Well here we are at r already, and today we have not one but three r’s. Not THE three r’s of Reading, wRiting and ‘Rithmatic (I have quite enough of that in the day job, thanks very much.)
No today we have three television programmes which defined my growing up, and one of them just happens to be my all time favourite TV programme ever. So where better to start than there. Yes, mum, you were right. The first of our programmes for R is…
Robin of Sherwood
If I was to ever go on Mastermind then I think Robin of Sherwood would have to be my specialist subject. Not only did I love this show as a child, but I own all three series on DVD and watch them quite regularly. (Sad confession time!)
But why? What was it about this mid 1980’s take on the old legend that struck a chord with me and is still something I love so much? Well, I guess, first of all it was a family show aired on a Saturday tea time from 1984 until 1986 when I was aged 9-11, so I was probably exactly the right age to appreciate it in all its swashbuckling glory with a young cast who brought old stories to life. There was everything a ‘middle grade’ child (I suppose we’d refer to that age group now – at least we do in terms of the literature market) could want: Action, adventure, great villains, no blood and gore but enough left to the imagination you could invent it; there was magic and mysticism, and even a little romance – which 9 year old girls are just beginning to be interested in of course. (I did have a tiny crush on Micheal Praed naturally!) There were amazing costumes and settings which visually stimulated my imagination and a Clannad soundtrack to die for which just brought the whole thing alive. The right musical score is one of the most powerful elements of a good TV series or film in my opinion. (Think Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes as another example, or HeartBeat even.)
The characters in Robin of Sherwood were likeable and witty and the story-lines easy to follow. There were stone circles, swords and horses and bows and arrows and fires and fights. There was just nothing to not like about it! I’ve also always been fascinated by history and where we (Brits) come from – how we’re made up, and this period of history (just after the Norman conquest of Britain) has always fascinated me for that reason. So much of our language has elements of French in it brought over in that period. So although Robin Of Sherwood was a TV programme about a legend, the historical element was really quite real and well researched. There were also a lot of other Celtic and pagan legends and myths referred to in the series (with the central one being of the shamanistic Herne the Hunter character played by John Abineri) and these added something extra to the original stories and enhanced the medieval/religious aspects portrayed. I have quite a romanticised view of medieval life as a result of Robin Of Sherwood, though of course I know it was actually very harsh, undoubtedly smelly and disease ridden and living in a forest would never be as much fun as it looked on the show!
When I had a binge-watch of my newly acquired DVDs (you have no idea of all the purchases I’ve ever made, how excited I was by these) during the Christmas/New Year season of 2004/2005, it was as though I’d been instantly transported back to childhood. I remembered so many of the story-lines and episodes in such detail, yet they had only ever been aired once at the time. However, everything remained so vivid to me. Watching them, I could remember how I felt the first time around watching some of those episodes.
For example, how shocked and distraught I was when Michael Praed’s Robin died at the end of the second series and having to wait until the third series to find out who the new Robin would be. Those two cross over episodes were so vivid in my memory for some reason. As was the very final episode of the third series (they were supposed to make a fourth, but it never happened), in which Marian stays at the convent because she can’t face the prospect of losing Robin again when she thought he’d been killed. It was such powerful TV, I think because, unintentionally, it was left on a really bitter-sweet ending. A sad ending in fact. It did feel resolved, but it was not in the usual happy-ever-after way you’d expect. As an adult re-watching that, I think it actually makes for extremely powerful story-telling. It’s really emotional knowing the guy doesn’t get the girl at the end after-all. Maybe more realistic and so more gut-wrenching to watch than as a child. It’s hard to say, but I remember feeling sad even back then. However, what was really lovely about the whole story line between Marian and the second Robin (Jason Connery – who I never fancied much on account of him being fair haired as oppose to dark – though I liked both Robins as they were actually different characters – so cleverly done with a weaving of two legends into one). Anyway, what was great about Marian and the second Robin’s relationship was that it was a slow burner – more real I think – and it was only in that final (double) episode that they’d initially agreed to marry – only for it to never happen! Bloomin’ Richard O’Brien and his Gulnar character causing havoc!
Actually, Gulner appeared in a few episodes and he was always one of the characters who stuck in mine and my sibling’s heads over the years. He was more comedic than sinister re-watching as an adult, nevertheless, a great performance by Richard O’Brien.
