The Adventures of Robin Hood
Historical Drama 1955 - 1959
The origins of Robyn Hod, or Robert Hod or Robinhud - or whichever other of the various names that have descended from history - go back to the 12th, 13th or 14th century, once again, depending on which of the many stories you believe. One consistent theme was that Robin Hood, as we shall call him, lived in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, England and was an outlaw.
There almost certainly was somebody living around this time and with this sort of name. One theory is that there were lots of Robin Hoods in history, all of whom were outlaws and all of whom adopted the name in order to gain some respect from locals.
The modern tale that has been crystallized in books, movies and on television is that a benevolent man who found himself on the wrong side of the Sheriff of Nottingham through no fault of his own and was forced to flee to the relative safety of the forest as an outlaw. He gradually built up a band of followers such as Friar Tuck, Little John and his sweetheart Maid Marian (or is that Marion?).
Using their skills with the bow, they lived off the land. They also robbed the rich and gave the booty to the poor.
The real story, or stories, surrounding Robin Hood were likely to be a little more murky and may not have found him painted in such a good light. Some of the highwaymen and other bandits who claimed to be - or who were called - Robin Hood probably did steal from the rich. How much of their loot found its way to the poor is another matter.
Regardless of the truth behind the legend, it was and remains a story that appeals to old and young - although mostly to young boys. The irony of this fact is that the idea for the1955 series came from a woman, Hannah Weinstein. Her history of support for left-wing politics meant that she was a potential target for the McCarthy hearings into so-called un-American activities. As a result, she decided to set up a production studio in the UK called Sapphire Films. Weinstein had noted how popular literature and movies about English history had become in the states. She thought that her new production company could major on these types of shows. She wanted to make a show about either King Arthur or Robin Hood. After seeking advice from English film producer Sidney Cole, she was persuaded to make Robin Hood.
Setting up in England was a major gamble for Weinstein given that she had no roots in England and few contacts. One contact she did have was international show businesses agent Lew Grade. He was in the process of raising money to launch a bid for a regional franchise for the launch of commercial television in the UK. Although he and his partners were not successful in becoming broadcasters, they were awarded the contract to supply many of the shows.
Lew Grade and his new company, ITP (soon to be become ITC) were as new to television as Hannah Weinstein was to England. It was natural that she would contact him with her idea to produce a Robin Hood show. Grade was immediately enthusiastic. There was considerable opposition to commercial television amongst members of parliament and even in the British government. Their main worry was that standards would slip below those set by the stiff and proper BBC or that the airways would be full of cheap U.S. shows. Commercial television needed to be more like the BBC than the BBC, with high brow content and no hint of anything downmarket. Lew Grade, and the television companies that eventually won the franchise, knew, however, that they needed to sell advertising. Somehow they had to have high quality English-made shows that appealed to the masses. Robin Hood, of course, fitted the bill perfectly: culture with mass appeal. Grade, like Weinstein, also saw the potential for selling the show to a U.S. network.
The needs of Hannah Weinstein and Lew Grade were an almost poetic match. Trouble was, these shows cost money- about $14,000 per show to be precise - which was a lot of money in those days, especially as Grade had committed his company to buying 39 episodes. This was a major gamble for Grade, especially as this one show would eat up three quarters of fledgling ITC's program budget!
Weinstein found an established film studio, in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey just outside London. The studio, Nettlefold Studios, had a fine pedigree of film and photographic production going back to the 19th century but was now finding it hard to find occupants. Another perfect match: a struggling studio and a producer raring to go with a new project. She soon employed McCarthy-blacklisted U.S. writers, such as Ring Lardner Jr., Ian McLellan Hunter and Waldo Salt, to work on the scripts. The mantra of Robin Hood - taking from the rich and giving to the poor - may not have been lost on the left-wing Weinstein and her writers.
Hannah soon put together a production team including Ralph Smart and Sidney Cole. In order to satisfy the potential U.S. market they needed an English actor who was known on both sides of the Atlantic. At this moment in time, Richard Greene was experiencing a lull in his acting career. He had been in a number of high profile U.S. movies playing the leading man, when, at the outbreak of war in 1939, whilst resident in the U.S. he decided that he must do his duty and enlist in the British army, in which he served with distinction, earning promotion to captain. His unselfish and gallant decision to play his part in the war meant that his acting career had lost ground - and never fully recovered. Despite this, he was still a well known figure having appeared in various television shows in the U.S. He agreed to play the lead role of Robin Hood and soon the rest of the cast was assembled.
