Robin of Sherwood with Jules Frusher

In the days of the Lion spawned of the Devil's brood, the hooded man shall come to the forest. There he will meet Herne the Hunter, Lord of the Trees, and be his son and do his bidding. The Powers of Light and Darkness shall be strong within him. And the guilty shall tremble. (Prophecy of Gildas)

Michael Praed as Robin Hood

This is the second instalment of a look at my partner Jules Frusher's favourite television versions of the legend of Robin Hood. Two weeks ago I published her views on the recent BBC series Robin Hood (2006) starring Jonas Armstrong, Keith Allen and Richard Armitage. The  review can be seen here.

Jules made the interesting point that the BBC's Robin Hood episodes did not pretend to be in any way historically accurate, unlike the movie Braveheart for example. And although it was a radical change from the traditional telling of the ancient legend, Jules was sure the series would lead children to become interested in medieval history.

Jules Frusher is a published author and her most recent novel, The Devil To Pay is available here. She is also a historian and runs a website called Lady Despenser's Scribery in which she not only researches the life of Hugh Despenser, a 14th Century knight, but looks at every day life during that period. Her website is becoming very popular and well worth a visit.

Jules's second choice in her list of favourite interpretations of the Robin Hood legend, is the Robin of Sherwood  (1984-1986) television series, directed by Ian Sharp. Broadcast over 26 weeks, this series, made by HTV in association with Goldcrest, was without doubt the most successful and influential re-telling of the myth in more recent times. Richard (Kip) Carpenter (d.2012) and his writing partner Paul Knight, cleverly blended together elements of ancient pagan mysticism and folklore and created a gritty, realistic and hugely successful re-telling of the ancient legend for television. Carpenter had previously written and created another successful television series about a notorious outlaw, Dick Turpin for London Weekend Television back in 1978. 

Robin Hood and the outlaws of Sherwood Forest

Not only did Robin of Sherwood introduce the concept of the Green Man and the legend of Herne the Hunter, but this ground breaking series took the controversial decision to give the legend a pagan slant. Through the whole series there is continuous reference to the pagan beliefs of the opposite factions of  good and evil and the forces of light and darkness. Jules noted, that this helped  paganism become more accepted and not looked upon suspiciously as witchcraft.

The whole series was shot on film and almost entirely on location in the northeast and southwest of England, including Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland and Wookey Hole caves in Somerset. HTV West in Bristol was the production base.

Together, Jules and I watched the double length episode, Robin Hood and the Sorcerer Part 1 first aired on the 28th April 1984.

It was refreshing to hear once again the haunting sound of  Irish folk band Clannad as they sang the opening theme and incidental music. Later released on an album, the atmospheric soundtrack to this series, Legend, won a BAFTA for the group, for best television music in 1984.

The story begins with Loxley village being attacked and razed to the ground by Norman soldiers searching for young Robin's father. Ailric (guardian of the silver arrow, a symbol of great power) is a Saxon and has openly rebelled against the tyrannical Norman rule. As the village burns, Ailric quickly takes Robin on horseback away from the soldiers to the safety of the home of Mathew the Miller. As the thunder booms overhead, Ailric  rides to a stone circle where he intends to hide the silver arrow, but the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nikolas Grace) and his cavalrymen are waiting for him. One by one the sheriff's men aim at Ailric and his body soon slumps to the ground covered in crossbow bolts. The Silver Arrow is now in the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Ailric of Loxley's last word are, "He's coming... the Hooded Man is coming!"

During the opening scenes of the destruction of Loxley village, Jules noted how the soldiers chain mail unfortunately looked more like sprayed fabric!

So, orphaned at an early age, Robin is secretly brought up by the village miller, alongside his younger foster-brother, Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams).

Fifteen years later, at Castle Belleme, the evil Simon De Belleme* is warned by his guardian - the possessed John Little - to beware the hooded one who will seek the arrow and that his master demands a sacrifice.

*A Robert de Belleme was exiled for sorcery and devil worship c.1300.

Robin (Michael Praed) discovers that Much has been hunting in the forest and killed a deer, breaking the Law of Venison - a crime punishable by the loss of a hand. They are both seen by Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie d.2003) and his men and try to escape. But they are eventually captured and put into, what Jules described as a oubliette* at Nottingham Castle. This was a bottle-necked pit where prisoners were starved or driven to insanity.

*In 2006 an oubliette ('to forget,' in French) was discovered by archaeologists in the underground caves of the Galleries of Justice Museum in Nottingham.

Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie 1960-2003)

The scene in the torture pit is excellent. As the light begins to clear we discover several oppressed men who have witnessed the cruelty of the Sheriff of Nottingham and eventually become the nucleus of Robin's band. It is also here that we are first introduced to one of the strongest personalities in the series, Will Scarlet, played by Ray Winstone.

