Barnaby Eaton-Jones is the producer, director, script editor of, and sometimes actor in, the Robin of Sherwood audio dramas released from Spiteful Puppet; beginning with 2016's Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse.
He is also Creative Director of Spiteful Puppet's output, a publisher viaChinbeard Books, and tours with his company, The OFFSTAGE Theatre Group.
Barnaby has hosted Robin of Sherwood conventions as Hooded Man Events since 2014's The Hooded Man convention.
He has also performed in two 10-piece tribute bands, honouring popular movies with musicians -- Total Commitments (from the Roddy Doyle / Alan Parker film The Commitments) and Blues Brothers Reloaded (from the Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi starring Blues Brothers). He also has toured the UK in I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, a recreation of the classic radio comedy program and is currently overseeing a revival of The Goodies on audio with Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.
Barnaby Eaton-Jones can be found on his Facebook page That Eaton-Jones Fellow, the Chinbeard Books Website and the Spiteful Puppet Website.
This interview was originally conducted by phone in July 2016 with email updates in January and July 2019. (And no, you didn't miss this earlier. I'm first posting the interview in 2019.)
AWW: Good to hear from you.
BEJ: Thank you very much for ringing.
AWW: Thank you for bringing Robin of Sherwood back.
BEJ: Well, it was a bit difficult, wasn’t it? But we’re there now which is good. Everything is slowly wending its way out.
AWW: I don’t know. After 30 years away, getting everything done in a single year is pretty impressive.
BEJ: YWell, getting it done in two months, because when the other production company left I had to start from scratch which was rather scary, so there you go. [When the production was first announced in July 2015, it was being produced by Bafflegab Productions and Barnaby Eaton-Jones.]
AWW: All the casting had to be re-done, aside from the original cast, and I guess yourself.
BEJ: Yes, I was cast in it originally, and I desperately tried to find someone more famous to do it when I took over as sole producer, because I thought it just looks a bit egotistical if I produce it and have a little part in it as well. I went through quite a list of famous people to try to get them to do the role of Camville in the story and annoyingly it got to the point where we didn’t have any time left, so I ended up having to lend the production my terrible vocal talents as a result. Luckily it’s not a large part. As the Bishop said to the Actress.
AWW: You also played all the other parts too at various points, because it was recorded separately.
BEJ: I think somewhere there is an audio version of just me doing every part in The Knights of the Apocalypse. Obviously, what happens is that when you haven’t got everyone in the studio at the same time, the actors work much better with somebody to bounce off. So, anytime anybody wasn’t there at various points, especially with Jason Connery and Ray Winstone, I was doing Nasir and Little John and Much and Marion in quick succession. I remember being Nasir for the first time, and Ray Winstone looked, turned round, laughed at me and said “I had no idea that Nasir was Italian.” (Laughs) Naughty Ray Winstone. The reason for that, especially with Ray and Jason, is that they acted properly opposite you. They were looking at you. Because as an actor, it’s easier to work off somebody than pause for a line reading and for them to have to try and respond to it. My recording studio days are filled with doing various little impersonations of the cast very badly.
AWW: Even though the actors weren’t all together, the chemistry really comes through. It does feel like they were acting off each other, just like in the show.
BEJ: There was one recording session where there were quite a lot of them in studio together and then I was just being Robin and Will Scarlet. So, that was quite nice and they were getting a proper flow and reconnecting. I think if you’re acting without all those people, you do need somebody there to read in. But the script’s so strong, they sort of knew what the intonation of the others would be, how they would play that scene. And again, that’s also Robert Young, the director. He had to remember, “Well, okay, in the first recording session, we played that scene fast and loud, so anybody else that comes into it has to be fast and loud, otherwise there will be big differences between the vocal takes. All kudos to Robert, who kept us on the straight and narrow. He kept us on track. He was absolutely brilliant.
AWW: It was quite a coup to get one of the original series directors back to direct the audio drama.
BEJ: Well, he is very lovely as well. When I rang him to see if he was available, he didn’t know who I was or anything, I just said “Hello, I’m Barnaby and I’m bringing back Robin of Sherwood for a one-off thing, would you…” And I got to “would you” and he said “Yes! Yes, I will.” And I said, “Oh, okay, do you want to know what it’s about?” And he said “No, no, just pop it in an email and I’ll do it, whatever it is. If it’s Robin of Sherwood -- yes, definitely.” So, it was brilliant. I didn’t really have to persuade him. He was very excited and came back. As we all know, one of the major parts of Robin of Sherwood was the collaboration. Obviously Kip gave a script that was ready to record, but they would discuss things and alter things, and the director would add things. When I took over properly, I sat down with Robert, and said to the cast “Look, what do you want to add in? What do you feel uncomfortable about? What lines are specifically good for you?” Again, I suppose that’s how they used to do it in the TV series, to make it sort of more comfortable.
AWW: I was wondering how you managed to do that as it was recorded on different day with different cast members. Was that just prep work before any recording days?
BEJ: Yes, that’s right. There was a meeting with Robert, so we went through the script properly. And then we wrote another draft. And then we sent it out to all the cast, and just said “Look, give us your opinions.” So, when they did that, we sat down, discussed it, and then wrote another draft. It didn’t veer much from Kip’s original script, that’s the great thing, because he writes very strongly. We just had to change it to audio. You know, sometimes on TV, two characters will appear at the start, and then disappear. And you don’t really think about it because it’s TV and it’s fast-paced and you’re watching what’s going on. But on audio, if two characters suddenly disappear, you start wondering twenty minutes later, where they’ve gone. So, we have to have some payoff for different characters. I think that was a good through line of consistency that Robert brought, just to make sure that the audio version of the script was understandable and it wasn’t too complicated to follow. I think that was nice, because everyone contributed in a small or a large way and it felt right that it was a script everyone was happy with.
AWW: The finished product really stands up. Listening to it, I thought “Yes, this is how it was back in the show.”
