Contribute your stories to the third edition of “The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)”

Simon West and Suzanna Hamilton night-sailing – a contact sheet from the film.

Sophie Neville is longing to add even more of your stories to the third edition of her book “The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)“, as she explains below…

Lewis Carroll’s plaque at Rugby School.

Almost as soon as we published the second edition of “The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)” in May 2017, a number of facts and stories washed up on the incoming tide.

I didn’t know that Ransome was aged twelve – Captain John’s age – when he first met the Collingwood family on Peel Island. I knew he went to Rugby School, but not that he was given the study once used by the English author Lewis Carroll. I’m not sure if that inspired him to write children’s books, but he certainly borrowed the term ‘galumphing’ from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865).

I never knew that Rusland, where Arthur and Evgenia Ransome lie buried at St Paul’s Church, is also a name for Russia, where of course they met in what was then Petrograd when Evgenia was working as Leon Troski’s private secretary. Thanks to the feature writer Maggie Dickenson, I’ve learned that this kneeler at St Paul’s was embroidered by Jean Hopkins:

Crossed flags at Rusland Church where the Ransomes are buried.

Brian Crawley has written in to say that, in 1973, our visit to the charcoal burners was filmed less than a mile to the west of the church in Glass Knott Wood. I gather that the remains of the wigwam’s fireplace can still be seen. I didn’t know that it was so close, and just assumed that we had been in the Grizedale Forest. I’ll have to add it to my map!

The Russian edition of “Swallows and Amazons”, that can be borrowed from the Arthur Ransome Society library, has proved to be a great source of reference. Donated by the Gatchina Library, it is the only copy in the UK. I learnt from the comments at the back that the Black Jack is a pirate flag, which I’ve always called a Jolly Roger, and that ‘in one’s mind’s eye’ is an expression used by William Shakespeare in “Hamlet”. ‘Tip us a stave’ means ‘give us a song’, a term used in “Treasure Island”.

Sten Grendon playing Roger in the Panavision camera box in 1974.

Other flotsam and jetsam on my tide-line is a wonderful quote to accompany this behind-the-scenes photo when re-reading “Winter Holiday”, written by Arthur Ransome in 1933:

What’s in that box?” asked Roger.

“It’s just about big enough for you, isn’t it?” said Captain Flint.

A member of the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook commented about how annoying it was that Ronald Fraser made a funny face when he first sipped the tea that Suzanna Hamilton offered him, as Captain Flint ALWAYS enjoyed Susan’s tea.

Ronald Fraser with Lesley Bennett – a contact sheet from the film.

There was some discussion amongst members of the same Arthur Ransome Group about how female characters depicted in “Swallows and Amazons”.

Eddie Castellan wrote: ‘Ransome is remarkably non-sexist for his era and remains so by today’s standards. Mind you, most great storytellers realise that weak female characters are simply dull… great storytellers seem to give women better roles than mediocre ones.’

Claude Whatham directing on the houseboat – a contact sheet from the film.

Fionna Grant added: ‘Arthur Ransome had a range of roles for his female characters from Nancy to Susan to Titty…. not only represented, but honoured for their contribution to the group… All the kids in “Swallows and Amazons” are encouraged to learn through achievement but they are also allowed to choose their own path, follow their own interests.’

Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville on Cormorant Island – a contact sheet from the film.

At a talk given by Simon Browne at a meeting of The Arthur Ransome Society, about the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, we were given a definition of the word ‘hero’: one who combats adversity through integrity, bravery or strength, often sacrificing personal concerns for the greater good.

In “Swallows and Amazons” Titty was brave, but all she really did was to grab a chance to swipe Amazon. It meant that she had to sleep on board, which was rather uncomfortable, but what made Titty a true heroine in the film was her determination and persistence: she woke up early and persuaded Roger to help her find the treasure hidden on Cormorant Island. Like Ransome himself, she was prepared to grab a chance, and take a risk – even if it meant being cold and uncomfortable for a while.

Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville rowing to Cormorant Island – a contact sheet from the film.

I received another lovely note on Facebook from Zena Ashberry (nee Khan) who appeared as a film extra in the Rio scenes shot at Bowness-on-Windermere when she was a little girl, despite being of half-Asian descent:

‘I was nine at the time and my sister was eight. I remember going through an audition – which was really just a panel of three or four men looking at Mum, my sister and me to see if we would be in keeping with the ‘look’ of the film. They seemed very keen on having Mum.

‘My sister, at the time had sandy coloured hair and so was not at all problematic, however I was very dark and because they wanted Mum they said that they could hide ‘it’ by putting me in a white dress and hat! How times have changed…obviously I remember other things too, like feeding the horses which pulled the open carriage and the horse standing on my foot oouuch!, the strange awkwardness of having to act ‘naturally’ whilst being watched through a camera, having to repeatedly carry out the same activity to ensure a good shot – how many times did we throw stones into the lake? The ice-cream tricycle with real ice cream mmmm a treat … being watched by crowds of tourists gathered along the footpath and flower beds.

It was a strange and unreal experience, doing what as children we would normally do but doing it in ‘dressy-up’ clothes that weren’t from our own dressy -up box and playing the game with Mum and her friends with total strangers telling us what we should do…just a bit bewildering really, but funny in retrospect.’

Please let me know if you have any points of interest that I could also add to my e-book “The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)” which you think be might of interest to readers. The great thing about e-books is that they can be updated and re-loaded free of charge.

I’m going to be giving a number of talks on “The Making of Swallows and Amazons” this summer. Please click here for details.

Sophie Neville played the character of ‘Titty Walker’ in the 1974 “Swallows and Amazons” film. She is the author of its definitive behind-the-scenes story “The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)” and is currently the President of the Arthur Ransome Society

This story was first published by Sophie Neville in March 2018.