Robin Hood Spotlight

Robin of Sherwood
1980s TV Series

Spotlight Review by Allen W. Wright
(Original Version: May 1999)

Introduction

[North American title: Robin Hood
or Robin Hood -- The Legend]
Starring Michael Praed and Jason Connery
Created by Richard Carpenter
(An HTV production in association with Goldcrest Television Limited)
1984 - 86, 26 Episodes*

(Counting the four double-length stories as two episodes, although they were sometimes broadcast as individual episodes or as two-hour movie-length episodes)

I'd like to apologize here. Robin of Sherwood is one of my absolute favourite versions of the Robin Hood legend. Unfortunately, I rushed to produce a review before I knew what I was doing. This lacks the depth of my later spotlights. I will do a full rewrite some day.

Mobirise

Summary

The series begins in AD 1180 at the village of Loxley. Norman soldiers put down a rebellion and slaughter everyone in the village. Well, almost everyone.

The rebellion's leader, Ailric of Loxley, escapes with his young son Robin. Ailric leaves his son to be raised by a miller and his family. Then Ailric rides to a stone circle where he is killed Robert de Rainault, the man who would become the Sheriff of Nottingham.

15 years later Robin's foster brother Much is caught poaching a deer by Sir Guy of Gisburne. Robin and Much are thrown into Nottingham Castle's dungeon. There, they meet prisoners including Will Scarlet. The prisoners manage to escape. On his way out of the castle Robin meets Marion, ward of the Abbot Hugo, brother to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Once he escapes, Robin heads for Sherwood where he encounters a strange man wearing a stag's head -- Herne the Hunter, a spirit made flesh. Herne informs Robin of his destiny -- to be the Hooded Man, Herne's Son and to protect the weak and powerless. Robin flees from Herne but later comes to embrace his destiny.

Robin of Loxley gathers a band of outlaws to fight the sheriff, the abbot, Sir Guy, and an evil sorcerer. The core outlaws are Robin, Little John, Will Scarlet, Much, Tuck (the sheriff's former chaplain), Marian and Nasir -- a Saracen warrior.

Eventually Robin of Loxley is killed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Herne chooses a new Hooded Man -- Robert of Huntingdon, son of the powerful Earl of Huntingdon. Robert carries on the legend as the new Robin Hood.

The Most Influential Robin Hood You May Never Heard Of

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that my whole website would not likely exist if it weren't for the Robin of Sherwood television series.

Oh, I don't mean that I wasn't interested in the Robin Hood legend before this show came along. You can read here about my childhood interest in Robin Hood. What Robin of Sherwood did was rekindle my love of a childhood favourite in my teenage years, and keep my interest in the Robin Hood story alive until the world wide web was truly born.

On more than a few occasions, I've mentioned my website to a group of strangers, and someone will ask about "this Robin Hood TV series that was on back in the 1980s". They ask me about it like they are the only ones in the whole world to remember it. They aren't. I get more e-mail about Robin of Sherwood than any other version of the legend. Quite a few people fondly remember this series. But it shouldn't be so surprising that casual viewers have the feeling that no one else has heard of the series. Time and again, articles, documentaries and the like skip over Robin of Sherwood like it never existed. 

And yet, this show has informed nearly every version of Robin Hood to come afterwards. Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves borrowed so much from Robin of Sherwood, but even on the recent DVD commentary track, Costner and director Kevin Reynolds act like everything lifted from the TV show was new to their movie. Okay, they do mention Robin of Sherwood in their making-of special, but mainly just to note that two generations of Connerys have played the role of Robin Hood. 

 Oh, after over 80 years the Errol Flynn movie The Adventures of Robin Hood still dominates in the public eye, and all Robin Hood movie makers either borrow from or consciously depart from the Flynn film (oftentimes they do both). Even "Robin Hood and the Sorcerer", the double-length first story of Robin of Sherwood (RoS for short), owes a debt to Flynn. The difference is that most people are aware of the influence of Errol Flynn. I think many of RoS's contributions to the legend are known only to the filmmakers, TV producers and novelists who do the borrowing, and to RoS's dedicated core of fans.