BEJ: That’s really, really nice. Yes, it's one of those weird things that you do in a vacuum and you hope that - because you’re a fan - you’re doing the right thing. That you’ve got the right intonation or the right music or the right camaraderie or chemistry between them. And other fans have listened to it and said what you’ve said. It's incredibly humbling. You realize, great, we’ve tapped into the right stuff and it’s working which is good. I know for the cast when they got back together, there was just an easy, natural flow to get back into it, and they so enjoyed working with each other. At the end of each recording session, we had people wishing they could come back the next day, and that's nice.
AWW: So, what were your origins with Robin of Sherwood? Did it go back to the 1980s when it was first on?
BEJ: It did, yes. And I tried growing my own mullet, but I didn’t manage it. No, I was a proper fan when I was younger, and then as you do when you get older, you fade away from it. You remember a certain series that you watched when you were young that you really remember and that was one of those.
Then in the early 2000s, there was a convention in the UK and the people who were running it knew me from doing comedy parodies of cult TV shows, and they asked me to do a sort-of Robin of Sherwood evening comedy play. So, I wrote this squashed version of the entire series that ran for an hour-and-a-half. This was fast-paced, so it was Saturday Night Live type, quick humour, quick skits. Because of doing that I had to re-watch the entire series properly and make sure I knew all the background, all the outtakes -- anything that I put into the script that a fan would get. And that retriggered my love for it.
That's the weird thing about Robin of Sherwood -- we all come to it now and it stands up. It's not a show that's particularly aged. I mean people make a joke about the eighties haircuts -- but they're really not that eighties. I don't think it's aged particularly badly. It's a good old show. You come back to it later in life and you get more from it than you were younger. There were big themes that Kip liked to put in. So, I fell in love with it again, and then ... basically took over Robin of Sherwood. (Laughs) In a megalomaniac type way.
It's a weird thing that nobody seemed to be doing anything for the 30th anniversary, and I couldn't really understand. I basically wanted to go and do a silly comedy play again, and there wasn't any event that was happening. And somebody said "Why don't you do an event?" And said "I don't know, I might." And then somebody else said "No, you couldn't do it. That would be impossible." And I don't really like it when people say I couldn't do something. So, I went "Okay then, let's give it a go.” I sort of fell into being an event organizer, which is something I never really thought I would do. But because of that this came about.
AWW: And you got ahold of the original script from the late 80s that Richard Carpenter had written.
BEJ: Yes, we're you aware of it?
AWW: Yes, I had heard about it over the years.
BEJ: Well, oddly I went back and revisited the comedy play I did and the whole start of the play is a conversation between Paul Knight (producer of the original series), pretending to be the leader of the Knights of the Apocalypse, and Richard Carpenter, pretending to be Herne, talking about it as if were a new production that was going to happen. I guess I must have been aware of the rumours going around and written that into my comedy script and tried to make a joke of it. So, oddly, from pretending to be the producer in a comedy play, I suddenly became the producer of the Knights of the Apocalypse for real.
When I set up and ran by own event, a fan came up who had kept hold of the script for many, many years with all of Kip's original writing -- circling things and writing in pencil. She just said "Look, I know you're in touch with Kip's estate, so would you be able to safely give this back to them if they don't have a copy?” They didn't have a copy, and Harriet, who is Kip's daughter, was delighted that she could have it. And before I passed it on, I asked if it would be okay if I read it, in case it might work for the audio. At that time we were just going to write a generic script. Somebody was going to write the script and hopefully do it that way. Harriet obviously agreed, and so we were able to have an original Richard Carpenter script which is amazing, isn't it.
I said before it's not really changed. I mean people are expecting a huge change between our script and the novelization which follows the original TV script as if it had been broadcast on television. If you read that and listen to the audio, you'll notice the changes. But there aren't that many, and it's just making it palatable for an audio medium. I mean it's always difficult, because you don't want to sound clunky by pointing and saying things like "Oh, what's that man doing? Oh gosh, he’s raising his bow. Now he’s shooting his arrow." That's always a bit of a problem -- we have to be very careful about dialogue like that. And I think invariably there were maybe a couple of moments that were like that, but hopefully we got away with it without sounding too forced. It's something you have to be very careful about with audio so it doesn’t come across as stagey. So sorry, I rambled off the point there. I apologize, I'm very good at waffling in any direction I wish to go.
AWW: Not at all. It does work as an audio drama. And in some ways that's surprising, because listening to it, I realized that Richard Carpenter was probably a very visual writer. There were moments where I realized "Oh, if they had done this on the TV show, it would be a montage set to Clannad music."
BEJ: That's entirely right. The whole section of them going to Huntingdon, to go to the castle was a purely visual thing. On television, you'd have seen clips of them at daytime, at nighttime, crouching their way through various things. We can't do that. So, we had to find a different way of marking time. There were sound effects for the owls, etc. That way you knew it was dawn or lunchtime or whatever. We inserted bits of dialogue, and fake Clannad -- Clone-Add as I called them -- fake-Clannad music in the background. Those are the major changes -- that the really visual stuff had to be worked out properly in an audio.
But that was quite nice in itself, because it gave the Merries a bit more of their usual banter and chemistry. Because it's a very action-packed script, some of that was not in Kip's script. He was looking at a broad, feature-length, big action version. Because of having to write more because of the audio, we were able to put in those little exchanges. We were able to follow Kip's lead and ape Kip's writing and give the Merries a bit of banter and humour. Which, you know, is one of the great things about Robin of Sherwood. It's certainly not a comedy but it's got those comedy moments because of the relationships between the characters. So, I was very pleased the bits I wrote – like the montage - seem to really work. And you're sort of taking a cue from Kip, because if having immersed yourself in his writing, you can sort of -- I don't know what the right word is really, I suppose ‘ape’ is the right word -- follow his lead ... and make sure you don't write something terrible.
AWW: I figured some of those moments were probably added, just logically because of how they'd do it on TV, but it's pretty seemless.
BEJ: And the scene of them going up the castle toilet or Robin climbing into the castle would have been a purely visual thing, but - because these were very important moments in the script, we had to make sure people knew what was going on, and just added dialogue accordingly.
