwing.
Linda Hendry, of The Arthur Ransome Society (TARS), observed that as a boy of ten, Arthur envied his Aunt Edith and Aunt Jessie who were going off to China as missionaries. Did this idea of adventures last with him?
Although his father, Cyril Ransome, came from a clerical background and ensured Arthur received a biblical education in Windermere, Margaret Ratcliffe of TARS reports that ‘there is never a hint of spirituality’ in his letters and diaries. ‘Arthur and Genia were not of an active religious persuasion; Christmas and Easter were ordinary days for them.’ The only time he went to church on a regular basis was when he lived in Finsthwaite and his closest fishing friend was the vicar, the Rev. Roland Pedder. ‘Arthur Ransome never mentions that they discuss spiritual matters, rather hooks, bait and water levels.’ I agree with Margaret’s view that any analogy ‘would have been subliminal on his part, rather than conscious’ but it is embedded in the story, all the more interesting for being unintended.
The reality of going on overseas missions does have parallels with Swallows and Amazons. You tend to set off as a group or family, like the Walker children, and usually end up helping people who need a bit of support, even if it is not what you might expect. Those once wounded often make the best doctors. One of the key themes, perhaps driving force behind Swallows and Amazons is fatherlessness. Is the story an out-working of Arthur Ransome’s grief for his own father who died when Arthur was thirteen? Was he desperate to prove that he is as reliable and resourceful as Captain John, planning the expedition while Commander Walker was in Malta preparing to sail to Hong Kong? As it is, the Swallows gain Daddy’s permission while remaining under the umbrella of their mother’s care, making sensible preparations before setting sail. This is very like missionary groups who usually need permission from the church with back-up and support from their mission organisation.
Peter Wright, chairman of The Arthur Ransome Society, added, ‘The Amazons seek out the Swallows in much the same way as indigenous people came to find out about early explorers.’ Any number of missionaries have had arrows fired at them. The Swallows discover that Nancy and Peggy not only prove to be the same age but share their terminology and outlook on life. They too have no father around and have recently been rejected by their uncle who is busy writing. As a result, they are being naughty, letting off a firework on the roof of his houseboat. The Swallows make friends with them and end up helping Uncle Jim to see sense.
Everyone’s moral values are tested in Swallows and Amazons. Uncle Jim realises he has been neglecting his relationship with his nieces and sees what ‘a cross-grained curmudgeonly idiot’ he’d been to ever doubt John Walker’s integrity. Although this casts a shadow on idyllic island days, it almost visibly builds John’s character before his leadership skills are stretched by challenges set by Nancy. The other characters use their gifts to the full, Susan becoming the practical facilitator and Roger learning to be helpful. Titty is the one keen on diving for fish like a cormorant. She keeps the journal or ‘ship’s log’ and takes guidance from Robinson Crusoe that, ‘tells you what to do on an island’, being well-aware that missionaries could be eaten by cannibals. Although her active imagination is undervalued at first, she comes up with ideas that prove vital.
When the Swallows meet indigenous people of the area like the charcoal burners, they are both polite and respectful, taking an interest in traditional beliefs, such as keeping an adder under the bed for luck. Although Roger makes a bit of a gaff, saying Old Billy ‘doesn’t look much like a son’, the others take an interest in ‘savage’ language and culture.
The Swallow’s mother looks out for them constantly. She reprimands John and sets rules when he goes too far, ‘No more sailing at night’, but continually ensures they are provisioned and their needs met. It might not be expected, but there are battles to be won on the mission field. They are usually tricky, demanding timely action and often involving discomfort akin to sleeping in a dinghy moored by Cormorant Island. Interestingly, it is Titty, the littlest girl, who finds the strength and courage to also find the buried treasure and bring restitution.
‘What did the burglars do when they found the treasure had gone?’ one little girl in the cinema asked?
Quick as a flash, Marc Grimston of TARS EAST, who was in the audience, said, ‘Captain Flint carves a fish for them to find instead of the trunk.’ Repentant and forgiven himself, Jim Turner opts to convince the thieves of their guilt rather than report them to the police.
The great thing is, that whilst fishing from boats and weathering the storm, firm friendships are forged that take the Swallows and the Amazons on further adventures, even to the ends of the Earth. There is something inspirational about these that stories lead others to extend themselves, hoist their sails and live life to the full.
You can’t go out as a missionary expecting to convert the natives. You need to come alongside people who are hurting, find the key to their needs and help them use their God-given ability to fulfil their dreams. It can be scary and things won’t always go smoothly but you are usually warned of danger. There will be a need for strong leadership when times become testing but it should be fun. If you can gain people’s trust and hold on to the unity there will be celebration and feasting in the end.
