Showing posts with label Carmen Dillon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carmen Dillon. Show all posts

The Sheriff in Robin’s Camp

Stills from the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men often reveal the wonderful attention to detail by Walt Disney’s art and design department, led by Carmen Dillon. It is hard to believe this scene, like many, were filmed on one of the huge sound stages at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire.

In this image we see a blindfolded Sheriff (Peter Finch) being led into Robin Hood’s (Richard Todd) camp in Sherwood Forest. 

The Sheriff in the Outlaws' Camp

The Sheriff (Peter Finch) at the head of the table of outlaws

This very rare image taken from Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) was sent to me by Christian.
In this scene the Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Finch) has been captured by Robin Hood and his men and brought to the outlaws' camp in Sherwood Forest.

The outlaw camp was part of the magnificent sent designed by Carmen Dillon on one of the huge sound stages at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire. The picture above shows her legendary attention to detail and is an example of why Walt Disney chose her to be the art director (a rare position for a woman in those days) on The Story of Robin Hood. Information about her life and work can be read here.

Below is a list of some of the actors that played Robin Hood's Merrie Men:

John Brooking: - Merrie Man

Ivan Craig: - Merrie Man

John French: - Merrie Man

Richard Graydon :- Merrie Man

Geoffrey Lumsden: - Merrie Man

John Martin: - Merrie Man

Larry Mooney: - Merrie Man

Nigel Neilson: - Merrie Man

Charles Perry: - Merrie Man

Ewen Solon: - Merrie Man

John Stamp: - Merrie Man

Jack Taylor: - Merrie Man

If you know of any other actors that appeared in the movie as Merrie Men or have any anecdotal stories about their experiences on set please get in touch.

Robin Hood's Chair (Again)

Over the last few years, interest in my Disney's Story of Robin Hood Facebook page has been growing and there are now 41 members. One new member, Brian Varaday, has very kindly sent me another example of what has become known on this blog as Robin Hood's Chair.

The chair used in The Dark Avenger (1955)

Brian sent me a still from the movie The Dark Avenger (1955) which not only starred Errol Flynn, but also had many people involved in its production who would have been familiar with the chair when it was first used on the set of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood at Denham Studios in 1951. Actors such as Peter Finch, Michael Hordern, Ewen Solon, crew members Guy Green, Alex Bryce and technical adviser Charles R. Beard had all previously worked on Robin Hood.

The original chair used in Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952)

It was while watching the classic television series the Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1960) starring Richard Greene, that I noticed a familiar piece of furniture in the Sheriff of Nottingham's chamber. I was sure I had seen the highly decorated chair with its circular headrest and carved pineapples before.

That chair in the Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1960)

I immediately paused the DVD and quickly grabbed my illustrated copy of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. I was correct! It was the same chair that had been designed by Carmen Dillon and her art department for Disney's live-action movie in 1951. Somehow it had found its way to Nettlefold Studios and the ground-breaking set of the black and white television series.

The chair used in TV's Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1960)

As a young lad, these two versions of the Robin Hood legend had a huge influence on me. So you can imagine my surprise when I recently found, what I believe to be that very same chair (over thirty years later) in another all-time favourite of mine Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986).

The chair used over 30 years later in Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986)

I made a few enquires about this remarkable coincidence and received this message from a member of the Britmovie forum:

“I think it’s quite normal for props and costumes and even whole sets to be used in other films over the years. Studios normally had their own prop stores and there are also several large independent prop hire companies around London that have been on the go for years. I remember visiting one in Acton many years ago while helping a friend find some props for a theatre production; it was like an Aladdin’s cave with the proprietor cheerfully pointing out what other famous plays some of the props had been used for in the past.”


"I guess most of the props these days are located in private rental firms. In the old days before studios went four walls they contained huge prop departments on site. I know Pinewood had a massive prop dept so it’s not unusual for the same prop to pop up in many films and are now privately owned. I know when MGM Borehamwood closed they flogged a lot off in a huge auction and many went down the road to Elstree."

The Robin Hood Chair in The Men of Sherwood (1954)

A while ago another regular blog visitor kindly sent me stills of those chairs being used in another movie, The Men of Sherwood Forest (1954). This was the first of a trilogy of Robin Hood features made by Hammer Film productions and also their first colour movie. Recently some critics have described it as the possibly the worst sound film about the outlaw ever made! Although in my opinion, American actor Don Taylor gives a good performance as Robin Hood and Reginald Beckwith is an excellent Friar Tuck in this low budget romp.

The Men of Sherwood (with chairs designed by Carmen Dillon for Disney in 1951)

To read more about the work of art director Carmen Dillon, please click here.

If anybody reading this blog, knows of any other movies in which the props (particularly those chairs) from the Story of Robin Hood can be clearly seen (and if they still exist) please get in touch! 

Robin Hood's Camp in Sherwood Forest

Maid Marian with Friar Tuck and some of the outlaws.

