Writing Maid Marian

Writing Maid Marian
By John Bainbridge
What do you do about Marian?

A question to be considered by anyone writing fictionally about Robin Hood, whether you’re penning a novel, a film or a television series.

When I was writing my own Robin Hood novel “Loxley” I thought long and hard about what exactly to do with Marian. Should she be there at all? More of that later.

In the same way that everyone has their own image of Robin himself, the same is true of Marian. Do you make her a shy, retiring creature, with little experience of life beyond her father’s castle, or someone more feisty, a warrior even?
Some of the Victorian writers of Robin Hood novels were quite sure. Marian, to them, was a shy simpering creature, always busy with her embroidery and seriously challenged out of her comfort zone on meeting the Sherwood outlaw. This image persists in a number of the Robin Hood films of the 20th century. Olivia de Havilland in the Errol Flynn classic is very nice, but she’d have been no use in a battle. Move on four decades to Judi Trott’s portrayal in the iconic TV series “Robin of Sherwood.” Here we have a Marian who is well bought up, a royal ward no less, and a member of the minor aristocracy. But she is quite happy not only to live with Robin in the greenwood but to fight alongside him.

Some writers solve the problem by dispensing with Marian altogether. And there are grounds for that. Marian doesn’t feature at all in the early ballads. If Robin has a girlfriend at all in the earliest writings she is called Clorinda. In fact Marian is a real latecomer to the Robin Hood tradition. There is a poem by a late thirteenth century French writer called Adam de La Halle entitled “Le Jeu de Robin et Marion”. But when you look at it closely, it’s a verse about Marion and her lover Robin, who’s actually a shepherd and not an outlaw at all.

This evidently crossed the channel at some time, and Marian found herself incorporated into the little plays performed during the May Day revels. In these English adaptations, Robin the Shepherd was ditched in favour of a more familiar Robin – the Robin Hood of British tradition. She displaced Robin’s other purported lovers, such as Clorinda, though the latter survived in some late ballads and operas right into the 18th century.

Marian, having edged her way in, found herself in Anthony Munday’s play “The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon” where she is described for the first time as the daughter of Lord Fitzwalter. In a contemporaneous ballad “Robin Hood and Maid Marian”, we have Marian going into the greenwood disguised as a boy and picking a fight with the famous outlaw.

Social class comes into this almost right from the beginning. We never know for sure whether Robin Hood comes from the peasantry in Loxley, or is a scion of the House of Huntingdon. But with Marian we are left in no doubt. She is the daughter of Lord Fitzwalter in the ballads. Interestingly, in the TV series “Robin of Sherwood” the writer Richard Carpenter makes her the daughter of Richard of Leaford, bringing in another character from the earliest ballads, Sir Richard of the Lea, or the Lees, or a few other permutations of the title. A very clever idea, I have always thought, giving an opportunity to bring in some interesting and quite traditional storylines. The fact that Judi Trott was a very engaging Marian, and that that wonderful actor, the late George Baker, who played many a swashbuckling film role long before he was ever TV detective Reg Wexford, was an ideal depiction of Sir Richard helped.

There have been a great many other film and TV versions of Marian, of course. There’s Uma Thurman in the Patrick Bergen film “Robin Hood” (far superior to the Kevin Costner epic “Robin – Prince of Thieves” that came out at the same time). Thurman spends much of the film disguised as a boy, taking the tradition back to the old “Robin Hood and Maid Marian“ ballad. Diane Keen played her more traditionally as a creature of the court alongside Martin Potter in the BBC series “The Legend of Robin Hood.”

The Richard Greene TV series from the 1950s has two actresses playing Marian, Bernadette O’Farrell (with a slight Irish accent, which was interesting) and Patricia Driscoll (also Irish, though the accent isn’t noticeable.) In the early stages of this very watchable saga, Marian is quite the independent lady of the court, still living around Nottingham, and very pally with the Sheriff (the marvellous Alan Wheatley) who seems to have quite a soft spot for her. These connections give Marian ample opportunity to play the spy, and report back to Robin Hood.

