Friar Tuck's Feast

Have you ever fancied trying a dish from the Middle Ages? Or tucking into food that Robin’s jolly fat Friar might have tasted? If so, here is a recipe from the time of the Norman Conquest that would have been served at the end of the Lenten Fast:

Stuffed Roast Chicken

1.5-2 kg (3-4lb) chicken
225g (8oz) belly pork
Yolks of 3 hard-boiled eggs
1 egg yolk
50g (2oz) currants
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch each cinnamon and saffron

Remove skin from belly pork. Put in a pan and cover with water. Simmer for five minutes. Drain pork and allow to cool. Cut into chunks and mince finely. Mix hard-boiled egg yolks, currants and spices until blended. Stuff chicken with this mixture and roast in a medium hot oven for 1-1 ½ hours. Mix egg yolk with a little water and baste chicken from time to time to give a crisp golden skin.

We tried this about a year ago and enjoyed it. Please let me know what you think of it.

Richard Todd

This article on Richard Todd’s ‘haunting double tragedy’ appeared in ‘The Daily Mail’ on Tuesday, April 25th 2006. For me this was an incredibly revealing account by Wendy Leigh, of a man who I have greatly admired. But after reading this piece, I am sure you will, like me, be left totally in awe, of this true gentleman’s courage in the face of extreme adversity.

"Veteran actor Richard Todd is 86, [2006] but looks at least ten years younger. Handsome, blue-eyed and with the erect posture of a former military man, his manners are impeccable and his charm reminiscent of his days as a Fifties matinee idol.

The star of the Dam Busters and The Longest Day, who after two marriages ended in divorce, lives alone in a small Lincolnshire village, seems to have the quintessential elderly Englishman’s existence; living out one’s golden years in peace and happiness.

But this tranquility masks a deep sorrow that surfaces when Todd reflects on the two great tragedies of his life: the suicides of two of his four children. Suddenly the actor’s sonorous voice falters and his eyes fill with tears.

For a parent to lose one child is a tragedy. To lose two is devastating beyond words. And for both to die by their own hand must be unbearable. Yet Todd has faced both calamities with characteristic stoicism, staying true to his family motto: ‘It is necessary to live.’

As he puts it in his first interview since the second suicide: ‘It is rather like something that happens to men in war. You don’t consciously set out to do something gallant. You just do it because that is what you are there for. It is your country. And you just get on with it.’

Seven months ago Peter, Todd’s eldest son from his first marriage, shot himself in the head. He killed himself in the same way as his half-brother, Seumas, had done eight years earlier.

Peter’s mother, the actress Catherine Grant-Bogle, died nine years ago, so it fell to Todd’s second wife Virginia Mailer-Seumas’s mother-to tell Todd that a second son had taken his life.

‘I came home to find Virginia’s car outside my house.’ Todd says. ‘I saw her coming towards me and said: “What a nice surprise.” Then I saw look on her face and …’ Todd stops in mid-sentence. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says, ‘I can’t go on.’

Then regaining his composure, he continues: ‘Obviously, I knew Peter all his life and he knew more about my way of life than anybody else in existence. He was a devoted son. We shared so much together. I miss him. The word ‘terribly’ hangs in the air but Todd, with typical understatement, leaves it unsaid. Nor does he discuss the circumstances of Peter’s suicide.

But the facts are that his son’s body was found slumped in his car at 7.35 am on September 21, last year [2005], in a car park by the village hall in East Malling, Kent, where he lived with his wife, Jill.

According to reports, she had planned to leave her 53-year old husband, a racing car company executive. Peter, who used his father’s full surname of Palethorpe-Todd, left her a suicide note: ‘I’m so sorry but I cannot face life alone without you.’

His wife accepted there were problems in the marriage, but said that her husband had been badly affected by Seumas’s death: ‘He was extremely angry that Seumas did what he did,’ she told an inquest. ‘But because Peter wasn’t a chap to talk about things that inwardly affected him, it took its toll.’

