From Robin Hood to The Beatles

Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen.......

Nearly everyone has heard that song, even though perhaps these days, they might not realise it was a theme tune to a hugely successful television series. For me, like many of a certain age, it was my first introduction-and left a lifelong fascination with the legendary outlaw Robin Hood. But little did I realise, as I listened to the theme song and watched the adventures on our rented television set way back in the early 1960's, that there was a strong link to the biggest pop band on the planet.

In the early 1950's EMI's Parlophone label was looked upon with derision. George Martin had joined the record company in 1955 as an assistant to Oscar Preuss the head of A&R. Between them they were left the 'light music' catalogue that sold a mixed bag of novelty and comedy discs. It wasn't until 1956 that they had their first spectacular success with the theme song to ATV's iconic television series The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Robin Hood! Robin Hood! Riding through the glen!
Robin Hood! Robin Hood! With his band of men!
Feared by the bad! Loved by the good!
Robin Hood! Robin Hood! Robin Hood!

He called the greatest archers to a tavern on the green!
They vowed to help the people of the king!
They handled all the trouble on the English country scene!
And still found plenty of time to sing!
[Chorus (1st paragraph) repeat]

 The black and white ATV television series starring Richard Greene - still fondly remembered today, ran to 143 episodes and was sold to CBC in Canada and CBS in the United States. It was an immediate success drawing on 32,000,000 viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original theme song, written by Carl Sigman, was sung by Dick James (1920-1986). Born Reginald Leon Issac Vapnic in London's East End, originally he became a vocalist at the Cricklewood Palais, then during the 1940's  'crooned' with Henry Hall's and Cyril Stapleton's orchestras and later Geraldo's band. He went on to have two hit records in America with Garden of Eden and of course Robin Hood, produced by  Parlaphone's George Martin and the Ron Goodwin Orchestra with backing vocals by James's son Stephen and 'chums.' The record reached number 14 in the UK chart.

As time went by Dick James's singing career waned, so he turned his attentions to song-plugging and joined Sydney Bron Music. But in 1961 his career took another turn when he started in music publishing, with Dick James Music.

George Martin meanwhile had been struggling to find a second song from a music publisher for a group from Liverpool that he instinctively thought might be successful. So he called on his old friend  Dick James in his 'shabby' office on the corner of Denmark and Old Compton Street in London. But after Martin's first approach, the old crooner laughed, "Liverpool! So what's from Liverpool!"

George Martin, Dick James and Beatles manager Brian Epstein

After hearing Love Me Do, Dick James was not impressed, but confessed he liked the overall sound of the group. He told George Martin that he would get in contact with some of his songwriters and within a few days he came up with a tune by Mitch Murray. The song was How Do You Do It  and George Martin was thrilled! This, he was sure would make The Beatles a household name. But John Lennon and Paul McCartney were not impressed, which annoyed him. They told Martin that they would rather write their own songs. "When you can write as good as this," he declared,"I'll record it!"

So The Beatles went back to a song written by Paul called Please Please Me. George Martin had previously not been impressed with it. But this time they quickened the tempo with their acoustic Gibson guitars and extended the length with an intro by John on harmonica. This time Martin decided to go with it and re-visited his old friend Dick James in Old Compton Street. After explaining the groups decision to compose their own material he played him Please Please Me. After just one hearing James said he would publish it.

The Beatles

With incredible foresight, Dick James went on to propose a special company be set up to exclusively publish Lennon and McCartney songs (later also Harrison and Starr). It would be called Northern Songs and be administered by Dick James Music.

Unbeknown to them, those four young lads from Liverpool were  now on the threshold of becoming legendary figures of English culture. Not too far away from another dearly loved folk-hero, sung about by their music publisher a few years earlier.

As a footnote to this, Paul McCartney later admitted that the Beatles song Little Child was inspired by the tune Whistle My Love, sung by Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale in the Walt Disney live action movie the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952).


1 comment:

Clement Glen said...

From Robin Hood to Robin Hood

Dick James

The Beatles

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Richard Greene