And so I come to my own novel “Loxley”.Loxley Cover

I wanted a Marian who was feisty, brave, a fighter, not afraid of roaming alone through a very dangerous Sherwood Forest, and a woman who by no means was to be just a romantic co-star for my Robin. I made her the daughter of Sir Henry Fitzwalter (I was going to call him Richard, but I thought I had too many Richards already with references to Richard the Lionheart.) I also wanted her to have a story arc that was separate from the outlaws, but which would eventually collide with some force.

Having planned all of this, I remembered Clorinda, Robin’s lover in some of the original ballads, long before Marian came on the scene. I decided that it might be interesting to have Clorinda in Sherwood as well. A lady with an interest in both Robin and Sir Guy of Gisborne. I thought that this might provide interesting possibilities through what is intended to be a tetralogy of novels, four volumes recounting the adventures of Robin Hood and the outlaws, from the moment Robin of Loxley comes to Sherwood to the end of the saga where his legend spreads far and wide throughout the land.
I never could contemplate a Robin Hood novel that had no Marian at all. It would feel to me as though there was something vital missing. Sherwood Forest would feel empty without her.

“Loxley – The Chronicles of Robin Hood” by John Bainbridge is now available both in paperback and on Amazon Kindle. Please do click on the link below to see more about it and to read the reviews:

Writing an Historical Thriller

Writing an historical thriller

My new thriller novel Balmoral Kill has a long history.

I began work on it even before I started writing “The Shadow of William Quest”, got to 24000 words and then put it to one side. A novel and a couple of walking books later, I came back to it, changed it to fit a new theme and outcome and wrote the rest in a couple of months.

I like historical thrillers and couldn’t imagine writing one set in the present. I prefer a world where there are no mobile phones or modern forensic techniques. A Britain where people travel more on foot or in trains than in motor cars. Where the righteous still have a moral compass which, sadly, seems to be vanishing from the consciences of people in our present-day UK.

Having recently spent a lot of time writing and mentally inhabiting the Victorian era, it was almost a shock to find my mind examining the 1930s.

By 1937, when Balmoral Kill is set, it was clear to everyone in the UK that war with Hitler was inevitable. I was intrigued how, even at this late date, so many people in the British Establishment, including mainstream national newspapers like the Daily Mail, were still pro-Hitler.

Many British politicians favoured giving Hitler a free hand in Europe, as long as he left the British Empire alone. It was, as history proved, a crazy philosophy. There is no doubt that Hitler would have rolled up Europe and then turned on the UK anyway. Had we not fought Hitler as early as we did in 1939, it is very likely that he would have had an opportunity to refine his rocket programme so that missiles would have reached the eastern seaboard of the United States. It is quite likely that an unimpeded Hitler would have developed an atom bomb.

It was touch and go for a while whether the British Establishment view would win. Voices crying in the wilderness, warning of the danger of Hitler, such as Winston Churchill, were popularly derided.

Britain in 1937 was in a mess. There was massive unemployment and depression. People starving in the working class areas. A sharp division between the right and the left in British politics, with little middle ground for the safety first British to seek shelter.

There had even been upheaval in the royal family. In December 1936, Edward VIII had abdicated and been succeeded by his brother George VI. Edward had been an extrovert playboy, George an introverted man suffering from a speech impediment.

Many people, not yet having had a chance to get to know the new King, were still yearning for the colourful Edward and, quite frankly, wanted him back.

Few Britons at the time knew anything about Edward’s flirtations were fascism or his admiration for Hitler. Even when I was growing up in the 1960s these things were not mentioned.

Fortunately, sanity won and Britain decided to take on the Third Reich..

The characters in Balmoral Kill represent all sides of these arguments. There are the left leaning characters, Sean Miller has fought for the republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and those from the Establishment itself who, despite being in the minority with their anti-Nazism, decided to back Churchill and oppose the rise of the Third Reich.
But I wanted to show characters who took the other point of view. Many members of the Establishment were closet Nazis, anti-Semitic and so on, but there were others who were just desperate to avoid the slaughter they had seen in the trenches of the First World War.

None of the characters are the least autobiographical, though Sean Miller is – like me – a hillwalker and stravaiger. He is a veteran of the 1932 ramblers’ mass trespass on to the Peak District hill of Kinder Scout. Had I been alive at the time I would have been as well. But that’s as close as we get.