A fortnight ago I posted a favourite still of mine from Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). It showed Maid Marian (Joan Rice) at the camp of Robin Hood surrounded by some of the outlaws. The image above was recently sent in by Neil and gives us another view of the scene, this time from a different angle. Looking at this picture, it is almost possible to feel the warmth of the camp fire and smell the cooking pot. This is yet another example of the artistry and fine attention to detail by the set designer, Carmen Dillon (1908-2000).

Carmen Dillon reveils a model of Nottingham Square for Robin Hood

Four years ago, Neil sent me the article Prejudice and Slacks from The Cinema Sudio (November 1951) in which reporter Catherine O'Brien looked at the immense amount of research and work Carmen Dillon did on the set of Robin Hood. On top of all this of course, we must consider the fact that at the time she was the only woman to succeed in becoming an Oscar winning director. She overcame a huge amount of prejudice during her career at a time when no one in the film business would take a female art director seriously.

Below is an excerpt from the article Prejudice and Slacks:

Carmen Dillon's set design of Robin Hood's camp

"One of the most important sets in the film is the Sherwood Forest camp where Robin Hood and his Merry Men live in outlawry, in their woodland hideout. Some weeks before the film, Carmen accompanied a research party including producer Perce Pearce, script writer Larry Watkin, and film star Richard Todd to Nottingham and returned laden with photographs of every relic of Robin Hood days, which would help her construct the original setting at Denham Studios."

Robin Hood's Caves in Nottingham

Larry Watkin, Richard Todd and some of Disney's research team.

"... the Robin Hood sets are sufficient to demonstrate the huge scale assignment tackled by Carmen Dillon on her latest appointment as art director and the great confidence placed in artistic talent by Walt Disney in the realisation of one of his most ambitious ventures."

(The Cinema Studio: November 1951) 

To learn more about the life and career of Carmen Dillon and to read the fascinating article Prejudice and Slacks please click here. There is also a lot more information on Disney's research party and their look at the incredible caves and sites associated with the Robin Hood legend under the tag 'Film Production' here.

Film of the Month

These two YouTube clips from the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco were kindly sent in by Neil.   The first one advertises the fact that the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) was going to be the film of the month for May. I would have loved to have been there and would be interested to know if the museum had an exhibition dedicated to the movie!

The second clip is part of a fascinating interview with the late Ken Annakin (1914-2009), describing his work for Walt Disney. In this small section we hear him explain about Disney’s choice of CarmanDillon as Art Director on Robin Hood and the technique of sketching out each and every scene.

To read a longer interview with Ken Annakin on the making of Robin Hood, please click here.

Huntingdon Manor

Above is a rare image of Huntingdon Manor showing the wonderful attention to detail by art director Carman Dillon (1908 -2000) on Walt Disney’s live action movie the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men(1952). Information about the research and attention to detail by this remarkable woman can be seen here.

Huntingdon Manor appears at the opening of the film and the courtyard is full of hustle and bustle as Marian’s father prepares to go on Crusade with the king. It is here we see some of Carmen Dillon’s artistry and the product of her immense research.
Twenty five interior sets were designed by her, including ‘Nottingham Square’ which was constructed both on Denham lot and on one of the huge sound stages.

Film & Television Production at Burnham Beeches

Due to its beautiful woodland and close proximity to London (25 miles) and many film studios, (Shepperton, Bray and Pinewood) Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, England, has been used for many movie and television projects down the years. It is characterised by a diverse mixture of ancient woodland, wood pasture, coppice, ponds and streams, grassland, mire and heath land. The sites most prominent features are the veteran Beech and Oak pollarded trees which provide a stable habitat for many rare and endangered deadwood species.

It covers an area of 220 hectares (540 acres) and is located close to Farnham Common, Burnham and Beaconsfield.

An ancient pollarded tree in 2009

Filming is tightly controlled due to recognition of the Beeches' international importance for wildlife, restricting filming to no more than 20 days per year and to certain times of year. Filming in environmentally sensitive areas has also been banned. The revenue from filming goes directly to fund the upkeep and management of the Beeches.

During my visit in April 2009 I was given a list of ‘all’ the filming that has taken place there since 1946 and too my horror one film in particular was omitted. Yes you guessed it, Walt Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men,’ which was filmed at a number of places in the area, including Mendelssohn’s Slope and Upper and Middle Pond in 1951.

