Interviews in Sherwood

Iain Meadows

Interview conducted and transcribed
by Allen W. Wright


Iain Meadows is a writer, director, producer, sound designer and on-air personality with over 20 years of experience in radio.

In 2013 Iain's company Spiteful Puppet released Hood: Noble Secrets an audio drama offering a different take on the Robin Hood legend, written and directed by Iain himself. Noble Secrets was nominated for an award at the 2014 BBC Audio Drama awards.

Noble Secrets was followed in 2014 by Hood: The Scribe of Sherwood (originally released in two volumes). Scribe of Sherwood won the Best Online or Non-Broadcast Audio Drama award at the 2015 BBC Audio Drama Awards. It also won the Bronze Radio awards for Best Audio Book and Best Drama Special at the 2015 New York Festivals World's Best Radio Programs in New York City.

Iain wrote and directed two further Hood audio dramas in 2015 - Warriors' Harvest and King's Command, the latter was nominated for a 2016 BBC Audio Drama award. The Hood series was broadcast on Radio 4 Extra in 2016 and 2018.

In addition, Iain Meadows and Spiteful Puppet served as executive producers for the 2016 audio drama Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse which will reunited the cast of the popular 1980s television series.

He stepped away from Spiteful Puppet in 2017 -- but not too far away. He wrote two Robin of Sherwood adventures set during the series' run - The Templars' Promise and The Blood that Binds. In 2018 Spiteful Puppet also released a four disc boxed set of Robin of Sherwood adventures. Iain Meadows wrote What Was Lost -- which follows on from the end of the TV series.

Iain can also be heard Sunday mornings at 8am as host of the Sunday Breakfast Show on the UK radio station SpiritFM (96.6, 102.3, 106.6 MHz). He also provides sound design for other audio drama companies, such as Big Finish Productions.

Visit the Spiteful Puppet Website

The original interview was conducted by phone on February 7, 2016. In December 2018 I emailed Iain for additional comments about his 2017 and 2018 Robin of Sherwood stories.

The Joys of Audio Drama

AWW: I thought we could talk about radio/audio drama to begin with since so many people who visit my site are Americans and my sense is that while radio drama was a big part of American culture back in the 1940s that it's much less a part of the culture now. I get the impression that it's still much more mainstream and vibrant in Britain and it is in the US. I suspect a lot of the people reading this don't know that much about audio drama at all, aside perhaps in a historical context.

IM: I think that's a very good point. In the UK it is still vibrant and largely down to the BBC and a radio station like Radio 4 that does a lot of audio drama and has a strong rich heritage. Radio 4 Extra is the other station that the BBC has. They play some new commissions on there, but mainly they're sort of delving into the archives and rerunning stuff which is always welcome. It is a strange thing. My wife is American, so she tells me quite often that US radio, by and large, has stopped doing any kind of audio drama. You're right that there's a huge amount of radio drama back in the thirties and forties and into the fifties I suppose. I'm not sure really as to why it died out. But somebody once said, at last year's audio awards, that radio should have died out because people, of course, move on and they like having the pictures they can see as well. But it's still hanging on in there. It depends on how well it's done, of course. I think you can still get the sense of something just by listening to a good soundtrack. And that isn't necessarily the case the other way around. Sometimes you can have great visuals but be baffled as to what's going on. Sound is still a great medium. Long may it reign.

AWW: I think there's something very evocative in having just certain senses triggered, where you fill in the rest. When you listen to your shows and you hear a crackling fire, or even the crunch of feet, it conjures up pictures in your head more strikingly than if they were presented to you just on screen. The imagination, somehow, immerses you into that world in a way that you don't get if you saw it all just presented to you with no active work on your part.

IM: I think that's very true. I think anything can be made into a good audio. Because your imagination and your mind is the most powerful thing you have in terms of converting the pictures you have into this big panorama in your head. It's the best cinema you've got. Game of Thrones, for example, would have worked just as well as an audio drama. And it does come down to, you're right, those sounds. You're absolutely right when you say the evocative nature of it.

AWW: It's something I've gotten into in the last few years and really appreciate as a medium. And that there is a strength in it. And TV and film do not replace the things that came before.

IM: I think you are more attuned to it as you get older. That may be because you're drawing on your experience of the world around you. It's an interesting one, isn't it? Because we have a few people who are blind and have been blind from birth and yet they still get it. They still get the sounds and they can still imagine what's happening.

