Gay Hamilton as Marian Fitzwarren

The Scottish actress Gay Hamilton as Lady Marian Fitzwarren, in a publicity shot for the Hammer Studios 1967 film A Challenge for Robin Hood.

Martitia Hunt

"Hold! I am Eleanor, by the wrath of God, Queen of England. Down on your knees, you traitorous dogs!”

With these haughty lines, Martitia Hunt as Eleanor of Aquitaine, attempts to stop an attack, by the Sheriff’s soldiers, on the royal entourage in Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood. A regal role she played with her usual scene stealing ability.

In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Donald Roy describes Martitia thus:

"With an arresting appearance and a dominant stage presence, she proved most effective as strong, tragic characters, her Gertrude in Hamlet being accounted by some critics the finest they had seen."

Martitia was born on a ranch in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Alfred and Marta Hunt on 30th January 1900. When she was ten, the family returned to England, where Martitia attended Queenwood boarding-school in Eastbourne. She trained as an actress under Dame Genevieve Ward and Lady Benson. And by 1920 she had appeared in her first movie, an obscure 2 reel, silent film, produced by Walter West called The Rank Outsider.

After joining the Liverpool Repertory Theatre, Martitia moved, in September 1929, to London and later, on John Gielgud’s insistence, she joined Harcourt Williams’s Old Vic Company for a season. It was there that she established herself as a stage actress and went on to make notable performances, particularly in Shakespearian plays, such as, Gertrude in Hamlet, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, the Queen in Richard II and Rosalind in As You Like It, alongside Gielgud.

Like many actors and actresses of her time, Martitia divided her career between stage and film production. In 1932 she made her first ‘talking’ picture debut as Aline, in Alexander Korda’s Service For Ladies. Many supporting, or cameo roles followed, including Aunt Esther in When Knights Were Bold (1936), Lady Francis Brandon Grey in Tudor Rose (1936) (alongside Cedric Hardwick and John Mills) and Lady Bogshott in Good Morning Boys (1937).

With middle age, Martitia finally achieved her greatest success. Firstly with her role as cousin Agatha in the 17th century costume drama, The Wicked Lady (1945) alongside Margaret Lockwood and James Mason. Then with a reprisal of a character she had performed in 1939.

David Lean had seen Martitia as Miss Havesham, along with Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket, in a stage production of Dickens’s novel, after being taken to the Rudolf Steiner Hall by his wife Kay Walsh. This inspired him to film his later award winning classic, Great Expectations (1946) in which both Martitia and Alec Guinness recreated their roles. This masterpiece proved to be a benchmark in movie production and went on to win two Oscars. One for its art direction and also for Guy Green’s (later director of photography on Disney’s Robin Hood (1952)) black and white cinematography.

Martitia’s brilliant, unforgettable performance, as the mad recluse, Miss Havesham, in the atmospheric setting of ‘Statis House,’ brought her world wide recognition. Three years later she made her Broadway debut in The Madwoman of Chaillot and won a Tony Award for Best Actress (Dramatic) for her 'Countess Aurelia'.

But her success, firmly began to typecast her in roles, as an ‘eccentric grand dame’ or ‘evil aristocrat.’ Gradually she reduced her stage work and in May 1956, played in her last theatre production, as Angelique Boniface in Feydeau’s farce, Hotel Paradiso. This was at the Winter Gardens, with Irene Worth and Alec Guinness, whom she had given voice lessons, at the beginning of his acting career.

More regal roles followed in her film career, including Princess Betty Tversky in Anna Karenina (1948) and the Duchess of Berwick in The Fan (1949).

The tall, stately, velvet voiced, Martitia Hunt, was of course, the perfect choice to play the part of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood (1952). As the mother of the crusading King Richard I and his scheming brother Prince John, she found herself the linchpin of a divided kingdom, a part, the elegant Martitia, was made for.

Her later, notable films, included Anastasia (1956) as Baroness Elena von Livenbaum with Ingrid Bergman, The Admirable Crichton (1957) as Lady Brocklehurst and as Anna Richter, the story teller, in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962).

In the final years of her career, Martitia once again found herself with regal roles like the Empress Matilda in Beckett(1964) and the Grand Duchess Lupavinova in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, (1964). Her last two films were the mystery thriller, Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) in which she played the part of Ada Ford and the sex comedy, The Best House in London (1969) as the headmistress.

Martitia Hunt died of bronchial asthma at 7 Primrose Hill Studios, Fitzroy Road, Hampstead, London, on 13th June 1969. She was 69.

Malmsey Wine

'Come sing low, come sing high;
Come change thy name to mine
And you shall eat my Capon pie
And drink my Malmsey wine.’

I have used this film and its contents as a springboard to finding out many things associated with the Robin Hood legend. So I have often wondered what was the “Malmsey Wine” that Friar Tuck merrily sings about?

The Greek author Didorus Siculus, living during the 4th century BC., described it (Malvasia delle Lipari ) as ‘the nectar of the gods!’ And it is the high yielding ‘Malvasia’ grape, cultivated in those days of Ancient Greece that makes the popular fabulously rich, sweet, wine, that is seeped in history. It was produced by twisting the bunches of the late– ripening grapes, by their stalks and leaving them to shrivel on the well drained soil, before pressing.