So let’s try and put the record straight:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Film 2010: Daniel Radcliffe

The film crew and production team of Harry Potter at Burnham Beeches in 2009

Creation Film 2008: Paul Bettany, Jenifer Connelly

Made With Magic TV 2008: Jamie Oliver

Jonathan Creek Christmas Special TV 2008: Alan Davies

New Tricks Series 5 TV 2008: Amanda Redman, Dennis Waterman

Merlin TV 2008: Colin Morgan, Bradley James

Midsomer Murders TV 2008: John Nettles

Eden Lake Film 2007: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender

Sense & Sensibility TV 2007: Mark Williams, David Morrissey

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix Film 2006: Daniel Radcliffe, Evanna Lynch

Primeval TV 2006: Douglas Henshall, Hannah Spearitt

Waking the Dead TV 2006: Trevor Eve, Sue Johnson

New Tricks TV 2005: Amanda Redman, Dennis Waterman

I Could Never Be Your Woman Film 2005: Michelle Pfeiffer

Driving Lessons FILM 2005: Rupert Grint, Julie Waters

Waking the Dead TV 2005: Trevor Eve, Sue Johnston

King Arthur Film 2004: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley

Winter Solstice TV 2003: Jan Niklas, Geraldine Chaplin

In Deep TV 2002: Nick Berry, Stephen Tompkinson

Born and Bred TV 2002: Naomi Radcliffe, Jenna Russell

The Hole Film 2000: Thora Birch, Keira Knightley

Midsomer Murders TV 2000 John Nettles

The Worst Witch TV Una Stubbs

Alice in Wonderland TV 1998 Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd

Family Affairs TV 1998 Ebony Thomas, Kazia Pelka

Plunkett & Macleane Film 1998 Robert Carlyle, Liv Tyler

Merlin TV 1997/8 Sam Neil, Martin Short

Tess of the D’Urbervilles TV 1997 Justin Waddell

Bedroom 7 Hallways Film 1997 Kevin McKidd, Simon Callow

Kavanagh QC TV 1997 John Thaw

Spiceworld Film 1997 The Spice Girls, Richard E Grant

Bright Hair TV 1997 Emilia Fox, John Bowe

Bliss TV 1996 Simon Shepherd

Touching Evil TV 1997 Robson Green

Wilderness TV 1996 Amanda Ooms, Michael Kitchen

Ivanhoe TV 1996 Steve Waddington, Nick Brimble

The Wind in the Willows Film 1996 Steve Coogan, Eric Idle

The Hollow Reed Film 1995 Joely Richardson

Roald Dahl’s Red Riding Hood TV 1995 July Walters, Danny Devito

Guliver’s Travels TV 1995 Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen

Soldier Soldier TV1994/5 Robson Green, Jerome Flynn

Martin Chuzzlewit TV 1994 Julia Sawalha

First Knight Film 1994 Richard Gere, Julia Ormond

Circle of Friends Film 1994 Minnie Driver, Chris O’Donnell

Between The Lines TV 1993 Neil Pearson, Siobhan Redman

The Crying Game Film 1992 Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson

King Ralph Film 1991 Peter O’ Toole, John Goodman

Kevin Costner in Robin Hood : Prince of Thieves
The movie was filmed all over Burnham Beeches

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Film 1990 Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman

Minder-Xmas Special TV 1988 Denis Waterman, George Cole

The Princess Bride Film 1987 Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn

Slipstream Film 1987 Mark Hamill, Robin Coltrane

Lair of the White Worm Film 1987 Hugh Grant, Amanda Donohoe

Mr Corbett’s Ghost TV 1987 Burgess Meredith, Mel Smith

Company of Wolves Film 1982/3 Angela Lansbury

Who Dares Wins Film 1982 Lewis Collins

Hawk the Slayer Film 1981/2 Jack Palance

Time Bandits Film 1981 John Cleese, Bernard Bresslaw

John Cleese as Robin Hood in Time Bandits

Agatha Film 1979 Dustin Hoffman, Vanessa Redgrave

Dick Turpin TV 1978 Richard O’Sullivan

The Professionals TV 1977 Lewis Collins, Martin Shaw

Carry On England Film 1976 Sid James, Kenneth Williams

The New Avengers TV 1976 Patrick Macknee, Joanna Lumley

Carry On Behind Film 1975 Sid James, Kenneth Williams

Frankenstein: The True Story Film 1973 Ralph Richardson, Jane Seymour

Bless This House Film 1972 Sid James, Diana Coupland

The Benny Hill Show TV 1971 Benny Hill

The Persuaders TV 1971 Roger Moore, Tony Curtis

Carry On Camping Film 1969 Sid James Kenneth Williams

Randall & Hopkirk-Deceased TV 1969 Mike Pratt, Kenneth Cope

Manhunt TV 1969 Cyd Hayman

The Siege of the Saxons Film 1963

Z Cars TV 1962 Colin Welland

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner Film 1962 Michael Redgrave, Tom Courtenay

The Avengers TV 1961 Patrick Macknee, Diana Rigg

Dangerman TV 1960 Patrick McGoohan

(VARIOUS) Hammer Horror films FILM 1960’s -70’s

Goldfinger Film 1960 Sean Connery

A Town Called Alice Film 1956 Peter Finch, Virginia Mc Kenna

Lost Film 1955 Thora Hird

Men of Sherwood Forest Film 1954 Don Taylor, Reginald Beckwith

Perce Pearce the producer of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood
with Art Director Carmen Dillon and 2nd Unit Direcor Alex Bryce at Burnham Beeches

Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men Film 1952 Richard Todd, Joan Rice

London Belongs To Me FILM 1948: Richard Attenborough

Great Expectations FILM 1946 John Mills

If you know of any other TV of film productions not listed that used Burnham Beeches as a location, please get in touch.

