“Strong, instinctive, practical, resolute, Little John is powerful in battle and knowledgeable about survival in the forest.”
The line above is taken from the website for the BBC/Tiger Aspect Robin Hood (2006-2009)series. The role of Little John is played by actor Gordon Kennedy, known for a variety of acting and presenting projects.
Kennedy was born in Scotland on 22nd February 1958, the son of a local doctor; he grew up in Tranent, East Lothian, where he has two roads named after him. This old coal mining town was re-named Stoneybridge by Kennedy in the cult TV comedy Absolutely (1989-93) and became the butt of many jokes, when the town in the series hilariously bid to host the Olympic Games!
It was as a student at George Watsons College in Edinburgh that Kennedy met up with future members of Absolutely. They got together originally to form the fringe sketch show The Bodgers and went on create what has often been described as the best comedy show Scotland has ever produced.
His early experience in comedy also saw him in The Kenny Everett Show and various characters in many episodes of Russ Abbott’s comedy series.
“I loved working on The Russ Abbott Show! Kennedy says, “It was a very steep learning curve, and I used to keep bumping into the sets. I was far too big for the show. When it came to Absolutely, I made sure they made an extra six-inch gap to get my shoulders through the doorway. I loved it. It was great fun, and a fantastic first experience.”
Due to a last minute adaption to a script, Kennedy also appeared in another cult TV series, Red Dwarf (1988-1999) as Hudzen. But this former P.E. teacher also presented the original National Lottery alongside Anthea Turner and filmed an advert for Tunes-the cold remedy.
Various television dramas also used his acting ability, including, Inspector Morse, Where the Heart Is, Red Cap, River City and two episodes of The Bill.
As the rather grisly Little John, Gordon Kennedy has starred in both series of the BBC’s new adaption of the legend of Robin Hood and recently completed a third.
“I don't mind keeping my hair long,” Kennedy said during filming Robin Hood, “as it is cheaper than having a mid-life crisis and buying a Ferrari but I don't like the beard. I had my last shave for eight months yesterday. It feels like an invasion of my facial space. I hate it!”
The BBC’s Robin Hood has received mixed reviews, particularly in its determined departure from many of the traditional elements of the story and an eagerness to modernize the age old tale. But it has a hard-core following, including many fan-sites over the web, which in there own way are taking this ancient medieval tale into the 21st Century.
Kennedy’s Little John does not have the traditional quarter-staff fight with Robin Hood over a river in this modern adaption by the BBC. Instead he is the moody, no-nonsense ‘giant-bear’ that stands mainly in the back-ground, that we only really get to know in Episode 11, of the first series, Dead Man Walking written by Simon Ashford. In this emotionally charged story, Little John’s son (also called John) is imprisoned after trying to protect a villager known as Luke, from being arrested for making bows and arrows for Robin Hood. Little John attempts to rescue the pair but is also thrown in the dungeons.
Later, Little John’s wife Alice is also imprisoned and estranged husband and wife, temporally meet up in the overcrowded cells, where they are soon to appear in the Sheriff’s Festival of Pain. Alice is surprised to see her husband alive. Little John soon begins to realize how time has moved on and that Luke now looks after Alice and her son. Meanwhile in an emotional scene Little John reveals he is the father of John.
Robin and his men infiltrate the castle dressed as guards and Little John’s temper finally snaps. In a fit of anger he breaks free of his oak stocks and manages to help free his family. Robin sets to work freeing the other prisoners from their chains with a lock pin given to him by Marian. Upon their escape, they leave the wicked Sheriff hanging upside-down in one of his own instruments of torture.
Sadly Little John has to say goodbye to his wife and son as they are now forced to live elsewhere for safety.
This in my opinion, was without doubt one of the best episodes of the first series, where we get to see some fine acting, particularly by Kennedy.
It was during the filming of the second series, that Kennedy pulled a ligament in his leg. When he was taken to hospital in Budapest, where the location filming was taking place, he was still in full costume as Little John and was left to one side, as the hospital staff thought he was a tramp!