AWW: I was wondering how much of Nasir's dialogue had to be added, because in the show so much of the character is Mark Ryan's physical performance.
BEJ: That is true. And weirdly, although there are quite a lot of people online saying "Gosh, there'll be nothing for Mark to do." or "You'll have to add in a load of stuff that isn't natural.", in the original script he had quite a lot of lines. I don't know if Kip suddenly thought "Well, this is the last sort of thing, a coda, It would be nice to give Mark more lines to do." But there were quite chunks. We didn't add a huge amount. We had to give him a bit more, because – although you can allude to him being there in the scene without him talking- it would have been sad for Mark to be stood in the recording studio in the corner, brooding menacingly and not really saying anything. So, I think he enjoyed doing it and is very good at not putting his natural Yorkshire inflections into the Saracen dialect! He was brilliant and it was great for him because he could do the banter a bit more.
AWW: I think one of the reviewers said there were more lines for Nasir in this than the whole TV series.
BEJ: (Laughs) Well, it's probably true. This is a nice chunky two-hour script, shared out equally to a certain extent. I think it's quite nice to hear him, because as I think I mentioned to somebody else, with the amount of time he spent in Sherwood Forest by the time of this script, he's bound to have picked up English a little better. It was a limitation of the series. By the time Jason Connery was Robin, they had been together a long time. I think he would have been speaking better English, and he would have been talkative rather than standing back and not doing that – which, to some extent, he does in that last series. So, I think it's a natural progression. It's unusual because people aren’t used to that happening, but hopefully it doesn't bring people out of the audio too much.
AWW: And by the third series you had episodes like "The Sheriff of Nottingham" where Nasir was talking a lot more.
BEJ: It is a natural character arc. You can do the brooding, Clint Eastwood style thing for so long, and you don’t want it to be a one-dimensional character. That was the great thing with all the characters really, they had backstories and they had relationships. It wasn't just 1950’s Robin Hood, with a “Hurrah!” and a slap of the thigh. They went through things. I always liked the fact that Little John nearly got married to Meg, but never quite made it. It was nice to give him a love interest. It brought so many different things into the legend. And that was the great thing about Kip's writing. He could do these things and make Robin of Sherwood modern and also update the legend and make it a lot more powerful.
AWW: One of the things that I liked about Knights of the Apocalypse is that it pushed the storyline for at least two characters -- trying to avoid spoilers -- forward from the encounters in the show.
BEJ: We tried to. It is a continuation rather than a standalone. Well, it is, in a sense, a standalone episode, but we tried to push through things, even just throwaway things.People were expecting a big scene where Maid Marion comes out of the Nunnery but this script is clearly set later in all of their timelines and there was nothing at all about that, so we just added a couple of lines to make it clear that her time as a Nun was referenced as an aside and her love for Robin re-confirmed. It's only a tiny exchange but just enough of a nugget for the dedicated fans to pick up on. (In 2018, Spiteful Puppet would release What Was Lost, a proper first episode of what might have been Series Four, which thoroughly explained and dealt with how and why Marion re-joined the Merries)
AWW: When I was listening to it,I had wondered if those lines were added.
BEJ: Kip wrote it as a standalone, a sort of coda. Because it was a couple of years on, he probably thought in an age where there isn't instant replay - where you can watch everything on YouTube or on DVD - he probably thought nobody's going to remember that she went into a Nunnery at the end of Series Three, so we'll just do everybody back together again. Weirdly, you don't have to explain things. People sort of add that in themselves. There are a lot of fans who might write fiction set between stories, so it's a very easy thing to imagine. But we thought, let's just pop a line or two in for the dedicated fans; so they don't wag their heads at us and say "So, she spent the whole time in a Nun's outfit? What was she doing there?" We just tried to appeal to everyone really, across the board. Make it broad, but also sort of insular as well to make the fans happy. As a fan myself, we want to make sure fans are happy with what you did, especially as a big one-off sort celebration, you want to make sure as many people as possible enjoy it.
AWW: I think it's also keeping with the third series that the reference is vague enough that you could take it to mean her leaving Kirklees way back in "Robin Hood and the Sorcerer" (the first episode).
BEJ: You're right. I think the nice bit about the third series is the continuity. It wasn't just plonking them back to the same old Robin Hood. It was a proper storyline of Marion not being instantly happy. Of course she wouldn't be instantly happy, the person she loved had been killed. And for Saturday tea-time, and what was essentially a children's show, that's a big theme. It wasn't all "Let's fall in love again, ha haha." It took a while for her to warm to Jason's Robin. I think hopefully that The Knights of the Apocalypse is the sort of other end of that. They have got to a comfortable level with each other. Jason especially I think gives an amazing performance in pushing Robin forward and making him an authority figure. I was impressed with the interplay. It was really good.
AWW: It felt like things had moved on -- not thirty years moved on,
BEJ: (Laughs.) Well, I hope nobody sounds that much different. I mean, Ray Winstone is a bit deeper, but nobody sounds horrendously different, which is why it's always nice to do an audio with a twenty to thirty years later affair because people do change. But voices generally stay the same, so you can conjure up those images. Ray actually discussed pitching his voice higher, which was his suggestion, but I just said I’d rather he was comfortable in his acting rather than having to try and ‘sound young’.
I think I said to you before, when I read Kip's script for the first time, it's so vivid and so imaginative that you're reading it and you can just see at the back of your eyelids the pictures playing out. I wouldn’t say it was an easy thing to adapt, but it helped a lot because he wrote so visually. You could feel like you had already watched the episode in a way because it was so familiar. It wasn’t over-familiar, but it had nice elements from the more classic sort of episodes. That's the power of the writing. If it's good enough, you can see in your head what’s going on straight away.
AWW: I have to say that the casting of — to say it with his full name as billed in America — Anthony Stewart Head as the lead villain was fantastic. His silky, evil voice was perfect for those lines.