Carmen Dillon - Prejudice and Slacks

When I first started this blog about Disney’s Story of Robin Hood three years ago, I tried to piece together as much information as I could about the art director on the movie, Carmen Dillon. The more I read about her the more there was to admire about her. What an amazingly talented woman she was. But there wasn’t a great deal about her work with Walt Disney. So I posted all that I could find.

But a few weeks ago Neil once again turned up an ace with this fantastic article from The Film Studio in 1951 about her work on Disney’s Story of Robin Hood. It is full of the information I had hoped for, including details of her battle in the early days against male prejudice, her detailed research for the Robin Hood movie and the construction of the massive sets at Denham. Read and enjoy!
Carmen Over Came Prejudice
 ..........And Put On Her Slacks

Carmen Dillon. Only woman who has succeeded in becoming an Oscar-winning director, has just completed one of her biggest assignments in this capacity on Walt Disney’s new, all live-action picture ‘Robin Hood’, starring Richard Todd in the title role, opposite Joan Rice as Maid Marian [November 1951].

The art director on ‘Robin Hood’ was a two-fold job; firstly to achieve period authenticity combined with photogenic scope on the many large scale Sherwood Forest and Nottingham Castle settings, which were spread over three stages at Denham Studios for filming by the interior unit, directed by Ken Annakin and photographed by Guy Green; secondly to find matching locations within easy reach of the studios for sequences in which the exterior unit, directed by Alex Bryce, with Geoffrey Unsworth as lighting camera man, took over the action and carried the scenes to completion.

Carmen Dillon was deemed the ideal art director for the job. She has a fine reputation on both sides of the Atalantic for imagination and artistic flair allied to a practical approach to set design and construction, which has been evidenced in her art direction of some of the biggest and most highly praised period films made in Britain, including ‘Henry V’ and ‘Hamlet,' for which she won her Oscar.

Fight for Recognition

Small and neat of figure, with greying hair and light blue eyes, Carmen Dillon was born in Ireland. After she had qualified as an architect, she became greatly attracted by the artistic possibilities of film set design and set out to get a job which would train her in this field. It is strange to reflect that this happened only fifteen years ago and yet at this time no one in film studios would take the idea of a woman art director seriously.

Anyone knowing Carmen Dillon, however, would realise that such an attitude would only serve to strengthen her determination to attain her objective. Eventually she obtained toe-hold in a studio at Wembley, as assistant in the art department. Even then petty restrictions beset her at every turn. She was not permitted to go on a set in slacks and was forbidden to discuss her work with the men in the studio workshops and stages. After a few weeks of making the best of this difficult situation, Carmen was asked to take over the work of an art director who had fallen ill on the eve of a production. By proving her undoubted talent and aptitude for production design she was able to overcome the prejudice which had hitherto hampered her career.

Early Career

Carmen Dillon was art director for Fox British from 1935 to 1937 and later worked for Two Cities on a series of major productions. She was associated with Paul Sheriff on ‘Demi Paradise,’ ‘The Way To The Stars,’and ‘Henry V,’ all of which contributed much to establishing the prestige of British films abroad. She was then put in sole charge of the vast and impressive settings for the brilliant Laurence Olivier film production of ‘Hamlet’. Her recent assignments as art director include ‘Women Hater’ ( a title aptly linked with the initiation of her career), ‘Rocking Horse Winner,’ and ‘The Browning Version.’

Although she can be extremely feminine and elegant in off-duty hours, Carmen now claims the prerogative to wear slacks throughout a production. In no other way could she supervise the sets in the process of construction at every level from studio tank to gantry.

Robin Hood Assignment

On Walt Disney’s Robin Hood Carmen was in control of a staff of over two hundred men, who accepted her advice and judgement with the same respect and deference as they would accord to any male art director. Among the technicians, she has earned, through her skill and tact, a reputation for knowing exactly what she wants, without fuss or muddle. She carries all the details of planning and building the sets in her head and has a remarkable knack of foreseeing and thus forestalling building problems.

Before the stage is set for the actors, the lighting cameraman and the director, Carmen plans the work, step by step, with fastidious detail. In the case of Robin Hood, the first step was research, to ensure that the pictorial effect should have a truly authentic 12th-century keynote.
Robin Hood's camp in Sherwood Forest

One of the most important sets in the film is the Sherwood Forest camp where Robin Hood and his Merry Men live in outlawry, in their woodland hideout. Some weeks before the film, Carmen accompanied a research party including producer Perce Pearce, script writer Larry Watkin, and film star Richard Todd to Nottingham and returned laden with photographs of every relic of Robin Hood days, which would help her construct the original setting at Denham Studios.