The action of Balmoral Kill begins in the East End of London and rapidly moves to Scotland, first the Borders and then the Highlands.

I spent many a day in the past walking the streets of London by day and night. It was good to bring the knowledge I acquired into the novel. I know the Scottish Border country well, having tramped much of Tweedside and the hills and glens around Peebles.

I knew that the thriller had to have a Scottish conclusion.

And I knew it had to involve George VI, who was at Balmoral, at this period of 1937.
So we visited the place, roamed the grounds of Balmoral to get the feel of what it might be like to live in such a house. But I still had trouble finding a location for the ending of the novel.

And last year we explored the area around Loch Muick (you pronounce it without the u). Even as I walked the banks of the loch I could see my characters there. I could see how my long chase across Britain could come to a conclusion there…

So there we are. Balmoral Kill was a long time in the creation and was harder to write than anything I have done before. Reading it myself now that it’s out I feel curiously distanced from what I have written, almost as though it had been written by somebody else.

Balmoral-Kindle-Cover-FinalIf you haven’t read it yet do give it a go. Just click on the link.


About Balmoral Kill

My thriller “Balmoral Kill” is now out in paperback as well as on eBook readers such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook. Click on the Kindle link below to read the reviews, John B.

The autumn of 1937 – A desperate race against time to find a deadly killer…

In 1936 the British royal family were rocked by their greatest scandal as Edward VIII gave up the throne in order to marry an American divorcee.

Many ordinary people regretted the loss of their popular king. In the dark corridors of power, not everyone was sorry…

A year later the Abdication Crisis seems forgotten and all eyes are on the Coronation that summer. In August the new King George VI will retreat to Balmoral, his remote holiday home in the Highlands of Scotland.

As the shadow of war falls across Europe, a sinister conspiracy lies deep within the British establishment.Balmoral-Kindle-Cover-Final

A man lies dead in a woodland glade. An unfortunate accident or has the first shot been fired in a secret war?

Sean Miller is recalled home to take on his deadliest challenge – but where do his loyalties really lie?

In a frantic chase, from the slums and sinister alleys of London to the lonely glens of the Scottish Highlands, Miller must hunt and bring down his most dangerous opponent.
His mission – to foil the final shot that will plunge Europe into the abyss of a new Dark Age.

Now in paperback and on Kindle.

Just click on the link below for more details or to order. Thank you.


Writing a Victorian Thriller

This interview with me first appeared on the Gaslight Crime blog at http://www.gaslightcrime.wordpress.com

An interview with John Bainbridge about his new Victorian thriller “The Shadow of William Quest”:

So how did William Quest come about?

I’ve always wanted to write about aspects of the Victorian underworld, but I wanted a setting that was London and Norfolk. For a long time I had this image of a gentleman carrying a swordstick walking along a London alley. I knew straight away that he was on some sort of quest for vengeance. His name, in these preliminary thoughts was Edward Stanton. Then one day the name William Quest flashed into my mind. It seemed to fit. I knew it would open with a killing but had only the vaguest ideas as to where to go from there.
So did you write out any sort of detailed plot plan?

Not really, and I’m glad I didn’t. I scribbled a few pages of very rough ideas in a Moleskine notebook. Many of these got rejected as I went on. I knew that there had to be some sort of back story for Quest. I had thoughts on what that should be. Then I sat down and it really wrote itself.
Did it come easily?

Much easier than anything I’ve ever written before. Whole characters just appeared, complete with names. I had no idea that there would be a character called Jasper Feedle at all. He just appeared one morning with that name. Walked out on to the pages, complete. Wissilcraft, the spy, was someone else who built up his part. He was meant to be a very minor character, just in a couple of scenes. And then there he is, driving the whole plot forwards.

Did you do much research?

I took a minor in nineteenth century social history as an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia. I always had a considerable interest in the Victorian underworld so I had most of that information at my fingertips. I have always had an interest in Victorian London and Norfolk and wanted a contrast between the London rookeries and the lonely countryside of Norfolk. Recent visits back to Norfolk gave me ideas for the scenes there and for the climax.