Monemvasia or Malvasia, as it was called by the Franks, was a small rocky island fortress and important Greek commercial port. From here the popularity of the wine rapidly spread all around the Mediterranean and was soon produced in almost every vine growing district; Candia, Chios, Lesbos, Tendos, Tyre, Italy, Spain and the Canary Islands, an important destination on the European trade route. The name ‘Malvasia’ was corrupted in Medieval Latin into Malmasia, by the traders, whence the anglicised ‘Malmsey’ originated. The names Malvasia, Malvazia and Malmsey became interchangeably linked.

Vines had been grown in England since the Roman times, but gradually the climate was cooling and by the 14th Century the practice had died out. So expensive wine (costing twelve times more than ale) was imported from France, Germany and the Mediterranean. The best in the world were considered to be produced by the vineyards in the Canary Islands, where the white, robust, fortified ‘Malmsey’ wine was said to travel well. In 1519 trade relations were established between Bristol and the Canaries and soon after, ‘Malmsey wine,’ was found in the cellars of rich households and royal courts across Britain and Europe.

In England, Malmsey or ‘Canary’ wine, as it was often called, became particularly popular, where it was said to ‘cheer the senses and perfume the blood.’ A ‘barrel of Malmsey wine’ was part of William Shakespeare's annual salary and the great poet and playwright makes numerous references to ‘Canary’ through his various characters.

In ‘Twelfth Knight’ Sir Tobias asks Sir Andrew Aguecheek , “ Oh! Knight, thou lackest a cup of Canary.”

The Bard has Mistress Quickly say to Doll Tearsheet at the Boars Head Tavern in Henry IV Part II Act 2:

“I’faith, sweetheart, methinks now you are in an excellent temperality: your pulsidge beats as extraordinarily as heart would desire; and your colour, I warrant you, is as red as any rose, in good truth, la! But , i’faith, you have drunk too much cannaries and that’s a marvellous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say ‘What’s this?’ How do you know?’

It was also William Shakespeare who dramatised the legend of the bizarre execution, in a barrel of Malmsey wine, of George Plantagenet, the Duke of Clarence, at the Tower of London in his ‘Tragedy of Richard III’ Act I Scene IV.

First Murderer:
Take him over the costard with the hilts of thy sword, and then we will chop him in the Malmsey butt.

Second Murderer:
O excellent devise! Make a sop of him.

First Murderer: Hark! He stirs: shall I strike?

Second Murderer:
No, first lets reason with him.

Where art thou, keeper? Give me a cup of wine.

Second Murderer:
You shall have wine enough, my lord, anon.

The word ‘butt’ is derived from two sources, the Anglo-Saxon ‘bytt’ a wine skin made form ox’s hide and the Danish ‘butt’, a wooden tub or container. Both of these would have held approximately 115 imperial gallons.

The expense books of the great households, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, detail the outlay for huge varieties of different wines. In the sixteenth century fifty-six sorts of ‘small wines’ were recorded, besides thirty kinds of Italian, Grecian, Spanish and Canary. Lady Anne of Cleves did not live extravagantly, yet in 1556 her accounts show that her household had:
'Gascon wine at 18s. the tun, to the value of £6. In the cellar, three hogsheads of Gascon wine at £3 the tun; of malmsey, ten gallons at twenty pence the gallon; and of muscadel eleven gallons at 2s. 2d. the gallon.'

At the feast for the enthronement of William Warham as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1504, the records show that wine, ale and beer were provided in incredibly vast quantities:

‘Six pipes of red wine, four of claret, one of choice wine, one of white wine for the kitchen, one butt of Malmsey, one pipe of wine of Osey, two tierces of Rhenish wine, four tuns of London ale, six of Kentish ale, and twenty of English beer.’

I’m sure a merry time was had by all!

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

More the Merrier

Some critics of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood were surprised by the casting of Richard Todd as the outlaw. They said it flaunted a Hollywood tradition by making Robin Hood a sturdy medium-sized man. In place they said, of the long-legged athlete, head and shoulders above all his rivals mentally and physically.

It had been the legendry cartoon producer himself, who had decided on the Dublin born actor. Todd was invited to Burbank in November 1950 and was given a personal tour by Walt Disney of the acres of sound stages and rows of drawing offices, where the animators were busy sketching.

He seemed to know every single one of the workforce, Todd remembers, every where he went he was greeted with ‘Hi Walt’, and he replied, ‘Hi! Jack-or Fred-or Art-or Lou!’

Eventually, Richard Todd continued in his autobiography 'Caught In The Act', we arrived in his office, a large panelled comfy room with a bar at one end. Before we settled down to talk, Walt proudly showed me how, at the touch of a button, the bar became a soda-fountain for youngsters. He adored children, and delighted in surprising them.

Walt Disney introduced his senior live-action producer, Perce Pearce to Richard Todd and outlined his ideas for the planned film. But Todd was doubtful:

With images of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn in my mind, I simply could not see it as a vehicle for me. I was not physically built to play a larger-than-life swashbuckler, and I could not see myself swinging from the same Sherwood family tree as the mighty Flynn.