In what little remains of the original Sherwood Forest, Carmen studied the Queen Oak, where Robin Hood and Maid Marian are said to have their trysting place; Robin Hood’s Larder, another giant oak, where legend has it, the outlaws stored their game and the vast labyrinth of caves at the foot of Creswell Crags, where Robin Hood and his men are said to have hidden their horses when the Sheriff of Nottingham was on their tracks.

Back in the studio, Carmen incorporated many of these features of the Robin Hood country into her set design, which then became the subject of a conference between producer Perce Pearce, scriptwriter Larry Warkin and herself before passing it into the hands of the draughtsmen and model makers in her art department. From their blueprints and scale models the construction manager, Gus Walker, was then able to allocate to the various departments concerned the work required to bring the sketch into concrete existence.

Continuity Sketches

The Robin Hood art department was also responsible for producing continuity sketches of every camera set up in the film, somewhat on the lines of a static Disney cartoon, to ensure dovetail co-ordination between the two units, who were frequently filming sections of the same film, several miles apart.

These were the work of Stephen Grimes, son of ‘Grimes,’ the well known newspaper cartoonist, and himself an artist of distinction. Also working with Carmen Dillon in the Robin Hood art department was Arthur Lawson, as associate art director, Harry White and Jack Stevens as set dressers, Ivor Beddces as model constructor and a large staff of draughtsmen.
Nottingham Square

Authentic Reproduction

Two more of the twenty-five interior sets designed by Carmen Dillon for Walt Disney’s Robin Hood serve to illustrate the immense research and artistry with which she conjured up the back ground and atmosphere of 12th-century England. One of- Nottingham Square, in the reign of Richard Lionheart-was constructed both on Denham lot and on one of the studio stages-to cater for both units.

Three sides of an irregular square were surrounded by houses, some half-timbered and all pre-fabricated in the plasterers shop under the direction of Master Plasterer Arthur Banks. The houses and shops made of plaster and wattle (which was in fact the building material of that period) had every appearance of solid antiquity in spite of their backing of tubular steel scaffolding. Most imposing was the Sheriff’s house, with its carved arches and steep outside staircase. Thatching was carried out by one of Britain’s oldest surviving craftsmen in this line Mr A. Gilder of Stoke Poges.

The centre of the square was filled with wattle hurdles and pens in which were enclosed game and produce of every type. By the time the stars, featured players and extras-numbering up to two hundred-had taken their place in the square it was hard to imagine a more convincing reproduction of life in 12th century England. It is in this setting that Robin Hood and his men ride in from the forest to rescue a poacher and a farmer who are suffering at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham and succeed in turning the tables on their hated persecutor.
The Great Hall, Nottingham Castle

Magnificent Illusion

Another fine set was the exterior and courtyard of Nottingham Castle, the scene of many of the most exciting and spectacular scenes in the film. On one side of the set a flight of steps ran up beside the forbidding stone wall of a Norman keep to an archway leading into the main building of the castle, facing, over a vast cobbled courtyard, ramparts overlooking the moat.

The drawbridge was a work of art in itself. Designed strictly on 12th century lines, this complicated piece of wooden mechanism had to be strong enough to bear the weight of a huge procession of crusaders clattering out of the courtyard on horseback. The impression of strength and solidity which pervaded this entire stage was overwhelming and yet the whole set was erected and painted in one day-due to the constant demands of the brisk schedule on studio floor space.

The secret again was meticulous pre-planning and prefabrication. The grey ‘stone’ walls were really plaster, cast in giant moulds and rigged onto movable steel scaffolding, while the forbidding curtain walls and towers, which looked as if they would defy an army, were in fact perspective cutouts. To aid the illusion of height and grandeur, the steps were designed in two flights, with a landing between them; the lower flight was quite shallow and the top one almost sheer.

These samples from the Robin Hood sets are sufficient to demonstrate the huge scale assignment tackled by Carmen Dillon on her latest appointment as art director and the great confidence placed in artistic talent by Walt Disney in the realisation of one of his most ambitious ventures.

'The Cinema Studio', November 1951 by Catherine O’Brien

The Riddle of Robin Hood # 3

This is a continuation of the script from Walt Disney’s short promotional film the ‘Riddle of Robin Hood’ a unique insight into the making of his later live-action production the Story of Robin Hood. To read the earlier sections please click on the label below:

"Back in London another Disney task force went into action. This was headed by the only woman art director in the film business, Carmen Dillon (seen above with her assistant, either Arthur Lawson or Jack Stevens) . Whose deigns for Sir Lawrence Olivier’s ‘Hamlet’, won her an Academy Oscar.

Hers was the job of locating and bringing to life the physical background of Robin Hood’s day, the castles, the villages and the spirit of twelfth century England. Here the Tower of London as it was in Robin’s time, built from an artist’s conception but re-constructed from ancient engineering and architectural plans .Then Nottingham town. Of course Nottingham, one of England’s great cities today, is far different in appearance from when it was a quaint midland village, centuries ago.

