The hugely popular Robin of Sherwood returns to television for a second series early in March.
Richard Carpenter, who wrote the series, shares some thoughts on Robin’s enduring appeal.
I’m ten years old, and belabouring a defenceless tree with a wooden sword. ‘Have at thee, Sherriff!’ I yell. Behind me are half a dozen school friends – all of whom flatly refused to be the Sheriff of Nottingham. They carry home-made swords and bows and arrows. We’ve been in the woods – I mean Sherwood Forest – all afternoon and the game is nearly over because it’s tea-time. Anyway, Maid Marion – my best friend’s younger sister – is bored and wants to go home.
What is it about Robin Hood that has such an appeal? I suspect it’s because he’s a rebel on the side of the under-dog and is free to do as he pleases. He cocks a snook at authority. Something we’d all like to do. He’s as English as an oak-tree and as mysterious as Stone Henge. I’ve always wanted to write about him, and when I got the chance a couple of years ago, I felt just as excited as I did all those years ago when my friends said, ‘All right, you can be Robin’.
Naturally I’m thrilled that the television series and the subsequent book of Robin of Sherwood have both been so successful but really how could they fail? Robin Hood is the greatest of all folk heroes, and it would be hard to go wrong with such a compelling character.
When I was researching the project I was puzzled that such a wonderful legend contains no magic. Nearly all folk tales have some element of the supernatural. So I felt that, particularly because of the current interest in sword, and sorcery, my version ought to be invested with something mysterious and occult. This is why Herne the Hunter, the strange horned god of pre-Christian England, came to be Robin’s mentor and guide – and judging by the letters I’ve had, he seems to have caught the imagination of children who have seen and read my version.
I was fortunate to pay a visit to Lewisham Bridge Primary School recently and was thrilled to see the children’s creative response to Robin of Sherwood. They had all drawn and painted Robin, Little John, Friar Tuck and the others. They were looking at pictures of armour, and castles. They were reading about what it was like – really like – to live in the days of the Angevin Empire, and Sandra, one of the teachers who had organised my visit, had got them to dress up as the characters. There was also a colourful array of shields which gave the whole affair a touch of heraldic splendour. History and legend had come alive.
It is amazing that such an English subject goes so well in America. I was in New York recently for the preview of the second series – to be screened here in March – and I was surprised to find how well-known the legend is in the States. Hard-nosed ad-men and TV executives came up to me with shining eyes and explained that Robin Hood had been part of their childhood too! It seems as if the appeal is universal and certainly Goldcrest and their American partners Showtime have plans to sell the series world-wide. It has been screened in Australia and Germany and in both places was a tremendous success.
My enthusiasm for ‘Robin’ remains unbounded and the thought of writing more stories, although in many ways a daunting prospect, continues to fire my imagination. We intend making thirteen more episodes next year and hopefully they too will be adapted. It’s always been important to me that my scripts eventually form the basis of books.
While preparing the series I read as much as I could of the original Robin Hood ballads and tried to immerse myself in the background to the period. One of the most recent books on our hero is J C Holt’s Robin Hood published by Thames and Hudson. Also M H Keen’s Outlaws of Medieval Legend – Routledge and Kegan Paul. Professor Holt’s book has a valuable bibliography should anyone wish to study the origins and development of Robin Hood.
I confess however that having read all I could, I then ‘did my own thing’. The purist approach can be a dangerous strait jacket to the writer of fiction and Robin Hood survives because of the inspiration the old tales have given story tellers through the centuries.
I believe that if writers hadn’t re-told, re-interpreted, and added to the story – Sir Walter Scott, Peacock and Pierce Egan among others – I wouldn’t have been whacking away at that tree when I was ten, and it’s certain I’d never have written Robin of Sherwood.
J.C. Holt, Thames and Hudson, 0 500 25081 2, £8.95; 0 500 27308 1, £4.50 pbk
Outlaws of Medieval Legend
M.H. Keen, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 0 7100 8682 2, £9.95
Robin of Sherwood
Richard Carpenter, Puffin, 0 14 03.1690 6, £1.25
Robin of Sherwood and the Hounds of Lucifer
Richard Carpenter and Robin May, Puffin, 0 14 03.1869 0, £1.75
Behind the Bike Sheds
Pat Triggs wonders if this is a new kind of television tie-in.
If you had to bet on a handful of writers who might do something out of the usual run with a TV tie-in book, Jan Needle would surely be of the company. His book of the series Behind the Bike Sheds (Yorkshire TV, starts on all ITV networks on 8 January – 4.20 pm every Wednesday for nine episodes) is certainly different. By the time you read this you may already have seen the first episodes of the not-so-everyday story of Fulley Comprehensive, its (few) pupils and its (even fewer) staff. If you have you’ll realise that this is, among other things, a mad, anarchic send-up of all school TV series from Grange Hill to Fame, augmented by the usual Needle assault on the wilder lunacies of what we fondly think of as our Education System. The book is an extension of this. From time to time it deliberately reminds you that what you are reading is the book of the TV series.