The Adventures of Robin Hood was notable for the pioneering work of art director Peter Proud. In order to achieve a fast turn around time for each show he realized that set changes would need to be achieved quickly in order that sufficient scenes could be shot in a given period. Rather than spend hours kitting out a sound stage and having another standing by, he produced props that could be moved easily. The heavier ones were on wheels. This would mean that castle walls, fireplaces and even an omnipresent oak tree would be moved to different positions to represent changes of scene.
The principle Peter followed was already established in the theater. Quick set changes were regularly achieved in stage plays, so why not do the same on television? One trick behind the rapid scene changes were that the 36 props were constructed so that they would fit together at many different angles. This idea was inspired by German born set designer Alfred Junge. The effect was striking and helped to keep production going at a rapid pace. This new way of dealing with sets was used again by Proud and many others over the following years, especially in television production allowing shows to be commissioned that would otherwise have been too expensive to even consider.
Some scenes were also filmed on location, notably at real English castles, such as Bodiam Castle in Sussex and Alnwick Castle in Northumberland.
Although the scripts were clandestinely supplied by blacklisted American writers, the attention to English history was meticulous. The show was always in danger of being compared to the highly acclaimed movie of the same name starring Errol Flynn (1938), but, despite its breakneck production speed, it stood up well on its own and received high ratings in the U.S.
The show is also noted for its catchy theme tune, composed by Carl Segman, with the opening words: "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the Glen". The opening trumpet fanfare and incidental music were composed by Edwin Astley who Hannah Weinstein signed up after hearing his music in tv series Colonel March.
The Adventures of Robin Hood was the first tv show from Britain to be successful in the U.S. although it must be noted that it was produced and largely written using U.S. talent. The main character is Robin of Locksley who is the son of the Master of the King’s Foresters. Upon his return from the crusades he finds that the home that he inherited after his father's death has been occupied by Norman knight Sir Roger de Lisle. Eventually Sir Roger is killed by a crossbow and Robin his wrongly accused of his murder. Thereafter Robin is an outlaw and joins a band of other outlaws living in Sherwood Forest.
Each episode follows an adventure where Robin rights a wrong. Often this would be a miscarriage of justice or the return of stolen money or property to its rightful owner. Most of the stories are morality tales where Robin and his merry men are definitely on the side of good. Although he is often seen giving money to the poor, he never seems to be able to bring himself to take from the rich - unless they stole it in the first place.
The Sheriff of Nottingham - often at the wrong end of a joke or prank - is constantly on the lookout for Robin and his outlaw gang. Despite this, Robin seems to have access to variety of knights and other dignitaries.
Who was Who?
There were 143, 26 minute episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood with an average production turn-round time of 4 and a half days per show. To achieve such a production rate, actors would often find themselves playing different characters in different shows (and sometimes in the same show). Just as scene change techniques were borrowed from the theater, so was the repertory system of using actors, which depended mainly on who was available and which characters required casting.
The lead actor, Richard Greene never missed a show. Other regulars were Alan Wheatley who played the Sheriff of Nottingham, Alexander Gauge playing Friar Tuck and Victor Woolf as Derwent (Woolf was used extensively, often paying as many as 3 other characters in one show).
There were two actresses who played Maid Marian: Bernadette O'Farrell in the early seasons and Patricia Driscoll in last two seasons
Archie Duncan, who played Little John, heroically saved two children when a bolting horse knocked into some heavy scenery that started to fall on them. Archie pushed the children out of the way, taking the full impact of the weight, breaking his leg. For this he was awarded the Queen's Medal for Bravery. While he was recovering, Rufus Cruickshank took on the role of Little John.
Simone Lovell played Joan, the barmaid at the Blue Boar tavern; Ronald Howard and Paul Eddington played Will Scarlet. Some of these actors also found themselves playing one-off parts in various episodes as did many others who came and went.