'Robin of Sherwood' - The Television Series Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Robin of Sherwood' - The Television Series

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He's coming... the Hooded Man is coming!
- The last words of Ailric of Loxley before his death at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

For British residents of a certain age there has only ever been one Robin Hood - or should that be two? Forget the films in which Errol Flynn pranced about in his daft tights; forget 'Rawbin of Locksley' as portrayed by Kevin Costner in The Prince of Thieves. The real Robin Hood was the Hooded Man, who led his band of outlaws from the greenwood against the tyranny of the Norman ruling classes, in the ITV television series Robin of Sherwood.

Robin's adventures, portrayed by two different actors over three series, captured the imagination of a generation. To this day the haunting sound of Clannad's 'Robin - the Hooded Man' theme takes them right back to the tracks and trails of Sherwood Forest.

Robin of Sherwood first appeared in the UK in 1984. It was written and created by Richard Carpenter1, who was well-versed in the actual tales of the outlaw that have come down through the years (as distinct from the later adaptations of the legend for contemporary audiences).

Carpenter, rather than following in the footsteps of previous versions of the story, grounded his interpretation firmly in the history of the late Middle Ages, providing a vibrant and believable backdrop for the events of the series. He also used existing historical material to add a certain quality and clarity that was lacking in other versions of the tales.

Versions of the Legend

Over the years there has been much speculation and wild theorising, by historians and writers of fiction alike, as to the identity of the figure who was the inspiration and subject of the original tales of Robin Hood. Speculation continues to this day; many different names have been suggested for the famous outlaw and his band, and many locations have been linked with their exploits. Rather than favour one version of the story over another, however, Carpenter took a novel approach to the issue when forced to solve a practical problem, and actually managed to stay faithful to more than one popular version of the story.

In the original folk tales of the Middle Ages, Robin Hood was named as one Robin of Loxley, and given the social status of a common man forced to flee the justice of his Lord and survive in the depths of the forest by robbing travellers along the roads which ran through it. These tales were the talk of the taverns and much loved by the common folk of the time. But in later versions of the tales, produced with the help of the first printing presses, Robin had evolved into Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, a nobleman deprived of his estates by the nefarious conspiracies of his enemies.

This drastic change in Robin's status was due mostly to the fact that the new printed editions of the story were within the reach only of the relatively wealthy, most of whom were still members of the aristocracy. Of course these upper-class readers wanted to identify with their hero, and they had more in common with the well-bred and chivalrous Robert than they did with the lowly outlaw from the small South Yorkshire village of Loxley.

So when the leading man of Robin of Sherwood, Michael Praed, was lured away to the USA by a role in the soap opera Dynasty it was to these conflicting identities that the writer looked to resolve the problem posed by the loss of Robin of Loxley from the cast.

Acknowledging the different threads in the changing identity of Robin Hood, Carpenter featured two separate characters in the course of the series. Both were called 'Robin Hood', but the first was Robin of Loxley and the second was Robert, Earl of Huntingdon. Thus the figure of Robin Hood was presented more as a mantle which could be adopted by many distinct individuals over time, as each adopted the role of the Son of Herne and became the Hooded Man.

Following its first broadcast in the UK all those years ago the series was seen across the world in many countries, and counted fans among the young and the old in all of them - until the US production company, Showtime, pulled its funding. As a result the UK production company, Goldcrest, was forced to follow suit. Thus the third series was to be the final outing for Robin and his band of outlaws. Even today, the quality of the writing, acting and production values sets the series apart from other interpretations of the legend. Indeed, for many, the series is the one truly definitive treatment of the legend of Robin Hood.

Cast of Characters

Robin of Loxley (Michael Praed)

Robin was born of Saxon stock at a time when the predominantly Norman ruling classes made a point of oppressing all beneath them. His father, Ailric of Loxley, was killed by the Sheriff of Nottingham for taking part in a failed uprising by the Saxon populace against their Norman superiors.

This left Robin orphaned at an early age. He was raised in secret by the village miller after the settlement of Loxley was razed to the ground by the Sheriff of Nottingham's soldiers. Robin grew to adulthood alongside his younger foster-brother Much (the miller's own son).

After feeling at first hand the results of the harsh and oppressive exploits of Sir Guy of Gisburne (the Sheriff of Nottingham himself), Robin fled to the safety of Sherwood Forest with a like-minded band of fugitives.

