Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Tie-in Tuesday: Robin of Sherwood and the Knights of the Apocalypse

One of the more unusual, unexpected, and unforgettable gigs of my writing career (which is 25 years young this July) was being invited to write the novelisation of Richard 'Kip' Carpenter's unmade teleplay for Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse.

Whilst writing it early last year, and immersing myself in all things Sherwood again, I was reminded of various landmarks in my life that featured the very best interpretation of the Robin Hood legend on screen, ever!

I was a teenager when the series was first televised. I remember balmy summer evenings, making sure I was back home after playing with my friends in the street to watch Robin of Sherwood, and having to draw the curtains to avoid the sunlight reflecting off the tiny TV screen. I was oblivious at the time to the fact that a fair proportion of the viewing public would be watching it for the tousled, '80s-mullet good looks of the lead actor(s)* - I tuned in to enjoy stories of action and adventure, of derring-do and dastardly deeds, of mysticism and paganism.

It was the magical and supernatural elements of the show that appealed to me the most, and what made the programme so different from all the other on-screen iterations. I thought the addition of the pagan shaman Herne was inspired, I couldn't quite believe the Baron de Belleme was about to carry out a satanic sacrifice on what was purportedly a children's show in Robin Hood and the Sorcerer, I was chilled by the appearance of Cromm Cruac, and I thrilled at the arrival of the gigantic wolf's head in The Time of the Wolf. I particularly delighted at the twist ending to the episode Rutterkin. But most of all I was blown away by The Swords of Wayland, with the angelic figure of Lucifer being summoned via the method of reversed-wax-melting.

When Robin of Sherwood was on, the Sunday morning after would find my friends and I in the local church choir dissecting the incidents of the previous night's episode when we were supposed to be getting ready to sing the anthem at the Eucharist.

Jump forward a few years and I found myself sharing a house with nine other young people in Leamingston Spa, all of us students of Warwick University. It turned out that I wasn't the only one upon whom Robin of Sherwood had made such a big impact. My friend Mike - who everyone called Bez at the time, as you do - was also a fan. Saturdays would often find us trawling the local video hire shop for shockingly-bad horror movies to watch that evening.

But one particular day we made a diversion to WHSmith, where we found Robin of Sherwood on sale in VHS format. Being poor, impoverished students, we decided to go halves on The Swords of Wayland two-parter. Taking it back to our rented house, we watched it for the first time since it had been on TV half a decade or more before - and it was just as good as we all remembered, if not even better, because our mutual friend Dave had a much bigger TV than my parents did at home.

When the time came to leave university, I somehow managed to inherit The Swords of Wayland (I'm still not sure how or why) and it inspired me to shell-out some of my hard-earned cash (I was a published author by then) to buy all three series on video, which were replaced, in time, by DVD box sets.

Robin of Sherwood had a big impact on my writing career, long before I came to write The Knights of the Apolcalypse novelisation. My first published book, the Fighting Fantasy adventure gamebook Spellbreaker, features a band of outlaws, each bearing a moniker that could have easily described one of Kip Carpenter's Merries - Outlaw Leader, Scarred Ruffian, Staff-Wielding Outlaw, Veteran Brigand - and their leader just happened to be in possession of a magic swords. My second book, Knights of Doom, featured a Mercenary Champion, who looked suspiciously like Nasir when he was taking part in Owen of Clun's death game, and even some dodgy mummers.

Later, when I was working as a teacher in West London, I wrote a Christmas production about the history of Christmas**. One scene featured a mummer's play; I adapted the mummer's play from the Robin of Sherwood episode The Lord of the Trees, finished it off in the same style, the play having no ending in the show.

And the tone of the show, the quality of the writing, its heart, its warmth and its humour, has stayed with me ever since. Every couple of years I watch the shows again, in order, and I'm looking forward to introducing them to my children next time. (I listen to Clannad's soundtrack album Legend even more often***.)

Having loved Robin of Sherwood for more than two-thirds of my life (and 'loved' is not a word I use lightly) I am always wary of new adaptations and wonder how some people can dare to do Robin Hood again when the definitive version was produced back in the 1980s. But that said, I have an itch to tackle the legend myself, in my own way, by putting a spin on things. Will it be ready by the time the third Hooded Man convention takes place in 2018? Who knows, but the thing is, it doesn't really matter, because I'm the lucky so-and-so who got to write Robin of Sherwood again, 30 years after the show ended.

Talking of which, because The Knights of the Apolcalypse novelisation wasn't available anywhere outside of the original Indiegogo campaign to fund the audio version, there's no one convenient place for people to leave their comments and reviews. If you would like to do so - and reviews, no matter how brief, are always very valuable and helpful for authors - please feel free to do so in the comments after this blog post. After all, nothing's forgotten...

Here's to you, Mike! :-)

* Something which only really dawned on me when I attended my first Hooded Man convention back in 2014!

** Sound familiar?

*** The show is also responsible for my life-long love of Clannad. I think I possibly wrote Spellbreaker whilst listening to their album Legend on loop!

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