ITV turned down the return of Ray Winstone and Robin of Sherwood

Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing’s ever forgotten. Those words will be recognisable to any fans of the hit 1980s TV show, Robin of Sherwood, which ran for three years on ITV from 1984 to 1986 and captivated a generation in the process.

With the highest TV budget of the period, Michael Praed made for a dashing Robin i’ the Hood, but one whose fate never looked to be to a happy one, at least as long as he and his followers, including a young Ray Winstone as Will Scarlett, lived in an England ruled by men who put land and money before the welfare of the populace. At least that’s something which we could never say is the case today…

The series came to an abrupt end after the third series, when the company behind it, Goldcrest, went belly up, leaving viewers wondering what might have happened next. Rumours surfaced in the 90s that a film version might appear, but that was scuppered by Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which “borrowed” a number of elements from Carpenter’s series.

Today I had the opportunity to meet with Clive Mantle, Little John in Robin, thanks to his presence in Edinburgh for the Fringe. He’s here with his stage show, Jus’ Like That, in which he portrays comedian Tommy Cooper, and it’s a fantastic performance that he’s honed to perfection. I wanted to discuss the show but I couldn’t help mentioning Robin of Sherwood and had to ask if there were any plans for the upcoming 30th anniversary.

His response was as follows, and you can hear it in full over on audioboo:

“We wanted to do a television update and we submitted to ITV, 18 months or two years ago, [the idea of] a two hour special or a couple of specials, [with] all the original team, Ray back, Jason [Connery] and Michael [Praed], and ITV turned us down. We couldn’t believe it, especially with Ray on board. Kip Carpenter had written a fantastic idea and when I heard they’d turned it down, I stood there open mouthed and thought “I think that’s a mistake,”. Ray loves it so much that if he had a gap in his schedule and we were all available, I’m sure he’d give it another go.”

So there it is. Everyone wants to make it but nobody wants to fund it. ITV were offered, on a plate, the return of one of its most popular series, plus a star name in Ray Winstone, and they turned it down. It’s no secret that series such as X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent cost pennies to make and pull in large audiences, so it’s understandable that ITV would want to keep churning out the cheap stuff as long as they can.

Continue reading

Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood – Michael Praed

Nothing’s forgotten, nothing’s ever forgotten. That’s the case for fans of the most original telling of the Robin Hood story, 1984’s Robin of Sherwood, which now receives a welcome re-release on Blu-ray and DVD following extensive restoration work.

For the last 26 years viewers have been revelling in the adventures of Robin of Loxley, aka Robin i’ the Hood, as portrayed by Michael Praed in Richard Carpenter’s version of the legend which this time weaves magic and paganism into hour-long stories of derring-do.

Robin is the sole survivor of the village of Loxley, who finds himself England’s best hope against the corrupt authorities, led locally by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace) and his often bumbling right-hand man, Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addy).

Robin of SherwoodAmong those aiding Robin are the hard-nut Will Scarlett (Ray Winstone), gentle giant Little John (Clive Mantle), the simple-yet-loyal Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams) and Friar Tuck (Phil Rose).

This time around there’s a new addition to the team in the shape of Saracen assassin, Nasir (Mar Ryan) and, most importantly, the figure of Herne the Hunter (John Abineri), a pagan god given to appear in human form when his help is needed most.

Topped and tailed by the somewhat epic Swords of Wayland and The Greatest Enemy, these Boys Own adventures manage to remain fresh each week, despite the unavoidable fact that the Sheriff always has to lose. Or does he?

Robin may have been screened in a teatime slot on ITV, but its makers had always aimed for evening showings, meaning there’s a darkness and adult feel lacking in other Robin Hood series. Death hangs heavy over the programme, evil and spiritualism never far from scripts which would otherwise be straightforward teatime romps.

Inevitably there’s the odd misfire, the first season’s Alan a Dale not the most inspiring story, while second season episode Lord of the Trees is hampered by having too much ambition and not enough time to do the story justice, but otherwise there’s a fantastically strong run of episodes in each series.