BEJ: Other people have said that. The great thing about Anthony is that he is an incredibly good laugh. He'll just bounce into the studio, and make fun and do silly voices. And then suddenly when you'd say "Right, action!", he just turns on this malevolence and brings the temperature down horrendously. Just a fantastic performance. I think he liked the script, so obviously he wanted to be a part of it, and he’s very big on charity work (this production benefitted both the British Red Cross and The Sherwood Forest Trust). He was just amazing — sort of a silky, posh evil with an inner stillness -- everything could be happening around him and he was just calm and pretty scary. And then you’d finish the take and he’d be goofing around again.
He came in with Colin Baker. They did their bits together. That was quite nice — watching the interplay between them being the Knights of the Apocalypse. Colin is also a delight, and he did a huge favour for me just coming in as I’ve known him for a while now. Jason Connery had, of course, worked with him before when Colin was the Sixth Doctor in Doctor Who. Actually, Jason said it himself, that the good thing about Robin of Sherwood for other actors was that Kip wrote such good parts for the guest villain(s). Each television episode had somebody pretty famous at the time in it. They’d come in and do their thing. So I thought I want names to come and be these parts. That is the power of the writing to draw them in, and also the fact that’s what they did in the series. They didn’t cast nobodies. They made sure they cast people who the public knew and would tune in and watch an episode mainly because somebody was on that they were a fan of. I hope that's what I managed to do with the casting — bring names in as well as the original cast themselves.
AWW: They were the kind of actors — given the difference of ages — would have been the type to do the TV version thirty years ago, absolutely.
BEJ: That is true, and it was probably at the back of my head. I was thinking you could imagine them in their 80s prime — especially Colin Baker with his Sixth Doctor — he was sort of brash, but not very straight-faced. I think that was nice to do that -- to bring in people who were famous and fundamentally still are.
BEJ: And then to get the new blood in with Freddie Fox, who was just incredibly humble. I don’t think he was worried, but he certainly paid great respect to Robert Addie. [The original actor who played Guy of Gisburne who passed away in 2003.] There was a lot of chatter before the start of the recording session where he would talk about how he was chuffed to do so, stepping into Robert Addie’s shoes. That was nice. Nickolas Grace had suggested him, and I think it was a perfect casting. He brought that sort of youthful sneer that Gisburne had but yet was his own Gisburne rather than an impression. Probably for die-hard fans it might be slightly difficult to get used to, but he is a perfect Gisburne. And I think, had Freddie been around in the 1980’s, he would have been one of the ones vying for that part, because he plays it so incredibly well.
AWW: I really liked him as Gisburne, even though it’s definitely not a Robert Addie impersonation by any means. It works as an alternate interpretation of the classic Robin of Sherwood Guy of Gisburne.
BEJ: That’s the thing, isn’t it? When you’ve got somebody that has such a fan base as Robert Addie, who are still in love with him, talking about him, speaking about him, you have to tread carefully. Because you really could have gone down the route of finding somebody that sounds vaguely like Robert Addie. I am quite good at doing a Robert Addie impression. At one point I did think “Wow, I could just do that.” But then the thing is you’re trying to respect and honour somebody, but by doing something like that I think it would cheapen the character.
So it was nice to get somebody like Robert was in his heyday. Although he wasn’t an up-and-coming actor, he was a young actor, famous for what he had already done, kind of like Freddie Fox. So we made sure we got somebody who had that similar class and talent and could play it another way. You don’t want to fall between two stools. You either make it completely different or you try to do it virtually the same. This case it was certainly nice to go a different way with it. Freddie Fox gives such a good performance. I don’t think it will put off Robert Addie fans. As I said, Freddie was very referential prior to stepping in and doing it. He was a very humble guy. He was really nice.
AWW: Although with the other recast you had to do, you took the opposite approach with Daniel Abineri stepping in and doing a voice very similar to his dad’s. [The late John Abineri had played Herne the Hunter passed away in 2000, and the role is now played by his son Daniel.]
BEJ: Yes, well, that was amazing. I know when he arrived at the recording studio, they were milling about and talking and I remember Judi Trott saying — and obviously Daniel must have been behind her and speaking to somebody — and she just said “Oh excellent, John’s here”, without thinking that of course he isn’t because he’s sadly not with us anymore. He sounds so like him and I think that’s what we wanted for Herne because he’s our narrator, in a sense. Our literal spirit guide.
With Herne there was a lot of fan chatter about having Michael Praed coming back as the character or we could get some other famous actor again. But I think Herne was such a — well, he’s not in it a huge amount but what he does is have all that gravitas and speaks prophetically about things. His voice is sort of embedded in the series. I thought it would have been nice for somebody to have carried on the mantle of their father. So, we went to Daniel first and he very kindly said he’d like to do it. He very amusingly said he’d watched clips of his father doing Herne and it was either whispering or shouting, and he could do both of those so he came along and gave it some whispery, shouty stuff. He was brilliant, and worryingly just sounded exactly like you remember. Well, I hope sounded just like Herne used to be.
AWW: Absolutely. I don’t think you’d be able to really tell.
AWW: So, is this going to remain a one-off?
BEJ: Ah well, our licence is for a one-off charity production. And ITV are quite clear when we started it was just a one-off thing, but I suppose when something’s successful. I mean the crowd-funding itself was newsworthy, and the fact that we’ve had amazing reviews across the big magazines and online, you can’t but hope it’s not being ignored and that maybe we can do more. But it’s a very tough thing because you know the script itself is a one-off because Kip isn’t around to write any more. It’s nice that it’s the last hurrah, but it has been incredibly well supported and because the actors themselves enjoy doing it, you’re stuck between “Okay, do we leave it as a final one or do we try to do more?” It’s sort of in that limbo where we are putting feelers out. But at the moment, I have to say sadly its a one-off, but you never know what the future brings [AWW - Well, unless of course you are editing this interview a few years later! Several Robin of Sherwood audios have appeared in recent years and at the end of the interview you can read Barnaby’s comments from 2019.]
AWW: I think it probably surprised people — although not me — how remembered and powerful the brand of Robin of Sherwood is.
