Review of The Compleat Trespasser

I was very pleased at the review of my book “The Compleat Trespasser” in the latest issue of “Walk” magazine. This slightly different version of the review appeared on their website.

“On a vagabonding tour through Britain’s most delightful countryside and forbidden tracts, Bainbridge charts the history of access and assesses the present state of the law. Villainous landowners feature; so do the likes of GHB Ward and CEM Joad, calling at rallies for access to mountain and moor. Gamekeepers, spring-guns and mass trespasses also get a look-in. Redolent of country air, with nature and archaeology dealt with in graphic style, the book evokes the age of campaigns before words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘partnership’ were hatched out. The author lends his support to the England Coast Path campaign and calls for the Scottish access model to be extended throughout Britain. It’s thought-provoking stuff and well worth a read.” Eugene Suggett

The book is now available in paperback and on eBook readers such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook so please do click on the link below to take a look, read extracts or to order.CompleatTrespasser Cover

About Little John

About Little John by John Bainbridge

Little John gets one of the earliest mentions of any of Robin Hood’s men. He’s right there in the oldest surviving ballad “A Lytell Gest of Robin Hood”. And much like Tuck we get a very instant picture in our minds whenever we hear his name. He’s big, we know that, and his name is a source of amusement at first to the other outlaws.Loxley Cover

The reversal of his name is first suggested by Will Stutely, that most neglected outlaw. In the “Robin of Sherwood” television series, the honour of naming the giant wolfshead is given to Will Scarlet, as Stutely never appears. In my novel “Loxley” I thought I would create a character who actually resents being called Little John

The traditional Little John also features in one of the iconic depictions of the Robin Hood legends – the fight with quarter-staffs on a log bridge over a stream. This incident doesn’t actually feature in the earliest of the Robin Hood ballads, not putting in an appearance until the 1600s in the late ballad “Robin Hood and Little John”. But there might be an older oral tradition behind it. Time and again the combat appears in countless Robin Hood films and most of the television series. It’s one of the great classic moments.

In the television series “Robin of Sherwood” Little John is sent to the forest, bewitched by the sorcerer Simon de Belleme, meeting Robin on the bridge and being defeated by him, thus releasing him from his enchantment. An interesting twist on the original.

When I was writing my Robin Hood novel “Loxley” I thought long and hard about whether or not to include the scene. It has been done so well by other writers. And I also didn’t want to do a rewrite of what so many have done before. In the end I decided to bring my own version of it to the novel, though I’ve written a chapter explaining just how Little John happens to be there.

Interestingly, there is a similar scene where Robin first encounters Tuck, where both men vie to be carried across a river. There’s a lot of knockabout fun in it and both Tuck and Robin get wet. It features in many a film and television programme. I decided not to use it in “Loxley”, preferring to give my Robin and Tuck a longer back story together.

In most of the earlier interpretations of the stories, Little John is very much second-in-command of the outlaw band, and Robin’s closest associate. He actually plays a major part in the earliest ballad “A Lytell Gest of Robin Hood”, where there are specific Little John episodes where John wins at an archery match and even finds employment with the Sherriff of Nottingham!

Archie Duncan, a fine John in the 1950s television series “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, is very much Robin’s deputy. Clive Mantle’s positioning in “Robin of Sherwood” is more confused, as there seems no command structure except for Robin himself. There’s more a sense of Robin struggling to control a band of disparate individuals

This earliest balled tells us that John is actually a yeoman (Lytell Johan). Historical suggestion is that Little John might have existed as a character quite separate from Robin Hood in a series of ballads and folklore of his own – sadly lost – much as the Cumberland outlaw Adam Bell does. The title yeoman is quite interesting, indicating a higher social status than a villein or bondsman.

Was there an historical Little John? We’ll never know, though I find the constant references to John coming from the Derbyshire town of Hathersage, where you may still see his grave, quite interesting. Unlike the other outlaws this is a very specific tradition that has lingered through time. In folklore there is rarely smoke without some kind of flame.

There have been a number of Little Johns in the films made about Robin Hood. Alan Hale played the part several times in Hollywood versions, starting with the silent classic “Robin Hood” alongside Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin. He played him again in 1938 in the Errol Flynn film version, and one more in the 1950 “Rogues of Sherwood Forest.” My memory suggests that he didn’t seem to age much or change the performance in any of them. Great fun though.