But with honest research, comprehensive sketches, then carefully constructed models, it was hoped to bring it to life. To in view it with the same congenial charm that coaxed Robin out of nearby Sherwood for one of those stimulating visits, that used to upset the Sheriff there so much.

Close at hand during the
[piece missing] ………..down to the last bolt on the helmet was the object of his most careful attention. As for ladies wear, they presented a bit of a problem in those pre-zipper days. By the time the lady struggled into her dress, half the day was gone. So there being no time to fix her hair, she usually wore one of those over her hair. It’s known as a cowl and what it saved in time, it probably lost in husbands!"

An Interview with Ken Annakin

"I was interviewed by Perce Pearce, who was the producer and we got on very well. I hadn’t met Walt till he came over and visited the set while we were shooting.

In the planning of our picture, they were very determined that ours should be very, very true. We went up to Sherwood Forest, to Nottingham and the script was written as actually as it could be from the records. I thought we were probably making a truer picture than had been made before.
Now we didn’t have Errol Flynn, but all the things we had in the picture, were very British and very true. I mean, he [Walt] was making his picture, his version and I think we came up –with Walt’s help and insistence on truth and realism-as near as makes any matter.

He [Walt] didn’t stay very long on Robin Hood. He had a great trust in Carmen Dillon, who was responsible for the historical correctness. Everything, from costumes to sets to props and he- I’m not so sure why he was so certain- but he was dead right at having chosen her. And she did that picture and Sword and The Rose too. And his reliance was 100%. A director can’t go into every historical detail and so I would check with her also, pretty well on most things. And she would quietly be on the set and if we used a prop wrongly, she would have her say. Mine was the final say, as director, but one couldn’t have done without her.

Now Walt really-I remember him on that picture- having set the overall key of what he wanted- and seeing it was going the way he wanted- he trusted Perce Pearce as the producer, he came to trust me as the director. And I must say, I have never had Walt looking over my shoulder at anything.

I had never experienced the sketch artists and sketching a whole picture out. Now, that picture was sketched out by and approved by him. My memories of Robin Hood are basically that he visited the sets, maybe half a dozen times. He stayed probably 2 or 3 hours, maybe, while we were shooting. Not often 2 or 3 hours (laughs). And I remember that he used to go off to a place very near Denham where we were shooting. He used to go off to Beaconsfield and spend hours with the guy that had the best model railway, I think, in the world. And this was the beginning of his thoughts on Disneyland. Beaconsfield was just a place where, this guy had built up his model railway. Beaconsfield also has a studio, but the studio hasn’t any connection with that.

Then the film went back to here [America] and the whole of the post-sync work and the post production work was done. And the director was never called in to have anything you do with that. It wasn’t until I had made my fourth picture with Walt, which was Swiss Family that I was ever really allowed to do anything with the editing (laughs) or to say about the music or anything. But once you had, shot it, that was your job as the director."

The Riddle Of Robin Hood

About a year ago I discovered Ken Polsson’s highly informative website ‘Chronology of the Walt Disney Company.’ It was whilst browsing through his comprehensive lists of Disney’s historical landmarks and films that I first 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 Ken, but he later confessed that he knew very little else. So I put an appeal on this website in September 2007 for anyone that might have seen this mysterious film.

In January an anonymous message appeared under my posting of Hubert Gregg, informing me that they had a copy of the film in their possession and left an email address. It was Neil Vessey, who went on to kindly describe in great detail, scenes from this very rare black and white 13 minute film. I could hardly contain my excitement and when he later went on to post eight images taken from the film, I was ‘over the Moon!’ (A picture from the Riddle of Robin Hood taken by Neil, of Walt Disney and Perce Pearce can be seen above). This is seeing cinematic history at its very best and makes working on this blog so worthwhile.

Neil described to me, how this unique footage, firstly shows Walt Disney in his studio office at Denham, talking to Perce Pearce the producer of the film and Lawrence Edward Watkin the writer of the screenplay. It also shows some ‘still shots' of their ‘fact finding’ visit to Nottingham with Richard Todd (described on this web site under ‘Film Production’) in 1951. There are clips of Richard Todd (Robin Hood) and one of the ‘merrie men,' being driven, by open car to the set. Later two more of the ‘outlaws’ arrive on bikes and possibly Martitia Hunt (Queen Eleanor) on a motorbike! They all make their way over a bridge, close to where Friar Tuck’s dog is later filmed attacking the sheriff.

Friar Tuck’s dog is also shown with its trainer, while the camera crew film Peter Finch, as the Sheriff of Nottingham, running through the river. Richard Todd in his full costume, can be seen practising the quarter staff fight with former Champion at Arms, Rupert Evans and their is even a clip of the lovely Joan Rice (Maid Marian) leaving her house in Denham and cycling to the studios. Carmen Dillon, the set designer, is also shown at Denham Studios, with models of the castle and drawbridge explaining to Walt Disney how those particular scenes would later be filmed.