How do you work?

Mornings only! An early start and then only to lunchtimes, then the brain gives up. I usually write between 850 to 1400 words a day. I try to write every day. I really want to do more words.

Do you have a favourite character?

It has to be Jasper Feedle. Mostly because he saved me a lot of labour and came on like an actor, gave the performance, without any great effort from me.
Why the Victorian period?

When I was younger my period was always the 17th century. My university experiences and reading since diverted me to Victorian times. I think it a fascinating period. People think they know it, but…. And there are several periods within the period. The Regency attitudes linger on for a long time into Victoria’s reign. I found that fascinating and it was one reason why I set Quest as early as 1853. Much of Dickens’ work is driven by those attitudes. Worth remembering that there were thirty years of Victorianism after Dickens died. They were rather different years, much as the 1980s were different from the 1940s.

A good time to be alive?

If you were well off. Most of my ancestors were working class during Victoria’s reign. Many had unpleasant and early deaths. But there were wonderful people fighting for reform as well. I wanted to reflect both aspects in the novel. But at the end of the day it is a thriller and not a social novel. But Victorian values are not something, generally, we should wish back. Like Quest and his friends I would like a fairer and much more compassionate world.

But the relics of Victorian Britain are still there?

They are indeed. In Britain we are fortunate that we can walk down the same streets and see the same buildings as our Victorian ancestors. Walk down many High Streets, look up above modern fascias, and we can still see the buildings they would have seen. A lot of Britons still live in the same houses as the Victorians. Much of our civic architecture is Victorian. We should make sure the planners and developers leave it alone.

Will there be any more William Quest novels?The Shadow Of William Quest Cover

Hope so. I hope to finish another Quest novel by the end of this year, though at present I am working on an espionage novel set in the 1930s.

What advice would you give to anyone writing a Victorian thriller?

Don’t dwell too much on the plot until you have immersed yourself in the period. Sometimes the best ideas come out of that period. Read widely, walk those Victorian streets, look at their art, listen to their music, read their literature. It’s a bit like time travel. You need to be living there in a bit of your mind. Once you can get into that state the ideas should come. Better than trying to force a plot on to the period.

Thank you.

Why we need Robin Hood

Why we need Robin Hood…

So how did it happen?

How did a medieval character who may or may not have existed, come to live so much in our consciousness that we can say his name – Robin Hood – to almost anyone else in the world and they’ll almost certainly know who you mean?
When you think about it it’s incredible.

Robin Hood has this power because he is one of the two essential British myths, the other being King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There are lots of other characters who’ve made their way out of legend and into the real world, but Robin and Arthur have the edge. And as far as I’m concerned, Robin Hood has the edge. Arthur is grand, but to me he’s a bit too much “Establishment”, a real authority figure. He is, after all, a king. A good one the tales suggest but still a king.

But as for Robin, well, he appeals to the naughtier side of our souls. He’s an outlaw, and a rebel. A fighter against the very Establishment and sense of authority that the likes of King Arthur uphold. He robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Note that! He redistributes wealth, and for me that makes his activities rather political. Not for nothing do we now have a Robin Hood Tax Campaign, which aims to do much the same, albeit without the aid of a quiver full of arrows.

Now, on an interesting historical note, the original medieval ballads make very little mention of this redistribution of property. Robin Hood is an outlaw, a wolfshead, beyond the protection of the law as well as its hunted fugitive. He can also be more than a little cruel, unpleasant and bloodthirsty.

But no matter! Devotees have loved it and lapped it up from the days of the oral ballads; added and amended to by subsequent readers, writers and printers over generations. Putting in their own political viewpoints. Making Robin the sword-carrier of rebellious England.

Robin Hood, in truth, was from the very start the creation of mass media. From the medieval peasant relating the tales by the fireside to the minstrels (who could be quite a subversive bunch – not for nothing is the outlaw Alan a-Dale a singer of ballads) to the first printers of old tales. A political agenda is being pushed forward here. Let’s remember that the vast majority of the English were politically powerless until very recent times. The few determined the fates of the many. We see this in the mention of Robin in Langland’s “Piers Plowman”.