BEJ: : That was amazing. Genuinely,myself and the original production company weren’t expecting that level of interest in the crowd-funding so quickly. I mean obviously we thought yes, we think we might raise a budget because there’s enough of a fanbase there. If I’d I heard about the story as a fan I’d certainly want to contribute to it. But the speed, the total going up and the fact that it was suddenly being picked up by news outlets; that was astonishing. There were moments where I thought it was a bit like Doctor Who. You know it was taken off television and people remembered it and carried on writing fiction about it and doing things to keep it in the public consciousness. And then Big Finish came along with their audios with the original actors and then it had that big 2005 revival on television. I suppose it was a bit like that with this. The nice thing is that obviously you have that dedicated fan base but then we had a BBC News article which made a big deal of it on the main BBC news website. We had people coming across, buying it and saying “Gosh, I remember that when I was young,” and they loved it but hadn’t watched it since and they wanted to buy the CD. To see how things were and re-live their nostalgia a bit. Nostalgia’s quite a lovely thing because it certainly brought a lot of people back. And I think fandom itself has changed because of social media sites, there are a lot of fans who weren’t party to the original fan events and who are now able to join together because of social media. There are a lot more new fans and fans who didn’t have a voice before. So that’s been lovely, really. What happened is a sort of groundswell of people passing it onto their children, and children are liking it. It’s great. Because if you know it, you know that it’s probably the best retelling of the legend that there has been. And possibly the only retelling that makes sense because it has that revolutionary rebels thing when they’re all so young. And people have been praying for it to come back to TV and do something but Kip’s idea was that these were young, energetic rebels who wouldn’t have lived past 25 or 30. They weren’t 50-year old men in tights jumping about. They were eager young men and women. So that’s a great vision that he had that made it so popular, and people empathize with it because of that youthful zest.
AWW: That student protest leader Robin Hood I don’t think that’s really been done before. We’ve had freedom fighter Robin Hoods, but that very youth-based Robin Hood… well, later on you had mallrat Robin Hoods.
BEJ: [Laughs] That’s true. I presume you get the Robin Hood for the era it’s made in, don’t you? And the eighties were a very youthful and political era — and you’re changing that zeitgeist. That’s what happens I suppose. Television programmes and films are made to correspond with what’s going on around them. That’s probably like it struck a chord.
AWW: I guess the Knights of the Apocalypse script was written when Thatcher was still in power, or had just recently left.
BEJ: YYes, it is a nice end to the series. It’s not alienating new fans. So had it been made in 1989 you could have come to it completely fresh and be sort of re-introduced to the characters but not in a way that would have alienated fans that already knew them. That was very clever writing, being able to bridge the gap between new fans and old fans. So it’s worked 30 years later simply because of that writing that Kip had done.
AWW: And I do think that’s there’s that huge of underbelly of people who enjoyed it who aren’t active in the fan clubs and things. I’d say that being involved for over 20 years in Robin Hood studies that when people hear that I’ve had so many — especially before all the modern internet sites like IMDB took off — just say to me “Oh, there’s this one show I remember, you probably never heard about it…” And it’s always Robin of Sherwood.
BEJ: It is weird, isn’t it? Even now. Today I’ve been to the post office to send off a load of packages of CDs, and the person handling them said “Oh this is a lot of parcels. What’s all this?” And I started the conversation as you probably always do with “I expect you don’t remember the 1980’s series Robin of Sherwood,” but of course it’s a really weird thing because as soon as you say that people go “No, no, I remember that. It was brilliant.” And you start having a discussion about it. You sort of assume that people don’t remember because it was three series long and 30 years ago, but such is the power — and as you said, the brand itself. People do remember it and that’s really good.
AWW: And in America it showed on Showtime, and you know if that it had been made 25 years later it would have been so widely publicized as cable shows became.
BEJ: , well even here it was made by HTV which was specifically a company that would broadcast in one region of the country, so … I don’t know … in a 50-mile radius or something. And it was only then picked up by other broadcasters who broadcast it to the wider country. As you say, it was a different market. Had it been made now it would have been that Doctor Who brand. It would have been across the internet and social media sites. So it’s amazing that it’s still so popular and popularly remembered. It was nice for us to have a base to jump off that people knew already.
AWW: And it was superb to hear them again and fall back into it. It feels like childhood come to life again.
BEJ: It was especially nice for us when Michael Praed mentioned it. I think he mentioned it in an interview he did just before we were recording, and said something like “It’s a shame they didn’t ask me to be a spear-carrier on the right or something and be a part of it.” And we had approached him a while ago, but I don’t think that communication had gotten through. Because he mentioned it we obviously went back and said “You’re more than welcome to come in and do something.” And he just jumped at the chance which was really nice for him, he obviously holds it in high regard as well. He came in and did his little bit, his cameo, that people might recognize, but of course they might not. I won’t spoil it but it is at the start, that’s all I’ll say. He was up for a cameo and doing something. So in the end we could say yes we had all the surviving cast back which was really nice.
AWW: And it was really nice that you got Philip Jackson back as Abbot Hugo because that was something that was missing after the first couple of episodes of the third season.
BEJ: He’s such a great actor but also his character is so good. The sparring between the brothers — the Sheriff and the Abbot — I was really pleased it was in Kip’s script, because he could have not been in it at all. And Philip was very happy to come back and do it. And I think he said that it was nice to play constipated emotion again — that repressed anger that the Abbot had. I think he had a really good time, and the scenes between him and the Sheriff are just exactly as you remember them — really good banter and sort of hating each other and loving each other at the same time. And trying to usurp each other.
AWW: For the nostalgia buzz, those were the scenes that made me go “Wow.”
BEJ: It was nice that even Arthur the Rat came back. Even the Old Prisoner and Arthur. Anything that people remember we managed to put in. But again that was something that Kip had already put in there, it was not something we added. It was nice to have that reprisal of the Old Prisoner. It’s a lovely little role that runs through the series that we couldn’t miss putting it in the audio
AWW: Although that again was an example of something that was added during the filming of the TV series, just the practical thing of “How do we get out of the underground prison?”
