Friday 14 May 2010


Tonight on the Radio 2 Arts Show (around 10:30 pm), I'll be talking with Claudia Winkleman about 100 years of Robin Hood on film and reviewing the latest exploits of everybody's favourite outlaw as portrayed by the gladiator from Down Under: Russell Crowe...

Like King Arthur and Sherlock Holmes, every generation acquires its own Robin Hood: Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Richard Todd, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner or their small screen counterparts like Richard Greene (right) who, in ITV's The Adventures of Robin Hood between 1955-1960, started my obsession with men in tights!

With a band of outlaws who included Archie Duncan as Little John, Alexander Guage as Friar Tuck and Bernadette O'Farrell (and later Patricia Driscoll) as Maid Marian and with cameos from such later-film-and-TV-stars as Robert Shaw, Patrick Troughton, Jane Asher, Leo McKern, Joan Sims, Paul Eddington, Harry H Corbett and Wilfred Brambell, Greene swashbuckled his way through 145 episodes of wrong-righting and derring-do.

The theme song was on every kid's lips, mine included...

Those 30-minute black-and-white adventures so fired my imagination (and those of my contemporaries) that Robin Hood became our chief playtime game at primary school which, since I was then living in what was comparative countryside, meant that we played it among the trees, bushes and undergrowth of the un-walled, un-gated school grounds. Those were the days...

I have to admit that I was instrumental in organising these games: devising scenarios and designating roles and it tells you a lot about me that I cast myself not as Robin Hood but as the Sheriff of Nottingham!

With my school mac thrown over my shoulders and buttoned under the chin to form a cloak, I modelled my portrayal on that of Alan Wheatley who played Richard Greene's nemesis with a cold, softly-spoken sneering menace that also had about it, I now realise, more than a touch of theatrical camp!

My prize possessions, aged 6, were my collection of Robin Hood sweet cigarette cards and my first Robin Hood Annual. Although the latter was long ago lost (when my late mother purged my annuals and gave them to a cousin) I can still turn the pages in my mind's-eye.

As for my set of plastic Robin Hood figures collected from packets of Kellogg's cereal (and equally thoughtlessly disposed of), they were so precious that when, a year or two back, a set turned up in a book-dealer's catalogue, I simply had to buy them...

Robin Hood and Co
I can't help wondering of Russell's Robin will remain in the memories of a generation in the same way as did my man in Lincoln Greene?

If you miss my chat about the various Robins in the 'hood, you can catch it again for a week on the BBC's i-player.

Image of Robin Hood figurines © Brian Sibley 2010, uploaded from my flickr Photostream.


scb said...

Thank you for that lovely look back into your childhood and mine. I certainly remember that theme song as well, and although my friends and I didn't play Robin Hood, your mention of being the one who cast, scripted and directed your versions of Robin Hood reminded me so much of the way I did the same with my friends, designating roles, directing the action. In one long drawn-out bout of play-acting, I was Elizabeth II (I always got the plum roles, it's good to be boss...)

I shall happily sing "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen" for quite some time this evening!

scb said...

This is very much off-topic, but since there was a link to your Flickr, and I'm searching for photographs of London (or England in general) for my dining room, I wondered if I might print and frame three of your wonderful photos, please -- Big Ben framed by a tree, Sir John at St. Pancras (1) in B&W, and A Seat in the Sun, at Southend-on-Sea, Essex. I would happily credit you as photographer.

Geno said...

This is a film that I am actually looking forward to watching, just to see what they do with the story. I come from the Costner era and while I liked a lot of what was in the film (besides the Costner bit), I still get a kick out of Alan Rickman as the sheriff, especially his draw3n out death scene. I have also been recently watching the new BBC hood series, although this time it is Kieth Allen's sheriff that steals the show for me now.
Anyhow I will try to listen to the broadcast later and hear what you have to say.

Brian Sibley said...

SCB - Why did our fellow kids ever let us get away with it?! ;)

On the subject of the photos: help yourself; I'd be honoured to be hanging on your dining-room wall!

GENO - Ridley Scott's take on the Hood legend is, frankly, a mixed bag of plunder and, sadly, Matthew Macfadyen's Sheriff is one of the most disappointing to have held office in Nottingham; but then, to be fair, he is - in this version - only a secondary character.

To be a successful Robin, I think you have to be pitted against a really nasty Sheriff, Prince John or Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

If only Ridley had asked my advice... ;)

SharonM said...

When that tune comes to mind, I tend to be more inclined to sing "Denis Moore, Denis Moore, riding through the glen" and remember the fearful demand "Your lupins or your life!"

Good Dog said...

Oh excellent, I’ll look forward to that. I was planning to sneak off and catch a matinee showing today but Rox and I discovered the most fantastic cocktail bar last night so I’m feeling a bit delicate today.