She also said Peter’s drink problem had worsened since Seumas’s death.

Peter took a gun from a cupboard in their home. Jill, a director in an events management company, described her husband as ‘controlling’ and ‘obsessive.’ She said that on the night he shot himself, Peter knew that ‘time was running out’ for their marriage.

‘The following morning, I saw his bed had not been slept in and his car had gone. I phoned a family friend and she was the one who mentioned about the gun in the cupboard. When I saw it was gone, I phoned the police.’

A verdict of suicide was recorded.

Todd, who has another son, Andrew, and a daughter, Fiona, did not attend his son’s inquest. ‘Peter lived in Kent. Seumas and Andrew lived in Lincolnshire and they weren’t particularly close to Peter. But Peter had apparently said before he died that if anything happened to him he wanted to be buried with his brother.

So now Peter and Seumas are buried in the same churchyard just a few miles from Todd’s home. ‘There’s a space there for me, too. It’s my retirement home,’ says Todd. ‘I go down once or twice every week and have a chat to my boys.

‘The fact that Seumas committed suicide made it easier for me to cope with Peter’s suicide because I was more prepared. I leapt into action straight away. Funeral arrangements and all that sort of thing. Which I didn’t have the heart to do when Seumas died.’

I ask if the tragedies have challenged his faith in God. He insists not and says: ‘I am not going around saying: “Why me? Why me?” Saying “Why me?” doesn’t help.’

Has he ever been close to committing suicide himself? He looks at me uncomprehending. I pose the question again. ‘No. Not once.’ He says.

‘What helps me is accepting it, getting on with things. I try to think of the good times. If I get stuck in a morass of mourning, I switch off and think of something else. You have to. You can’t let yourself go on wallowing. You can’t let yourself do that.’

Eight years before Peter’s untimely death-on December 7 1997- Todd walked into his home, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, and saw Virginia, sitting with her back to him, shaking and moaning.

His son Andrew, ashen-faced, was speaking into the phone. ‘No, I’m afraid it’s definitely suicide,’ Todd heard him say. The actor ran to Seumas’s bedroom and found the 20-year-old lying on his bed, the butt of his 12-bore shotgun between his feet. ‘My heart stopped. He was lying on his back across his bed. This could not be my boy, my lovely Seumas, he could not really be dead.’ Todd said.

Seumas left a suicide note saying that he ‘could not cope.’

At first, Todd thought Seumas, a first-year student of politics at Nothumbria University, was suffering from financial worries. But he had only a small overdraft and was supported by loving, well-off parents.

Then an inquest into another student’s suicide suggested a link between depression and an anti-acne drug that Seumas had also taken.
‘I am convinced of it,’ Todd says. ‘There have been too many other cases for it to have been a one-off accident.

‘In 1996, my son came back from travelling for two years and he was tremendously depressed. In Australia he’d had chicken pox. He was panic-stricken because of the risk of facial scarring. And the illness probably also contributed to his melancholy.

‘He was very good looking and didn’t like having spots. The acne was very disheartening. The poor little chap didn’t stand a chance. It was an illness and it did not arise out of any unhappiness with us.

‘It reached crisis point because he was in his first year at university and the stress was too much. Young chaps don’t talk to each other about their depression, do they?

I first met Todd three-and-a-half years after Seumas’s suicide in Brighton, where he was appearing in ‘An Ideal Husband.’

At first, he avoided talking about his son but when he finally did, although his voice trembled slightly, he remained composed. He confided that he had been tempted to try to contact Seumas through a medium, but was afraid that if he did, Seumas would say: ‘Look, I am sorry I killed myself. I wish I could come back.’

Tears welling in his eyes, Todd recalled Seumas’s memorial and Andrew’s poignant words: ‘Thank you Seumas for being such a brave and great brother and friend to me. I know I didn’t deserve your love, and I will always miss you terribly.’

