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The Big Six is the ninth book of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, published in 1940. The book returns Dick Callum and Dorothea Callum to the Norfolk Broads where they renew their friendship with the members of the Coot Club. It is set in September 1931 (plus the last chapter takes place on a Saturday morning in late February 1932). The book becomes a detective story as the Ds and the Coot Club try to unravel a mystery that threatens the Death and Glories freedom to sail the river.


The slightly obscure title comes from the passage And how are the Big Six getting on? (Ella Dudgeon, BS22). An inscription on the title page quotes Dorothea: It's the Big Five really. They are the greatest detectives in the world. According to the Metropolitan Police website, By 1906 Scotland Yard were regularly assisting provincial forces to investigate murders, invariably by the "Big Five" Chief Inspectors Arrow, Dew, Fox, Frost and Cane. (see Metropolitan Police History.

AR's illustrations for the book were destroyed by "enemy action", so he swiftly produced another set (Epilogue to Autobiography, page 352).



Titmouse, Death and Glory, Sir Garnet, Cachalot, various boats cast off including a motor cruiser of Jonatts, the Towzer boys' rowing boat or skiff, the green houseboat and the racing cutter Shooting Star (BS2,5). The reed-boat is photographed by Dick; later the two men in it wave to the Death & Glories (BS11,12).

Plot summary[]

The Ds return to Norfolk, hoping to enjoy a holiday with their friends of the Coot Club. Unfortunately, they find the Death and Glories coming under an increasing cloud of suspicion for setting moored boats adrift.

Everywhere they go boats seem to be cast adrift and they are threatened with being forbidden to sail. Things get worse when new shackles are stolen from a boatbuilder after one of the casting-off episodes and some of them are found aboard the Death and Glory. Around the same time, the boys befriend the fisherman of the Cachalot. When he rewards them for catching a large pike they become unusually flush with cash, drawing further suspicion on themselves as they feel compelled to keep quiet about the prize catch.

Dick, Dorothea, Tom Dudgeon, and the three Death and Glories form a team "Scotland Yard" to investigate the crimes and collect evidence, and are named "the Big Six" by Tom's mother (after a native crimebusting team, the Big Five).

Eventually a carefully prepared trap is sprung and in a flash (literally, to take a night photo of the real culprits), the villains are discovered and the boys are exonerated. The source of their secret supply of money is uncovered when a local pub unveils a magnificent stuffed pike.

Chronology and cross-references[]

The lines But on this September day ... (BS1) and In the cool September morning (BS21) give the month; references to other stories in the Swallows and Amazons series help to place the setting in September 1931:


(numbers are days but not actual dates in September 1931, names are chapter titles)

  1. Out of the Dentist's Window
  2. First Sign of Trouble, Eel Sett at Night
  3. Misleading Appearances, Darkening Clouds
  4. Tow Out of Trouble
  5. The World's Whopper, At the Roaring Donkey, Money to Burn
  6. Breakfast at Dr Dudgeon's, "We Got to Emigrate"
  7. Worse and Worse, Two Ways of Looking at the Same Thing, The First Clue, Rival Detectives
  8. Spreading the Net, News From the Outposts, A Scrap of Flannel
  9. Unwanted Gift, Dunlop Tyres
  10. Morning Visitors, Another Coat of Paint, The Villain Leaves His Mark
  11. The Villain Leaves His Mark, Things Look Black, The Last Chance, A Kid For the Tiger, Setting the Trap, Blinding Flash, Siege of the Death and Glory
  12. "All the Evidence We Got", In the Dark Room, The Legal Mind

On a Saturday morning in late February 1932: What Happened to the Fish


  • Pete had the loose tooth
  • Death and Glory got a cabin over the summer
  • Port and Starboard are at school in Paris
  • Mrs Barrable has taken a bungalow in the village, and is busy painting (BS1,9).
  • Tom Dudgeon is several inches taller than the tallest of the Death and Glories
  • Does Tom wear (long) trousers, not just short pants? When William gets a "scrap of grey flannel" from the villain Pete says: "Somebody's trousies, It's like what Tom wear" (BS18). But in several illustrations eg Saving Sir Garnet (BS10) Tom is wearing shorts. At the beginning of CC1 Tom wore "flannel shorts"
  • Dick is described as: a smallish boy with large black-rimmed spectacles (BS9).
  • Dick says that We're going to be here till the end of the holidays, and at Easter we're going to be here again and I'll take photographs of all the bird's nests (BS9; also epilogue What happened to the fish).
  • The Big Six is the only book of the twelve in which Nancy is not mentioned by name, although the Pigeon Post adventures in the mountains of the north are described (BS22). Dorothea tells of pigeons and prospecting for gold, and Dick of making charcoal.
  • Bicycles play a significant part in the plot.
  • The book is dedicated to Margaret and Charles Renold, and in letters to Margaret he refers to The Big Six as "her book". The Renolds had a pug called William.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[]

BBC produced a TV series Swallows and Amazons Forever based on Coot Club and The Big Six in 1984: Swallows and Amazons Forever!: The Big Six (1984) (TV)

For the book of the TV series see Swallows and Amazons for Ever; the book is an abridgement of Coot Club and The Big Six.

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series

Swallows and Amazons | 'Their Own Story' | Swallowdale | Peter Duck | Winter Holiday | Coot Club | Pigeon Post | We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea | The Big Six | Secret Water | Missee Lee | The Picts and the Martyrs | 'Coots in the North' | Great Northern?

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This page uses content from Guide to Swallows and Amazons series by kind permission of Bill Wright.