BEJ: Isn’t it nice that if something works they continue and carry on doing it? It’s the same as Mark Ryan always says about Nasir, he wasn’t supposed to be a part of the series but they had such a good time and he was such a good character that they kept him on. It certainly doesn’t happen these days when things are worked out so far in advance, but the fact they were able to do that — that was brilliant and obviously gained us the character of Nasir who has become sort of folklore, I think
AWW: Even showing up in a version of the Robin Hood legend from last month, there again was the Saracen.
BEJ: It’s a weird thing that now it’s become so known that people assume that it’s part of the original legend. As a writer you couldn’t ask for something better than that — that a character you created has become part of the public consciousness.
AWW: I think that’s probably the first new, consistent character in the Robin Hood legend since Alan-a-Dale in the 1700s.
BEJ: That’s definitely true. Sadly we haven’t got Alan-a-Dale in the audio, that would have been just one character too many
AWW: I don’t think Robin of Sherwood fans miss the presence of Alan-a-Dale.
BEJ: That was the chap who was dubbed over by somebody else, and I think the story goes he didn’t actually realize until he met the person in the supermarket who dubbed his voice and said “Oh, I did your voice in that Robin of Sherwood episode”, and he said “Did you?” He didn’t realize. But we couldn’t afford to have an actor in and have somebody else come back and dub him. [In 2018, the original actor who played Alan-a-Dale on TV, Peter Hutchinson, returned to record a Robin of Sherwood audiobook for Barnaby -- "The Baron's Daughter" by Jennifer Ash. There was no overdubbing this time.]
AWW: It was just fantastic that you were able to get the full cast back. So what projects do you have coming up? I know you’re doing a revival of a radio series on stage.
BEJ: Yes, we obviously changed from taking a TV show and putting it on the radio. We’ve going the other way and taking a radio show and putting it on stage. But yes, there’s an old BBC classic comedy I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again with John Cleese of Monty Python fame, and Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie who were the Goodies — a comedy show in the 1970s and 1980s. And we thought we’ve got such a great radio show that ran for about a decade that we can cherry-pick the good material, and be silly on stage in front of an audience. Then very kindly Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie said we are allowed to tour it, so next year we’ll be touring various theatres in England just to be very, very silly and make people laugh
AWW: And you’re now on the board of Spiteful Puppet. Any audio stuff coming up from them? They have their own Robin Hood series as well as Robin of Sherwood.
BEJ: They do. And inspired by Robin of Sherwood, or so it was, I think. Iain Meadows, who is the chap I know from Spiteful Puppet, I think he tried to get the rights to Robin of Sherwood a while back and because it was so convoluted he decided that he’d make his own version — Hood -- which is a very successful different take on the Robin Hood legend and has won various awards, which is why they were the perfect company to come in and take over when the original production company left. There are lots of irons in the fire and they very kindly brought me on board because we worked very well together on Robin of Sherwood. So we’re now looking at various things to do. It’s all a bit secretive. There are a lots of things that are happening and hopefully at some point we can announce them. You want to tell people stuff but we still have to wait until we’re actually allowed to. But we’re poking around and hopefully we can announce something in a couple of months.
AWW: I’ll look forward to it. I’ve enjoyed their stuff before, and I’ve enjoyed the Knights of the Apocalypse.
BEJ: Well, I shall try not to ruin the company with my input. Iain and I make a very good team, and we sort of think the same way so it’s been really nice. To be honest sometimes creative things are very stressful and a bit of a pain, so this has been the easiest thing I’ve ever done simply because Spiteful Puppet are so easy to work with and support us incredibly well. Because as much as my name is bandied about because it’s the one that’s pushed out there and I’ve been on board the whole time, it’s also important to credit Spiteful Puppet as well because without them it wouldn’t be such a good production. I am incredibly grateful they came on board and did their magic.
AWW: Well, I should let you get back to your kids, but thank you so much for both the interview and just bringing Robin of Sherwood back.
BEJ: Well it’s a pleasure. Thank you very much for talking to me.
AWW: It’s so… wow. It’s hard to believe it’s back.
BEJ: Well, I hope everyone’s as lost for words as you are. As long as people enjoy it, and it made a nice chunk for charity which hopefully we can announce in the coming months. And we’ll see what happens in the future. Fingers crossed.
[The future held even more Robin of Sherwood audio dramas. I caught up with Barnaby again in 2019 to discuss the later audio dramas.]
AWW: You mentioned when we spoke back in 2016 that the licence for Robin of Sherwood was a one-off for charity. What was involved in securing the licence to continue with new audio adventures?
BEJ: It's a very long and very complicated story as it took a great deal of negotiation and effort on the part of myself and Iain Meadows (who, at the time, was working for Spiteful Puppet full-time). But, in a nutshell, the licence has two parties; that of ITV Studios in the UK and Goldcrest in the rest of the world. We did try our best to negotiate with them both and, in the end, we were granted the licence by ITV Studios - which was one we had to take as we sold the majority of The Knights of the Apocalypse to people with a UK address. We're gutted we couldn't get both but, on the projected budget we had, we struggled enough to secure the UK one (which had to be initially paid for by myself, Iain Meadows and our fellow Spiteful Puppet director-at-the-time Matt Hopper, because we were so committed to doing it).
AWW: The discussion around doing a special Robin of Sherwood audio came before the re-discovery of Richard Carpenter's Knights of the Apocalypse script. Did any ideas from those very early days make it into the new boxed set or the enhanced audiobooks?
BEJ: No, nothing at all. There were no discussions like that, as the focus originally was on just getting the licence before I was entrusted with The Knights of the Apocalypse script for return to Kip's estate (as there was no extra copy when it had been sold at auction). We owe a great debt of gratitude to Rowena Sayer, the fan who bought the script originally and who felt strongly that it needed to go back to the family after Kip passed away.
