Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen.
PUBLISHED: 06:45 22 August 2018
If ever the UK needed a folk hero, it's now. With no one to rescue us from national woes maybe Robin Hood can help
He came to Sherwood Forest with a feather in his cap
A fighter never looking for a fight
His bow was always ready, and he kept his arrows sharp.
He used them to fight for what was right
This is a verse of the famous theme song to The Adventures of Robin Hood, a 1950s TV series that starred Richard Greene (who retired to Norfolk) as the outlaw who looked out for the poor and powerless. It was an idealistic commune of men wearing lincoln green that set up camp in Sherwood Forest, loyal to the mostly absent King Richard the Lionheart and fiercely opposed to King John and his lords who, allegedly, amassed great wealth at the expense of the ordinary man.
Putting things in perspective, it is not very likely that Robin, who was cast as a deposed lord of the realm, ever set out to improve the lot of the peasant classes. It is more believable that he wanted to regain his birthright − but enough of such piffling detail.
His band of merry men were a rum collection. There was Little John, a huge, powerful chap; Friar Tuck, usually depicted as a jolly fellow; Will Scarlet; Alan a’Dale, the minstrel (every gang of outlaws needs one), plus an assortment of men and maybe women, ready to take on the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. Meanwhile, Robin’s love interest is feisty Maid Marian, ward of King Richard.
The tales and poems of the hero go back to the 14th century and historians have come up with several possible origins for the character but the legend, like that of King Arthur and his knights of the round table, is stirring stuff and I’m not going to ruin the myth, especially now, when we could do with someone who (a) fights for the downtrodden, (b) redistributes wealth from the rich to the poor (c) believes in romance and (d) has well-known green credentials
He was a hero at a time in history when England needed a hero and the character, largely fictional, has captured the imaginations of film-makers for generations.
But today, I wish to celebrate the most famous TV Robin Hood, Richard Greene, as we approach the centenary of his birth on August 25 1918. He began his acting career on stage and then became a Hollywood star before returning to Britain in the Fifties.
Greene died in 1985, having retired to the Kelling Estate in Holt, Norfolk. His home there was renamed Robin Hood Cottage in his honour.
The Adventures of Robin Hood on ITV − amounting to 143 episodes over four series first shown between 1955 and 1959 − were oft-repeated. Greene’s supporting cast included Patricia Driscoll as the second actor to play Maid Marian. Driscoll was well known to children, having fronted the BBC’s Watch With Mother. Also in the cast was a young Paul Eddington who was later to star in The Good Life and, most famously in Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. He took over the role of Will Scarlet from Ronald Howard after two episodes. And for those who like such facts, John Schlesinger, later to become an Oscar-winning film director, played Alan a’Dale in two episodes and Ian Hunter, the actor who played Sir Richard of the Lea, had previously played King Richard in the 1938 Hollywood Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn.
But irrespective of who plays the role − be it Douglas Fairbanks (1922), a cartoon fox in the Disney version, Michael Praed, Jason Connery, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner or one of many others − his ethos remains one of behaving honourably towards all honest people, whatever their status in life.
And now, in 2018, we are holding out for a hero. Unsurpassed with a bow and arrow, better than Basil Rathbone in a sword fight, kind to children, sees the bigger picture, a man of breeding who wears his intellect lightly... in short, a man who could see us through Brexit with a good deal... except, of course, that it wouldn’t take long for a delve into his background to reveal that he was never a nobleman at all. He was probably a yeoman and subsequent fake news may have elevated him.
It was a good century after his first appearance in literature that he is said to have robbed the rich to give to the poor... so maybe that was fake news too. But sometimes it’s good to believe.
To cheating and corruption, he would never, never yield
And danger was his breakfast ev’ry day
The cobbler in the hamlet and the farmer in the field
Were always helping him get away