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16 November 1989 (1989-11-16) - 16 February 1994 (1994-02-16)
Maid Marian and her Merry Men is a British television series created and written by Tony Robinson and directed by David Bell. It began in 1989 on BBC One and ran for four series, with the last episode shown in 1994. The show was a partially musicalcomic retelling of the legend of Robin Hood, placing Maid Marian in the role of leader of the Merry Men, and reducing Robin to an incompetent ex-tailor.
The programme was much appreciated by children and adults alike, and has been likened to Blackadder, not only for its historical setting and the presence of Tony Robinson (as well as early, uncredited, script editing work being undertaken by Richard Curtis), but also for its comic style. It is more surreal than Blackadder, however, and drops even more (deliberate) anachronisms. Many of the show's cast such as Howard Lew Lewis, Forbes Collins, Ramsay Gilderdale and Patsy Byrne had previously appeared in various episodes of Blackadder alongside Robinson. Like many British children's programmes, there is a lot of social commentary sneakily inserted, as well as witty asides about the Royal family, buses running on time, etc. Many of the plots spoofed or referenced film and television shows including other incarnations of Robin Hood in those media.
The show was such a success that there was an adaptation produced for the stage and a cartoon strip by Paul Cemmick which was serialised in the Daily Telegraph's children's paper "The Young Telegraph" (also available as a series of collections), and the programme was repeated on BBC One in 2001. Series 1 was released on video in 1990 and 1993, with three episodes each on four tapes, and all four series are available on DVD. It was repeated in April 2002 on the CBBC Channel and the first series was repeated in June 2007 at 12:30 on the CBBC Channel. During the summer of 2009, Gold repeated the entire 4 series.
Maid Marian (Kate Lonergan): a passionate and idealistic freedom fighter and de facto leader of the "Merry Men" (though this is never recognized by anyone outside the group). She is by far the most intelligent of the gang, but often lets her idealism blind her to the realities of situations, most notably the rest of the gang's incompetence. She also isn't very patient, but will always defend anyone who she feels is wronged. She often has mud in her hair.
Robin of Kensington (Wayne Morris): an extremely vain tailor and a yuppie. Became seen as the leader of Marian's gang by accident, and remains because he sees it as a cool image to cultivate. His most significant contribution to the outlaws was nevertheless to insist they all wear green to "co-ordinate with the trees".
Barrington (Danny John-Jules): the resident Rasta Merry Man, who would often rap during the episodes' songs. He often acts as a kind of semi omniscient narrator (in a similar manner to Alan-a-Dale in more traditional versions).
Little Ron (Mike Edmonds): a very very short, insanely angry and violent Merry Man. Known to face the wrong way in ambushes. A parody of Little John.
Rabies (Howard Lew Lewis): another Merry Man, very strong, and very stupid, although with his heart in the right place.
King John (Forbes Collins, who also played John's brother, Richard the Lionheart, in the episode "The Whitish Knight", and Queen Eleanor, Guy of Gisbourne's mother, the joke being that all Royals look alike): a violent and unstable monarch. He is narcissistic and insecure, and becomes very angry at the thought of being unpopular with the peasants. His brother, who was thought to be a wise ruler who would bring England back to a Golden Age, is identical.
The Sheriff of Nottingham (Tony Robinson): a devious plotter obsessed with collecting taxes. Given the first name 'Arnold' in the episode "Keeping Mum", ostensibly only to produce a later pun. While he is dedicated to stopping Marian, they sometimes find themselves in sympathy with each other regarding the complete stupidity of everyone else.
Gary and Graeme (Mark Billingham and David Lloyd): guards of the King's castle, and the Sheriff's henchmen. They're "bestest mates" and extremely affable, but in the tradition of clever villains with idiot sidekicks, not very clever most of the time. They are often very friendly with the Merry Men, who tend to return the sentiment - except when Gary and Graeme are doing what they're paid for. Graeme has a brother called Kevin. Graeme tends to enjoy things like torture and teasing the villagers more than Gary does, though Gary will challenge Graeme for the chance to do executions. Gary is shown as completely devoted to his job, to the point of obsession; when sacked, he refused to leave the Sheriff's side and carried on as though he had not been fired.
Guy of Gisbourne (Ramsay Gilderdale): the king's wet-behind-the-ears nephew, who has come to live with him at the insistence of his mother, John's older sister, Queen Eleanor. A village idiot, and mummy's boy, Guy is widely held in contempt by the heroes and villains alike. He is aged 27 but acts like a 4-year-old, has an imaginary friend and occasionally dresses in a tutu. John does not want to be saddled with his nephew, but obeys his sister's orders out of fear that she will "do that nasty thing with the pencils" to him, just as she used to when they were children.
