It took us a while, but finally it’s here: our first nostalgia post. Digging deep into our pop-cultural pasts, we dredge up things sometimes forgotten, sometimes still living through many inspirations or even outright consecutive reincarnations – but always bearing a significant weight for our early formative geek years. We’ll be trying to introduce some old stuff, review it, and finally trace their significance in the modern pop-culture – we’ll see how it goes, our Two-shots are usually quite unpredictable 🙂
We’ve decided to start with a series which had had an enormous impact on our imagination back in the end of eighties, which had become a yardstick for all later Robin Hood retellings, serious or less serious, shaping the popular imagery of the character, introducing new, mystical elements to the old myths, and which – for all its significance and our nostalgia – we cannot bear to watch anymore…
Ola: First things first, however: the famous BBC series, Robin of Sherwood, had been created by Richard Carpenter for the ITV network. Meticulously researched, ambitious in scope, showing for the first time a fairly accurate image of 12th century outlaws (no tights for anyone!), the series won considerable acclaim and fame at the time. Consisting of three seasons, altogether of 26 one-hour long episodes, it ran in the UK in mid-eighties, and in Poland for the first time in the very late eighties/early nineties – which is when we watched it. Oh, those were the times! 😉
Piotrek: A long time ago indeed. I remember running home from school to watch an episode, and being angry at my parents for taking me for a Winter break trip – because I was going to miss some episodes. They were all played on TV, on fixed schedule, with no repeats and no chance to watch it any other way. Young readers won’t get that 😉
Ola: The series is notable for a change of the male lead – Michael Praed, who played Robin in the first two series, resigned from the role after two seasons, and Jason Connery took the role of the second Robin. As the two were nothing alike, [SPOILER ALERT] the first Robin ended being killed by the evil Sheriff. There was also a plan for a fourth series, but the producer, Goldcrest, resigned due to financial problems – and the whole plot remained mysteriously unresolved, somewhat adding to the series’ legend and cult following.
On the left – Michael Praed, on the right – Jason Connery
Piotrek: That’s still a rare solution, and was a revolutionary one – to simply kill off the main character of the show, after two seasons. Ok, it was forced, but we didn’t know then, and it made quite an impression. Crossbow bolts ended Robin of Loxley and for a moment all was lost. Until the next hero was chosen, in Robin of Huntingdon. And he literally is chosen, by another iconic character of this series, Herne the Hunter.
Ola: Herne originally appeared in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor as a ghost:
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
He was often associated with Cernunnos, the antlered god of hunt in the Celtic mythos, or even with all paleolithic figures, such as The Sorcerer, but there were also other theories, linking him to Odin, or even a real, historical figure. The last approach was favored by the series’ creators, and in Robin of Sherwood Herne is fully human, a shamanic figure endowing his consecutive “sons”, heroes of the woods, with special gifts – both material and transcendent.
Piotrek: One thing that stayed with me – excellent music, by the a BAFTA winning Irish folk group Clannad. Made famous by their earlier for-TV work, closing music for Harry’s Game, a dark but very good 3-episode series about the Troubles. Series largely forgotten now, seen by me years after Robin of Sherwood, and yet, in my personal opinion, a series that aged so much better than one we review now.
Ola: Yes, Clannad’s music was a phenomenon at the time, and a sign of renewal of the whole folk music genre. It’s notable now for having been the first stepping stone for Enya in her worldwide carreer. I do admit to having Robin of Sherwood soundtrack on a tape 😉 No idea where it is now, but I did have it 😉
Piotrek: Theme from Harry’s Game is actually my favourite song by Clannad, but Legend, the album where they collected songs made for Robert of Sherwood, is also great, and I even have a CD 🙂 I’ve listened to Clannad a lot these last few days and I have to say I still like their more folkish pieces, but when they go too much into pop, that’s not my kind of music.
A little digression – some time ago I discovered that British TV is not only BBC! And I don’t mean the modern channels, but two TV series I like a lot were created by something called Yorkshire Television… Harry’s Game, but also The Sandbaggers, a spy series that run from 1978 to 1980 and covered the adventures of British cold-warriors. Budget was clearly limited, but writing and acting – superb, with complex plots that reminded me of Le Carré. It inspired Greg Rucka to write a comic books series Queen & Country, series I like a lot – and that’s how a learned about the series.
Back to Robin – music is great and stayed with me for years, long after I’ve forgotten the details of the show. That, and the memories of my younger self engrossed in the story of our valiant heroes fighting against the Norman oppression ensured the Robin a place in my personal Hall of Fame for years. Until, a ten years ago or so, I decided to go back and revisit the Sherwood. I fell asleep halfway through the first episode. Another attempt, a year or so later, made me give up after two.
Ola: Sadly, it was the same for me. I tried to watch the first episode about five years ago, and I switched it off after twenty minutes or so. I couldn’t stand the shaky image, the terrible fighting scenes with repeating images necessary to create even a shred of dynamism in the action scenes… The acting is very… naturalistic, which is my kind way of saying “almost nonexistent”, and the suspense is built mostly with music and scenery – which is generally a very smart and efficient way, provided it is not overused. I believe it still could be watchable – but mostly for kids, who usually don’t pay attention to technicalities 😉 I have very fond memories of the series, and I spent days and months playing Robin with my cousins, making bows and arrows and frightening my grandmother’s chickens. But after the failed attempt of five years ago I never went back to the series, preferring to keep my memories intact.
Piotrek: Yes, our first journey into childhood nostalgia does not end well. The show aged badly, on this we agree. Fighting scenes… I see them as an example that progress do exist. With the rise of HEMA and, I would argue, more realistic games and genre books, the audience is more demanding and the specialists are more numerous and easily available. Not every show does it well, but it’s easier for those who try. The fights got not only more realistic, but also more dynamic, and here it’s hard to blame the creators of Robin, it’s just the case of modern audiences being used to different pace. So, trying to re-watch the series in this millennium was, for me, a painful experience.
Ola: And yet it had influenced so many other movies and shows and books – it became a true wellspring of ideas and imagery associated with Robin Hood. First of all, almost entirety of the series had been stolen and incorporated into Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – starting with the figures of a loyal, smart Saracen, the imagery of Marion as an ethereally beautiful, feisty redhead, and the slightly animal, hulking figure of Little John – all the way to the famous pole fight over the stream.
Piotrek: Yes, it was influential, and changed the way Robin Hood was portrayed on the big and small screen alike. And the changes were for good. No more tights, more active Maid Marian, king Richard no more a good king to right all wrongs… I’m ready to acknowledge all the good it did, but don’t make me watch the show. I’ll just re-ready Pyle while listening to Clannad 🙂
Hmm, but if I want to go beyond Pyle’s Merry Adventures, what is the best modern literary take on Robin Hood? I seem to remember reading good things about Robin McKinley…