The vicar, standing in the rain beside his bicycle, began to appreciate the parallels. You may find more. One thing is certain: there is something about the Swallows and Amazons series of books that enables adults to enjoy them as much as children. We can escape pressures of contemporary life and are inspired to fulfill our dreams, becoming all the good Lord wants us to be, doing all the things He has prepared us to do.
You may disagree completely, you may can find parallels in other Arthur Ransome books please write in, using the comments box below.
Duncan Hall of the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook wrote: ‘Of course, throughout (the series of Swallows and Amazons books) there are references to fictional and non-fictional adventures of exploration and discovery which historically sat with Empire, missions and trade as well as with piracy, etc. They do contrast with a political outlook that is clearly oppositional to those traditions. We always end up being impressed by savages (in the Lakes or the Walton backwaters) rather than hoping to civilise them. In Missee Lee, we obviously want to protect the location of the Three Islands, rather than send Daddy’s gunboats over there (despite the pretty monstrous business that Miss Lee presided over, we are convinced that the Brits destroying their way of life would be more monstrous still).
The Arthur Ransome Society invited me to speak at their bi-annual Literary Weekend held recently at the Royal Agricultural University. The college is situated outside Cirencester in Gloucestershire, a ten minute drive from the Golden Valley where I grew up next to the Thames and Severn Canal. I spent my A’Level years at Cirencester College just down the road. Just before leaving school, we were invited to a formal dinner at what was then the Royal Agricultural College, in the Gothic hall where The Arthur Ransome Society dinned. I remember gazing up at the high ceiling with its carvings of bunches of carrots and other vegetables. My father was asked to be the after-dinner speaker that night. A quiet man, he did not relish the idea of public speaking but he delivered the most inspiring talk on travel. It gave me the confidence to launch out into the deep.
In the early 20th century, by embarking on a career as a foreign correspondent for the Daily News and Manchester Guardian, Arthur Ransome was able to travel to Cairo, China and through Russia. He sailed home from the Baltic in his own yacht and kept on sailing, taking a small dinghy with him to visit the Altounyan family in Syria. These adventures inspired his writing for us to relive. Our own travels can be guided by walking in his footsteps, even to half-imagined places such as Swallowdale above some great lake in the north.
While Arthur Ransome transported us to snowy lands by re-telling Old Peter’s Russian Tales, his series of Swallows and Amazons books have the attraction of almost being within our grasp. We could reach most of the locations he describes in our own holidays. Theses twelve novels are essentially about travel of a kind that engages the imagination. Gathering enough food and gear to survive on an island is bound to get you thinking. ‘Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything?’ By including books such as Robinson Crusoe that stimulated Ransome’s own imagination, as well as frequent references to South America, he takes us on a literary journey, inspiring us further.
Our imagination helps us to examine possibilities and predict danger, anticipate the enemy, access risk: Packing, alone, forces one to focus on what might happen. When you set sail in a small boat you need to be alert: ‘At the end of Darien there might be rocks.’ You learn to trust your decisions based on projections and possible outcomes, becoming a better leader, much like Captain John.
We use our imaginations to plan ahead. Nancy’s tactical schemes include anticipation of how others would probably behave.
Our imagination generates ideas, helps us solve problems or conflict: ‘If anyone was sailing after dark, we could hoist a lantern up there.’ Ultimately it is Titty, the youngest girl with the most active imagination who dreams up back stories for strangers, renames places, draws, writes, casts herself as Robinson Crusoe and wins the war for the Swallows.
Imaginative stories help us remember things.
By imagining how others might feel we gain the gift of empathy, which enhances our social skills, engaging unity of purpose. Providing children camping on an island in the Lake District with gooseberry tart and buckets of hot porridge is an obvious example, leaving carved fish for burglars to unearth is slightly more cryptic.
Imagination expands our perception and enhances our lives, making us more resourceful: ‘Everything had grown smaller except the lake, and that had never seemed so large before.’ The hay bags were being brought to the island by Mr Jackson.
Humour demands subtle forms of imagining, lifting us above the mundane, making the prosaic bearable. Titty turns Lakeland farmers into natives, her mother into Good Queen Bess.
Our imagination lifts us above the necessary enables our minds to travel. Ransome himself must have longed to voyage further afield. His novels are drenched in references to South America, Africa and ‘the Caribees’. We have the ability to dream big dreams and find a way of achieving them.
There are dangers – we can be wrong. Titty was not at the camp as John and Susan imagined. She was alone in a clinker-built dinghy, without a blanket, out on the lake, witnessing a criminal behaviour. My Granny’s imagination descended into worry, which became rather irritating. I can only hope her pessimistic imagination fuelled ardent prayers for our safety.
