Bill Walsh and 'The Riddle of Robin Hood'

It is always exciting and very rewarding to get feed-back on a post, and this one I found very interesting.

Whilst browsing the ‘Chronology of the Walt Disney Company’ three years ago I discovered, under the year 1952, a mention of ‘The Riddle of Robin Hood.’ It simply said-under, month unknown, “Disney releases the film 'The Riddle of Robin Hood' for promotional use [501.470].” I immediately emailed the owner of the web site, but he later confessed that he knew very little else. So I put an appeal on this blog in September 2007 for anyone that might have seen this mysterious film.

Eventually Neil contacted me and revealed that he had acquired a copy of this very rare film. This was fantastic news! It was produced by the Disney organisation to promote their second live-action production ‘The Story of Robin Hood' (1952). It is not only an amazing piece of cinematic history - but also of Disney history. So with Neil’s kind help I began to post sections of the script of ‘The Riddle’ on this blog.

What makes this 12 minute black and white film so special is that it not only deals with the legend of Robin Hood, but it takes you behind the scenes, right from the early research, the planning stages, set construction and on to the filming at Denham Film Studios in 1951. So you can imagine my surprise when I received this message from Bill Cotter recently:

“I just saw your post on this film and wanted to share what I wrote about it for my book The Wonderful World of Disney Television:

'Another project during this time also helped to confirm Walt's feelings about using television to promote his theatrical releases. After World War II, the Studio made several films in England to use funds being held there. Walt took Bill Walsh with him to England during the filming of The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, a 1952 release starring Richard Todd. Walsh's assignment was to produce a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, and he took the unusual approach of questioning Robin Hood's actual existence. The resultant 12-minute film, The Riddle of Robin Hood, was Walsh's first live action film. The Studio wasn't quite sure what to do with it, and as Walsh later retold it, they decided to give it away for free to anyone who was interested in it:

"In those days, naive was the word for the TV people. They didn't know what to do - they had to fill up a lot of time all day long, but they didn't have the stuff. We planted this film with a lot of TV stations all over the country, planted it with schools, because it had kind of a documentary feel about it. So pretty soon we were getting a lot of mileage out of this goofy little film. Walt was sort of enchanted by that, all that free space promoting the film, so the next year the networks came in and wanted Walt to do a TV show, and he was sort of spooky about it. I think he had had a bad experience on radio using the voices like the Duck and the Mouse. Nobody could understand it and the show wasn't successful, so he was a little leery about doing a TV show."

While it wasn't originally planned as a television program, The Riddle of Robin Hood certainly served the purpose of proving once again that television and films could happily co-exist.'

(Bill Cotter)

I would like to thank Neil and Bill for their help in solving our very own ‘Riddle of Robin Hood!’

Bill Cotter’s web site is at:

Remember Disney’s TV series Zorro? Bill also runs a great web site dedicated to the Disney series of the 1950’s about the story of a masked rider who battles the unjust rulers of the pueblo of Los Angeles during the days of Spanish rule. Bill’s site, ‘Walt Disney’s Zorro,’ can be found at


Clement of the Glen said...

Bill Walsh and 'The Riddle of Robin Hood'

Bill Cotter "The Wonderful World of Disney Television"

Neil said...

This really does explain something to me in that in early 1952 I do remember scenes from the film appearing on BBC TV in the morning as part of test transmissions and I reckon from this item, that the BBC were just showing this free film over and over again. It is a very good and thrilling little film and shows some of the great scenes from the film. It is highly unusual I would have thought but a very clever move as always from Walt Disney who does seem to have invested much of his time and energy on this film.