‘We cut now to the gymnasium, thanks to the vision mixer, Llynos. It’s the school hall in fact, and also the classroom, where we’ve just come from. In between shots the scene shifters have removed the desks and put up the wall bars, that’s all. Magic, eh? All the kids and the dancers are standing about in gym gear, waiting. Waiting for the horrible new Deputy Headmaster. Waiting for the sadist from the Acme Teacher’s Agency.’
The director, Peter Tabern, bawls instructions from the gallery, the actors complain to the writer that they haven’t had a good line for ages. In between, what passes for the plot progresses, the narrative accompanied by a stream of comments from the author to the reader in a style of language usually referred to in reviews as `racy’.
Not content with pushing out the boundaries of a TV tie-in, the book itself is a spoof ‘Choose-Your-Own Adventure’ story. You start with Chapter 23, followed by Chapter 73, and so on. There are ‘choices’:
‘If you wish to fight the ores, turn to Chapter 88. If you wish to visit the nit nurse, put your hand up and wait.’
Throughout, the book is liberally sprinkled with-footnotes – all referenced to different pages so the reader has to hunt – which contain jokes, definitions, in-jokes about children’s books, publishing, writing, Jan Needle etc.
Self-indulgent? Over the top?, Silly? Genuinely innovative? A new cult book? Jane Nissen, Jan Needle’s editor at Methuen is prepared for almost any kind of critical response and confesses to not having any idea how teenagers will react. I enjoyed it, and would probably have enjoyed it even more if I’d seen more of the TV series. This may be the first tie-in to be just what it says – a book to be read with the television! And I think there is something here for teachers. If you want to encourage teenagers to think about questions like: what is a book? what is a story? how is reading different from watching TV? what is the relationship between a writer and a reader?, this book could well be doing just that. At which idea Jan Needle may well be making rude noises and being sick into a paper bag. (Did he think that at last he’d written a book that teachers couldn’t use?) Whatever his intentions, this adventure in writing inevitably becomes an adventure in reading. Like Jane Nissen I shall be watching what happens with interest.
Classics on Screen
Announced for March/April the premiere of an epic film version of E M Forster’s Passage to India, directed by Sir David Lean and with a dazzling cast of actors: Alec Guiness, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, Nigel Havers, Judy Davis and Victor Bannerjee.
Starting on 9 January (BBC 2) a four part serial adaptation of Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns – very readable, a useful recommendation for secondary readers, especially girls.
Chosen for this year’s Royal Film Premiere (February), The Shooting Party, based on Isabel Colegate’s excellent and resonant story of a country house weekend before the first world war. Recommend to literate fifth and sixth formers. In Penguin.
Ragdolly Anna (YTV) returns for a second series in February. There is a Puffin tie-in, Three Cheers for Ragdolly Anna, by Jean Kenward, to coincide.
Everybody Here (Channel 4). A welcome and well-deserved repeat of Mike Rosen’s excellent 10 part series with a multi-cultural slant. Starts 12 January. The book based on the series is still available from Bodley Head.
Emma and Grandpa (YTV). Another repeat series which started on 2 January. Joy Whitby’s four books which show Emma and Grandpa through the four seasons are available from Longmans.
Chocky. A Puffin Plus edition of John Wyndham’s novel appears to coincide with the full-length film edited from the series shown early in 1984. A new series, Chocky’s Children, is scheduled for the second week in January.
Who Sir? Me Sir? When he talked to BfK last year about The Box of Delights Paul Stone, Executive Producer for BBC Children’s TV, revealed that his next project would be a TV version of K M Peyton’s Who Sir? Me Sir? He was most enthusiastic about this school story in which a challenge between a comprehensive and an independent school has some amusing and surprising outcomes. The series may begin in February. Puffin tie-in of the OUP hardback is out this month.
Travellers By Night
If you were in the New Forest area last summer you might have been surprised by an elephant lumbering out between the trees. It would have been closely followed by a film crew and probably accompanied by two young actors, Lisa Coleman and Jake Coppard. They play Belle and Charlie, two children from a circus which is closing down, who decide to save Tessie, the old elephant, from the slaughterhouse by taking her secretly across the forest to a Safari Park where they hope she will be given a home.
The all film serial is based on the book by Vivien Alcock (Fontana Lions, 0 00 672383 7, £1.50) and captures the excitement and humour of the original: it’s not easy to hide an elephant in an English forest, especially when you are being pursued by police and journalists.
The six part serial is scheduled to begin in the second week in February in a mid-week, tea-time slot.
No need to add to the enormous publicity for Gremlins and Ghostbusters. Just in case you hadn’t noticed there are several book tie-ins. Corgi has a ‘novelisation’ of Gremlins by George Gipe and a shorter B format, ‘simplified for children’ edition. Coronet has the novel version of Ghostbusters by Larry Milne. Each of these contains eight pages of still photographs from the film. Hippo has a Storybook version for younger readers heavily illustrated with coloured stills. Ghostbusters is by Ann Digby, Gremlins by Mary Carey, £2.50 each. Gremlins has a 15 certificate in the cinema; the Storybook is no substitute for those who can’t get in – it’s strong on nastiness and short on charm.