Robin of Sherwood is back
Robin Hood lives at the centre of a network of record, legend and myth: so many stories surround him that it’s hard to distinguish between fact and fiction any more. Poems, songs, plays and stories about goings-on in the greenwood abound: Hollywood got into the act 50 years ago with Errol Flynn playing the dashing English folk hero who now has an international reputation.
Which makes it all the more surprising that we haven’t seen Robin on our television screens for nearly a quarter of a century. Richard Carpenter. writer of such popular TV series as Catweazle, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Smuggler, and Dick Turpin has changed all that. His six part version of the Robin Hood story Robin of Sherwood (produced by HTV and Goldcrest) begins on Saturday, April 7th at 7.00pm (ITV).
Tony Bradman went to talk to him about it.
Richard Carpenter started his working life as an actor. It was the success of his first writing job – he had the idea for Catweazle – that led to a complete career change to television scriptwriting. But why Robin Hood?
‘I just thought it was time to do it again. After 25 years our ideas of how to portray a hero like this on television have changed, but the last series, the one which starred Richard Greene, is still being shown around the world.’
How different a Robin Hood are we going to see on our screens, then?
‘I think it’s slightly ridiculous to imagine Robin and his men as 35 or 40 year olds. I’ve made them 18 to 23, and it’s at that age when people tend to be rebellious. Young people do extraordinarily rash things, and they do have a keener sense of justice. They tend to see things in black and white and act accordingly, which often may not be a bad thing. Seeing things in grey, vague terms can be a cop-out.
`Anyway, in the series Robin is 20 and Marion is 17. It’s a very vital young cast, and they do all their own swordfights and swinging through trees.’
There is a fair amount of violence in the series. ‘Will Scarlet, for example, is a very tough character. In the first episode he kills 17 people. The fight on the log between Little John and Robin is no laughing matter, either; it’s a fight to the death, and Robin realises that Little John is in the grip of a magical spell. That’s what the series is like – lots of fights and action but very realistic. But we stress that Robin Hood kills very reluctantly and only when he has to.’
Little John in the grip of a magical spell? That’s another dimension to the legend that Richard Carpenter has added – or, he suggests, perhaps restored.
‘The early medieval period, when Robin was active was a very superstitious time. Other English hero legends – King Arthur, Hereward the Wake – include magic and sorcery; it seemed only right that there should be some in Robin’s story too. Besides, I’m very keen on sword and sorcery which, I think, gets us away from things like science fiction and into a more romantic world.’
The traditional villains the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisburne are joined by evil, devil-worshipping Baron de Belleme, skilled in the black arts. Robin’s link with magic is made through a character whose influence permeates England and its folklore but who has been largely forgotten. ‘Herne the Hunter god of the forest was an old English folk god, related to the Green Man and its associated legends. The Cerne Abbas giant is really Herne, and his name survives in many place names like Herne Bay and Herne Hill. He’s a very powerful part of the Englishness of the programmes. In a way he’s a fertility God, and he’s related in my mind to the eternal spring like quality of the Robin Hood stories. They always seem to be happening in May, and they’re young people in the spring of their lives. Marion can even be seen as a May Queen in some ways.
‘Robin in fact becomes Herne’s adopted son, and Herne is the source of most of the magic in the programmes. The other main theme draws on the story of the silver arrow, the silver arrow which is a potent symbol of resistance to the Norman invader.’
Sorcery, magic, politics, sex(?), violence, action-packed adventure. What more could you ask for family viewing on a Saturday night’
Robin of Sherwood, Richard Carpenter’s own adaptation of the series for Puffin is reviewed in this issue of BfK.
Meet Letty Boot
Letty is the lively. sparky, wheelchair-bound central character in a new series from TVS. The first of six 30 minute episodes is scheduled to start on March 28th at 4.25. Anna Home commissioned the series. Avril Rowlands wrote it. She also produced the Puffin version Letty (0 14 03.1616 7, £ 1.25) published to coincide with transmission.
The book, like Letty, is full of fun. She tells her own story of life at Meadowbank Children’s Home where her bright ideas (herself as the guy in a ‘Penny for the guy’ expedition: starting up the Letty Boot detective agency) lead to comic disasters and exciting adventures. Among the laughs and the thrills there’s a reflection of the many sides of life in a children’s home and in a wheelchair.
A New Cult?
Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks, launched onto TV last autumn by London Weekend, is (we are told) attracting the same kind of cult following as its legendary predecessor, Thunderbirds. A second series will be shown later this year and a third is in the making.
Meanwhile Sparrow publish the official tie-in novelisation by Jack Curtis (0 09 934240 5, £1.25) in which young fans can relish at leisure the story of how Dr. ‘Tiger’ Ninestein and his elite fighting force defend the world (again!) against ruthless aggressors.
In View Soon … Something for Secondaries
Turn them on to sophisticated thrillers via LWT’s five week Raymond Chandler series. Multi-million dollar production; already ‘a winner’ in the States. (March).
or classic detection via Sherlock Holmes in a 13 part series from Granada. (April).
or swashbuckling adventure via Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae in a Columbia/ HTV co-production. ‘Star-studded cast’. Penguin have the tie-in (Late March).
Fraggle Rock fans can read about the adventures of Jim Henson’s Muppet-style characters in three tie-in books, each by a different author and illustrator. Hardbacks from Allison and Busby (£4.50), paperback from Sphere (£l.50).