But this Scarlet isn't the foppish personality we have seen in previous reincarnations. Carpenter wanted the characters to strike a cord with modern audiences and Winstone's portrayal is of a brash, angry and argumentative young man. Formerly known as Scathlock, he had witnessed the rape and murder of his wife in Loxley Village by drunken mercenaries. After being attacked she had been trampled to death by the men's horses. Scathlock was now Scarlet with hatred! 

'Hot headed' Will Scarlet, became immensely popular with fans of the series and Ray Winstone enjoyed the role describing him as the first football hooligan. Although when the series was dubbed into German, Winstone was very disappointed and said he sounded more like a 'psychotic mincer!' 
To read more about the legend of Will Scarlet please click here.

The Sheriff (Nikolas Grace) and his brother Abbot Hugo (Philip Jackson)

Back at Nottingham Castle, the sheriff and his brother, Abbot Hugo (Philip Jackson) of St. Mary's Abbey, argue over a flooded fishpond. But their attention is soon distracted by the arrival of Baron de Belleme as he is led through the castle gate by a possessed giant carrying a quarterstaff. In the castle grounds the beautiful Lady Marian (Judi Trott) is attending her bees* when she is warned of the arrival of the Baron by Brother Tuck (Phil Rose).

*This could be inspired by the poem Robin Hood: To A Friend by John Keats and his reference to 'Marian's wild bees'.

In the oubliete, Robin encourages the prisoners to try to escape. At first they are scared of becoming outlaws and being killed on sight. But Robin explains to them that there are parts of Sherwood Forest that the soldiers will not enter and it is there that they will find food and shelter. Scarlet agrees and says, he has nothing else to lose.

De Belleme is taken into the main hall* of Nottingham Castle and finally gets to see Marian. The Sheriff introduces her as the daughter of Sir Richard of the Lee, who was killed in Palestine and now ward of the Abbot Hugo. The Baron looks icily at Marian and explains that his wife had recently taken her own life and that she could take his place. This prompted a suspicious side-ways glance from both the sheriff and the abbot. But Marian looked bravely straight ahead and informed De Belleme that in the month she will become a novice at Kirklees Priory. Angrily the baron turned to the abbot accusing him of 'marrying her to God, so that her lands go to the church'.
The time is coming, he sneered, when you will beg for my help. Both of you. You will give her to me then, when the hooded man comes to the forest.

There is a stunned silence in the castle hall.

*In the hall of Nottingham Castle, the distinctive large decorated chair used by the sheriff appears to be the one originally seen in Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952) and various other versions of the legend. See here

After the baron has gone, Abbot Hugo explains to his brother that De Belleme gets up to all sorts of naughtiness, devil worship and all that! The Sheriff answers him with, but to which devil? There are so many aren't there. And only one God, it hardly seems fair.

Robin Hood (Michael Praed) and Lady Marian (Judi Trott)

The prisoners manage to escape from the dungeon and Robin tells them to make their way to Sherwood. After a fight with some soldiers, the rest of the men get out through the castle gate, but Robin is too late and the portcullis is closed. So Robin makes his way along the battlements and into a castle tower where he finds himself inside Marian's bedchamber. They are instantly attracted to each other and Robin describes her like a May morning. She saves his life by not calling out* and as he turns to escape from the tower he lifts up his hood. Marian suddenly realises that he is the hooded man that De Belleme had described.

*Reminiscent of the classic Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (1938).

 As Robin is making his way back to Sherwood Forest  he encounters Herne the Hunter for the first time. The woodland spirit explains to the outlaw that  the poor and dispossessed are all waiting for him.

Back in his castle Baron Simon De Belleme realises that the hooded man has returned to the forest, so he sends his possessed bodyguard, John Little off to Sherwood to hunt him down. In the forest, Robin encounters him on the traditional log over the river and a quarterstaff fight ensues. In the river, Robin eventually manages to knock the man out and free him of the Baron's hex by washing away the mark of a pentagram on his chest. This earns Robin the strangers friendship and upon hearing that his name is John Little of Hathersage, Robin Hood laughingly decides to call the giant Little John

The outlaws have now met up in Sherwood Forest and have decided to keep their heads down, do what they are told and go their separate ways. Robin revisits Herne the Hunter and asks him what he must do. Herne gives the outlaw a sword known as Albion, charged with the power of light and darkness. The woodland spirit then instructs Robin to string the bow and calls him Robin-I-The-Hood.

Now with a strong sense of purpose, Robin goes back to the outlaws and wakes them all up. Little John immediately asks if Robin has been possessed? He explains to the men that it is time that they all stopped sleeping. Since the Norman invasion they had had no voice, no justice and without it there would be no England. He tells them that it is time we fought back!