AWW: As I think you said once, it's a great medium for travelling or walking about. Maybe some people watch TV shows when they're going for a long walk, but I don't think that's really practical. Listening to an audio drama, you can be aware of your surroundings enough to make sure you don't run into people, but you're also immersed in this whole other world in your head at the same time.

IM: I think it's one of its greatest strengths. With cars, the technology has come up in leaps and bounds, and whilst it's possible for your passengers to be watching something, for the driver, that's not so good. With these, you can still be driving, concentrating and yet be immersed in an adventure. I find it particularly good when I'm doing the ironing as well, when I've got a good audio drama. Because there are always tasks that we find dull but need to be done, so if pottering around the house, and doing housework, the ironing or maybe even cooking. It is a great medium. And as you're right, you don't need the pictures. In some areas as you pointed out, pictures can be very distracting.

The Secrets of Noble Secrets

AWW: You've had a career in radio for a couple of decades, but Spiteful Puppet, your company, was just founded a couple years ago. Was Hood the first drama from this company?

IM: Hood was the first drama. All of us involved in the company, we love radio. There was a desire, because at least two or three of us had actual broadcast backgrounds -- I mean I'm still on air. But I think radio in this country, or that side of radio -- the presentation side, has become a little too risk-adverse. You're really not asked to do much which is creative, and I think there was a desire for us to do something that was a) a bit more creative and b) would allow us to take other people on journeys of adventure as well. So when we were thinking about what we might do, I suggested Robin Hood because I had an idea for a twist. It's a blessing and a curse in some ways. It's one of those things where people think they know the story, and that can be slightly trying when you try to convince people they don't know the story you've got. But the plus side is that everybody recognizes Robin Hood. They know they'll be getting a good romp and a good adventure tale. We went with the positive side of things. We thought let's give people something that they'll recognize and hopefully give people a good romp and an adventure.
AWW: I am trying to avoid spoiling it for new listeners, but I think it would be fair to say you give a lot more characterization to the Sheriff of Nottingham than most versions of the Robin Hood legend. [The sheriff in the Hood series is named Phillip de Nicholay and is played by Lee Ingleby.]

IM: That was kind of implicit in the twist really. If we were going to go that way, we needed a character who was fully fleshed out. And I think it was an interesting way to go because if you think about the endless versions of Robin Hood that we've seen. Week in and week out, the sheriff can't actually catch Robin. And I was thinking why would that be? Because surely he can't be that inept. I mean Sherwood was a big place, but with everybody being offered rewards surely somebody would crack. But also we liked the idea of making our sheriff not quite a hero, but not quite a villain -- a person really. A real person.

AWW: Even if he is more well intentioned that most sheriffs, he does have his faults.

IM: I mean nobody's perfect, are they? And all of us, whilst we strive to do the right thing, sometimes we don't. Sometimes as human beings we do get things wrong. It's been said before but I don't think anybody is purely evil. People might do evil acts or people might make mistakes. But I don't think people are born evil, are they? Circumstances may force them into a situation where they become evil or they do the wrong thing. Our sheriff, we wanted him to be -- well all the characters really -- to be real human beings, to have their own set of motivations.

AWW: One of the others that I think departs from the most common depiction is your Friar Tuck [played by Sean Connolly]. One of his favourite words is logical. "It would be logical to assume that..." What led to the depiction of Tuck as a more thoughtful figure ... in some respects.

IM: When we were putting it together we had this motto, "Making excitement and playing with expectation." That's the mission statement for the company. And I don't think that Tuck necessarily would have been some kind of bumbling, fat friar. We put out the casting note out saying to people "this is not going to be the traditional retelling". And I like the idea that Tuck was a man of mystery and perhaps he was a former soldier, somebody who was forced in situations where he had to fight. He's found a more spiritual way of existing, but he's also a tactician. He's also somebody who does look at things logically, and is a very calming influence. He's the closest thing to Mr. Spock in medieval England. The idea of him being somebody who would a calming influence on the others and would think things through. The sheriff, Phillip, thinks things through, but if there's a supreme tactician I would say Tuck should be that character.

AWW: I would say your Little John has a great deal of heart to him. He seems a very reasonable figure.