The Peasant’s Revolt during the reign of Richard II might be slightly misnamed, because quite wide sections of society took part. But of one thing we can be sure, they would have all heard of Robin Hood. Or more likely Robin Hoods plural.

The historical records by that time suggest there were rather a lot of them: Robinhoods, Robert Hoods, Robb hoods and so on. The figure plucked from myth had now found a kind of reality. Documents show robbers and outlaws appearing all over the country either with the actual name or some variation of it. Such was the power of the Robin Hood brand that people were adopting the name, either as a title or a badge of honour, in all parts of the land.

This explains why you can locate Robin Hood in so many parts of England. Because the name had become descriptive. Go out on the rob (and note how close that word is to Robin), be made wolfshead, take up the cause of the poor and desperate against the rich and powerful, and you too could find yourself appearing in the historical rolls as Robin Hood.

The English have a long tradition of rebellion and dissent, whether it be active revolt or more covert mumblings against the powers that be. And every rebel needs a role model. If you look at the history of these matters, right up to the Victorian Chartists you will find the spirit of Robin Hood being invoked. Interesting, that so many tales of Robin Hood were published even during the staider decades of Victoria’s reign. Spreading the word, inciting the spirit. The tale thus being spread around the world.

England’s Robin is now as big in the United States, Australia and almost everywhere else as he is here. And the films of Hollywood, with Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn fanned the flames. And interesting that the first television series to really succeed “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Richard Greene was mostly written by leftist American writers who had escaped the clutches of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

There are the two basic traditions of Robin Hood; one that he is Robin of Loxley, a man of the people, and the other that he is the Earl of Huntingdon, or his son, who decided to up sticks and head for the forest as the people’s liberator. When I was writing my novel “Loxley” I determined that Robin Hood should be a man of the people. English rebels are, in my book, quite capable of being led by one of their own. They don’t need the help of a member of the aristocracy.

The Huntingdon line in all this was originally, I think, either a pun on the word “hunting”, or a deliberate attempt by some later writer to bring a more rebellious version of the myth under some kind of authoritarian control. A Robin Hood who is an earl is almost a contradiction in terms.

And there is that other line of tradition of Robin Hood – the green man in the forest. Forests were pretty big places in medieval England, not just the refuges of wolfsheads but lands of legend and adventure. Possible locations for that little bit of English paganism that has never quite gone away. The figure of the green man, like Robin himself, can be discovered in so many parts of England. Just look up at the roof bosses of our churches and cathedrals.

I thought it interesting that Richard Carpenter brought back these elements to the legend when he created his 1980s television series “Robin of Sherwood”. Richard Carpenter’s very clever melding of the historical and the mythic produced a Robin Hood retelling that struck a chord in many a soul. If we could bring a medieval peasant forward in time to see “Robin of Sherwood” I haven’t the slightest doubt that he would understand exactly what Carpenter meant to do.

Loxley Cover

I have been rather obsessive about Robin Hood since I can first remember. I grew up with the Richard Greene version on television, read the tales, played the games in my own greenwood, learned to fire a bow and fight with swords. Some part of all this led to a life that has been spent very much in the outdoors. I even lived rough in a forest for a year. And all the time I was determined to add my own contribution to the Robin Hood canon.

So this year I wrote my novel “Loxley” the first in what will be a tetralogy of books retelling my own version of what I’m calling “The Chronicles of Robin Hood.” And, yes, I’ve used the medieval ballads as an inspiration, but not been a slave to them. I’ve played around with some of the old yarns and characters, in the same way that writers have all the way from the old minstrels to Richard Carpenter. It’s what you do.

So do we need Robin Hood at all?

You bet we do! For as long as we believe in this potent myth, we will refuse to just accept a dominant ideology that suggests that the few should prosper at the expense of the many. We will always uphold the Robin Hood tradition that the poor and desperate are not there to be trampled upon, but rather championed. That the world should be a fairer and more compassionate place.

That is the spirit of Robin Hood brought to life, from the moment some passing minstrel first composed a ballad about him. It is the great cause that every writer of Robin Hood tales tries to perpetuate for the well-being of every successive generation.

