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Out of the “Swallows and Amazons” archives: a 1974 script for a BBC Radio Bristol show about the original film

Swallow and Amazon sailing in tandem on Derwentwater in 1973 – a contact sheet from “Swallows and Amazons” (1974).

When the 1974 film of “Swallows and Amazons” first came out in cinemas it stirred up quite a bit of interest in the media, writes Sophie Neville

This script for a programme made for BBC Radio Bristol has recently been discovered in a box in my mother’s attic. Typical of the early ‘seventies, it is a carbon copy, so is rather faint, but it is a little bit of media history in itself:

Part of Daphne Neville’s script for BBC Radio Bristol.
A snippet from a BBC radio broadcast script about the 1974 “Swallows and Amazons” film.

It’s intriguing. What did we say in the interviews that they ran in?

Sadly, two of the first newspaper reviews of the movie were not complimentary. Last year, when interviewed by Tim Fenton at Pin Mill on the Orwell, Professor Hugh Brogan said that one of these articles was so ignorant and so angered him that he resolved to write the truth about Ransome’s distinguished career. This involved years of research but resulted in his biography, “The Life of Arthur Ransome”.

Hugh Brogan’s biography of Arthur Ransome.

I haven’t been able to find the article Hugh read but he remembered it being ignorant of Arthur Ransome’s politics rather than the film. His beautifully written book sparked an enormous amount of additional research and television documentaries, including “The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome”, which can be viewed on the BBC’s iPlayer.

Since the Lutterworth Press published the second edition of “The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)” in May last year, a number of other stories and facts have reached me.

I’ve learned that the creamy yellow taxi in which the Walker family arrived at Holly Howe was a Vauxhall 20/60 R type saloon, 1928 – 1930 model hired for the film by the property buyer Ron Baker, whose name I must add to the credits. When the Altounyan children stayed at the same farmhouse, which in reality is called Bank Ground Farm, their hostess was called Mrs Jolly. Apparently her husband, Mr Jolly, did not live up to his name.

The lady in blue who waved from the deck of MV Tern after the Swallow’s near miss was played by Lorna Khan. Here she is with her daughter Zena and a yellow Austin Heavy 12/4 tourer, after they appeared in the Rio scenes. You can see other film extras and supporting artists in 1929 costume, patiently sitting in the Browns of Ambleside coach behind them.

Zena Ashbury with her mother in the Rio scenes of “Swallows and Amazons” (1974). Photo: Zena Ashbury.

Did you know that missionaries in Africa used semaphore? Until I read a Russian edition of “Swallows and Amazons” I’m afraid I didn’t know that Darien was the former name of the Isthmus of Panama, that the Rio Grande flows from South Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico or that ‘Shiver my timbers’ was a curse used by R. L Stephenson in “Treasure Island”.

Nick Owen had been living at Elterwater for seventeen years before he learnt the fishing scene from “Swallows and Amazons (1974)” was shot there.

It had not occurred to me that the film was recorded in the annals until I was sent this excerpt from the third edition of “Time Out Film Guide” (1993). Perhaps I should bring out a third edition of “The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons”?

A review of “Swallows and Amazons” (1974) in “Time Out”.

Please let me know if you would like to see more archive material from the attic.

To read more about Cider With Rosie (1971) directed by Claude Whatham, starring Sten Grendon as Laurie Lee please click here.

The burglars approaching Cormorant Island – a contact sheet from “Swallows and Amazons” (1974).

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 February 2018.