The Hooded Man

Pity those of us who were young D&D players and fantasy fans in the 1980s. There was - and I can't emphasise this enough - absolutely nothing for us outside of games and novels. What I mean is, there were no fantasy movies.

Or at least there weren't any half-decent fantasy movies. Ask someone of a certain age what there was to watch (usually on rubbish video taped off the TV) and they will give you the list: Krull, The Sword and the Sorceror, Ladyhawke, Dragonslayer, Willow, The Beastmaster, and - my personal favourite - Hawk the Slayer. If you haven't seen any of them then don't bother. Really. Don't. Go look for them on Youtube if you must but be prepared to be underwhelmed.

There was, however, one light shining in the darkness, but it wasn't in the movies, it was on TV. Robin of Sherwood first appeared in 1984 and, to a thirteen-year-old lover of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, it was wonderful. Where fantasy movies were cheap and nasty, all half-arsed scripts and terrible acting, this was well made, with proper actors acting ike real people. And it was kind of mucky. The world of Robin of Sherwood looked like the real world, or at least how we imagined the real world of England during the Norman conquest. A problem with a lot of the fantasy movies was their locations. Most were probably filmed in California to keep costs down (I could look this up but I have better things to do with my time). The only one that looked even vaguely like the worlds I imagined in my own head was Hawk the Slayer, which was a British movie. Robin of Sherwood had real, northern European forests and proper castles and longbows and broadswords. The characters spoke in British (mainly English) regional accents. The costumes were not outlandish nonsense. There was magic in it, but it wasn't overdone, no doubt because the special effects were not up to it. The show worked well within its limitations.

I watched a few episodes recently and was surprised at how well it held up. Yes, the music - which was wonderful at the time - is now a bit dated. Yes, the swordfights look too much like fencing. Yes, you can see some of the creakiness in the sets. But what holds up are the performances and the scripts and the general look of it. For me, it was hugely influential, depicting a world of magic and adventure that was grounded in some sort of truth. There is a very minor scene an episode in Series 1 called Seven Poor Knights from Acre, where Robin and Marian pay a visit to an inn. They're there to get some information. There's not much action, just a bit of dialogue and exposition, but it looks so good and reminds me of players in a role-playing game, visiting an inn to ask questions and move the adventure along.

I realised just how influential it was when I rewatched the first episode. Our first encounter with Michael Praed's Robin of Locksley is him running through a forest, carrying an animal he's killed while being pursued by soldiers and a nobleman. I have no memory of this scene but, somehow or other, twenty years after I first saw it, the idea of that as a splendid opening to a fantasy adventure must somehow have stuck.