Robin Hood will continue to live for generations to come because of the overwhelming desire of people to be free.

The legend lives on. For nothing is ever forgotten.

Loxley – The Chronicles of Robin Hood by John Bainbridge is now available in paperback and on Kindle, Kobo and Nook eBooks. Just click on the link below for more information, or you can read the first chapter for free by clicking on the page link above.

Robin Hood on Television

Robin Hood on Television
By John Bainbridge
I always find it fascinating that a medieval legend that began as a series of ballads first composed nearly a thousand years ago has survived and prospered through the technologies of today, in ways that the original authors could never have imagined. None more so than with Robin Hood.

There are films, books, computer games and several television series. Robin Hood is still big business. I’ve been a fan of the outlaw since I can first remember. My favourite childhood game was Robin Hood. His adventures inspired me to take up archery, learn how to sword-fight and probably directed me to a life which has been mostly been spent adventuring in the great outdoors.

Recently I published my own Robin Hood novel “Loxley”, the first of four “Chronicles of Robin Hood” that I intend to write over the next couple of years. But here I want to look at a couple of Robin Hood television series. I confess now to not having seen the most recent BBC version, so will concentrate on the 1980s and very iconic “Robin of Sherwood”, the 1955-59 “Adventures of Robin Hood” and the 1975 “Legend of Robin Hood.”

As far as I can discover, the first actor to play Robin Hood on British TV was Patrick Troughton (subsequently the second incarnation of Doctor Who). It was broadcast in 1953 and very little footage seems to have survived, which is a pity because Troughton was a particularly fine character actor.

A couple of years later came “The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Richard Greene, in a series of 143 episodes over four series. I hold this in some affection, not least because it was my first television memory, watched as a small child. It was regularly reprised in the 1960s, its half-hour format being ideal tea-time viewing for British audiences.

Richard Greene at the time was everyone’s Robin, so much so that the role rather blighted his career – and the careers of a number of his fellow cast members. Greene played the part a bit like one of those war heroes in a British film, a kind of officer and gentleman, a natural leader of men, stiff upper-lip, righting wrongs with his troops in Sherwood Forest. It came with a catchy signature tune complete with lyrics I can still sing to this day, though they are quite amusing if you listen carefully.

And the Sheriff of Nottingham, played magnificently by Alan Wheatley, was a delight. I always felt a slight sympathy for him. When I was writing “Loxley” I decided to make my Sheriff a tad sympathetic rather than an out and out baddie, a bit of a bureaucrat who was doing his best to hold things together under impossible conditions. A man pressured from all sides as he struggled to uphold the peace of the realm. Wheatley does that too and his performance often steals the show.

Seeing some of the episodes again recently I was interested to see how political some of them were. Richard Greene’s Robin might come from the minor aristocracy, but he was very much on the side of the poor and persecuted – as Robin Hood always should be.

The writers of this series were very largely refugees from the United States, scriptwriters blacklisted by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Committee on un-American Activities. For the American showings the writers – who included such literary stars as Ring Lardner Jr, Waldo Salt, Robert Lees, Adrian Scott and Howard Koch were either not credited at all, or used writing pen-names, even on the British transmissions. Lardner in particular, later said that he used some of the episodes he wrote to comment on aspects of American life. Some of the writers learned scriptwriting skills here which were used to good effect in films once the blacklists were very sensibly shelved.

But the politics are not layered on with a trowel. Deeper thoughts on society come second to entertainment and action. And despite the production values of the day, this Robin Hood is worth seeking out and enjoying.

“The Legend of Robin Hood” was a six part BBC television series which aired in 1975 starring Martin Potter as Robin Hood, Diane Keen as Marian and Paul Darrow (later as Avon in the Sci-Fi “Blake’s Seven” – itself a kind of Robin Hood in space) as the Sheriff of Nottingham. This went back to some of the original ballads. Robin is a nobleman, though brought up amongst the poor, and the series takes a chronological view of his development as an outlaw, right up to his death. It was probably the first Robin Hood that had a Friar Tuck who was neither fat nor a comedy figure.