As almost an afterthought, a Saracen warrior named Nasir joined Robin's band in Robin of Sherwood. Mark Ryan's performance as Nasir obviously left an impression as an Arab Merry Man has appeared in many versions since Robin of Sherwood, most notably Morgan Freeman's character in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner.

Also, Ray Winstone's portrayal of Will Scarlet as a near-psychotic, angry rebel influenced Christian Slater's Will Scarlet in Prince of Thieves and was even more completely borrowed in Jennifer Roberson's novel The Lady of the Forest

And while magic has been a part of the Robin Hood pantomimes for nearly two hundred years, the prominent fantasy element in Robin of Sherwood has inspired the magic in Prince of Thieves, The New Adventures of Robin Hood TV series and many other post-RoS versions. 

Yet in the mainstream media, all these innovations have been credited to Prince of Thieves, an inferior and later movie. This makes me feel very protective of Robin of Sherwood. Oh, if you were to say "Robin Hood" to me, I'd most likely see Errol Flynn in my mind's eye, but deep down I feel that Robin of Sherwood is my Robin Hood. And by way of its successors and imitators, it may be your Robin Hood too.

Richard Carpenter: The Creative Genius

This TV series (which, by the way, was not made by the BBC and was instead shown on the British commercial channel ITV -- something that most North American video guides get wrong) was the brainchild of Richard Carpenter, a creator of many notable British children's series. Carpenter wrote all the episodes in the first two series and half of the third series. His writing is one of the show's many strengths.

Carpenter found the right balance. There was drama, adventure, character, humour -- a lot of humour for a show sometimes seen as a darker take -- and genuine historical knowledge. For example, "The King's Fool" used King Richard's own words at the 1194 council at Nottingham. Even now decades after first seeing the show I'll come across arcane pieces of history that appeared in Robin of Sherwood.

Also, Richard Carpenter undercut the cliches of the genre. When Robin of Loxley tries to inspire his men he announces "Nobody ran at Hastings." But fellow outlaw Tom shoots back “No, they stood and died by the thousands!” Nationalistic speeches are a common part of the Robin Hood legend, but Carpenter wouldn't let such speeches pass unchallenged.

 The show's final season was as long as the first two combined, and new writers were hired. Anthony Horowitz wrote five of the 13 episodes and another was by Andrew McCulloch and John Flanagan. Nearly half the season was written by someone other than series creator Richard Carpenter -- and the tone was very different. McCulloch and Flanagan's "The Betrayal" and Horowitz's "The Inheritance" and "The Pretender" all turn on the deliberate misdirection that the heroes have deliberately betrayed or abandoned Robin Hood, only to reveal later that this was part of a predetermined plan.

The Two Robins

Robin of Loxley is chosen by Herne the Hunter (a stag-headed spirit first mentioned in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, but inspired by various European horned gods and Wild Huntsman legends) to be a protector of the English people. Michael Praed played this role with a beautiful fey quality. You could believe that his Robin was almost messianic, subject to visions and in touch with divine forces.

Praed's Robin also felt like a student protest leader. He invests the show with a youthful energy.

When Praed left at the end of series two, the show did not merely re-cast the part of Robin of Loxley. Instead Robin sacrifices his life to save Marion (played by Judi Trott) and his foster brother Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams). Herne (John Alberini) summons Robert of Huntingdon, an earl's son, to become the new Robin Hood and carry on the good fight. Jason Connery played the second Robin Hood with a more down-to-earth quality.

The death and sort-of "resurrection" of Robin Hood is one of the most powerful elements of Robin of Sherwood. By making Robin Hood an ideal more than a single person, this series pays tribute to the diverse nature of the legend. (It also gets to include two of the many "origins" that Robin has been given over the centuries.)

The Other Characters

The cast is superb. Scenes of the band training or at play (oftentimes this is the same thing) shows a real bond among Robin's band.

Clive Mantle's Little John is especially good at silently showing his love for his comrades-in-arms. John is also the most socialist of the outlaws.

The series also boasts one of the toughest Marions on film, played by Judi Trott. She can outshoot everyone but Robin himself. Unfortunately, both the first episode and the first episode with the new Robin make her a damsel in distress. 

