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Dec
04

Life after Little John

Life after Little John

Although it is unlikely that we will ever really know for sure what exactly happened to Little John after Robin Hood’s death, in contrast, it prompted me to take a look at some of the various actors who had played Little John in film, television and stage productions to discover what fate or fame had in store for their careers after taking on the legendary role!

Starring alongside Richard Greene in the 165 episodes of the 1950’s television series, “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, Scottish actor, Archie Duncan definitely holds the record for the number of appearances in the role of Little John! He also appeared in Walt Disney’s live action movie “The Story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men” starring Richard Todd but on this occasion he played the villain, Red Gill! The role of Little John went to James Robertson Justice, who later became well known in the role of consultant, Lancelot Hodges in the various “Doctor” films based on Richard Gordon’s series of best-selling books.

American actor, Alan Hale Sr. has the most unusual claim to fame by having played Little John in three completely different Robin Hood movies! He first played Little John as a young squire in the 1922 silent classic starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. He reprised the role opposite Errol Flynn in the 1938 “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and then later played an older Little John to John Derek as Robin Hood’s son in the 1951 film “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”.

Bernard Bresslaw was the then unknown actor who played Little John in the ill-fated and critically slammed “Twang” ,the 1966 Robin Hood based musical by Lionel Bart that closed after just 43 performances in the West End! Fortunately for Bresslaw, he went on to become one of the regulars in the popular “Carry On” series of films.

Clive Mantle was Little John in the HTV/Goldcrest “Robin of Sherwood” series shown in the 1980’s and he later went on to star in the BBC “Casualty” medical drama series and more recently successfully toured with a show spotlighting the life of comedian Tommy Cooper.

Other notable actors who brought their own individual talents to the Little John role were Nicol Williamson in “Robin and Marian” (1976); Nick Brimble in “Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves”(1991) and Gordon Kennedy in the 2006 BBC TV Robin Hood drama series, starring Jonas Armstrong in the title role.

The last Little John to appear on the big screen was Canadian born Kevin Durand in Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” in 2010, starring Russell Crowe. Standing at 1.98 metres, he claimed to be the tallest actor yet to take on the role!

Dec
04

Familiar Fortresses

Familiar Fortresses

As Nottingham celebrates securing the recently announced Stage 1 Heritage Lottery Fund grant for improvements to Nottingham Castle, I thought I would take a comparative look at a selection of castles and fortresses that, from various different perspectives, each create a specific visual image or atmospheric environment that better reflects the initial expectations of visitors to the Castle, who generally anticipate a "medieval-style" ambiance more evocatively associated with the Robin Hood legend.

Let's begin with "the imposters" – those castles that have posed as "doubles" for Nottingham Castle in various Robin Hood movies and television. They include places such as Dover Castle and Alnwick Castle in Kevin Costner and Co.'s "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" blockbuster; along with Chepstow Castle in the HTV/ Goldcrest "Robin of Sherwood" drama series and also not forgetting the Eastern European "castle" locations that were used in the 1996 Warner Bros. Television series "The New Adventures of Robin Hood" and the BBC TV "Robin Hood" series of 2009. All these impressive, authentic-looking buildings were, of course, often primarily chosen by location directors for their imposing facades and their proliferation of towers, turrets and crenellated battlements that all conveyed the familiar settings we had read about in the traditional Robin Hood tales.

However, if the location director could not find the ideal "castle" that he was looking for, then, in true Hollywood fashion, the movie studios would simply just build a fantasy one of their own! Possibly the greatest example of this was for the Douglas Fairbanks 1928 black and white, silent classic "Robin Hood," where Fairbanks built some of the largest sets ever seen in Hollywood. Five hundred workmen constructed an enormous version of "Nottingham Castle" by spreading out truckloads of rocks on the ground and covering them with a netting of chicken wire and plaster to make a mould for the veneer of the castle. As the walls grew higher and higher, they also built a moat; a massive drawbridge (raised and lowered by concealed petrol engines) and cavernous interiors, so huge, that they could not be lit by the conventional sunlight and reflectors used in the early days of film.

If however, location scouts want "the real thing", many consider that, with its rich history of more than 1000 years of wars and plagues, the spectacular fortress in the town of Carcassonne in Southern France represents the quintessential, authentic, medieval castle. With two defence walls, measuring nearly 2 miles long and 52 towers, it is easy to see why Kevin Costner's 1991 movie filmed many location shots inside the chateau walls. Carcassonne is a hugely popular tourist destination, where there are no entrance fees into the castle city and children are encouraged to search the atmospheric, narrow cobbled streets for the legend of Robin Hood!