An over-active imagine can raise expectations too high. Titty’s own imagination was liable to go over the top but she retained her sense of humour: ‘Might be a tidal wave’. Some poor souls become delusional fantasists. Broken dreams can plunge us into despair. Ransome’s own dreams crashed from time to time and probably drove him overseas. Russia was the one place he could escape his first wife. It ended up being the place where he met his second.
I quote from the Jonathan Cape edition of Swallows and Amazons. Re-reading this is a voyage in itself. I discover something I never noticed before every time.
CR Milne, wrote of his father, AA Milne saying: ‘A writer is a craftsman and a designer. Another man might have made things with his hands; he made things with his imagination.’ It is clear that Arthur Ransome travelled in his imagination and reported on what it was like.
This summer I joined friends to sail up the Norwegian coast to Bodo above the Arctic Circle. I packed with some trepidation, imagining it could get cold and very wet but we enjoyed excellent, clear conditions. Our enjoyment was enhanced by the reality of sunny Summer day, after sunny Summer day, as if floating through the pages of a storybook. It was a dream fulfilled.
Travel and you are stretched, spoilt for the ordinary. ‘Of course, really we are going the other way,’ said Susan, ‘but it doesn’t matter.’ I know why my father wanted us to travel after leaving school. He knew it would increase our self confidence, extend our ability and help build skills beyond those stretched by taking A’levels. ‘Just pack a bag and go,’ he said. ‘There will always be a way. You’ll find there’s a bus that will link to a boat. Don’t worry about getting stuck – you’ll find something will turn up.’
My father appreciated the fact travel is expensive but he always managed to work something out, taking advantage of his military travel pass to take a train to the Outer Hebrides and used his annual leave to sail on the Norfolk Broads in the 1940’s. He found a factory in Maryport to visit as part of his job with BIP. This enabled him to drive around the Lake District in the 1950’s. He worked in exports through the sixties and seventies so that he could fly worldwide. Marketing cable-ties and electronic components enabled him to take the QEII to America and planes to places as far afield as South Africa and Japan. These were the days when agents and customers would take him on tours of their country as part of a trade mission. Such journeys would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive. After retiring, my father sold his collection of early sailing books to cruise the Baltic. The question I now ask is: who inspired him? One major influence was the author Arthur Ransome.
Bird feeder – Garden birds eat harmful insects and help pollinate plants. It’s well worth keeping a bird table to encourage them to visit regularly. Rather than spend money on buying a commercial bird feeder, try using different materials to make your own. I collect plastic bottles the whole time when picking up litter and always have a selection in my recycling bin. The BBC recommend converting a round plastic bottle with a cap, using two willow sticks, a drawing pin, and some string. The sticks serve as perches. When collecting marine plastic, I often find pieces of strong PVC string ideal for hanging up something like this. Once you’ve finished the construction, fill the bottle with bird seed or sunflower seeds and hang it from a tree where song birds can enjoy a bit of cover. It’s a much better option than throwing the plastic bottle in the bin. For info on how to create a recycled bird feeder, please click here.
Cloches – Plastic bottles cut in half make ideal cloches or mini greenhouses to protect and bring on seedlings. Use the top half, without the cap, to bring on plants when you need to allow hot air to escape as conditions warm up.
Use cooking pots as planters – Most households will have several forgotten cooking pots lying around. Try transforming them into decorative planters. You can use string, small rocks, or shells to give them more personality and create a feature in a small space.
Walls, fences and hedges define the boundaries of any garden and contribute hugely to the atmosphere within. Country Living suggest using reclaimed timber such as drift wood if you are thinking of putting up a new fence. I was amazed to find an inexpensive selection of natural garden dividers at Screwfix made from bamboo or reeds. These sustainable plants can create an effective screen that provides added interest as well as privacy. It’s possible to create your own if you can gather enough materials.
Sustainable garden furniture – It can be expensive to buy garden furniture, which is often made out of plastic. Country and Townhouse explain how sustainable furniture is being made from materials otherwise intended for the landfill. EnviroBuild’s all-weather Rattan garden furniture is a good example of modern design that makes a useful addition to your garden. It’s made using recycled polyethylene.
Turn tin cans into patio lanterns – I find we have a number of tin cans in our weekly recyling, which can be used for a multitude of purposes. Clean them up, give them a good coat of luminescent or glow-in-the-dark paint, then make a few holes in them, or cut holes in the shape of moons and stars, to turn them into outdoor lanterns. You can use battery-operated tea lights or small solar lights so it’s safe to leave them outdoors.
House numbers made out of recycled coffee cups – Many companies are now helping gardeners use recycled materials. We found some very handsome ECO House Numbers, made using recycled coffee cups, that come with a 300-year guarantee. You can find them, along with other ideas here.