In film I’ve always thought Robin Hood began and ended with Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s rambunctious The Adventures of Robin Hood and Richard Lester’s marvellously elegiac Robin and Marian, with room for the Disney version in between. I mean, Robin and the 7 Hoods? Oh, please. And the Costner version was an abomination. Maybe it’s me but I thought Alan Rickman’s panto turn didn’t come close to the wonderful tag team of Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone and Melville Cooper’s wonderfully bumbling Sheriff.

I see the reviews of Sir Ridley’s version started well but have since become mixed. One interesting thing is that some reviews from the (usually reliable) broadsheet hacks mention that Crowe’s Robin practically invents the Magna Carta. Listening to the Simon Mayo/Mark Kermode show on Radio 5 Live last week, Crowe in the interview mentions that’s actually the Foresters Charter or
the Charter of the Forest. Bizarrely, it was Billy Bragg who first mentioned it to the actor when they were still revising the script.

Whether it proves to be just adequate or outstanding, it’ll still be better than the usual summer movies filled with computer generated robots bashing the cogs out of each other for hours on end.

Brian Sibley said...

GOOD DOG - You touch on something very pertinent with your comment on the Flynn and Connery versions: Robin Hoods really are only as good as their nemeses - even the Brian Bedford-voiced Disney animated version had Peter Ustinov and Terry-Thomas in the villains' corner.

One of several problems with the Crowe film is that Matthew Macfadyen's Sheriff is a nobody and the villain is a poorly written character called 'Godfrey' played by the fast-becoming ubiquitous baddie, Mark Strong.

As for the Foresters' Charter is concerned, that may have been the historical inspiration but, unfortunately, the Foresters take it to the wrong King!

Boll Weavil said...

Well, living as I do within the Greenwood, I don't look forward to the new film with any great enthusiasm. Rickman's Sheriff was the redeeming feature of the 1991 film that, otherwise, was rather silly. I would guess that the modern day adaptations are all made for American consumption as the use of prominent landmarks completely out of place in the opening sequences plus Costner's outrageous accent made it difficult to take seriously. If the new version is standard stuff I suspect it may be equally unpalatable.It might send the tourists flocking into our fair city in greater numbers but I don't think thats necessarily a good thing. We still house a number of outlaws but don't have much else to offer by way of the Robin Hood experience. I suspect, and your blog just confirms this for me, that the best films about him and his merry men have already been made. Anyone save their cardboard cut-outs of the Disney version from the cereal boxes of the time ?

Brian Sibley said...

The Man from Nottingham, he say "No!"

Yes, BOLL, I can confirm your worse fears about Russell Crowe and his band of outlaws to whom the term "merrie men" only applies after they've imbibed Friar Tuck's mead and indulged in a bit of essential wenching. Errol is still the main man!

By the way, Nottingham's rival Hood-site, Barnsley, also figures in this version, but I doubt it'll do much for their tourism either.

dragonladych said...

I concurr. My favourite will always remain Errol Flyn. Or Disney's fox of course.

Hated the Costner version because I fell head over heels in love with Alan Rickman, I am supposed to love Robin not the Sherrif!!

I am still trying to figure out one mystery. I have this memory of an old series. I must have been 6 or 7 maybe, so it must have been around 1977. I think it was a re-run of a b/w series, but I don't think it's the one you mention because I could not find this particular character in it.

I clearly remember one character in Robin's following. Who had a twin brother who was working for the Sherrif, and often he would take his brother's place to spy on the enemy. I was fascinated by this character for some reason but could never find out who he was and who played him.

Maybe someone here can help me?

Good Dog said...

Well, one king or another, but I suppose it’s to suggest the character laid out the basis for what would become the charter.

Nice segment on the Winkle’s show. And cheeky saying that both Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn were swordsmen in their own right. Because Mr Rathbone was handy with a blade and Mr Flynn... well...

Brian Sibley said...

DRAGONLADYCH - It was indeed The Adventures of Robin Hood series with Richard Greene which contained some episodes - one was called "A Tuck in Time", another "Double Trouble" - in which Friar Tuck's twin brother Edgar Tuck was on the side of the enemy.

The role was played by the same actor who played Friar Tuck in the series, Alexander Guage.

GOOD DOG - Yes, heat of the moment over-enthusiasm, I'm afraid! I think Rathbone (who fenced as a hobby, I believe) once said that, in a real-life duel, he would have killed Flynn. :)

Good Dog said...

Oh no, I meant because Errol Flynn was a particular kind of swordsman in his own right.

Brian Sibley said...

Oh dear, yes, of course, 'The Relentless Swordsman' as Flynn was once referred to!

I can see now how that remark might have been misinterpreted (good job it was after the watershed!), except that I don't think Basil Rathbone had that kind of reputation, did he? As far as I know, it was only his upper lip that was forever stiff! :0

Brian Sibley said...

...except when he was sneering, of course! :)

dragonladych said...