The first Little John I recall was Archie Duncan in the TV “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Richard Greene as Robin. Whenever I think of John, this is the characterisation that comes first to mind. I think, with no disrespect to the other actors who’ve played the part, that Archie Duncan’s Little John comes closest to the medieval character in the ballads.

Clive Mantle in “Robin of Sherwood”, though, gives a very enjoyable and interesting performance. John almost as a new man. Not just tough but emotional as well. The first time in film or TV that we see Little John cry, not once but a couple of times. In various episodes we see John as a farmer back in Hathersage and as a wrestler, taking on Lionheart no less at the conclusion of the first series.

When I was writing “Loxley” I found John the hardest character to write. At one point he was in danger of becoming a stock figure, just there for the fights, particularly as I didn’t want to do much back story for him until the second novel in the series of four – which I’m writing at the moment. I made him a farmer and a wrestler and, as in the ballads, an employee – albeit briefly – of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

In the sequel to “Loxley” I’m looking forward to revealing much more of John’s past. He could be the most interesting wolfshead of all.Loxley Cover

If you’d like to try my new “Loxley” just click on the link below, or you can read the opening for free on the page above.

Robin Hood: Rebel or Not a Rebel At All

Robin Hood a rebel?

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Living wild in the forest, taking from the rich for the benefit of the poor. Constantly battling the Sheriff of Nottingham, Gisborne and those other pillars of the Establishment?

Loxley CoverA worthy champion of the underprivileged and vulnerable.

Well, it may have all started out like that, but look again at so many of the films, books and television series of recent years. See the way that our Robin and his greenwood gang have been absorbed into the very “Establishment” they’re supposed to be fighting against…

Now, if this all sounds a bit political it sure is! No folk hero in the English tradition is quite so political as Robin Hood. King Arthur? A good guy but very definitely Establishment. Whereas Robin is famous for being an outsider.

He’s an outlaw, after all, in the full sense of that medieval word. Out-Law! Outside the law, a wolfshead. Outside the law’s protection. There for anyone to have a go at – and not just the supposed forces of law and order. Literally anyone…

Wolfsheads run contrary to the established order and the law of the land. That’s what they do. They are so opposed to the dominant ideology that they can no longer be within it. And like all rebellious outsiders the Establishment tries to deal with them in one of two ways.

They either exterminate them, like the hunted wolves they’re named after, or – and this is a very British tactic – absorb them back into the status quo.

And I’m afraid to say, in most interpretations of recent centuries, Robin and his chaps have – at the end of the day – packed their bags and left the greenwood and all of those ideals of freedom behind. Usually after the Sheriff or Gisborne or some other villain has been despatched.

You see it in endless films, don’t you?

Robin has no sooner plunged his sword into Gisborne’s chest when good old Richard the Lionheart rides on to the scene, back from captivity in Austria – and note that the Robin of these films has usually acted as an unofficial tax-collector to raise the ransom – to put everything right.

Robin gets the girl, Lionheart pardons Robin and the Merries, usually makes Robin a knight, sometimes an earl, and the outlawing days are well and truly over.
The wolf has been brought back into the pen!

And the poor and underprivileged of Sherwood? They rarely get a mention at this point. Surplus to requirements as long as Robin et al are back in the bosom of Society.

There are exceptions. I loved the “Robin of Sherwood” TV version where, at the end of Series One, Robin is pardoned by King Richard and becomes his pet, to the dismay of the rebellious Scarlet. Only during the course of time does the hooded man come to realise how he’s being used. Thankfully for fans, Robin returns to Sherwood for Series Two, battling all the old enemies and King John to boot.

Damned good stuff!

So how did Robin the Rebel come to be Robin the Tamed in all of these fictitious accounts?

More recently than you might think.

Look at the earliest ballads of Robin Hood. Robin in most of them is definitely portrayed as a folk hero, in much the way Dick Turpin was centuries later. He’s a criminal. And there’s not very much about helping the poor in any of them. He’s a bit of a rogue. But still definitely a wolfshead and an outsider.

This is the Robin that resonated across the medieval years, the outlaw who was admired by the earliest and largely illiterate first audiences. No mention of selling out there.

No that came later. The link between Robin and Richard the Lionheart appears most noticeably in the Forrester Manuscript dating from around 1670, which was probably the source of a ballad on the same subject that became popular a century later.
It’s the source of the sell-out that’s been so popular ever since. The Forrester manuscript (which emerged only in the 1990s) was undoubtedly the source of the Robin Hood/Richard the Lionheart link.

