At the time I had still to see both Errol Flynn’s 1938 movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Richard Todd in Walt Disney’s 1952 film version, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. As a result Robin of Locksley was - and always will be - Richard Greene leaping through the perils of life in Sherwood Forest with sword and long bow for no fewer than 143 swashbuckling episodes in company with his outlaw chums, including Archie Duncan as Little John, Alexander Gauge as Friar Tuck and Paul Eddington as Will Scarlett.
There were - and this was a tad confusing - two Maid Marians: Bernadette O’Farrell who, after almost 50 programmes, suddenly turned into Patricia Driscoll who, before moving to Nottingham, had been the presenter on the ‘Watch with Mother’ kiddy-winky's show, Picture Book.
There were also any number of famous (or soon-to-be-famous) guest stars among them Donald Pleasence, Leslie Phillips, Jane Asher, Leo McKern, Nigel Davenport, William Mervyn, Hubert Gregg (reprising his role from of Prince John from the Disney film), James Hayter (Disney’s Friar Tuck, now Tom the Miller), Geoffrey Bayldon (subsequently Catweazle),Wilfred Brambell and Harry H Corbett (later Steptoe & Son) as well as Patrick (Dr Who) Troughton and many others - including John Schlesinger (before he took up directing movies) as Alan-a-Dale!
I had the annuals, collected the sweet-cigarette cards and the plastic figures in Kellog's Corn Flakes packets - oh, but where are they now?! - and, of course, was word-perfect on the theme-song which followed the ever-thrilling whizzzzz! of an arrow and the satisfying THUNK! as it buried itself in the trunk of Ye Olde English Oak!
All together now...
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen,Even more popular than the obligatory childhood games of Cowboys and Indians, my schoolmates and myself played at being Robin Hood and his Outlaw Gang. Being lucky enough to go to a school the playground for which was a large swathe of Chislehurst Common, our break-time deeds of derring-do had an amazing woodland backdrop that would been the envy of many a TV and film director of the time!
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men,
Feared by the bad, loved by the good,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood…
He called the greatest archers to a tavern on the green.
They vowed to help the people of the king.
They handled all the trouble on the English country scene,
And still found plenty of time to sing.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood etc etc.
And in these games, you ask, did I play Robin Hood, you ask…?
Most certainly NOT!
Oh, no! My infatuation was not with Mr Greene in his Lincoln green, but with his co-star Alan Wheatley, who played the cruelly sinister, yet archly mannered Sheriff of Nottingham.
Wheatley was an incomparable nemesis for Robin and a true successor, had I but known it at the time, to Basil Rathbone’s Sir Guy of Gisbourne in the Flynn movie. And, like Rathbone before him, Alan Wheatley infused his unforgettable portrayal with the true essence of high camp villainy.
So it was that every lunch hour my school-chums and I swished through another improvised adventure with me brandishing a tree-branch sword, wearing my blue school mackintosh as a cloak with the top button done up under my chin and always remembering to drink from my pretend goblet, when such a moment occurred, with my little finger delicately crooked!
And, since I also devised and directed these games, I’m not in the least ashamed to report that the Sheriff of Nottingham inevitably came off much better (and more often) than he ever did in the TV series!
[Images from the Robin Hood Spotlight]