"Rotten" Rose Scargill (Siobhan Fogarty): rival to Maid Marian and both Marian's best friend and worst enemy. She's Robin Hood's biggest fan.
Gladys and Snooker (Hilary Mason and Robin Chandler): two villagers of Worksop. Gladys is an elderly (and extremely stupid) peasant, fond of telling stories and legends, and hanging out with Barrington. She is Worksop's "wise old woman", but admits to being underqualified. Snooker (who also gets called "Stinker") is another extremely stupid peasant, who appears to be about 40. Named ostensibly for a single joke, his greatest claim to fame is apparently inventing a game involving a long stick, a table, and a number of coloured balls. Together, they serve as the mouthpieces of the village, but are generally no more intelligent than the peasants they speak for.
Nettle (Kerry Potter): a young female villager, who is definitely the equal of Marian in intelligence.
Chickweed (Karen Salt): a very young peasant girl.
Hayley (Carly Britnell), another young intelligent female villager. She had a comet named after her after she vomited as it shot across the sky. ("Hayley's Vomit".)
Eric "The Newt" Teasel: an archer, appearing in the episode "Robert The Incredible Chicken". From Epping Forest.
Cowpat: a pretty young village woman. She is a friend of Rose, and one of Robin's many fans. She appeared in "Rotten Rose (Part One)".
Clough: a tall, red haired and bearded village man, from Nottingham forest and sometimes seen about Worksop. Participated in the archery contest. The character name is a reference to Brian Clough, manager of English football team Nottingham Forest at the time.
Nigel Pargetter: semi-regularly appearing but uncredited peasant (actually Martin [Wills] O'Toole) who fell victim to a number of misfortunes, including being punched in the head several times, being crushed by a radiator during Bloopy, and having a large cucumber lodged in his head by Robin's lookalike. Named after a well-known character in long-running BBC Radio 4 soap opera, The Archers.
"Little Girl" (Kellie Bright): often found close to Gladys in the first series.
The memorable music and songs for Maid Marian and Her Merry Men series were composed by Nick Russell-Pavier and David Chilton. Each episode contained either one or two songs, which were mostly originals but were sometimes parodies. According to commentaries on the DVDs, the actors were frequently dubbed in their singing voices, both by themselves and (more often) by professional singers in post-filming studio sessions. Gary, Graeme, Guy and Barrington almost always sing their own songs, however.
Series One: 1989
How The Band Got Together: "Mud" (sung by Barrington)
Robert The Incredible Chicken: "The Story So Far" (sung by Barrington); "The Sheriff's Excuse" (sung by Barrington)
A Game Called John: "Pancake Day" (sung by Barrington)
The Miracle of St Charlene: "Gotta Get Across" (sung by Barrington, Marian, Robin, Rabies and Little Ron)
The Sharp End of a Cow: "Popular" (sung by the Peasants)
The Whitish Knight: "The White Knight / The Whitish Knight" (a take-off on the theme song to the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood)
Series Two: 1990
The Beast of Bolsover: "Ambush" (sung by Barrington)
The Worksop Egg Fairy: "What Is Happening Here?" (sung by Barrington); "Bop For An Egg" (sung by Barrington)
Little Brown Noses: "Against The Law" (sung by Barrington); "Colin's Release Song" (sung by Marian, Robin, Barrington and Rabies)
Rabies In Love: "Rabies In Love"; "Wedding Today" (sung by Nettle and the Peasants)
Rotten Rose (Part One): "Robin Hood" (a take-off on Bananarama; sung by Rose, Gladys and Cowpat)
Rotten Rose (Part Two): "Rotten Rose" (sung by Barrington)
Series Three: 1993
The Big Baby: "Father Bloopy" (sung by The Sheriff, Gary, Graeme and the Peasants); "Don't Worry 'Bout The Pain" (sung by Barrington, Marian, Robin and the Peasants)
Driving Ambition: "Boring" (sung by Barrington and the Peasants - note line by Marian "Stop miming"); "Take Action" (sung by Barrington, Robin and Rabies); "A Friend Like Rose" (sung by Marian and Barrington)
Keeping Mum: "Pierced" (sung by The Sheriff and the Peasants); "Call The Dentist" (a take-off on the Ghostbusters theme song; sung by Barrington and the Peasants); "Hurrah for the State of Luxembourg" (sung a cappella by Gary and Graeme)
They Came From Outer Space: "Only Child" (sung by Marian, Barrington, Rabies and Little Ron); "Naked To The Visible Eye" (sung by Barrington and the Peasants)
Robin and the Beansprout: "I Wish They'd Put Their Heads Outside" (sung by Barrington, Marian and Little Ron); "Chop Suey" (a take-off on Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto"; sung by Robin)
The Great Mud Harvest: "White Suit" (sung by Robin and the Peasants)
Christmas Special: 1993
Maid Marian and Much the Mini-Mart Manager's Son: "Much The Mini-Mart Manager's Son" (sung by Barrington); "Deception" (a take-off on Michael Jackson; sung by Barrington and one of the show's regular session musicians, appearing on-screen for the first time - note the line 'It's not him that's singing...')