Intrinsic to Robin of Sherwood’s success is its sumptuous look, the standard set early on by director Ian Sharp as the forrest is bathed in a dreamlike haze, where it’s always summer and shafts of light are forever piercing the woodland canopy. Finally, there’s the music from Irish folk rock group, Clannad, their use of both traditional and modern instruments, as well as recurring songs and character themes, adding yet another layer which rewards loyal viewers.

For anyone who has invested in previous versions of the series, whether on VHS or DVD (or in the case of this reviewer, both), be aware that this isn’t merely a repackaging but a whole new proposition from Network DVD. While the DVD made the episodes appear as if they’d been shot through a thick mesh, this time everything appears crystal clear.

Extras here are mainly ported over from the previous set, the commentaries, from various members of the production team, offering a valuable insight into the making of the series. There are also some in-depth documentaries featuring the cast which cover series one and two and an extended version of the Grampian-made Electric Theatre Show documentary present on the first release.


Robin of Sherwood is available now from Network DVD.

DVD Review: Fox

As someone who watched countless episodes of Minder while growing up in the 80s and early 90s, and also as a fan of the much missed Verity Lambert, I recently decided to try and track down some other productions from Euston Films, the company where Verity did much of her best work and where some of the UK’s finest series originated.

I decided to start with Fox, a series from 1980 which I’m too young to remember but which I’ve read enough about over the years to know that I really should be checking it out.

The thirteen-part series is set in South London and concerns the actions of the Fox family, a tight-knit clan headed up by Billy Fox (Peter Vaughan) and consisting of his five sons – Kenny (Ray Winstone), Vincent (Bernard Hill), Ray (Derrick O’Connor), Joey (Larry Lamb) and Phil (Eamon Boland) along with wife Connie (Elizabeth Spriggs). That’s a cracking cast, and those are just the leads, with other characters making appearances as the episodes go on.

As the series opens, the family are making do under the watchful eye of “King” Billy, an ex-market trader and a well known face in the manor who rules the roost with a stern-but-fair hand. At some point in the past Billy was obviously a major player in town, well known to all the local gangsters, though it’s never explicitly explained how far his reach actually went.

His sons are all working hard to make a living, whether that’s in the building trade, as a boxer, a taxi driver or, in Phil’s case, as a mature student. Thanks to the number of episodes given to the series, characters are allowed to build up naturally, with all the flaws and traits growing as time passes.

While major events do occur, there’s usually some background to them so that the viewer actually cares about what’s happening and can see the ramifications and the effects on the family.

The nature of family is central to Fox. While to Billy family is the most important thing in the world, uniting people and bringing them together, to Phil it’s almost the opposite. To him it’s stifling and oppressive, his desire to escape Clapham leading to issues with his dad which play out over the eleven-hours of the series.

Of the actors it’s hard to single anyone out for particular praise. Vaughan is both tender and terrifying at the same time, Boland impressive as he shows his struggle between being an individual and staying part of the family. For me the standout performances come from Derrick O’Connor and Larry Lamb, both of whom are given some great material to work with. Watching the latter mature of the course of the series is particularly rewarding.

O’Connor was a real revelation. Having not seen him in much before I didn’t realise his range. He’s able to do both funny and dramatic at the drop of a hat and I found myself wanting more and more scenes with Ray as the series progressed. Again, the length of the series means that when events do spiral out of control for him near the end of the series it really means something.

There is one slightly odd storyline concerning Ray Winstone’s character which I’m still not sure about, but to say much more would spoil things. Coming so soon after the traumatic repercussions of his boxing match, the introduction of The Bill’s Mark Wingett as a small-time criminal makes for a strange few episodes which could almost be from another series, but it does again give O’Connor some major screentime so I should be pleased.

I’d recommend this series to anyone who’s a fan of great British drama and who is willing to spend a bit of time with some talented actors and scripts which aren’t dumbed down. TV just isn’t made on this scale in Britain anymore, and we’re the worse of for it. Writer Trevor Preston knows his characters inside out and isn’t afraid to take his time making them real. He also wrote the songs which appear in each episode and which play an important part of the narrative.

I’ve now ordered Euston Film’s Out starring Tom Bell and my old mate Derrick O’Connor, and written once more by Trevor Preston. Here’s hoping it’s as good as Fox.

Fox is available on DVD from Network.