The Sheriff of Nottingham by Richard Kluger

In literature we have witnessed Robin Hood continually evolving from a yeoman, a nobleman and a Saxon rebel, in his endless battles of wits against the cruel Sheriff. I was interested to discover the Pulitzer-prize winner Richard Kluger’s different approach to Robin’s arch nemesis.

His historical novel, The Sheriff of Nottingham, first published in 1992, is based on the life of Philip Marc a soldier of fortune, brought over from Touraine by King John and made High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire from 1204-1224. Marc’s shrievalty was researched by the Cambridge Professor Sir James Holt, who described his conduct as ‘zealous, thrustful and dangerous; envenoming the local politics with robbery, and false arrest.’

Remarkably Marc is even named in the Clause 50 of Magna Carta as one of a number of his family to be completely dismissed from office. These details of Marc’s life as a contender for the infamous villain of the Robin Hood ballads have been highlighted in various posts on this blog.

Kluger tips the legend on its head with his revisionist 480 page journey back to thirteenth century England. Here we have Marc’s rise to power from poverty to his reward by King John of a commission as Sheriff; we witness his journey with his family to Nottingham Castle, but unlike his infamous historical namesake, the author paints a different picture of him. This Philip Marc is an honourable, decent and generally respected loyal servant of the king, only trying to do a tough job.

Sadly though this book in my opinion is very wordy, it tends to plod very slowly from one episode to another, and at times I nearly gave up with it. His characters - a blend of historical and fiction-are shallow and lack any depth and colour. The fickle earl, the Jewish moneylender, the aged prior and even the village prostitute conform relentlessly to their stereotypes.

In the novel, Philip Marc faces continuous tests of his ability as an officer of the crown. His unquestionable loyalty to King John is pushed to the limit when he is instructed by the monarch to execute some Welsh princes from Nottingham Castle.

Kluger bases this on the popular legend that in 1212 the tyrannical King John ordered the death of 28 Welsh hostages. The boys, (the youngest was seven) were the sons of Prince Llywelyn's supporters who had risen in revolt. Tradition states that they were dragged from their play and hung from Nottingham castle walls.

This chapter in the story kept me interested and was certainly the most intense and well written part of the book. Unfortunately later, as I turned the pages, I seemed to lose that mood quite often, especially when Kluger introduces us to the woodsman Stuckey Woodfinch of Blythe, his version of Robin Hood.Of course, you cannot have the Sheriff of Nottingham without Robin, but in this novel the outlaw’s inclusion seems to be almost an afterthought. In a twist of the legend Kluger has Marc eventually using Stuckey’s knowledge of the greenwood and employing him as a freelance forester.

Stuckey says to Marc:

“Your brother agreed from the first that my former identity might hamper my work among the foresters as your secret eye-in-the-wood and raise suspicion of some continuing link to the castle. So I’ve changed a bit and in look and name. My ‘Stuckey’ always lacked the dignity with which I’m so fashionably gifted, so I’ve killed it outright. My ‘Woodfinch’ I’ve played around with a bit. ‘Hood’ rhymes with ‘wood’ and means a cloak of sorts, which is the purpose of my rechristening, after all. And still being fond of our feathered friends for their freedom of flight and sweetness of song, I sought a birdy name of the same length to replace ‘finch.’ Only ‘eagle,’ ‘stork’ and ‘robin’ came to mind, with the first two predatory to suit my kindly nature and the second too ungainly to love. So there you have it.”

“Have what?” asked Philip.

“My new name.”

The sheriff wore a confounded look. Then it came to him. “What-Master Hood Robin? A bit odd, if you ask me. But I suppose if you’re pleased by it....”

“No it seemed better the other way ‘round.”

A bit odd indeed!

But for me the most bizarre moment in the book was when Robin and Will Scarlet disguised as travellers ambush the Prior of Lenton Abbey:

Will says:

“None of you is to move a muscle for five minutes.”

Did they have wristwatches during the thirteenth century?

So Richard Kluger attempted to offer us an interesting new angle on the much maligned Sheriff of Nottingham, set in the volatile politics of the time. It was a great idea, but I must admit to being very disappointed. Overall the novel was slow moving and I felt the character of Kluger’s Sheriff lacked realism and was far too squeaky clean. For me the fictional pure hearted Marc was too far removed from the real historical mercenary overlord and heavy handed Angevin administrator.

Picture Strip 37 : Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood

This is part 37 and we are now reaching the climax of Laurence’s fabulous picture strip of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952).

If you want to learn more about the making of this wonderful film or the legend that inspired it, please click on the relevant subjects in the sidebar.

Please click here to see previous pages of Laurence's picture strip.

Hubert Gregg and Joan Rice

Above is a very rare picture of Hubert Gregg (Prince John) and Joan Rice (Maid Marian) at the charity film premiere of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men at the Leicester Square Theatre on Thursday 13th March 1952. It was a very prestigious occasion, attended by many stars and celebrities of the time and the money raised went to ‘The National Advertising Benevolent Fund.’

It was announced from the stage (seen above) that the advertising in the programme alone, had produced over £13,000. Also appearing on the stage that Thursday night was Elton Hayes, dressed in his Alan-a-Dale costume, who delighted the audience with one of the songs from the film, which was adapted for the occasion (even with a playful dig at the films critics). The premier was ended with a ‘finely staged observance’ of the National Anthem with trumpeters beneath the Royal Coat of Arms and illuminated letters ‘ER’.

To read more about the premiere of the film click here.

Picture Strip 36 : Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood

This is part 36 and we are now reaching the climax of Laurence’s fabulous picture strip of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952).

If you want to learn more about the making of this wonderful film or the legend that inspired it, please click on the relevant subjects in the sidebar.

Please click here to see previous pages of Laurence's picture strip.

Elton Hayes 'Folk Songs'

Geoff Waite has recently been in touch and very kindly sent me the cover of a rare Elton Hayes EP.

He says:

“With reference to the Elton Hayes Song List, one of the records mentioned was an extended play (E.P) 45 called ‘Folk Songs’ released in the U.K by World Record Club, It seems that this was also issued in Australia by World Record Club Pty Ltd Melbourne as ‘18th Century Ballads’ which I feel was a more appropriate title. I am attaching a copy of the record sleeve in case you wish to add this to the song list. It has interesting sleeve notes which I am sending separately."

Geoff continues:
"I know from your previous comments that you share my dismay that none of Elton’s recordings on 78rpm or vinyl ever made it to CD except for ‘Whistle my Love’ and ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’. As a result his back catalogue is now abandoned and forgotten when new technology could have done so much to keep his music alive.”
Many thanks Geoff!

 I do find it incomprehensible and a tragedy that a record company will not release Elton’s music onto a CD. It is such a shame that modern generations don’t have a chance to hear the warm and relaxing style of this traditional folk singer. Hopefully in the not too distant future, a music executive might realise!!

To see the Elton Hayes Songlist and read more about the life of this wonderful folk singer please click here.

Catherine Grant-Bogle

Above is a rare picture sent in by Neil, of the actress Catherine-Grant Bogle, the first wife of Richard Todd (1919-2009). She married the star of Robin Hood, The Dambusters and The Longest Day on 13th September 1949. But sadly the couple divorced in 1970 and she passed away in 1997. What Catherine did after her divorce from Richard Todd remains a mystery, so if anyone can help with information on her later life, please get in touch at:

For more information on Richard Todd please click here.