Series Four: 1994
Tunnel Vision: "Double Trouble" (sung by Barrington and Robin)
Bouncy Sheriff: "Friends Or Foes?" (sung by Rose, Marian, The Sheriff, Gary, Graeme and the Peasants)
Raining Forks: "Vacation" (sung by The Sheriff, King John, Robin, Barrington, Gary, Graeme and the Peasants); "High Forks Night" (sung by Barrington, Robin and Guy)
The Wise Woman of Worksop: "Here Comes Pixie Paul" (a take-off on Paul McCartney; sung by Rabies, Barrington and Little Ron)
Robin The Bad: "Thicky Stupid" (sung by Robin); "A Selection Of Amusing Things" (sung by The Sheriff and the Peasants)
The Nice Sumatran: "The King Of England Is A Pig" (sung by the coronation choir); "Party People Party" (sung by Barrington); "Take My Heart" (sung by Snooker)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Forest: "You're So Lazy" (sung by Marian, Robin, Barrington and Little Ron); "The Story Of Workflop" (sung by The Sheriff, Gary and Graeme)
Maid Marian and her Merry Men won several awards, including the 1990 BAFTA for Best Children's Programme (Entertainment/Drama). It was also nominated for the same award in 1991, losing to Press Gang. The programme also won at least one award from the Royal Television Society, as well as the prestigious "Prix Jeunesse Variety Award" at the International Children's Programme Festival in Munich.
The programme was set in the very real Nottinghamshire town of Worksop, which, along with Mansfield, is one of the two closest modern day towns to the Major Oak, although the whole show was shot in Somerset. The outside scenes were filmed in woods near Minehead at a place called Porlock and the castle scenes were filmed in Cleeve Abbey in Somerset. The beach at Porlock features in some of the episodes including The Whitish Knight.
Series 1 was released in four volumes of 3 episodes each (a couple of slight variations in cover design exist for each). In keeping with other BBC video releases of the time, such as Blackadder, each volume was named after an episode:
"Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: How The Band Got Together" featured episodes 1-3 (BBCV 4424). Released: 5 November 1990
"Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: The Miracle of St Charlene" featured episodes 4-6 (BBCV 4425). Released: 5 November 1990
"Maid Marian and Her Merry Men Re Release: How The Band Got Together" featured episodes 1-3 (BBCV 4424). Released: 8 February 1993
"Maid Marian and Her Merry Men Re Release: The Miracle of St Charlene" featured episodes 4-6 (BBCV 4425). Released: 8 February 1993
Subsequent series were not released on video.
DVD (Region 2)
The DVDs were released after much online campaigning and a petition setup by fans circa 2002.
Some of the signatures included cast members, although proof of this is now lost.
Series 3 - Released on 23 October 2006. (Includes the 1993 Christmas special "Much the Mini-Mart Manager's Son")
Series 4 - Released on 19 February 2007.
Series 1-4 Box Set - Released on 22 September 2008.
Written (and adapted) by Tony Robinson, illustrated by Paul Cemmick. Published by the BBC and BBC Books Ltd. between 1989 and 1992.
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: How the Band got Together (BBC Books (2 November 1989) ISBN0-563-20808-2
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: Robert the Incredible Chicken (BBC Books (2 November 1989) ISBN0-563-20809-0
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: The Whitish Knight (BBC Books (1 October 1990) ISBN0-563-36040-2
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: The Beast of Bolsover (BBC Books (1 October 1990) ISBN0-563-36041-0
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: The Worksop Egg Fairy (BBC Books (3 October 1991) ISBN0-563-36220-0
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: Rabies in Love (BBC Books (3 October 1991) ISBN0-563-36219-7
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: It Came From Outer Space (BBC Books (26 November 1992) ISBN0-563-36709-1
Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: Driving Ambition and Keeping Mum (BBC Books (26 November 1992) ISBN0-563-36710-5
The programme was adapted for a stage musical by Tony Robinson, Mark Billingham and David Lloyd. It toured several British theatres. The theatre programme for the production at the Bristol Old Vic featured new artwork by Paul Cemmick, showing Tony Robinson dreaming the production after being hit in the head by a football. The script for this production was later published in book format by Longman literature in 1992, as part of a series of BBC TV (and radio) plays to be used in classrooms at Key Stage 3 level (roughly ages 11-14). The book includes support material and activities for this purpose.