In their own unique ways, each of the fore-mentioned castles reflect certain elements that have coloured public perceptions of what they imagine Nottingham Castle to be like, based on the popular tales they have read and the film and television dramatisations of the Robin Hood legend. However, over the centuries various historical events in Nottingham's past have resulted in the site where the legendary castle reputedly once stood being presently occupied by an Italianate-style mansion, leaving the City Council and the newly-formed Castle Trust with the difficult conundrum of "squaring the circle" between the long-overdue improvements to the Castle building and also fulfilling the public expectations of visitors searching for Nottingham's traditional links to Robin Hood as an icon of popular culture. Recent comments in the Post and other media indicate that it will be a challenging and somewhat complex balancing act, requiring some imaginative vision tempered with a measurable dose of reality and the inevitable compromises. So let's wish them well and hope their proposals finally bring about a satisfactory resolution to the controversial issue of Nottingham effectively getting to grips with successfully exploiting the full potential of its globally famous connections with Robin Hood.

Dec
04

Little John Becomes a Surprise Contender in the Fame Game!

Little John becomes a surprise contender in the fame game!

Now everyone knows that Little John was Robin Hood's loyal lieutenant who was always close by the outlaw leader's side in many a classic adventure and that he was also the one who was there at the end, supporting the dying Robin when he fired his last arrow to mark his burial place. However, it turns out that in today's internet-driven world of electronic communication, Little John has been giving Robin Hood and the rest of the Merry Men a run for their money and the "gentle giant" has become quite a celebrity, discreetly building his reputation to astonishing levels!

When I typed the word "Robin Hood" into the Google search engine on the day I wrote this article, it came up with 66,700,000 results – but when I typed in "Little John", it came up with a staggering 1,210,000,000! That's over a billion more results than for Robin Hood himself! So how does Little John apparently manage to create such phenomenal global interest that puts Robin and his merry band well and truly in the shade?

There are probably several factors that account for Little John's elevated, celebrity status on Google but one of the main reasons is that, as you no doubt know, information technology search engines operate on recognising "key words" and when we look closely at the information available we find that, just as with Robin Hood, Little John's name appears in many, many different connections, spanning numerous locations and place names situated around the world, including a host of public houses, hotels, restaurants - plus an extensive range of company names in the business and commercial sector. Closer to home, the big bell in the Council House clock is also nicknamed "Little John". The results of the Google search may well have also been "skewed" by the fact that "Littlejohn" is a widely used surname (including Daily Mail columnist and controversial commentator, Richard Littlejohn) which will no doubt further add to the total number of results attributed to a "Little John" search of the internet.

We also know that there is a massive global interest in all things associated with the Robin Hood legend – not just the history and mystery of the outlaw's origins but also the vast wealth of popular culture connections embracing art, literature, film, music, sport, charitable organisations, comics and computer games etc. Wherever the Robin Hood legend gets a mention, then other key characters, like Little John, also get referred to.

But let's not steal the thunder from Little John's global popularity, because he is a likeable and much-loved character in the traditional Robin Hood story who clearly has a substantial international following of fans eager to find out more about their hero. So just what do we know about Little John and what really happened to him after the tragedy of Robin Hood's death? Well here's a brief selection of some key facts:

Mockingly named Little John or John Little because of his tall, broad stature, it is claimed that he was originally called John Nailer/Naylor because of his trade as a nail maker. Although it cannot historically be authenticated, local tradition has it that Little John's Cottage once stood somewhere along Peafield Lane between Mansfield Woodhouse and Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire. Several theories have been put forward as to what happened to Little John after Robin Hood's death but the truth, just like the legend itself, still remains an intriguing mystery!

His "traditional" grave is reputed to be the one in St Michael's and All Angels church yard in Hathersage, Derbyshire, the village that claims to be his birthplace and to where he supposedly retired and at length died. In the Eighteenth Century the grave was opened up and several large bones were found but there was the inevitable controversy as to whether they truly belonged to Little John or, as some critics suspected, were those of an oxen? In 1929, the Ancient Order of Foresters agreed to take care of the grave and marked it with two stones bearing inscriptions. However, his eventual fate and final resting place continues to be the subject of dispute and confusion. Immediately after Robin Hood's death at Kirklees, Little John is said to have fled to Ireland to escape persecution and in his "History of the City of Dublin" John T. Gilbert records the legend of an astonishing feat of archery performed by the burly henchman in about 1189. He states that "There stands in Oxmantown Green a hill, named "Little John his shot" and he goes on to say that when the citizens of Dublin discovered him to be an excellent and powerful archer, they coaxed him to try to see how far he could shoot an arrow. Apparently he obligingly proceeded to shoot from Liffey Bridge to the hill, covering an incredible distance of some seven hundred yards!