And of course, there's Ray Winstone as the loveable tough guy Will Scarlet. Will's arguments with Robin are electric. Phil Rose's Friar Tuck and Peter Llewellyn Williams's Much are also among the very best interpretations of these characters. And as I mentioned previously, Mark Ryan's Nasir started a trend.

Nickolas Grace plays the oily, political Sheriff of Nottingham and the late Robert Addie is his blustering and bullingly lackey Guy of Gisburne. RoS also features many guest villains, played by actors such as Richard O'Brien and Anthony Valentine.

Additional Thoughts

then there's soundtrack by Clannad. Robin Hood historian Stephen Knight calls it "somewhat Celtic, distinctly electronic, vaguely hallucinatory." It's available with the rest of Clannad's albums under the title Legend. (Not to be confused with the soundtrack for the movie called Legend.) The music won the show an award, and on a personal note, sparked my interest in Celtic music.

Time has moved on since my original review. The Playhouse video advertisements for Robin of Sherwood proudly declared how modern the show was by saying it is "Robin Hood for the 1980s." And that's all very well and good, back when the 1980s actually were modern. But that decade's come, gone and been transformed into the same kind wacky nostalgic tributes that Happy Days and Sha-Na-Na were for the 1950s. So, perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised by what now seems dated. 

I used to think that the show's defining and strongest element was the magical subtext. It was so different than most other Robin Hoods I was familiar with. But the 1980s New Age spirituality has become increasingly dated, and let's be honest - Herne's antlers never were in fashion. Friends of mine have shown Robin of Sherwood to their classes, and the magic almost always provokes laughter. 

And yet, there's something about RoS that stays current and modern. With hindsight, I can see the strengths of the show are the same strengths that exist in nearly any drama: compelling characters, sharp dialogue, humour to balance the drama, and a point. The show has something to say, a purpose - but not in a hamfisted Captain Planet way. These qualities never date.

Return to Sherwood

An oft-repeated phrase on the show is "Nothing's Forgotten." And that's true of Robin of Sherwood itself. 30 years after the last original episode aired, Robin of Sherwood came back -- and with the original cast.

Richard Carpenter had written a script for a Robin of Sherwood movie -- The Knights of the Apocalypse. And in 2016, Jason Connery, Ray Winstone and the other surviving cast members returned to record this lost adventure as an audio drama. The audio drama was crowdfunded -- and reached its goal within the first day. Proceeds from this production went to British Red Cross and the Sherwood Forest Trust.

The success of The Knights of the Apocalypse led to subsequent audiobooks and audio dramas from production company Spiteful Puppet. In 2019, Chinbeard Books started releasing novelizations of these new stories.

For additional Robin of Sherwood content, check out my Robin of Sherwood timeline.

Additional articles on Robin of Sherwood appear on the Hidden Grove -- a password-locked section of my site available to those who donate to support my site's continued operation.

Order books and TV shows by Richard Carpenter

 Mark Richard Carpenter's abandoned Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse movie script was adapted into an audio drama by Spiteful Puppet. It stars the original TV cast, including Jason Connery, Judi Trott and Ray Winstone.

It can be ordered on the Spiteful Puppet website.

Buy The Knights of the Apocalpyse as a three-disc CD collection

Buy The Knights of the Apocalpye as a digital download


Robin of Sherwood starring Michael Praed and Jason Connery (known as Robin Hood in North America). This 1980s British series is one of the most innovative filmed versions of Robin Hood ever. Robin of Loxley serves Herne the Hunter, a forest god, until he is killed in battle and replaced by Robert of Huntingdon. Great cast, wonderful writing, and a haunting Celtic soundtrack by Clannad. This series influenced many later versions of the Robin Hood legend. It also introduced the concept of an Arab Merry Man. Highly recommended.

In the Europe, Network Video has released the series on DVD in the UK. In 2007, Acorn Media released the series for Region 1, North America with nearly all the same special features as the UK versions. In 2011 and 2012, Network and Acorn released the series on Blu-Ray.