One day, while his fellows are making plans to slip quietly away from justice, Robin encounters the strange figure of a man dressed in the pelt of a stag. He leads Robin to a hidden cave, deep in the forest. The stranger claims to be Herne the Hunter, an ancient pagan deity of the British Isles. Herne charges Robin with the task of standing as the champion of the downtrodden and the dispossessed against the oppression of the Norman nobility. Accepting this role, Robin bands together a rag-tag group of outlaws, and makes a stand against the Sheriff and his cronies.

At the end of the second series the original Robin Hood was seemingly killed at the hands of the Sheriff's crossbowmen, suffering exactly the same fate as his father before him.

Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery)

The outlaws, with their leader taken from them at the conclusion of the second series of Robin of Sherwood, disbanded and each went his own way. But in the finale of that series they were rescued from the clutches of Guy of Gisburne by another hooded man who struck down his foes from the shadows with a longbow.

Both Gisburne and the outlaws mistook this man for a resurrected Robin of Loxley, but in fact it was a young man by the name of Robert, who happened to be heir to the Earldom of Huntingdon. Robert had been summoned to the depths of Sherwood by the hypnotic call of Herne the Hunter, who informed him that he was to take up the mantle of Robin-in-the-Hood and carry on the battle begun by his predecessor.

Robert, though he saved Robin's band from its enemies, initially turned his back on the role which Herne offered him, and returned to his father's estates on the Welsh borders. Later, however, he was forced to reconsider his decision, when the recently pardoned Lady Marion was kidnapped from their lands by the brutal Welsh lord known as Owen of Clum.

Returning to Sherwood, Robert found Friar Tuck there, and with his help tracked down the rest of the band. After a trying time convincing them that he was truly the new Son of Herne rather than a rich brat playing at being a hero, they all finally managed to work together to defeat Owen and rescue Marion from his clutches.

With the outlaws reunited, Robert turned his back on his inheritance and led the men back to Sherwood to continue their struggle against injustice and oppression.

Nasir (Mark Ryan)

Nasir, a Saracen warrior far from his homeland, is at first introduced in the service of the sorcerer Baron Simon de Belleme. Nasir, silent, stolid, and deadly, competes in the Sheriff of Nottingham's archery contest on behalf of his master, and comes very close to victory, due to the combination of his own skill with the bow and Belleme's dark arts, but is finally beaten by Robin.

After the showdown between Robin and Belleme, Nasir allows the outlaw Robin to escape rather than attempt to avenge the sorcerer with his twin blades. Later, as the band of outlaws mourns the loss of its fallen comrades, Nasir emerges from the shadows and offers the outlaws his services.

The original script had seen Nasir killed in his confrontation with Robin; but on the strength of Mark Ryan's performance, director Paul Knight convinced Richard Carpenter to spare the character's life and rewrite the final scenes of the second episode of the series, having Nasir join the ranks of the outlaws. It is worth noting that this was the first time such a character had been written into Robin's band, and subsequent adaptations followed this example (which explains the presence of the Moorish warrior played by Morgan Freeman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).

Marion (Judi Trott)

Instead of following the stereotype of the rather meek and passive portrayals of Maid Marion that had gone before, the Marion of Robin of Sherwood is a woman in every way equal to Robin Hood himself. Marion lives in the greenwood with the outlaws and fights alongside them, rather than sitting atop a castle tower like the traditional 'damsel in distress' waiting to be rescued.

Marion, born the daughter of a powerful nobleman, sought refuge in a nunnery while her father was away with the armies of the Crusades. When news reached her of her father's death, Marion inherited his vast estates and this, combined with her beauty, made her a very desirable marriage prospect. Her wealth was coveted by the church as well as by noble suitors.

Marion decided to take the vows of a nun and forsake the outside world... until Robin of Loxley happened upon her in her bedchamber in Nottingham Castle while making his escape from the Sheriff's guards. After much persuasion and more than a few close scrapes along the way, Robin managed to convince Marion to join him in Sherwood. The two were later married on May Day by Herne the Hunter.

Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone)

The series has perhaps the boldest and most original depiction ever attempted of Will Scarlet, a marginal figure in the traditional legend. Will Scarlet brings an almost manic energy to the band of outlaws, not least because the character seems based more on a football hooligan than an inhabitant of England in the Middle Ages.

Will Scafflock (as he was then known) was once a simple man, happy to live out an average life. But one night his life was changed for ever when a band of drunken knights broke into his home. The men overcame him and seized his wife; the knights forced him to watch as they proceeded to rape, beat and finally kill his wife before his eyes. When they had finished, they dropped her lifeless body at his feet and laughed as he wept.