In one clip, Ken Annakin, the director of the movie, is arranging the dramatic shot of King Richard’s departure for the Crusades, also Guy Green is shown being pushed along on one of the massive Technicolor cameras, filming the climatic scene in which Robin Hood (Richard Todd) leads the Sheriff (Peter Finch) at knife point towards the castle’s drawbridge. Fascinating stuff!

If only Disney could release ‘The Riddle of Robin Hood’ and The Story of Robin Hood’ together!

A very special thank you goes out to Neil Vessey.

And if any one else has information, or memories of this production or Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, and its cast members, please get in touch at :

Working for Walt Disney

When asked recently how often Walt Disney visited the 'Robin Hood' set at Denham Studios, Ken Annakin replied that the great man didn’t stay very long. It was no more than half a dozen times, sometimes in fact, less than two or three hours, while they were shooting a scene.

It was Perce Pearce, Walt Disney’s chosen producer, who interviewed Ken Annakin at Denham, for the job of director, on the movie. Annakin finally met Disney when shooting had begun. He had already, according to Annakin, set the overall key of what he wanted. Disney was never looking over his shoulder, but the whole movie was sketched out by artists, the way he wanted, and approved by him. Something Ken Annakin had never experienced before.

Disney trusted Perce Pearce as the producer, Annakin said, he came to trust me as the director. He had a great, great trust in Carmen Dillon, Annakin continued, Disney was, dead right in choosing her, his reliance was one hundred percent.

Carmen Dillon was given the responsibility of designing and checking the historical accuracy of everything from props and costumes to the huge historical sets. She would stand quietly and have her say, only, if a prop was used wrongly. I had the final say as director, Annakin said, but one couldn’t have done it without her. Carmen Dillon went on to work for Disney and Annakin a year later, on ‘Sword and the Rose’.

Annakin was also asked if he was concerned about previous films about Robin Hood. We didn’t have Errol Flynn he replied, but no, he wasn’t. All the things we had in the picture were very British and very true. They went up to Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, he said and the script was written, as accurately as possible from all the records. After all, Annakin continued, Walt was making his picture, his version. I think we came up, with Walt’s insistence on truth and realism, probably as near (to the real story) as makes any matter.

At the end of shooting the film was taken back to America, where the whole of the post sync work and post production work was done. As director, Annakin said, he was not called in to help with that. It wasn’t in fact, until he made his fourth picture for Walt Disney, ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ that he was allowed to do anything with the editing or say anything about the music, or anything! Once you had shot it, that was your job as director!

Carmen Dillon 1908-2000

An art director collaborates closely with the film director and production team to visually tell a story on film. The construction of the sets, costume designs, locations, props and decor are all encompassed in this important role and in 1951 Walt Disney used one of the best art director’s in Europe during the making of his Story of Robin Hood-Carmen Dillon.

Born in Cricklewood, north west London on 25th October 1908, Carmen was the youngest of six children-two boys and four girls. Two of her sisters were also to become famous, Tess Dillon became head of the physics department at Queen Elizabeth College, London University and Una Dillon founded the first Dillons bookshop in London’s Tottenham Court Road in 1936.

After attending New Hall Convent in Chelmsford, Essex, Carmen went on to win an Architectural Association Scholarship.

I loved architecture not so much as a great classic thing, but I loved houses, whether ugly or not. I wanted to know how people lived, where they lived, what they did and how they decorated their homes. I particularly enjoyed the historical study of architecture.

But in her spare time she was becoming vey interested in the world of amateur dramatics and soon became involved both as a designer and actress in local productions. At that time, Carmen had been working in Dublin as an architects assistant, until she moved to London where she was eventually offered a job as an assistant art director and set designer at the Wembley Studios for Ralph Brinton making, ‘Quota Quickies’. She later described the B-film movies at Fox British as, rotten little old films, but very exciting and great fun .

Carmen recalls her early days at the film studios:

I just drifted in, I think, and for a long time I was the only female art director in the country. My mother was delighted, though, that I was going into films in some capacity. That was really quite progressive of her to be encouraging me to go into films in the 1930s.

During the early war years, Carmen moved to Denham Studios where she started her long association with Two Cities and Rank and became Britain's first and only female art director for more than forty years.

First I would read a rough outline of the story and try to imagine the kind of settings and do some rough sketches. You always had lots of talks with the director to be sure you both had the same ideas about the look and mood of the film. Then the draughtsman would make the working drawings and the sets would be based on these.
One of the landmarks in her early career was being hand picked by Laurence Olivier for his war time production of Shakespeare's Henry V (1944). With art director Paul Sheriff and costume designers Roger K and Margaret Furse (all brought in by Olivier), Carmen, as assistant art director, boldly moved away from attempting to recreate the usual ‘historical’ sets. Instead she set the movie’s first scene to start with the ‘Globe’ theatre, and all the hustle and bustle, vividness and splendour of an Elizabethan Theatre. From the wooden stage we are then transported into the fourteenth century, using all the colour, design and style of illuminated medieval manuscripts like Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, with its false perspectives.