Despite the mixture of studio video and tele-cine film and some dated production values, it is worth seeking out.

In 1984 came “Robin of Sherwood” (RoS) written mostly by Richard Carpenter (he’d already tackled King Arthur in “Arthur of the Britons” and a comedy-drama version of Dick Turpin.) Other scriptwriters included Anthony Horowitz. The stars included Michael Praed as Robin (Jason Connery took over the role later), Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff, Phil Rose as Tuck, Ray Winstone as Scarlet, Judi Trott as Marian, Clive Mantle as Little John, Peter Llewellyn Williams as Much, Mark Ryan as a new character Nasir, a Moor and assassin, and Robert Addie as Guy of Gisborne. Guest stars in major parts included George Baker, Anthony Valentine, Anthony Steele, Rula Lenska, Reece Dinsdale, Phil Davis, John Rhys-Davies and a whole host of British acting talent.

Many Robin Hood fans think of Robin of Sherwood as the apotheosis of the legend as broadcast so far, proved by the huge fan-base who have loved the programme since it was first shown and the many who have come along since. Therefore I intend to deal with it in some depth.

The production values are quite superb, aided by the fact that it was the first TV Robin to be made entirely on film. And it shows. The quality of the photography is quite beautiful. The sets and costumes are very accurate and there is a real feeling of the grime and unpleasantness of medieval life.

It adds magic and paganism to the Sherwood story, bringing in the legend of Herne the Hunter (John Abineri) as a man who is also a forest god. An interesting idea when you consider the presence of statues of the green man on so many medieval buildings and in folk-tales and dances. Herne was an interesting addition because in reality the myths surrounding him are very much tied only to Windsor Great Park in Berkshire. The idea though of a horned man in the wild is widespread in English forest folklore. Interestingly, the idea of adding a Moor – so common a figure in English folk-plays and dances – to the outlaw band was an innovative step. And Mark Ryan played the part so very well.

What was so very good was the emphasis on youth. Robin and his men are young. So is Gisborne and the sheriff. Given that people aged faster then and life expectancy was limited this is very accurate. And the concept of being outlawed, being made wolfshead was dealt with in real detail rather than being skated over, as it was in some earlier productions.

It is unfair to single out any of the cast from what is really an ensemble piece, and I know everyone has their favourites, but here goes. I may deal with some other performances from this exceptional series in later blogs.

A Robin Hood series stands or falls by the actor playing Robin. Michael Praed redefined the way that Robin was portrayed for anyone who had earlier memories of Richard Greene and Martin Potter, and he was a long way away from the many incarnations at the cinema. Praed’s Robin is young, rugged and tough. A political activist determined to really fight the injustices of society. And he really looks the part. You can believe that this Robin could actually cope with living in Sherwood Forest, could handle a sword and a longbow. But Praed brought out a touching vulnerability. His Robin makes mistakes, isn’t always at his best when dealing with the other outlaws, and is shown to learn from his mistakes.

And the character grows throughout the series. Praed’s Robin becomes a confident warrior. Better at dealing with the situations that arise. I have to confess that when I was writing my novel “Loxley” I found it very hard to get the image of Michael Praed out of my head. I deliberately made my character different within, but hey, if you want to know what my Robin Hood looks like think of Michael Praed.

Jason Connery played Robin rather differently when he took over the role. A much more confident character from the start, a nobleman by birth.

For me Connery never quite matched the performance of Michael Praed. At times I think he makes Robin a bit too self-assured. But opinions differ and both actors have their admirers.

I find these two traditional ideas of Robin Hood very interesting. The one tradition that Robin is the (or the son of) the Earl of Huntingdon, a natural leader of men. The other that Robin Hood is Robin of Loxley, more from the peasant side of life. When I was writing “Loxley” I made the conscious decision to have a Robin of Loxley, a peasant, albeit a free man rather than a villein, rather than a scion of the aristocracy. I like the idea of a people’s champion and rabble-rouser. It seems to me that there is a kind of snobbery in the idea that the people need an aristo to lead them. Perhaps more on this on a future blog.