IM: I think Peter [Greenall] really brought Little John to life magnificently -- they all did. When I was writing the character of him and the traits, I figured that Little John would be a man who had his head screwed on. He would be a family man. He would try to keep his head down. And because he's looking to keep his head down and be on the straight and narrow, even though he's an outlaw, he would have to be a reasonable man. He couldn't be a hothead. And actually if you go back to the original ballads, because before starting these episodes I did go back and read the original ballads, I think in some of them -- not all of them -- John is the actual leader. I think he is a reasonable man, whereas you look at Will Scarlet and even in those early ballads, he is a hot-head. So, a good counterbalance. Will [played by Damian Cooper] is ... youthful exuberance, shall we say.

AWW: In A Gest of Robyn Hode, Little John is the one who really pushing for charity more than Robin Hood, and in Robin Hood and the Monk, he's more honourable than Robin Hood.

IM: I think that is something that is often lost on people. And Robin Hood is a bit of a rogue. It's another thing I was bearing in mind when writing the character of Loxley [played by Anthony Miles]. I think he's closer to some of the Robins in the ballads, because you know he was .. less than Little John in certain circumstances. It's morphed over the years so that Robin Hood is now this supreme hero. I don't think anybody is a supreme hero, certainly not in our version. I like to think of them as human beings.

The Women of Hood

AWW: One character who is not in the earliest ballads that you use, of course, is Marion [played by Sarah McKendrick].

IM: What did you think of our depiction of Marion?

AWW: Interesting because she has a dark side -- a steeliness -- to her, but there is also a vulnerability. Sometimes she's pretty ruthless, but her background ... some of the twists that come in the later episodes are very interesting.

IM: There again it's trying to provide a strong -- a strong female -- character. It always struck me that she would have to be a forcible woman to have to survive in that kind of environment. When we first meet her in Noble Secrets, you've got the complete article there - a little bit spoiled and scheming but the more you go into it, by the time you come out the other side, the way I think of it, it's a very interesting journey for her. And if you don't like her at the beginning, maybe you'll have some sympathy for her at least at the end.

AWW: I think she avoids some of the traps that Maid Marian can fall into occasionally, as some versions depict her either as a damsel in distress or just depict her at one of the guys. I think your Marion is more distinct than that.

IM: Well thank you, that's music to my ears. I certainly think that she's one of the most interesting characters. And I think you're right that there's a wasted opportunity with quite a lot of female characters that are depicted as either one or the other. Most of us will know women who are very strong, neither a damsel nor one of the guys. I think they're very underrepresented as strong, relatable characters. It's good that people can find something in there, that's gratifying.

AWW: There are two other continuing female characters in your productions. First, Anna who is an interesting counterbalance to Marion.

IM: I think Anna is another strong character. But you're right she is the opposite, perhaps more straightforward than Marion. Then again, I think she's strong in her own way. When Karen [Fisher-Pollard] finished the recording session where Anna's journey ends, she said thank you for the good time, but it was a shame she wasn't going any further. In the same way that Phillip is a good counterbalance to Robert, Marion is to Anna. Again there are elements there you can relate to and maybe see in people you know. Obviously not the murderous homicidal type of character.

AWW: And speaking of murderous, homicidal types there is Cadha [the Celtic warrior played by Harriet Kershaw].

IM: Ah, good old Cadha. That's another strong female character and the backstory is kind of interesting. The backstory we had for her was that she was the wife of a chieftan and that she was forced to flee when he was killed. She has a bunch of guys tied to her who are loyal. Again, she would have to have been strong. She is partly based on one of my relatives, who I have to say isn't homicidal and rampaging. But the women I had grown up around in Scotland were involved in the fishing industry. Their husbands were out to fish and these women held the family together, and they were very, very strong -- they needed to be. Especially at times of tragedy. And they would lead with purpose and they would have resolve, and they would make the decisions and stick to them. And it was always a wonder to me the way that they managed life, a family and sometimes I suppose they had to make what you might describe as ruthless decisions in my life. And Cadha is that kind of woman, I think. I don't think necessarily is not an out and out evil character, but she's a woman who is forced into a situation, making the best of it.

AWW: Rounding out the characters from Noble Secrets, there's William de Warrene [played by Billy Miller], who bosses around Philip de Nicholay -- was he based on one of the historical de Warrenes?

IM: Well in name only, but I liked the idea that as the king’s right hand man, he would be in a position to abuse his power and cut deals that would benefit him. He appears briefly in Noble Secrets but in those moments, Billy did such a good job that it was easy to expand on that storyline in Warriors' Harvest.