You’ll be surprised at how many things you can create from unused materials from your house or litter found while out walking. All it takes is a little imagination and a little time. Do let me know of any ideas or things you have made in the comments below.
Daphne opened Episode 5, being ‘first off’, with a can of tomatoes.
She was interviewed in her kitchen and we met the guests as they came downstairs. The fact that she lives in a converted mill wasn’t made clear to the other contestants.
‘Keep to the left, its a spiral staircase’, one viewer cried.
However, every detail of the meal had been carefully planned. The wine was chilled, the table looked lovely and there was almost constant laughter. Viewers seemed to be engaged: ‘Go daphne!! #comedinewithme
Mum prepared tomato and mushroom soup for her four guests, followed by wild salmon, only to find out that two of the guests disliked fish, which was a bit of a pity.
Viewers on Twitter were appalled: ‘Seriously…. Who don’t eat fish?’ & ‘So James wouldn’t eat Daphne’s main cause he doesn’t like fish but his starter is lobster? #comedinewithme
One of the guests, who was a stickler for good manners, became irritated by another member of the party and walked out before pudding, which was quite dramatic.
‘Anne’s bottled it…. We have a reserve.’ #comedinewithme
Anne rather blew her own words out of the water, although Daphne said she later wrote to apologise. There was a roar from viewers on Twitter:
#comedinewithme ‘OMG how rude is Anne?! Lecturing the others on manners and then walking out on Daphne?! Bitch!’
Suddenly there was one less. Mum’s fans on Twitter were in uproar:
Daphne and Rudi the Otter will be appearing at the Frampton Country Fair in South Gloucestershire on Saturday 8th September 2019. All welcome! She will also be speaking at The Arthur Ransome Society Literary Weekend at Cirencester University on Friday 11th October, when I will also be giving a talk.
Sophie Neville on a beach clean – photo copyright Daily Mail
Why litter? It is illegal. Why is rubbish chucked out of vehicles passing through an area like the Lake District, where jobs and businesses depend on the beauty of the surroundings?
Is littering an instinctive reaction? Early man must have dropped what he didn’t need without a second thought. Hunter-gatherers are active agents of seed dispersal, spitting out seeds and chucking vegetable matter away as they walk about. Do we, as humans, improve our chances of survival by discarding unwanted items that weigh us down?
My peers counter this. In answer to my question, they say:
‘I care for the environment. It angers me when people don’t do the same!’
‘Pure laziness, they think, ‘Oh well, the local authorities employ someone to clear up behind me and throw rubbish out of vehicles as they drive along while on their mobiles.’
‘Smokers mindlessly drop the cellophane, then the butt, then the packet…’
‘Selfishness and laziness, with no love for nature.’
They feel entitled.
‘No respect for the environment, other people or themselves.’
‘Smokers are by far away the worst. Cigarette butts are litter.’
‘Bitterness. They feel let down by society and have given up caring.’
‘Combo of laziness and the belief that somebody else will be around to pick up after them. My father once threw a candy wrapper on the ground on my college campus. I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket for later disposal. He saw me and asked, “Did you pick that up?!” I said, “Yes.” And I never saw him throw trash on the ground again.’
‘Mindless behaviour. Education is needed: education, education.’
Littering – or taking responsibility for rubbish – is a learned activity.
Keep Britain Tidy’s litter ambassador Jim Honeychuck quotes an academic paper: ‘There’s a kind of scale. On the one end you get mindless littering by those with little or no mind like junkies, drunks, and toddlers. At the other end you see deliberate, bloody-minded littering, as in holding litter until there is a clean area to foul. That’s a sign of hatred for the community, and perhaps for oneself. (“This is how I see my life, a mess…”) The behaviour at those two ends of the scale can’t be influenced much. In between are those who have always used the floor as a bin, those who would use a bin if there were one, those who use “virtual” litter bins, like planters, walls, the top of shrubbery… That is where improvement can occur.’
‘Some people need a lead; the more good examples set, the better it will be.’
Producers could help by using bio-degradable wrapping.
Now that plastic pollution has become a worldwide problem, endangering wildlife and threatening marine fish stocks, we need to guard against litter and pick it up. Every year the RSPCA is called out to rescue thousands of animals caught in rubbish. One cigarette stub will pollute seven litres of water. While collecting litter costs millions of pounds a year, it costs us nothing to bend down and collect a few items a day.
Could you collect litter or go on a beach clean? It can be fun! You get to keep fit, walk the dog and make a huge difference. The finds often prove interesting. I have quite a collection of tennis balls and come across lost or stolen items that have been returned to grateful owners. Keep Britain Tidy have advice on safety and useful kit here: www.keepbritaintidy.org