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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Connery, Greene and Costner? This guy pisses on 'em

Way back in the dark and desolate wastelands of this blogs archive there is an entry entitled 'How The Quest Got Started'. It documented my childhood love of old Irwin Allen shows and how I'd rush home from my paper round on Sundays to watch Channel 4 and its classic shows like the Allen canon and the Planet of the Apes series. The entry ended with me getting my first proper job and declaring that MVC didn't know what was about to hit them.

I really did spend a ridiculous amount of money in MVC. If Sci-Fi was my religion then that shop was my cathedral. Every payday I'd make the trek into Durham and splash a good 40-50% of my wages in one swoop on VHS tapes (yes, everything was still VHS then, I am old) of things like Blakes 7, The Prisoner and of course Buffy and Angel boxsets. Gerry Andersons UFO was another one, which had the added advantage of the ultimate nerd bait, a Vol 0. Of course, had we but known what was coming, a scant couple of years later, none of us would have been buying these tapes at all. For those too young to remember, the average price was £12.99 per tape and for that you'd get 2 episodes. 3 if you were very very lucky. That's gonna work out at well over £100 to collect an average US season of 22 eps. And you'd have to rent a warehouse to keep all the tapes. Hard to reconcile with todays DVD world.

Of course at the time I didn't begrudge it. I'd spent years reading about all of these legendary shows and never having the opportunity to judge them for myself.I was in heaven, and probably the biggest delight of those heady days was the first time I watched Robin of Sherwood. This show was spoken of in awed tones by all who'd seen it, not just in the sci-fi and fantasy press but also in my family. Normal people that usually had no time for anything other than Eastenders or Emmerdale Farm would, when it was mentioned, talk of it's brilliance. It was at the top of my list of must sees and MVC provided it to me.

I was wary when I played the first tape. I didn't know what to expect. Could it possibly live up to the hype? How would I feel if it disappointed? I had waited so long to see it, was I setting myself up for a crushing comedown? No way. Robin of Sherwood was, and remains to this day, an absolutely classic piece of television. I had purchased the first 2 seasons at the same time and I was transfixed from the first moment until the final, heart rending finish. I had managed to avoid being spoiled as to the ending of Season 2 and I won't give it away here, because I believe that anyone coming to it now unspoiled would be as genuinely shocked and moved as I was by it. If you've never seen the show, watch it, and if you don't already know how it plays out, lucky you.

Seriously, Robin Hood has never been done like this and no-one, from Richard Greene to Jonas bloody Armstrong, by way of Sean Connery and, dear lord, Kevin Costner*, has made Robin a more sympathetic, honourable and tragic figure than Michael Praed. He was backed up by a stellar support cast as well. As good as the chemistry was between Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Griffiths in the recent BBC series (and it was, even if everything else about the show was execrable) it couldn't hold a candle to the sheer poetry when Praed and Judi Trott are together on screen.

Ray Winstone gives one of the best performances of his career as the borderline psychotic Will Scarlet. Clive Mantle and Phil Rose could have stepped right out of your bedtime story books, so perfect are they as Little John and Friar Tuck respectively.

And Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff was a masterpiece. Ridiculously camp at times but never overstepping to the point that he was no longer credible as a villain, he was the Sheriff Keith Allen could only dream of being. This was a cast that knew what it had with these scripts and played them for everything they were worth. Here was a show that was infused with magic, literally in it's stories but also in it's storytelling, able to evoke in it's viewers emotions that no other family action/adventure show would aspire to, let alone be capable of achieving.

I knew going in that the show ran for 3 seasons but I could not for the life of me see where it was going to go after the events of the S2 finale. And in truth, it would never reach those heady heights again. But it was never a poor show, and the 3rd year, whilst perhaps suffering from being the same length as the 2 previous ones combined, meaning genius writer Richard Carpenter had to outsource a number of scripts to lesser talents** to make up the numbers, was still a brilliant slice of fantasy drama that, without wishing to be vulgar, pisses over any version since.

*Although at least his version gave us the single greatest pop ballad ever written. And no, that's not irony.

**One of whom was Anthony Horowitz. I am well aware that today it seems perverse to call Anthony Horowitz a 'lesser talent' but at the time he was a total newcomer and lesser talent is exactly what he was. I'd pay good money to see him write this show now though.

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