Other accounts say that he was actually found guilty of theft in Dublin and executed at Arbour Hill. However Holinshed's "Chronicle", of which William Shakespeare made much use, claims he left Ireland and went to Moray in Scotland, where according to Scottish historian Hector Bruce, he died and was buried at Pette. Other traditions have Little John buried at Thorpe Salvin, near Worksop and Wincle in Cheshire - all facts that weave further strands into the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the global popularity of the Robin Hood legend!

Click here to read the Life after Little John article.

Dec
04

Why everything you know about Robin Hood is wrong!

Why everything you know about Robin Hood is wrong!

Man or Myth – Fact or Fiction? The Robin Hood legend is actually a can of worms! The problem is that if you take a serious look into the background to the popular traditional tales you’ll discover it’s riddled with flaws. The facts often don’t stack up and somehow it seems impossible to square the circle between the story and the reality. That’s the obsessive nature of the legend that has continued to fascinate and infuriate academics and enthusiasts for centuries.

With the no-nonsense, cover title of “Why Everything You Know About Robin Hood Is Wrong” – Karen Murdarasi’s new book pulls no punches and tells it like it is! The 90 informative pages are jam-packed with revealing facts and comparisons about the many discrepancies in the popular story and it’s all brightly written in a succinct and engaging style. The author outlines some of the main issues that have caused controversy and debate in academic circles and puts forward five possible pretenders from the lengthy list of “usual suspects” championed by various historians, all suggesting real life characters who Robin Hood may have been based on.

There is no undisputed historical evidence available that can conclusively prove that Robin Hood ever existed or who he really was. However, across the centuries, fiction has triumphed over fact and Robin Hood has become far more significant as a legend than ever he would have been as a real historical figure.

Every generation creates for itself the Robin Hood that it needs and the public have always come to his rescue whenever his credibility is called into question. Irrespective of any new supposed facts or information to the contrary, Robin Hood is the People’s Champion , a global icon of popular culture and the general public have repeatedly shown that they do not wish the image of their legendary Sherwood Forest hero, and everything he stands for, to be destroyed. However, if your curiosity gets the better of you and you really want to delve into the murky world of Robin Hood’s authenticity, then Karen Murdarasi spells it all out in this enjoyable new book.

Review by Bob White, Chairman, World Wide Robin Hood Society – November 2018.

“Why Everything You Know About Robin Hood Is Wrong” by K.C. Murdarasi is published by Hephaestion Press (ISBN: 978-1-9164909-0-1) It sells for £4.99 and is available from waterstones.com. and at Amazon as an e-book or paperback and at all good local bookstores.

Dec
04

New Robin Hood book by historian and TV presenter Mark Olly

New Robin Hood Book by historian and TV presenter Mark Olly

Read our review...

“The Life and Times of the Real Robyn Hoode” by Mark Olly

With no proven, undisputed historical evidence being available as to just who Robin Hood actually was, the “man or myth” conundrum has continued to be a mystery that has fascinated generation after generation and turned the English folklore hero into an iconic global legend. Consequently, there are numerous speculative and plausible theories about his existence, lineage, birthplace and burial site etc. to keep academics and enthusiasts occupied for years to come or until there is an extremely unlikely “Richard III moment” when someone discovers a DNA linked skeleton!

In the meantime, historians and individuals fastidiously comb through centuries of manuscripts and medieval records to try to piece together the intriguing puzzle that is further complicated by a blurring of the historic fact and the development and fusing of the tales into traditional folklore legend. In fact, it is often said that Robin Hood has become a million times richer as an icon of popular culture than as a genuine historical figure!

Whatever your views and opinions, Mark Olly’s “The Life and Times of the Real Robyn Hoode” is an excellent place to start.

Using literary archaeology, the author has logically brought together the historical background authenticated by existing material and records and produced a credible timeline into which the various aspects, characters and locations associated with the legend can be feasibly connected. His decision to place all the original source texts relating to the life of the real Robyn Hoode in BOLD TYPE so it can be read as a complete separate narrative if desired and to show all the source manuscripts and quotes in Italics, also helps the reader to differentiate between the origins of the material.

Mark has deliberately avoided getting “side-tracked” by the explosion of contemporary popular culture associated with the legend and perhaps the book’s greatest achievement lies in the style of writing and presentation. Although it is packed with interesting, relevant information, this is not a “stuffy” reference source and in its easy- to-read 202 pages Mark Olly has compactly set out the background for any interested readers to “investigate” the complexity of the Robin Hood legend for themselves.

Over the years, I have read and reviewed many Robin Hood related books, both fact and fiction and in my opinion this is one of the best recent reference works on the subject.

Bob White, Chairman, World Wide Robin Hood Society.

“The Life and Times of the Real Robyn Hoode” by Mark Olly is published in paperback by Chronos Books and priced at £9.99.