Todd said that he had changed since Seumas’s death: ‘I am more caring. I certainly make sure that my children know that I care about them, that I am around and know how they are getting on. I see Andrew every other weekend and am always on the phone with Peter and Fiona.’

He was putting on a brave face and trying to be optimistic, but I remember thinking that day in Brighton that it would be surprising if he lived to see his 80th birthday. Little did we know then that Peter’s suicide lay ahead.

Now, months after Peter’s death, Todd and I are having tea at his Victorian cottage. One wall is covered with photographs of his children, including Peter and Seumas; youthful, handsome, glittering with promise.

‘I changed my will today,’ Todd says flatly. ‘I had to because Peter was my executor but now he is dead.’

Later, at a nearby restaurant, we talk again about his sons. I suggest that being an actor may have helped him survive his double tragedy.

‘I’m sure it has. Because no matter what I feel at any one time, good or bad, I’m used to being other personalities. I switch from being unhappy to being reasonably happy. By switching identities, I just became somebody else.’

Todd became an actor against all odds. His mother wanted him to become a diplomat. Todd was born in Dublin into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family that included a judge and an Army officer; his father who served in India.

His mother, a beauty with violet blue eyes and an accomplished horsewoman, committed suicide when Todd was only 19, and already at drama school in London.

‘Her death didn’t affect me terribly badly at all.’ He says. ‘I wasn’t devastated. We had been close but just before she died, we disagreed. She didn’t want me to go on the stage. There were various differences and I lost affection for her. I began to find her a bit tiresome. I felt no guilt at all.’

When war came, Todd trained at Sandhurst and served in the Parachute Regiment. He became one of the first British officers to land in France in advance of the main D-Day landings, and later fought bravely in the Battle of the Bulge.

‘It was probably the best time in my life,’ he said. ‘I had no worries, no responsibilities. My parents were dead, I wasn’t married, I had no children. I didn’t have to worry about where we were going to live. We were all prepared to die for our country.

After the war, Todd became a film actor, winning an Oscar nomination for his second film, ‘The Hasty Heart,’ co-starring Ronald Reagan, and was Britain’s highest-paid film star during the Fifties.

In 1949, he married Catherine and they had Peter and Fiona. He starred in Hitchcock’s ‘Stage Fright’ in 1950 with Marlene Dietrich.

‘She was awfully nice and taken with me,’ he says, a trifle immodestly. He met Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood while he was making ‘A Man Called Peter,’ about a Scottish pastor.

‘She wasn’t in the film, but I found her in the corner (on set) by herself, listening and crying because she was so moved by the sermons in the script.’

In a career spanning 40 films, he also met Elizabeth (‘nice thighs’) Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. He blushes and says nothing when asked if he was romantically involved with either star, and is the last acor in the universe who would ever kiss and tell.

The great love of his life is Virginia, a glamorous former model, whom he married in 1970, the year his marriage to Catherine was dissolved.

They had Andrew and Seumas but their marriage, too, ended in 1992 when Virginia divorced him, partly because she was tired of him being away working so much. Today [2006] , Virginia, 64, lives 20 miles from Todd’s village, Little Humby.

‘Virginia and I are perfectly happy,’ he says, ‘we are the best of friends. We see each other a lot, spend a lot of time together but we each have space.’

Asked if he would marry again, he says that, if he did, it would be to Virginia, adding: ‘She probably feels the same.’ Then jokingly, he says: ’I’ll wait till I’m a bit older to ask her, though. I’m a bit young.’

Even now-five years since [2006] his last appearance, in ‘An Ideal Husband,’ and two years since his last television appearance, in ‘Holby City’-Todd still receives more than 40 fan letters a week.

He works for Age Concern, supports the Royal British Legion and speaks at charity functions and military commemorations all over the country, raising huge sums for charity.