Robin of Sherwood: Set One. This North American release contains all the Michael Praed episodes and most of the special features found on the European releases.
Buy Robin of Sherwood: Set One on Amazon.com (region 1, NTSC)

Robin of Sherwood: Set Two. This North American release contains all the Jason Connery episodes and most of the special features found on the European releases.
Robin of Sherwood: Set Two on Amazon.com (Region 1, NTSC)

Robin of Sherwood: The Complete Collection. This North American release contains all the Michael Praed and Jason Connery episodes and most of the special features found on the European releases.
Buy Robin of Sherwood: The Complete Collection DVD on Amazon.com (Region 1, NTSC)

Robin of Sherwood Blu-Ray: Set 1. In 2011, Acorn released the Michael Praed episodes on North American Blu-Ray. Although the picture is intentionally grainy at times, the quality is superior to the DVD. It shares the same special features of the earlier release and also includes new featurettes with Philip (Abbot Hugo) Jackson, George (Richard of Leaford) Baker and director Robert Young, and also PDF files such as Carpenter's early outline for the series.
Buy Robin of Sherwood Set One, Blu-Ray on Amazon.com (Region A, NTSC)

Robin of Sherwood Blu-Ray: Set 2. In Feb. 2012, Acorn released the third season (the Jason Connery episodes) on Blu-Ray.
Buy Robin of Sherwood, Set 2 Blu-ray on Amaon.com (Region 1, NTSC)

Buy Robin of Sherwood on PAL-format DVD or Blu-Ray (Not Playable on most North American players) on Amazon.co.uk. The DVDs include special features like documentaries, blooper reels and commentary tracks with the writers, directors and (on episodes from the 3rd series) cast.
Robin of Sherwood - The Complete Series DVD (All episodes, PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin of Sherwood: Complete Series 1 DVD (PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin Of Sherwood - The Complete Series 2 PAL DVD on Amazon.co.uk
Robin Of Sherwood - Series 3 - Part 1 - Episodes 1 To 6 DVD (PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin Of Sherwood - Series 3 - Part 2 - Episodes 7 To 13 DVD (PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin of Sherwood - Michael Praed [Blu-ray] [PAL] on Amazon.co.uk
Robin of Sherwood: Jason Connery - [Network] - [ITV] - [Blu-ray] [UK, PAL, Region Free] on Amazon.co.uk

All the Richard Carpenter episodes of Robin of Sherwood were adapted in four books from Puffin Books. Carpenter himself wrote the first and final novelizations. They also appeared in an omnibus edition. You can find used copies at online booksellers.

Buy Robin of Sherwood (series one novelization) by Richard Carpenter on Amazon.com
Buy Robin of Sherwood (novelization) by Richard Carpenter on Amazon.co.uk

Buy Robin of Sherwood: The Time of the Wolf (novelization) by Richard Carpenter on Amazon.com
Buy Robin of Sherwood: Time of the Wolf (novelization) on Amazon.co.uk)

Legend by Clannad. The soundtrack from the Robin of Sherwood TV series. This music by one of Ireland's finest bands won a BAFTA award. It's mystical Celtic music with a touch of rock.
Buy Legend by Clannad on Amazon.com
Buy Legend on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Legend on Amazon.ca

ROBIN HOOD: A CLASSIC ILLUSTRATED EDITION by Evelyn Charles Vivian, compiled by Cooper Edens. I began by saying that the Robin of Sherwood is one of the most imitated versions of Robin Hood. While RoS was influenced by what came before as well -- and not just by old ballads. The once-much reprinted children's novel by Evelyn Charles Vivian contains much that will seem familiar to the fans of Robin of Sherwood. The sheriff and abbot are called Robert and Hugo de Rainault. A villainous "Belame" plots to marry the Kirklees-bound Marian. Marian's father, a secret prisoner, is rescued while Robin saves a captured Merry Man. There are attacks made with beehives, swords on a string, and much more. However, it does lack the true magic of RoS, both literal and metaphorical. This gorgeous edition from Chronicle Books is illustrated with art from woodcuts, centuries' worth of Robin Hood book illustrations, comic book art (the cover art is from the 1950s Classics Illustrated comic book), shoe advertisements and more. It's worth it for the art alone.
Buy Robin Hood: A Classic Illustrated Edition on Amazon.com
Buy Robin Hood (A Classic Illustrated Edition) on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Robin Hood: A Classic Illustrated Edition on Amazon.ca

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