The Robin of the earliest ballads is very much portrayed as a yeoman, a freeman admittedly and not a serf.

Not noble enough for the growing and very pro-Establishment writers on the subject. The idea that the growing literate population should encounter such a rebel from the lower orders just had to be eclipsed.

So they made our Robin an Earl no less, usually the Earl of Huntingdon or his son.
Far better that the Establishment is taken on by one of their own. A temporary renegade who just sorts out some particularly nasty baddies before he returns to the safety of his own castle fireside.

How safe! How contained! A very temporary wolfshead.

It’s interesting to note that there is no mention of this elevation to the peerage in any of the early ballads. And not a reference to it before an Elizabethan playwright called Anthony Munday featured it in a play of 1598!

There’s a certain snobbishness creeping in here as well. The idea that a leader of men has to come from the Establishment. The very thought that a rebel with organisational skills should rise from the peasantry was clearly anathema to some of these later writers. They’ve clearly never met the British Army NCO’s (working-class lads to a man!) that I have.

I thought long and hard about this when planning my own Robin Hood Chronicles (Book One – “Loxley” is already out and three more are to come).

It took me all but a minute to dismiss the idea that my Robin would be a scion of the aristocracy. I wanted a real wolfshead, a rebel – and it was not easy to organise any sort of rebellion under the close control of those medieval overlords of the twelfth century.

My Robin has already failed to bring rebellion to his home in Loxley Chase. And so he’s travelled to Sherwood Forest to have another go. He’s not a serf of villein, admittedly. But a yeoman or freeman like the Robin of the earliest ballads.
His blood is red and definitely not blue.

I wanted to capture the very unorthodoxy of the earliest accounts. To present a hero – or rather anti-hero – who was very much a man of the people. Tough, violent, sometimes unscrupulous, willing to turn the tactics of the overlords against themselves.

A sort-of “Come to the greenwood and try and take me if you think you’re hard enough!”

In the next three books I look forward to dismissing the dumbing down of Robin Hood quite a bit more.

My Robin has only just begun to fight.Loxley Cover

The Rebel Lives!

To order a copy of my Robin Hood novel Loxley please just click on the link below. It’s available in paperback and on Kindle:

My (Very Modest) Great British Bake-Off

In between fiction writing, I put together a short e-book of my own baking recipes. I hope Easy British Bakes and Cakes does what it says on the tin – not that I used any! It’s a collection of 20 simple recipes, my own takes on traditional British baking. They’re the kind of treats you’d find on offer at a village summer fete or a vintage-style tea-shop and in the cake tin in British homes.Bakes Cakes Cover

As these really are my own favourites, some flavours have been left out. No ginger cake or coconut macaroons for instance as they aren’t my thing. And I admit to being addicted to chocolate so that features quite a lot.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where my mother loved baking. When she’d been busy I’d come home from school and follow the tempting aroma to the kitchen like the Bisto kid. (If you’re too young to remember that’s a famous old ad – for gravy actually – from 1919, with a scruffy boy and girl following their noses.) Today I still love the way you get that fresh, home-made aroma when you lift the lid on your cake tin. No shop-bought bake can give you that.

Best of all I liked cake and biscuits that could cope with being stuffed in my rucksack on long walks. I still do, saving the meringues for summer tea in the garden. And when I’m writing, the thought of a slice of something sweet with my tea-break keeps me going.

My first attempts at baking came when I started hosting committee meetings about rambling and countryside campaigning. Although very hit and miss at first, it turned out to be an unexpectedly relaxing and satisfying pastime. I’d say I’m more Hairy Biker than Paul Hollywood – I even had the bike and the beard back then.

My recipes have been tweaked over the years to be as quick and trouble-free as possible. On starting out, I learnt to make fruit cake with the rubbing in method but found results are exactly as good with a mixer. The all-in-one sponge method is just as successful as adding ingredients in stages and so on.

I don’t own a food processor, just a hand-held mixer and I like minimal washing-up. The recipes work and have been well tested on family and friends.

My baking rarely looks as perfect as factory-made – but isn’t that the point? For me, home-baking is about good quality ingredients – where the hens who laid the eggs scratch around in the sunshine – great flavour full of natural goodness and an individual artisan look. Above all it’s meant to be fun and make people happy.

Please do click on the link below if you’d like to take a look:

Now out on Kindle, Kobo and Nook.