AWW: There were a couple points in the audios -- the central reveal in "What Was Lost" and the moment immediately before the title theme in "The King of Sherwood" that truly surprised and impressed me that you went as far as you did. I also liked how "The Trial of John Little" delved into an aspect of Little John's history that was mentioned on the TV series and took it further, and that "The Meeting Place" gave Much a storyline he never had on the TV series. What challenges did you experience in both capturing the tone of Robin of Sherwood, but also pushing the stories further?
BEJ: I'm glad we were able to push the boundaries a little but keep within the parameters of the show's ethos and style. That desire to move forward really came from some of the cast, who felt we could go a bit further with the direction of the series. The thing is, we had to get these scripts approved by ITV, as well as Kip's Estate, and also run them by the cast too. It was a tough selection process!
My thinking always was that Robin of Sherwood is an adult series, with adult themes, told in such a clever and adventurous way that it seems like family viewing. But, if you delve into what the series covered, then you're looking at reality, fantasy, spirituality, and the occult. Everything was thrown in there and I'm always surprised that it stayed in that early time-slot on television and didn't get pushed back further into the evening. It's really difficult creating new content for an old series, as fans are rightly quick to compare and contrast.
This means, you can't veer too far away from the core, as the fans are the ones buying the bulk of what we release. Their love for the show runs deep and they want something that gives them that feeling they had when they originally watched those episodes go out for the first time on television. We can't go all Games of Thrones! However, as it is on audio, it does mean we can play around with the format a little and try some different ways of telling stories - which we tried to do with this new box-set.
AWW: I know you wear many hats in producing these audios. One of your titles is "script editor". When I hear that job description I think of Terrance Dicks or Robert Holmes being a guiding hand on the Doctor Who scripts of the 1970s. What were your experiences as a script editor?
BEJ: I've just got one huge hat to fit on my one huge head. Ha.
In all honesty, that's a necessity due to my closeness to the project and because of budget restrictions too. I'm trusted by ITV and by Kip's Estate (and by the cast, hopefully!) to provide something that could fit into the established continuity and not veer too far in the wrong direction
I'm actually a massive fan of Robert Holmes and Terrance Dicks, especially as they were great writers themselves and had the ability to hone, craft and re-write scripts to bring a certain sparkle to them or make them fit into how Doctor Who was in those days. They borrowed from literary classics and knew the fundamentals of what made a script shine on television. My job as script editor is to be a conduit. I'm there to help something brilliant come from the writers to the actors to the fans.
I think I've been the first to admit that there's been a lot of troubles with this box-set in terms of what I wanted to deliver and what was delivered - including writing one script very close to the recording dates themselves. And, actually, in terms of "The Meeting Place", giving Jennifer Ash (the writer) my story outline which she then turned into a script within a few days (and then, in studio, I re-wrote the ending. Fortunately, Jennifer said, had she gone down that route, she would have written hers in a very similar way - which was very good to hear!).
Although this box-set has taken a long time to come out, I haven't spent the entire time tinkering with the same scripts. I've had scripts be written, be partially-approved, and then be rejected (by one person or another). It took a long time for an agreement to be reached on all of these scripts but, once it was, I was able to fashion certain bits and - in some cases - re-write large swathes and take characters out or keep characters in as necessary.
I was told, when I did re-writes on The Knights of the Apocalypse, that I had an ear for Kip's way of writing (which was a bowl-me-over type of a compliment) - so, I tried to bring my love for his way he'd craft a conversation to my script editing. I keep Kip's 'voice' in my head and try to second guess what he would do with a line or a scene or how he would circumnavigate potential plot holes.
AWW: For "King of Sherwood" as a rival Robin Hood-type you cast ... another Robin Hood, Adam Morris. [Previously billed as Wayne Morris for Equity reasons], he was "Robin of Kensington", the foppish Robin Hood in Maid Marian and Her Merry Men.] Of course he's very different from his Robin in Maid Marian, how did he come to join the cast. And are you considering doing a revival of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men?
BEJ: of the original scripts for the box-set featured Robin of Loxley's father and mother quite heavily. In the pre-title sequence of the first episode of Robin of Sherwood on television, Ailric of Loxley (Robin's father) is played by stuntman Wayne Michaels but actually voiced by Michael Praed, who played Robin of Loxley too. I didn't want to have Michael talking to himself on audio, as his voice as his character's father was exactly the same as how he spoke as Robin of Loxley. My first idea was to contact Wayne Michaels to do it, but he was unavailable. My back-up plan was to cast Neil Morrissey - who had almost been given the role when they were intending to do a like-for-like swap when Michael Praed left the television series. I just thought it would be a nice touch to use the man who nearly became Robin to play that character's father. I also thought it would be a nice touch to cast Kate Harbour, who played Neil Morrissey's wife in a long-running children's animation series called Bob the Builder, in the role of Robin's mother too.
However, when the script was dropped and "King of Sherwood" took its place, the rival Robin Hood figure could have been made to fit Neil Morrissey but I'd seen Adam Morris on stage doing more serious work and I thought the in-the-know nature of having the nicest of Robin Hoods play the most evil of Robin Hood wannabees was too good an opportunity to waste. Fortunately, he thought so too! As fate would have it, I did get Kate Harbour cast as the rival Robin Hood's very own Maid Marion, Ren of Edwinstowe, Instead of being Robin's too nice mother, she was able to let rip with an evil Maid Marion wannabee instead. So, they both played well against type and both were equally brilliant at doing so!
As for Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, well, I do have a meeting to sort with Sir Tony Robinson (who wrote and created it). He's interested in talking about an audio version and I'd really love to facilitate that. But, it's early stages!
AWW: What's next for Robin of Sherwood? I remember a few more writers were announced. Do we have more audios to look forward to?
BEJ: It's a good question. The pre-order template is a good idea but it's tough to ask fans for money up-front before you make the production and - since the market has been saturated with people begging for money via crowdfunding - I'd rather not go down that route if I can. The trouble is that we never get into enough profit to fully commit to a new audio, as they are so expensive to produce. I'd like to do more but, in order to do so, I have to raise the money from fans. It's a tough one.
