Sophie Neville, the actress who played Titty in the 1974 film Swallows and Amazon will be returning to the 2023 Southampton Boat Show with the boat Amazon


Actress and producer Sophie Neville surprised PBO readers at last year’s Southampton Boat Show, when she leant us a hand on the PBO stand, signed her book  The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons and gave fans a tour of the restored boat Swallow.

One Boat Show visitor described Swallow as his ‘Fantasy boat’, adding, “I grew up sailing boats like this”.

“She’s an icon,” said Sophie, showing the fan the original burgee, which was later on display on the PBO stand. “This was sort of dyed with tea to make it look not so pristine. We’ve got a replica up there [on Swallow].”

Sophie catches up with Poppy the dog and his owner Nick Jeffery on the PBO stand. Photo: Ali Wood

Sophie was just 12 years old when she played Titty in the film based on the book by Arthur Ransome. After the film screened in 1974, Swallow was retired to a prop store in Twickenham for many years, along with several other film boats.

“They kept her because she was in the original film and they kept hoping to make a sequel but they never did,” said Sophie. “The sail in the film was actually a little bit bigger. I think they thought it would be a bit dangerous to sail now. She also has buoyancy under the thwarts now too.”

Sophie Neville chats to a Swallows and Amazons fan at the 2022 Southampton Boat Show

Sophie, together with a hastily assembled group of fans, formed a group called SailRansome and bid £5,700 for Swallow. The boat was then expertly restored by Patterson Boatworks of Windermere in time for the 2011 London Boat Show.

In February 2021 Swallow appeared on the Antiques Roadshow where she was valued at over £20,000.

“I came on the show too with the rest of the film memorabilia such as the script, the scrapbooks and behind-the-scenes photos,” recalled Sophie. “The poster was quite valuable. It was painted by an Italian and portrayed me, Virginia McKenna and Suzanna Hamilton very well.”

Sophie wrote about her Swallows and Amazons experience in the October 2022 edition of PBO, and revealed some of the memories behind the photos. She pointed out her father, who appeared as a ‘native’ aboard the MV Tern on Windermere, which bears down on Swallow in the film.

“We all nearly crashed into the Tern, which was a bit of a problem. It could have been a disaster!” she said, “and these were some of my father’s snaps he took when making the film – you wouldn’t be allowed to now. You can see the movie footage on my YouTube channel, Sophie Neville.

Swallow was built in 1930 by William King of Burnham and Crouch as a ‘general-purpose runaround boat’. You can still see the initials WK etched into the boat. She now lives on her trailer with whichever member of the SailRansome group is looking after her.

Sophie still has the original burgee from the 1974 film Swallows and Amazons. Photo: Ali Wood

“She’s very nippy in one direction but difficult to turn,” explained Sophie. “She has two rowing points and what they didn’t realise when they were making the film was that my character Titty doesn’t sail a lot. She rows. She rows back from the charcoal burner, she rows out to Cormorant Island, she has to capture the Amazon and row out of Secret Harbour. These little boats are very stable for children. They’re very good to row and luckily I could row just about well enough. When filming, the rowing was more tricky because we were lashed to a camera boat, and I was trying to get the oar past the boat.”

Sophie with PBO contributor Gilbert Park and wife Maire. Photo: Ali Wood

Sophie was thrilled to see the many classic boats on display at the Southampton Boat Show and explained that Arthur Ransome spent his royalties on buying yachts.

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Image on the poster for the film Manry at Sea

Robert Manry on the silver screen

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“His first yacht was Nancy Blackett. He went on to buy six or seven others,” said Sophie. “He liked a nice, big comfortable cockpit. His wife, who was Russian, liked to cook. So they went on and had a sailing kitchen on their boat. He needed an armchair boat that he could sail himself. He used Nancy Blackett for his novel We Didn’t Mean To Go to Sea – where the Swallows find themselves sailing to Flushing in the Netherlands! I was lucky enough to sail the Nancy Blackett on the inland waterways. It was wonderful.” 

You can watch the original Swallows and Amazons film on Amazon Prime, and the video of Sophie at the Boat Show on PBO’s YouTube channel

The Southampton Boat Show 2023 takes place from 15th to 24th September. Sophie and volunteers from the Arthur Ransome Society are hoping to have Amazon on display this year, and will be delighted to speak to visitors.

Sophie will also be speaking on the Foredeck Stage on the 15th, 17th, 21st and 24th of September.