Wow! Thanks for that! Now I know it was an actual memory not something I confused with other films. Funny how some childhood memories can be so important.

Unknown said...

Had a good chuckle at all the Flynn swordsman comments this morning. Good segment on Hood last night but someone PLEASE teach Ms Winkleman how to read from cue cards. She stumbled and fretted over the introduction to the piece like a bad kindergarten child doing their first school assembly. Truly dreadful! :-(

As Good Dog points out the reviews are all over the place. I keep seeing "two stars" or "four stars" but never three! I've got to the stage where I can't bear to listen or watch Crowe he's such a primadonna thug so will be giving this one a miss, even though Scott's work is always technically stunning

Brian Sibley said...

DRAGONLADYCH – A bit more information for you -- just to cement those memories of Friar Tuck and his twin brother, Edgar:

A Tuck in Time was first aired on British TV on 7 October 1957

Double Trouble, the penultimate episode in the final series, originally aired on 12 November, 1960.

IAN – I too am surprised at the way the reviewers are so divided over the film.

What's more, I seriously wonder whether they can now sell a sequel - even were it to turn out to be the movie people had been expecting this time!

Anonymous said...

This is Ridley Scott's most mis-understood film since Blade Runner. It is forgotten that BR was poorly reviewed, a box office dud and was considered to be a boring film with a lot of style and no substance. Only after the 1992 director's cut and the publication of Future Noire in '94 did the tide of opinion start to change. BR is considered to be a classic now. I think this Robin Hood will stand the test of time. It's one of the best film versions, and I've watched 'em all. 20 years later people still refer to that dreck with Kevin Costner. This is miles and miles ahead of that. Time will vindicate this film. It's a case of overwhelming audience anticipation and bias.

Brian Sibley said...

ANNONYMOUS - Thank you for sharing your interesting view on the film, but please note I don't normally publish comments that are posted anonymously.

You are very welcome to be part of any discussion here - whether or not you have a blogger profile - but please do me and fellow readers the courtesy of giving yourself a name at the end of your post. Thanks.

David Weeks said...

Just observing that for the sake of completeness there should be a link to this from "The Works' site as it is part of "On The Air" section of that site!

Good broadcast though . . . :o)

Anonymous said...

Apologies. I never share personal info on the web. I've had some negative experiences. But I usually go by "Pre-Raphaelite" wherever I post, if that's acceptable.

I personally dislike the Disney "Robin Hood". Yes, it is beautifully animated. But if I were to do an anthropomorphic animated Robin Hood, the tone would be much closer to "Watership Down" (1978), Ralph Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings" (also '78), even "The Secret of NIMH" (1982). I would weave in elements from medieval animal fables, such as Reynard The Fox etc. Even use Medieval art as a reference, the way Eyvind Earle used Medieval aesthetics for "Sleeping Beauty". Imagine if they had gone that way, with actors such as John Hurt (Sheriff of Nottingham), Brian Blessed (Little John) John Gielguld (Prince John), Richard Harris (as Robin!!)and say Vanessa Redgrave as Maid Marian? With a serious musical score - Maurice Jarre or something like what Kubrick did with "Barry Lyndon", using classical and folk music? Yeah. That's my taste!

Brian Sibley said...

DAVID WEEKS - You're right! And yes, I should have put a link on The Works to iPlayer, so people could "listen again", but with only a day to go, it's a bit late now.

Still that's the nature of radio: gone with the wind....:)

'PRE-RAPHAELITE' (ANONYMOUS) - You are very welcome to comment here under your soubriquet!

Your proposal for an anthropomorphic-animal version of Robin Hood is a beguiling tease; although, today, you'll need a slightly younger (and alive!) cast, of course! ;)

I liked a huge amount of what Martin Rosen achieved with Watership Down and what the greatly under-rated Don Bluth did in bringing The Secret of NIMH to the screen.

Disney's version is nothing more than a fairly superficial romp with some shamelessly pillaged animation work from their earlier classics, although, to be fair, with Walt not long dead, the studio was fighting to survive - not just with cinema audiences who supposed that Disney animation was also deceased, but with studio bosses who wanted to pull the plug on what was, after all, their very legacy...

Anonymous said...

The 70's were definitely a dark time for American animation. That's one of the reasons I appreciate Ralph Bakshi so much.

I was trying to imagine a 70's cast, but to be honest, I'm not sure today's actors have the same weird charm. I'd consider Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Albert Finney's still alive is he not? Who's funky, ha ha? That great thing from the 60's and 70's is lost now. Oooh, one thing that would be great for a serious animated animal-Robin Hood: get Bert Jansch to contribute to the score!

I love fantasizing about films never made, books never written - it's such a great game!

~ Pre-Raphaelite

Brian Sibley said...

Yes, and they are always superior to those films and books that got made and written in what passes for 'reality'! :)