I have decided to scale back a bit to just attempt one or two full-cast productions per year rather than a box-set. As I have said before, when you look at a television-to-audio success, it's usually because smaller casts are involved. I have up to 14 series regulars to include (Robin, Marion, Little John, Will Scarlet, Nasir, Much, Friar Tuck, Sheriff, Gisburne, Herne, Abbot Hugo, Edward of Wickham, Meg of Wickham, and Prince/King John), depending which series is being done, and that's before I look at any guest roles. It requires losing some here and there, playing around with the format a little, and doing some creative writing/recording to achieve the sort of result that fans are expecting.
At the moment, I'm developing two ideas/storylines - one for each of the Robins - both of which I had right at the start of getting the licence, and I'm really rather excited about them both (totally different stories in tone and style). If I can get it all in place soon, they will be up for pre-order and then we'll centre on the fifth Hooded Man convention in 2020 as the place to reveal trailers and have a panel about them. I think fans will really like them. I know I'm excited, as a fan, to get them rolling. Fortunately, ITV have re-newed our contract, so we can continue making more audios to if we want to!
Oh, I've also announced a range of novels, as my little publishing company - Chinbeard Books - has acquired the licence for Robin of Sherwood there too. We're starting off by novelising some of the audios for Spiteful Puppet (expanding on the original audios and giving each some added bonuses, so that fans aren't feeling short-changed by double-dipping, as it were) and then I have plans for not only new stories but also some rather special one-offs!
Whatever happens, there'll be more Robin of Sherwood stories to come in a variety of formats. I just hope the appetite is there from the fans to delve in.
AWW: Well, I certain still have an appetite for more Robin of Sherwood. Thanks again, Barnaby.
AWW: How did the “fourth series’ of Robin of Sherwood come about?
BEJ: By accident. Ha. When Iain Meadows was still part of Spiteful Puppet, we envisaged that The Knights of the Apocalypse (the crowd-funded adventure that kickstarted all of this, from an original but unproduced Richard ‘Kip’ Carpenter script) was set in Series 4. Probably at the end of Series 4.
So, for the audios, we wanted to write a Series 4 opener to accompany it! If KOTA was a 2 x Episode ending, then we wanted a 2 x Episode beginning! We juggled a few ideas with Jason Connery and came up with what is – I hope – the perfect opening for Series 4, that follows directly on (if a year later in the lives of the outlaws) from the end of Series 3. It was called What Was Lost. Due to budgets, I knew I couldn’t fill in the gaps for the rest of the episodes as audios, so books were the best way to go. Elliot Thorpe adapted What Was Lost (from Iain Meadows script of that adventure) and he’s currently adapting KOTA into book form too. It was a case of ‘join the dots’ for the intervening adventures which are all coming out on books – we had to get the characters from where they started the series to where they end it. It’s lovely to have those bookends to slot stories in-between. The Power of Three has been released, To Have and To Hold is about to be sent out to everyone who’s pre-ordered, and we have a story called By Royal Command up next. That will complete our Series 4 set of adventures!
AWW: What challenges have you had in crafting an arc for this novel-based series?
BEJ: A lot of the arc happened in What Was Lost. We can’t change the Merries or Robin massively – we can make them a little more mature as we go, but everybody wants to feel like they’re still listening to or reading those characters from the series. The main change was that Gisburne is referenced as having returned from fighting overseas in KOTA, so we have him absent in What Was Lost and then he returns about halfway through the series and his return plants seeds for the big bad that appears in KOTA. I hope we’ve been quite subtle and yet given something extra for fans to spot.
AWW: How hard was it to put together an audio drama – Fitzwarren’s Well – during Lockdown?
BEJ: The recording side wasn’t to difficult, to be honest. In the way we’ve had to record previous Robin of Sherwood audios (where everyone’s schedule seems to mean we can never get the full cast together at the same time), this came together in that same disjointed way. The main hardship is the editing and sound design – stitching together individual performances to make it sound like people are engaging with each other even though they recorded separately. I am lucky to have a very patient and very diligent sound designer in Joseph Fox, who makes everything sing. It’s lovely to have that stage by stage process of it coming together. Nothing beats being in a studio with someone, but I’ve been lucky in that I don’t think I would have got people like Ian Ogilvy and Sarah Greene if they hadn’t been boarded up in their houses, using microphones to continue working. Judi Trott even bought a professional mic and then converted her gypsy caravan in her garden into a sound-proofed little studio. Sarah Greene surrounded herself with a Yoga Mat to deaden the sound when recording. I had to re-record a scream my character makes as my wife heard it from another room and laughed at it. Ha.
AWW: Where would you like to see Robin of Sherwood go from here?
BEJ: Oddly, the Richard Carpenter Estate asked me that very question the other day. Ultimately, my goal is to continue enriching the television series and preserving the legacy. I’d never do anything that deviated from what I think Kip would have written. You can hear his voice so clearly in his writing and I think I’ve got a good handle on his style, so I’m really careful about what I commission and I keenly take on the role of script editor to tweak dialogue if necessary and give it that ‘feel’.
AWW: What else are you working on these days?
BEJ: Too much. Ahem. I wish I could tell you some but they’re all a little hush-hush. I am going to try and crowd-fund a couple (and that includes Robin of Sherwood). But, who knows whether people will be interested? At last count, I was juggling 16 separate projects (some 99% complete, some 75% complete, some 50% complete, some 25% complete and some just starting). Because I work across a lot of mediums, there’s always scope to be flitting between things. One day, I’ll get paid for them all. Ha.
Robin of Sherwood audio dramas by Spiteful Puppet can only be ordered directly on the Spiteful Puppet website.
All four adventures in this set are also available individual as digital downloads, as well as other special Robin of Sherwood audiobooks featuring other cast members. Check out Robin of Sherwood on Spiteful Puppet for all options. Please note that productions that are only available to residents in the UK may not be accessible to those outside of the UK.
This audio drama was recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, and was not only produced and directed by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, it also features him in a supporting role.
(Please note that the link may not work for those outside of the UK and Ireland)