On those occasions, his appearance is invariably heralded by the rousing sounds of ‘The Dam Busters March’, the theme music of the film in which he played heroic Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

Vigorous, with a full diary and countless interests including the English countryside where, for many years, he farmed 320 acres in Oxfordshire, Todd drives himself everywhere, shops at Marks & Spencer and is catered to by an adoring personal assistant and a multitude of friends.

He clearly enjoys giving advice to the elderly he meets at Age Concern. ‘I tell them to make the most of it. I’d be nobody without some form of interest to keep me going.'

Todd needs two knee transplants but has been told he is too old to have them. He has had open-heart surgery three times, including a quadruple bypass, and, as a result, is a great fan of the NHS.

‘I’m lucky that with all the disabilities I’ve got, I’m still able to look after myself,’ he says.

Since Peter’s suicide, countless newspapers have requested an interview. He has rejected them all. He did not want payment for this interview, asking only that a donation be made to the British Legion.

As we prepare to leave the restaurant, an elderly man comes over to Todd and-almost reverentially- asks: 'May I shake your hand?’ Todd acquiesces, neither proud nor pleased, just accepting.
Just before we part, I ask him for his definition of Britain and Britishness. ‘To me, it means fairness, good sense, decency, kindness, politeness.’

Todd, at 86 [2006], the father of two sons who killed themselves, exemplifies all those virtues and more: self-discipline, dignity, and courage in the face of unthinkable tragedy.”

Wendy Leigh ‘Daily Mail’ Tuesday April 25th 2006

Colliers Magazine Advert

This advertisement for Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood comes from my own collection of memorabilia from the film. It appeared in the fifteen cent American magazine ‘Colliers’ (originally known as Colliers Weekly (1888-1957) on July 5th 1952, alongside an article on traffic jams and how ‘too many secrets spoil the atom!’

With the heading, ‘the romantic adventure of the year,’ this extremely lively and colourful page describes the movie as: ‘an all live action picture….starring Richard Todd and introducing the exciting new screen personality, Joan Rice. You’ll feel it’s excitement-live its high hearted romance as adventure’s favorite outlaw strikes at tyranny! Only Walt Disney could capture in one great picture such tumultuous fury of exciting action. Whatever your age, Walt Disney’s matchless Robin Hood will rob you of your cares-reward you with a king’s ransom in adventure!'

The Famous Battle Between Robin Hood And The Curtal Fryer

Shown above is the Broadside version of The Famous Battle between Robin Hood and the Curtal Fryer. To a new Northern Tune. This copy is held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and was printed for F. Coles, T. Vere and W. Gilbertson in about 1660.

Lucy Griffiths

The recent BBC series Robin Hood has come in for a great deal of criticism. None more so, than when in the final part of the second series, the writers had one of the strongest characters in the show, Marian, played by Brighton born Lucy Griffiths, apparently killed-off by the evil Guy of Gisborne. This led to the Robin Hood 2007 Blog, a companion of this site (see My Blog List) being inundated with 136 comments and over a thousand hits straight after the program! Later in his online poll, 69% of his readers wanted Lucy Griffiths to return for a third series.

Twenty year old Lucy had followed Joan Rice’s earlier pioneering steps in the Story of Robin Hood (1952) and moved away from the traditional ornamental ‘Maid,’ into becoming a distinctly bright, independent 'Marian' with her own agendas. These included becoming a crime fighter in her own right as the leather clad, Kung-Fu kicking Nightwatchman. But with this sassy Marian came the modern ‘Top Shop’ style clothes that didn’t go down too well with traditionalists, including myself.

But one tradition that the writers of the BBC series did stick to, was the love triangle with Guy of Gisborne played by Richard Armitage as Robin Hood's (Jonas Armstrong) violent rival for Marian. This plot can be traced right back to Reginald De Koven’s successful Victorian play of 1890 called Robin Hood (produced in London as Maid Marian). This popular formula was also used in the 1938 classic swashbuckling film The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and Olivia de Havilland.