"It was my idea to do it that way," Carmen later said.

The backdrops dissolve when we reach the gritty Battle of Agincourt, then we are gradually brought back to the theatre for the final act. With a limited budget and restrictions this Technicolor film significantly proved a massive hit and morale booster in war torn Britain. Carmen was nominated alongside Paul Sheriff for an Oscar in 1947 for
Best Art Direction-Interior Direction in Colour.

Her Oscar finally came for Best Art Direction and Set Direction in Laurence Olivier’s second film as director, the 1948 version of Hamlet, which she shared with Roger K Furse. This production was filmed by Olivier in high contrast black and white and is strikingly different to the extremely colourful Henry V. The mood is sombre and claustrophobic, with much use by cinematographer Desmond Dickinson’s deep focus. The camera creeps through the long dark atmospheric settings, along the bare ancient walls and up the long shadowy, winding staircases, past the huge pillars and repeating arches. Using Olivier’s metaphor that, ‘Hamlet is more like an engraving than a painting,’ Carmen and Roger Furse manage to frame the characters in a geometric minimalistic and detached way.

Hamlet became not just the first British film but the first non-American film to win the Oscar for Best Picture along with Best Actor (Olivier) Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

Olivier’s conception of "Hamlet" as an engraving has been beautifully executed by Roger Furse and Carmen Dillon. Sets have been planned as abstractions and so serve to point the timelessness of the period. The story takes place anytime in the remote past. This conception has dominated the lighting and camera work and has made the deep-focus photography an outstanding feature of the film.
(Variety May 12 1948)

After working as Art Director on many notable films, including The Browning Version (1951). Carmen Dillon’s extensive research and beautifully constructed historical sets continued to be in demand by producers in particular for The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) (which was nominated for a BAFTA and the Venice Festival prize ) and of course Walt Disney’s
The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952).

Ken Annakin remembers the start of filming at Denham Studios:

Two of the stages were over two hundred feet long, and I gathered from Carmen Dillon, the art director assigned to Robin Hood, that both stages would be completely filled. One with Robin Hood’s camp in Sherwood Forest, and the other with Nottingham Castle, complete with moat.

Carmen was one of the great art directors on the European scene. Not only was she an accomplished painter, but she was able to supervise big set construction and set-dressing, down to the last nail. So much so, that sometimes when I was lining up a shot, I found her a bit of a pain in the ass because she would insist that her designs and her visual conception of a scene must be adhered to, whereas I regarded the sets only as a background for the actors.

She continued working for Walt Disney on other historical live-action movies including The Sword and the Rose (1953) Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953) and Kidnapped (1960) But:

They were very keen on having a storyboard and that was very trying. You had to pin down every shot for every scene; it was good for you as a discipline, but it wasn't the way I enjoyed working.

During her distinguished career, Carmen was to work on many of the finest British films and was continually favoured for her set design by Laurence Olivier, Anthony Asquith, David Lean and Joseph Losey. Including:

Richard III (1955)
The Iron Petticoat (1956) Checkpoint (1956)
The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)
A Tale of Two Cities (1958)
Accident (1967)
The Go-Between (1971)
Lady Caroline Lamb (1973)
Julia (1977)

During the making of the Prince and the Showgirl the unit assistant, Colin Clark described in his book what it was like working with Carmen:

The art director is a small, intense lady with short grey hair, cut like a man's. She is Carmen Dillon who works with a set dresser called Dario Simoni. Together with Roger Furse, they are responsible for the "look" of the whole film. They are all completely professional and only think about the scenery, and the props and the costumes. They didn't even glance at Marilyn Monroe when she walked in to look at the set for a moment last week, even though MM was quite excited by the whole thing.

Looking back at her career as a woman in a male dominated movie industry, she said:
When I was young and trying to get into films they were very against having women in films at all.”

Carmen didn’t enjoy making A Tale of Two Cities (1958) and later described it as a ‘rotten film, very poor, I’m ashamed of it.’ But she did confess to having a great deal of fun making the ‘Carry On’ films.

In 1977 Carmen worked with Gene Callahan and Wily Holt on production design for Fred Zinneman’s Julia starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. Their art direction was nominated for a BAFTA and the movie itself was nominated for 11 Oscars and won 3. With simple clean lines, Carmen’s versatility in design, captures the whole spectrum of emotions in this very powerful movie and received much critical acclaim.

The period environment, brilliantly recreated in production design, costuming and color processing, complements the topflight performances and direction.

Carmen retired from the world of film making in 1979 and died in Hove, Sussex on 12th April 2000.

With a film one has to live with your draughtsmen much more, living with the work, the craftsmen and everybody all the way through. Whereas on the stage, however much one pours oneself into it, it is "Goodnight dear, see you some time". When one is working on a film one is influenced by the cutting, music - everything. It is much more alive. So, I suppose in a very selfish way I wanted to be "in on it".

(Carmen Dillon)

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007