Meanwhile Marian is preparing to leave Nottingham Castle for Kirklees and asks Brother Tuck to look after her bees. Guy of Gisburne is to escort her and is instructed by the Sheriff of Nottingham to torture the miller on the way - to find out where the outlaws are hiding. Much the millers son witnesses Gisburne's burning of the mill and the death of his father (Robin's step-father) and rushes heartbroken back to the forest.

Robin swears revenge and ambushes Gisburne and his men along the forest road. Marian is led to safety by Much and Gisburne is stripped of his clothing, tied to his horse and told:
Tell the Sheriff of Nottingham that Robin Hood holds Sherwood, tell him Herne's Son has claimed his kingdom.

This was the end of the first episode of a two part special that introduced the main characters in the series. In the second instalment, Robin rescues Marian from the castle of the evil Simon De Belleme and it is here that we witness the first appearance of a new member of Robin's band for many centuries.

Nasir (Mark Ryan) is a Saracen that protects the Baron de Belleme and was originally scripted to be killed during the final battle scenes. But the writer, Richard Carpenter was so impressed and inspired by Ryan's swordplay that he re-wrote the script so that Nasir  joins the outlaws. This idea seems to have caught-on with later productions and we get Robin with a Moorish companion (Morgan Freeman) in Robin Hood :Prince of Thieves (1991) and Djaq, the Saracen girl in the BBC's Robin Hood (2006).

Robin meets Herne the Hunter

Jules thought that this series was the biggest influence on the legend for decades and I totally agree with her. The writer, Richard Carpenter wanted the past to come alive and be significant for the present and his adaption of those ancient tales certainly did that. Not only did Robin of Sherwood introduce a whole new audience to the medieval legend, but also to the renewed spirit of paganism.

To read about other TV and Film versions of the legend of Robin Hood please click on the links.

Readers of this blog voted Michael Praed their all-time favourite Robin Hood in a poll a few years ago! To see all the contenders and all the results, please click here.

Nothing is ever forgotten.

What did you think of the series?


Clement Glen said...

Special thanks to my partner Jules Frusher for her comments on this series.

Robin of Sherwood

Robin Hood on TV.

What did you think of the series?

Janet P. Reedman said...

In an otherwise positive write up, one correction I would point to is that it's 'Wookey Hole,' not Wookey Hall.

Clement Glen said...

Many thanks for your kind comments Janet, the typo has been corrected!

Allen W. Wright said...

My site wouldn't exist if it weren't for this show. One of my absolute favourites.

That said, I'm not sure I would quite call any show with lines like "it's not arrows and swords. This is a fight between the powers of light and darkness" realistic, but then I think realism is overrated and misused anyway. (The same way that the Russell Crowe film was not remotely realistic.)

It's a fun show with great dialogue, a superb cast and superior production values.

When I introduced my friend to it, she remarked "Oh, so that's what Robin Hood books and movies have been ripping off for the last 15 years."

Oh, and I think it help make paganism more "accepted".

Clement Glen said...

Thank you for your comments Allen.

I will never forget watching 'Robin of Sherwood' at the Forest Lodge in Sherwood Forest one Saturday afternoon in the 1980's. In my oppinion Carpenter's interpretation had as much influence on the legend as the Warner Bros production with Errol Flynn and Howard Pyles novel.

Allen W. Wright said...

My favourite Robin of Sherwood memory was in Nottingham at the 1999 Robin Hood conference. The local cinema was showing a bunch of Robin Hood films and they aired The King's Fool from Robin of Sherwood.

The friend who sat next to me was really close to Robert Addie, and when the scene came where Guy brings the outlaws before King Richard, she was tense.

King Richard: "Suppose I told you I sent for them, Gisburne."

My friend (muttering): "Please don't say it."

Gisburne: "But why should they come?"


At that point, my friend was doing a facepalm.

Mike Giddens said...

As you know clement this series is my favourite of all time, the best Marion , and that's not taking anything away from our dear Joan Rice, who will always be my childhood favourite.
I love the treatment by Kip Carpenter , the series continues to entertain and fascinate. Thanks for this great article.

Clement Glen said...

Many thanks for all your comments.

Allen: Recent portrayals of King Richard I have been a huge dissapointment to me. Considering the Lionheart was such a legandary figure in his own life time, I feel from the 1960's onwards he was shown as less than enigmatic on the silver and small screen.

Mike: Like you, Robin of Sherwood is my favourite TV version of the legend. Some of the earlier versions on the tele were good including the Martin Potter and Diane Keen 70's series and Richard Greene's classic Adventures of Robin Hood. But I must say Joan will always be the best Maid Marian for me lol !!!