“He’s Coming… the Hooded Man… is Coming…”
As Ailric of Loxley lies dying on the ground, his body pierced with a dozen crossbow bolts, he utters this line to Robert de Rainault, the Sheriff of Nottingham, warning him that the chosen son of Herne the Hunter will soon rise to protect the common man. So begins Robin of Sherwood.
I simply cannot tell you how much I loved this series, produced by the BBC and made available to me on PBS in the mid-80’s. The show doesn’t seem to be as well-known as I think it deserves to be, but in most instances, those people I know who are familiar with it have loved it (almost) as much as me.
I have written a number of times on this site about my love for superheroes, but aside from the spandex crew, I also have a deep and abiding love for heroes like Robin Hood, Zorro and the Lone Ranger. These are characters that I grew up with and in the case of Robin Hood, I was even more drawn to him due to the thought that he had, perhaps, been a real person.
Was Robin real? Was he an actual person? Is the Robin Hood that we know today just an amalgam of different, real people, or is he entirely fictitious? It’s hard to say with certainty, but I will say that he was real enough to be awesome to me and fill my head with dreams, so I happily consumed every bit of entertainment featuring him, whether comic books, novels, movies, or even the cartoon Rocket Robin Hood!
Of all the various incarnations of Robin, however, the one that stands out most for me, and even still manages to stir deep emotional responses, is Robin of Sherwood, and while I suspect that the average North American is not very familiar with this series, they are undoubtedly familiar with the effect it had on future stories featuring him.
“I am Not a Serf. I am a Free Man.”
This Robin, played wonderfully by Michael Praed, is a common man, born in the village of Loxley, which was burned to the ground by de Rainault years earlier in an attempt to put down a Saxon rebellion and uncover the Silver Arrow of Herne the Hunter, a symbol of pre-Christian England.
Following the death of his father, Robin is raised by his uncle, the local miller. His cousin, Much, looks to Robin like an older brother and it is Much’s decision to kill one of the king’s deer that leads to Robin’s first encounter with the villainous Sir Guy of Gisborne, right hand man of the Sheriff.
Upon being thrown in prison, Robin and Much encounter Will Scathlock, who has renamed himself Scarlet after killing the mercenaries who raped and murdered his wife, and two other outlaws,Tom and Dickon.
Escaping from the dungeon, Robin is separated from the others. Fleeing from Gisborne and his men, Robin runs straight into the chambers of a young maid named Marion…
“You’re Like a May Morning…”
The cast of this series was kept small. Some characters from the legends, such as Alan-a-Dale are absent. The show couldn’t afford to have a large army supporting the Sheriff, so Robin and his men had to be limited in number in order to keep them suitably outmatched, though Alan did appear later in the series. The main cast consisted of Robin, Marion, Much, Will, Little John, Friar Tuck, and a Saracen named Nasir, who had formerly been an assassin.
Nasir in particular, was an interesting character. Not part of the original tales, he was intended to be in a single story before being killed off, but was made a regular part of the show. His presence was strong enough that years later when Kevin Costner starred in Prince of Thieves, a Saracen character (played by Morgan Freeman) was included by the producers who mistakenly believed that he was part of the actual Robin Hood tales.
Robin’s enemies, as usual, included the previously-mentioned Sheriff of Nottingham, his brother the Abbott Hugo, and Sir Guy of Gisborne. While many people look back fondly on Alan Rickman’s portrayal of the Sheriff in Prince of Thieves (and I liked him as well. I mean, come on. How can you not like Alan Rickman?), the performance of Nickolas Grace in this series is what I will always remember when I think of the character. In fact, all of the actors in this series remain the definitive versions in my mind, whether Clive Mantle as Little John, or the gorgeous Judi Trott as Marion.
And seriously, no one will ever be a better Will Scarlett that Ray Winstone.
“We Can All of Us Be Gods. All of us!”
Robin of Sherwood, while having a gritty, realistic look and feel to it, also included a number of mystical elements. Robin himself was more than simply an outlaw fighting against the Sheriff; he was the prophesied Hooded Man, the spiritual son of Herne the Hunter. Robin carried with him “the powers of light and darkness,” as well as Albion, one of the seven swords of the mythical master smith, Wayland.
Robin’s father Ailric had been the guardian of the Silver Arrow of Herne, a mystical artifact that was critical to Robin’s survival when he faced the demon-worshiping Baron de Belleme.
This show had a major influence on me, and was responsible for my taking up archery and sword fighting, probably the most physical activities I engaged in at the time. It also reignited my love of mythology, which also ultimately saw me adopting new beliefs and philosophies as I developed a more Wiccan/ pagan outlook on life.
“Nothing is Forgotten. Nothing is Ever Forgotten.”
While the show sadly lasted for only three series/ seasons– the third of which I was less enamoured due to the addition of a new cast member– I have never forgotten it. I had managed to record most of the episodes on VHS during the last broadcast on PBS, but the quality was extremely poor, almost to the point of being unwatchable. When I could no longer watch it, I was rather upset, until years later I found it online, again on VHS, being sold by someone who no longer wanted his copies. I was able to buy it, although I had to have it transferred to another tape due to region restrictions, so again, it wasn’t a great quality, but I was very happy.
Fortunately it is now available on DVD (which I purchased a few years ago) and Blu-Ray (which I plan on buying…) Like M*A*S*H, the Six Million Dollar Man and Star Trek, I am sharing this series with my son, letting him get to know the heroes that impacted my life growing up. Whether you have never seen Robin of Sherwood, or you have seen it but not in several years, I strongly suggest that you pick it up. Robin and his men are waiting for you.
Please share your thoughts on Robin of Sherwood (or any other show you loved) with me.
May Herne protect you.