The Gough Map

Our earliest historical glimpse of the town of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest can be seen on what is known as the Gough Map. It is now held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and is the oldest road map of Great Britain. Very little is known about its origins. It was part of a collection of maps and drawings owned by the antiquarian Richard Gough (1735-1809), who bought the map for half a crown (12 ½ pence) in a sale in 1774. He later donated his whole collection of books and manuscripts (including this map) to Oxford University Library, under the terms of his will in 1809.

The map measures 115 x 56 cm and is made of two skins of vellum. The unknown map-maker used pen and ink washes to depict the towns and villages, with the roads marked in red. The distance between each town is also included in Roman numerals.

Clues to the date of the creation of the map can only be found by analyzing the handwriting and the historical changes to some of the place names inscribed by its mysterious artist. Therefore it is generally put at about 1360.

The medieval artist has depicted the Royal Forest of Sherwood as two intertwined trees and just above can be seen the walled town of Nottingham.

Behind The Scenes

Once again Neil has sent me a remarkable picture. This time it has been taken behind the scenes of the First Unit’s filming of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood. Little John (James Robertson Justice) is shaking hands with Will Scarlet (Anthony Forwood) just after the fight scene over the bridge with Robin Hood (Richard Todd).

This was filmed on one of the huge sets, inside Denham Studios and leaning against the huge Technicolor camera, getting a view of the action is Ken Annakin the director.

The First Unit were:
Director:- Ken Annakin
Unit Manager:- Frank Sherwin Green
Director of Photography:- Guy Green
Camera Operative:- Dave Harcourt
Technicolor Technician:- Ian Craig
Asst. Technicolor Technician:- John Tiley
Clappers:- Derrick Whitehurst
1st. Assistant Director:- Peter Bolton
2nd. Assistant Director:- Peter Manley
3rd Assistant Director:- Kip Gowan
Continuity:- Joan Davis
Sound Mixer:- C.C. Stevens
Boom Operator:- Fred Ryan
Sound Camera:- K Rawkins
Floor Props:- Jim Herald
Floor Electrician:- Maurice Gillet
Floor Stills:- Frank Bellingham
Production Secretary:- Teresa Bolland

Ken Annakin had vivid memories of shooting in Technicolor at that time:

“It was the very elaborate three-strip system, with a very immobile camera. When you wanted to reload the camera in its very heavy blimp, you had to have it lifted on chains, and it took the first class Technicolor crew a minimum of eleven minutes to reload the camera. After every single shot the camera had to be opened and the gate had to be examined; the prism was the great thing because this was the light splitter which gave the registrations on the three strips.

For this reason if you were making a big picture like Robin Hood, you had to be very certain that you were not wasting setups or wasting shots, because it was a big industrial process every time to set up your camera.”

Michael Praed

Without doubt the most successful and influential re-telling of the Robin Hood myth in more recent times was HTV’s Robin of Sherwood. The writer of this series Richard Carpenter 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. It soon became a firm favorite of mine.

Paul Knight of Goldcrest and Richard Carpenter had seen Michael Praed in a West End production of The Pirates of Penzance in 1982. His real name was Michael Prince, but chose the old Cornish name ‘Praed’ (meadow), because another actor was already listed with that name in Equity. Praed was playing the part of the swashbuckling pirate Frederick and soon displayed to them, all the qualities they needed for the part of the ‘Hooded Man’ in their new project.

Robin of Sherwood was first shown on Saturday April 28th 1984 and went on to attain cult status and ran up until 1986. Praed played Robin of Loxley for the first two series then left leafy Sherwood for Broadway, later taking on the role as the Prince of Moldavia in the American TV series Dynasty.

The third season had Praed replaced by Jason Connery (son of Sean who had played an older Robin Hood in 1976) as a reincarnation of the outlaw, Robert of Huntingdon.
I will be looking at this series in greater depth in the future. The series has a huge fan base with various excellent websites out there, including

If you enjoyed the series get in touch! How does it compare to the latest BBC version?