Nothing Is Forgotten: Robin of Sherwood

A history of one of the UK’s finest drama series.

John Bull
John Bull
Jul 1, 2016 · 17 min read
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Robin (played by Michael Praed) and Marion (Judi Trott)

Starting with Dick Turpin

Before Robin, Carpenter was a man who had already developed a reputation for bringing semi-mythical figures to the TV screen. In 1979 he had worked with producer Paul Knight to bring the story of England’s most infamous highwayman to ITV. Dick Turpin, staring Richard O’Sullivan, would run for twenty-six episodes over three years, to positive reaction from audiences and critics both at home and abroad.

Finding the money

When Turpin finished Carpenter and Knight thus began to push the idea of bringing their own version of Robin Hood to the screen. It was a tough sell, given that both men were convinced that the only way to do the idea justice — and indeed to avoid the same fate as Wolfshead — was to deliver a series near-cinematic in its production values.

Subverting The mythology of Robin

Carpenter now set about creating the mix of myth and reality that he had imagined. For the reality, he opted to follow the precedent set by Wolfshead and place Robin in post-Norman-conquest Britain, more particularly in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, encompassing both the end of the reign of Richard the Lionheart and the beginning of the reign of King John.

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Praed as Loxley

Building character

Carpenter extended this principle on a smaller scale to his cast. The decision to keep Robin’s band of outlaws small was in part to help keep costs down (“If you had 300 extras on Robin’s side, we were gonna have to have 900 Normans for him to fight.”) but also because it allowed each of those outlaws to develop as a character.

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Judi Trott as Marion
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Mark Ryan as Nasir

Finding the theme

Ryan also played a key part in how Robin gained one of its most distinctive elements — the evocative and haunting soundtrack contributed by Celtic band Clannad. “We [Clive Mantle, Ray Winstone and Mark Ryan] had been driving around in my car and I was playing Clannad.” Ryan later explained. “We suggested to Paul Knight that Clannad should do the music for the show. That’s how Clannad got the gig, because everyone was listening to ‘Harry’s Game’ in my car!”

Finding its faith

Even in the eighties, imbuing the series with Pagan and occult themes was a bold move on Carpenter’s part. Not only did it provoke controversy in some of the more conservative quarters of the British press, but it also risked overwhelming the efforts to provide a solid historical grounding to the series if handled badly. Carpenter felt it important though that the series include this otherworldly element, in part because it seemed the best way to give Robin some kind of mentor, but also because the idea of continuity of culture and folk memory was so central to the series.

Praed departs

As season two drew to a close, however, cast and crew were faced with a serious problem. Robin Hood himself, Michael Praed, had been offered a lead role in a Broadway musical version of The Musketeers.

An iconic death

That death would come in the final episode of season two, The Greatest Enemy. Beautifully filmed, written and acted, it remains one of the finest episodes of any drama aired on British TV. What begins as a seemingly routine adventure becomes increasingly ominous as the godlike Herne warns Robin that a moment of reckoning is drawing near. Whatever the outcome though, Herne reminds him, light will always find a way to fight against the dark.

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Nickolas Grace as Nottingham

Jason joins

When season three debuted in 1986 that identity was finally revealed — the aforementioned Earl of Huntingdon, played by Jason Connery, called by Herne to take on the mantle of Robin Hood in the wake of Loxley’s death.

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Jason Connery as the second Robin, Earl of Huntingdon

Disaster strikes

Despite this, Robin of Sherwood remained both a popular and critical success and by the end of season three the new faces both in front of and behind the camera had found both their confidence and their voice. As Carpenter began to script a fourth and likely final season, however, disaster struck — Robin of Sherwood was cancelled.

What if…

So what would have happened if season four had been made? Carpenter himself provided some hint when speaking to Starlog. As with Praed’s exit, it seems it would likely not have ended well for the characters the audience had grown to love.

Cult TV Archive

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John Bull

Written by

John Bull

Writer and historian (military & transport). Editor of London Reconnections and Lapsed Historian. I focus on ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Cult TV Archive

Long reads on television past and present from the team that used to write Cult TV Times.

John Bull

Written by

John Bull

Writer and historian (military & transport). Editor of London Reconnections and Lapsed Historian. I focus on ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Cult TV Archive

Long reads on television past and present from the team that used to write Cult TV Times.

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