Above all, I considered myself an ‘actor’; not for me the Lincoln Green equivalent of Tarzan.

But Walt Disney was very persuasive and explained that his Robin would be as a quick-thinking welter-weight, not a ponderous heavyweight. But Todd remained unsure.

There was a series of ‘agonised phone calls’ from Todd’s agent in California, Milton Pickman. He told the British actor that it would firstly, be a big international movie and secondly that it would pull in a huge world-wide audience of youngsters, probably seeing their first screen programme, to whom Robin Hood would be a hero for ever. Richard Todd remained unsure and to give himself time he promised to read the new script as soon as it was ready.

After Christmas 1950, Todd had read the latest version of the Robin Hood script and liked it.
I was beginning to enjoy the thought of larking about in the forest with a band of merrie outlaws-subject to one proviso: that I should not be doubled by a stunt-man in any of the action scenes. I felt that if I could do the stunts myself, however clumsily, then they would be much more believable. Besides, although perhaps not a very practical attitude for a professional actor, it was a small matter of pride-what would my ex-Airborne friends think if they knew that I had been standing around watching somebody else do the dirty work!

In mid January 1951 Walt Disney’s producer, Perce Pearce arrived back in London. Now that I had finally made up my mind, Todd said, I was thrilled at the prospect of working for the great Disney organisation.

A meeting was arranged at his suite at the Dorchester Hotel with Richard Todd and Maud Spector, the leading British Independent casting director. In the afternoon Todd agreed to play Robin Hood and they spent a couple of hours going through lists of candidates for parts in the film. My only contribution, Todd says, was to suggest James Robertson Justice as Little John and this turned out to be a good idea.

Filming was due to start on 30th April 1951. A gymnasium was set up at Pinewood Studios and under the tutelage of top British stunt man, Paddy Ryan, Todd worked out almost every day:

I practised back flips and tumbles that I hadn’t tried since my early army days. Rupert Evans, a former Champion at Arms of the British Army, coached me in sword-play and he and Paddy worked with me throughout the picture. In addition, I had hours of tuition in archery and practice on horseback, with and without bows and arrows. I may not have been the greatest celluloid Robin Hood, but I was certainly going to be the fittest!

Ken Annakin, Disney’s director on ‘Robin Hood,’ described Richard Todd as a .......
popular British stage actor, who was no acrobatic movie idol like Errol Flynn or John Barrymore. He was, in fact short like Alan Ladd, and often had to be stood on an apple box, or walk on a plank beside Maid Marion, so that one didn’t notice the discrepancy in height. But Richard was a good trouper.

Nearly sixty years later, we seem to have come full circle! The BBC’s new television series of Robin Hood has had similar mutterings from critics about the hero being a bit on the puny side! One newspaper reporter wrote that the actor playing the outlaw
needs to get down the gym and eat some pies!

These harsh words must have affected Jonas Armstrong who plays the leader of the merry men. He admits that when he saw a picture of himself during the launch of the first series,
“I looked a bit thin. So I got a personal trainer and I’ve put on a stone and a half in muscle. I now train four times a week and I feel a lot fitter. The stunt guys have been telling me: ‘You look much more confident in your body!’”

Working for Walt Disney

When asked recently how often Walt Disney visited the 'Robin Hood' set at Denham Studios, Ken Annakin replied that the great man didn’t stay very long. It was no more than half a dozen times, sometimes in fact, less than two or three hours, while they were shooting a scene.

It was Perce Pearce, Walt Disney’s chosen producer, who interviewed Ken Annakin at Denham, for the job of director, on the movie. Annakin finally met Disney when shooting had begun. He had already, according to Annakin, set the overall key of what he wanted. Disney was never looking over his shoulder, but the whole movie was sketched out by artists, the way he wanted, and approved by him. Something Ken Annakin had never experienced before.

Disney trusted Perce Pearce as the producer, Annakin said, he came to trust me as the director. He had a great, great trust in Carmen Dillon, Annakin continued, Disney was, dead right in choosing her, his reliance was one hundred percent.

Carmen Dillon was given the responsibility of designing and checking the historical accuracy of everything from props and costumes to the huge historical sets. She would stand quietly and have her say, only, if a prop was used wrongly. I had the final say as director, Annakin said, but one couldn’t have done it without her. Carmen Dillon went on to work for Disney and Annakin a year later, on ‘Sword and the Rose’.

Annakin was also asked if he was concerned about previous films about Robin Hood. We didn’t have Errol Flynn he replied, but no, he wasn’t. All the things we had in the picture were very British and very true. They went up to Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, he said and the script was written, as accurately as possible from all the records. After all, Annakin continued, Walt was making his picture, his version. I think we came up, with Walt’s insistence on truth and realism, probably as near (to the real story) as makes any matter.

At the end of shooting the film was taken back to America, where the whole of the post sync work and post production work was done. As director, Annakin said, he was not called in to help with that. It wasn’t in fact, until he made his fourth picture for Walt Disney, ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ that he was allowed to do anything with the editing or say anything about the music, or anything! Once you had shot it, that was your job as director!