The rest of the Merry (or often not so merry) Men were very well-cast. Clive Mantle as a very sensitive Little John, Ray Winstone as an often mutinous Scarlet, Judi Trott as a Marian who – unlike most previous versions – actually fights alongside the others. Peter Llewellyn Williams as a very young Much who has a lot to learn, and Mark Ryan as Nasir, a smiling and charming killing machine. All brilliantly done.

Phil Rose’s Tuck was a revelation for those of us who grew up often seeing the monk portrayed as a kind of caricature. Too often this vital role is played for laughs, a figure on the side lines who is jolly and gluttonous. Phil Rose for me provides the definitive Tuck. For a start he is younger than most portrayals. He is pretty good at handling himself in a fight, he has a humour and a kindness that you don’t often see. He can be quite the diplomat and peacemaker, often mending rifts in the outlaw band. Phil Rose brings a considerable acting talent to the part, providing a character a long way ahead of the usual stock portrayals. As with Robin himself, I couldn’t help but picture Phil Rose when I was writing “Loxley” and once again I had to make my character a tad different.

The villains in RoS are quite wonderful, an interesting counterpoint to the outlaws. Nickolas Grace is a splendid Sheriff, conniving, out for himself, humorous, rude. (Perhaps a pattern for many a current British politician?) He is also much younger than most previous Sheriffs’ reflecting the reality of the time. A scene-stealing performance of considerable quality. He is matched by the Abbot Hugo, his brother, played with relish by Philip Jackson, and a stunning Guy of Gisborne played by the late Robert Addie. A dangerous though often incompetent Gisborne, as treacherous as his master and just as conniving, and particularly good in the action scenes, for which he was admirably qualified.

The stories of the series are well written. Many of the traditional takes are there, but Carpenter, Horowitz et al took the legends into a great many new directions. It is sad that for financial reasons the project was cancelled – as was a proposed film version. There was room for more. The ending as it stands leaves the characters hanging in the air – our imaginations fill in the missed conclusions. The fact that RoS has so many devoted fans even thirty years later shows that quality of production and great actors are not easily forgotten.Loxley Cover

Writing a Robin of Loxley novel means banishing many of the images of these many television series from the mind – though I did nod through a few tributes that fans might recognise. I shall return to all of these series and much more on Robin Hood in further blogs so please do follow and let me know your thoughts, agreements and disagreements, which I shall read with interest.

My next Robin Hood novel will be out in time for Christmas. The First book in the series “Loxley – The Chronicles of Robin Hood” is available in paperback and on most eBook readers. Please just click on the link below for more information:


Writing William Quest

Writing William Quest

I’m now well into the new William Quest Victorian thriller. It’s been a year since the first novel in the series “The Shadow of William Quest” was published. I’m pleased that the book has sold quite well and gathered some pleasing reviews along the way. And I’ve kind of missed my characters in the months since.

It’s been interesting going back to their world of 1850s London. Most of the characters will be making a re-appearance, and there will be some new people as well. Much of the book will be set in London. The dark side of Victorian London.
I know modern London quite well. I’ve explored the city by day and night. But I know Victorian London even better. And when I think of its streets I always seem to see it as it was in the past. Despite the bombings and the bulldozing, London has a great many aspects of its Victorian heritage there for everyone to see – if you really look.

And what of Quest, the man with the swordstick? Much of his back story was presented in the first book. I like to think that the character developed during his initial adventure. In this one we’ll learn a lot more about William. We’ll find he was changed by his earlier experiences. In the new book we’ll see some different sides to William Quest and much more about the other characters as well.

And Quest will be in terrible danger throughout. Though he won’t be the only character in peril…

It’s been strange coming back to Quest and Victorian England after spending a few months in the 1190s and Sherwood Forest for my Robin Hood novel “Loxley”.

I’ve had to get myself back into the Victorian mind-set, dragging the old brain from thoughts medieval. It’s quite fun.
The New (as yet untitled) Quest novel will be out in the Autumn and the next in the Chronicles of Robin Hood, the sequel to “Loxley”, in time for Christmas.The-Shadow-Of-William-Quest

If you haven’t read the first Quest book “The Shadow of William Quest” do click on the link and take a look. It’s out now in paperback and as an eBook.