Driven beyond the edge of reason, Will fell upon the knights, took them by surprise, and they met their end at his hands. In the aftermath he renamed himself Will Scarlet, after the anger he felt and the blood he had spilled.

Now a fugitive from justice, Will was eventually captured and thrown into the dungeons of Nottingham Castle. There he met Robin of Loxley and escaped with him into Sherwood Forest. Without doubt the most volatile and impassioned member of the outlaw band, Will is the sort of man who will never back down from a fight, and will never fail to leap to the defence of a friend.

Little John (Clive Mantle)

John Little is perhaps the best known of all Robin's band of outlaws. A giant of a man, he first appears in the series as a henchman of Simon de Belleme, held in thrall by the sorcerer's dark magic. Little John, dressed in black and sporting a pentagram drawn upon his broad chest, towers above all other characters and presents an intimidating figure.

Sent by his master to ambush Robin at a river crossing in Sherwood Forest, Little John is bested by the quicker and more wily Robin, who removes the arcane sigils2 from John's body as he lies unconscious after the fight.

When he comes round, Little John is a changed man. Freed from the sorcerer's spell, he recounts to Robin the tale of his capture and enslavement, and vows revenge. Despite his great stature, indeed maybe because of it, Little John is a truly gentle and sensitive soul. Slow to anger but terrible when roused, he wields a quarterstaff with skill as well as strength.

Friar Tuck (Phil Rose)

This corpulent cleric, a pious man of the cloth and an unflinching guardian of Marion, is a very deceptive character indeed. Rather than being an ineffectual slob, Tuck proves himself time and again to be a highly intelligent and wily individual, and often uses his station and appearance to lull others into a false sense of security.

In the times when Marion sought sanctuary in the church, Tuck adopted a role somewhat like that of a surrogate father, and sheltered her as best he could from the schemes of those who would have exploited her for their own advantage. When she fled for the safety of the greenwood, pursued by the soldiers of the Sheriff of Nottingham, she did so with only the protection of Tuck (which proved to be more than adequate).

When the outlaws deserted Sherwood after the demise of Robin of Loxley only Tuck remained there, choosing to continue the life they had led. The fact that Tuck had an education, and could of course read, was a great asset to the band; and the friar was often called upon to be the voice of reason among the group, when others let their tempers get the better of them.

Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams)

Much was the son of the miller in the village of Loxley, and a simple soul at heart. He grew up with Robin, whose father, before his death, had left him in the miller's care.

Always well-intentioned, Much came to the conclusion one day that if he could bring down one of the King's deer he would be able to relieve the relative poverty in which his family was living. Maybe Much reasoned that since the King had so many deer in his forests he wouldn't miss just one to feed his hungry subject. Unfortunately the laws of the land were not as benevolent as he supposed, and he found himself imprisoned along with Robin, who had tried in vain to save him.

In the violence and retribution that followed their escape, Guy of Gisburne became the second Norman in only two decades to raze the homes of the villagers of Loxley. In the process he made a point of killing Much's father, to drive home the point that Much and Robin would be hunted down like dogs.

Much was totally committed to the outlaws' cause, and totally devoted to both Robin of Loxley and, later, Robert of Huntingdon. Much matures over time into a character who, while still good-hearted and inclined to think the best of people, is no longer the naïve boy who poached from the King's forest all those years ago.

The Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace)

Robert de Rainault, the Sheriff of Nottingham, is the quintessential villain of the piece. The most enduring foe ever faced by both Robin of Loxley and Robert of Huntingdon, the Sheriff is a man who plots long and hard against his enemies, but always seems to meet with frustration in the end. The creators of the series explained that in the case of the Sheriff their aim was to make him 'reactionary and stupid, like a Tory minister'3. They succeeded.

The Sheriff is greedy, mean-spirited, and possessed of a certain degree of base cunning. A volatile man, he is given to sudden outbursts of temper when his efforts to further his aims go awry - a regular occurrence invariably blamed on his underlings.

The Sheriff, a foe of Robin of Loxley's father Ailric, was involved in the crushing of a Saxon rebellion of which Ailric was a ringleader. Guessing that Ailric would attempt to keep from the hands of the Normans an ancient British artefact known as the Silver Arrow, the Sheriff lay in wait for him with a troop of crossbowmen at a bleak and lonely stone circle, where the arrow had been hidden. After his men had shot Ailric full of crossbow bolts the Sheriff seized the arrow. He kept it a closely-guarded secret until using it to draw Robin out by offering it as the prize in an archery competition. From that point on, the Sheriff, and whoever might be hidden in Sherwood going by the name of Robin Hood, would be the bitterest of enemies.