Robin of Sherwood had a star studded support cast over its run, including Rula Lenska (who played an evil Nun/witch – who freaked Brother Number One right out!). She was in the only double length episode shown in one go, The Swords of Wayland and is in my opinion, one of the best, if not most sinister of all the episodes. Other stars included: John Nettles, John Rhys Davies (Gimli from Lord Of The Rings – fact fans!) as King Richard the Lionheart, Anthony Valentine, Patricia Hodge, Ian Ogilvy, George Baker and Dorothy Tutin, amongst others.
As well as the great cast playing the merry men (Michael Praed/Jason Connery, Judi Trott, Clive Mantle, Ray Winstone, Mark Ryan, Phil Rose, Peter Llewellyn and Jeremy Bullock (who played Boba Fett in the original Star Wars – fact fans), there were of course my favourite villains – The Sheriff of Nottingham, played so brilliantly by Nikolas Grace, his brother, the Abbot Hugo played by Philip Jackson (who appears as Inspector Japp in my second favourite series of all time – Agatha Christie’s Poirot) and Guy of Gisburne played by Robert Addie. The Sheriff and Guy’s relationship was just hilarious and Nikolas Grace did sarcasm so well that he was my favourite character across all three series and I’d always be disappointed if it was one of the episodes which didn’t feature him and Guy of Gisburne.
A recurring character who came in occasionally was the character of King John, played by Phil Davis (who played Ned Young in one of my favourite ever films – The Bounty) so utterly brilliantly. He brought a comic insanity to the part which was genius and great to watch. This was definitely part of the success of the series – the cast were just brilliant actors and actresses, many young and starting out but who have gone on to be huge stars, like Ray Winstone for example.
Of course the writing was superb too, headed by Richard Carpenter, but bringing on board the likes of a young Anthony Horowitz who now is a best selling author of such series as The Alex Rider books – James Bond spy type novels for young adult readers. Anthony Horowitz actually wrote one of the episodes which was shown nearly 30 years to the day – on Saturday 26th April 1986. And how do I know this exact date? Well it was 2 days after Brother Number 3 was born (yes he’ll be 30 years old on Sunday, eeek!). I was 10 years old and, bizarrely, that weekend, my mum had sent myself and my other three existing siblings to stay with two of our teachers whilst she settled back into the house with the new born baby. My sister and Brother Number Four stayed at one teacher’s house and myself and Brother Number One at another teacher’s house. And I have a very strong memory of her allowing my brother and I to watch Robin Of Sherwood. We watched it sat in her lounge with our dinner on our laps (we NEVER ate dinner that way at home!,) so of course it stands out in my memory. (I only knew Anthony Horowitz wrote the episode from Googling it though, I’ll admit!) I do also remember one of the teacher’s dogs knocked either my dinner or my brother’s dinner off our knee. Probably his as my memory is so shaky on the point!
Then, of course, there was the sublime soundtrack provided by Clannad added to all this greatness, which I blogged about in last year’s A-Z challenge. It was this series which got me hooked on the haunting melodies of this Irish folk band, and in fact any Celtic folk music. The tracks they wrote for the series just complimented every bit of action so beautifully. Click on the highlighted link to hear a live medley.
As with all good TV shows from my childhood, myself and my siblings loved to play Robin of Sherwood which I did blog about last year – stories of us galloping around the living room to the Clannad soundtrack like loons, jumping the LP and scratching it. And as in keeping with the whole ‘I’m the oldest, therefore I’m the leader’ thing, I of course was always Robin. My sister could flare her nostrils like Guy of Gisburne which we used to think was hilarious and quite a skill! Haha!
Of course whenever we were taken anywhere near any woods, we would hoon around there, reinacting the opening credits, leaping over fallen logs and having staff fights. In fact I find it difficult even now if I’m in woods not to imagine I’m in Robin of Sherwood and I have been known to have the odd staff fight with either friends or my 7 year old. It’s great fun, without having to live and survive there, Bear Grylls style. 🙂
Robin Of Sherwood was, in short, a great TV series, which like all good things didn’t last long enough, but perhaps did in that it ended whilst still at its peak. But to quote: “Nothing’s forgotten; nothing’s ever forgotten.” 🙂
Right, because Robin of Sherwood has taken up so much of my time in this post, I’m going to do this R post in 2 parts with part 2 tomorrow, because I can’t miss the other two programmes out, but it is late now and I have a child to attend to!