Sir Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie)

Sir Guy of Gisburne was a member of the Norman nobility, and the leader of the Sheriff's soldiers. He was a man who, while professing to live by a strict code of honour, is in fact a despicable character willing to sink to any depths in order to succeed.

As the Sheriff's principal lackey, it falls to Gisburne to put his master's schemes and plots into effect, as well as 'putting the boot in' when required. In the Sheriff's name Gisburne willingly burns the homes of innocent peasants, puts men to the sword, and tries in vain to bring Robin Hood and his band to 'justice'. Watching Gisburne's repeated failures, perhaps the kindest thing that can be said is that he never gives up. He always comes back to harry the outlaws, despite repeated humiliations such as being dunked in a lake and stripped to his underclothes and sent back to Nottingham hog-tied over the back of his horse.

It could be said that Gisburne is only following the Sheriff of Nottingham's orders and the inept plans that he has concocted, but then when Guy shows any spark of independent thought the results are inevitably disastrous. As the Sheriff makes plain at one point, Gisburne is not employed to think for himself.

Abbot Hugo de Rainault (Philip Jackson)

Hugo de Rainault is the brother of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and every bit as avaricious, sly and despicable. Hugo enjoys a position of great power, prestige and privilege within the church, and is sure to exploit every opportunity that comes his way as a result.

Hugo, working in concert with the Sheriff at various schemes and plots that are to their mutual advantage, has his tentacles in the attempts to relieve Marion of her ancestral lands and wealth, and pops up at various points along the way to lend his weight to his brother's cause (though the result is seldom spectacular, to say the least).

During the filming of the series the de Rainault brothers were known on set as the Ugly Sisters, due to their extravagant costumes and pompous characters. The DVD of the first series of Robin of Sherwood features a wonderful outtake in which the pair burst into a rendition of 'Sisters, Sisters' in the middle of a tense scene, which shows the camaraderie and humour shared by the cast and crew.

Herne the Hunter (John Abineri)

The man known as Herne the Hunter is the mentor of both Robin of Loxley and Robert of Huntingdon. He is a perfectly ordinary man, save for the fact that he is periodically used as a mouthpiece by the ancient Celtic deity sometimes known by the same name. It is the intimidating figure of Herne, in his headdress made from the scalp and skin of a stag, that charges both the men who become known as Robin Hood to take up weapons in his name and make a stand against the injustices of the world around them.

Herne, based upon the deity known to the ancient British as Cernunnos or the Horned God, was a god associated with the sacred art of the hunt, and was revered as one of the most important figures in the large pantheon venerated by the Celts of the island kingdom.

Bringing the figure of Herne and other elements of mysticism into the tale and the series is yet another example of originality on the part of writer Richard Carpenter. Prior to Robin of Sherwood there was little or no such content in the treatment of the legend, and its addition to the tale added a new perspective, linking one of England's most enduring heroes of legend to the pagan past of the nation. Herne and the Hooded Man have struck a deep chord of resonance with many pagans all over the world as a result.

Episode Guide

Series One

  • 'Robin Hood and the Sorcerer' (Part 1)
  • 'Robin Hood and the Sorcerer '(Part 2)
  • 'The Witch of Elsden'
  • 'Seven Poor Knights from Acre '
  • 'Alan A Dale'
  • 'The King's Fool'

Series Two

  • 'The Prophecy'
  • 'The Children of Israel'
  • 'Lord of the Trees'
  • 'The Enchantment'
  • 'The Swords of Wayland' (Part 1)
  • 'The Swords of Wayland' (Part 2)
  • 'The Greatest Enemy'

Series Three

  • 'Herne's Son' (Part 1)
  • 'Herne's Son' (Part 2)
  • 'The Power of Albion'
  • 'The Inheritance'
  • 'The Sheriff of Nottingham'
  • 'The Cross of St Ciricus'
  • 'Cromm Cruac'
  • 'The Betrayal'
  • 'Adam Bell'
  • 'The Pretender'
  • 'Rutterkin'
  • 'The Time of the Wolf' (Part 1)
  • 'The Time of the Wolf' (Part 2)
1Though some episodes of the third series were penned by Anthony Horowitz.2A sign or symbol.3A head of department during a term of government by the British Conservative Party.

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