New Format and a New Character

AWW: In your next release The Scribe of Sherwood, Billy Miller takes on two iconic roles from the Robin Hood legend, Alan-a-Dale and then King John. You changed the format for this one, departing slightly from the full cast nature by having the characters tell their stories to Alan-a-Dale. Why the change in format?

IM: I think because we were telling the backstories, it just seemed a more personal way of doing it. They'll not necessarily accurate perhaps because of course everybody has their own view of situations that happen. We wanted to make it a bit more personal and so that necessitated characters involved telling their stories. That was the thinking for it.

AWW: There is an extra intimacy by having the characters narrate the stories.

IM: It does make it warmer.

AWW: For a story like Robin Hood which is founded in the telling of tales, it works very well.

IM: I'm glad that that's come across because we wanted it to be more intimate for those characters. It sets up what to come. And if we did it as a full cast drama it might lose that intimacy and that we wanted to make, because of course one of the things we do want people to do is question whether they are telling the truth or not. There are certain actions which are open and ambiguous. I think it's fun for some to have their own notions. You can either take it at face value what you're being told, or you can try to read between the lines. It's up to the listener which I think puts an extra spin onto it.

More Full-cast Adventures

AWW: The format does enhance it, although you followed it up with strong releases in the full cast format with Warriors' Harvest and King's Command.

IM: For those stories I think we needed to go back to the full cast element and it was fun to bring all the cast back. It was certainly the plan to bring all the cast back together and certainly the story had a definite arc. So we kind of knew that is what we wanted to do. Of course it was just such a long time before we could do it. Lee was off filming two TV shows back to back, so we couldn't get them all into the studio -- it was a long wait. But worth it actually. And certainly for us it was all or nothing.

AWW: It was worth the wait. After producing Noble Secrets, what did you learn that you could carry forward to the later dramas?

IM: I think we learned quite a bit. On the practical matters, how many people it was good to have in a particular scene, the work for the studios. Just practical things like that. In terms of sound design and putting together post-production afterwards I think we were always learning --  both myself and Matt Hopper -- on some of the post and mastering of it, as I think you do as you go along. You might discover another effect or another way of putting stuff together. In terms of character, I think we knew where the characters were going and where they might end up. I think probably some of the most interesting characters were people like Marion and Phillip -- it definitely being Phillip's journey. And perhaps Phillip making some decisions that you could read one way or the other. There was a lot that we learned going forward. Probably a lot will come back to me as soon as I put the phone down. It's always that way, isn't it? But what we learned we put to good use, I hope.

Gaining Recognition

AWW: Obviously the Hood series has been very well received. You won the BBC Audio Drama last year for Scribe of Sherwood, and actually I think you picked up a couple, correct?

IM: Last year we actually picked up three awards. We had two from the New York Festival -- which was lovely. I mean all for The Scribe of Sherwood, but it's a matter of pride for us that the actual  series itself has been nominated throughout its run for the BBC Audio Awards. I think we're hoping to introduce the later episodes into the New York Festivals again and see if we can pick up anything. But certainly the BBC -- the Audio Awards just gone, we were nominated for King's Command. It has been well-received, both by critics and people who have been listening to it. We've had some lovely comments and feedback through our website. That's gratifying, and that's why you do it, of course. You want to give people a good story that people can get their teeth into. People do enjoy it. That's brilliant; that's a great feeling.

AWW: As it moves to Radio 4 Extra, I assume that that's a much wider audience than the online only / CD market that it originated in. So, it's about to blossom again.

IM: Well, that's the hope, of course. You're certainly right that there is a larger audience. And if we're lucky and people like it, it may pave the way for more. We deliberately did leave a couple of doors open -- a small window at the back of the house -- that we could get back into the story. But of course, with all these things we'll have to wait and see. But it will get a larger exposure.

From Hood to the Return of Robin ... the Hooded Man

AWW: Well, if you don't have a new script for Hood in the offing, you are kind of two-timing Robin Hood now, aren't you? [Laughs] You're working on the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood's return as an audio drama in The Knights of the Apocalypse.

IM: I'm executive producer of that. Barnaby Eaton-Jones and I have been sort of flirting with each other and chatting ever since we launched Hood. And I think largely because of what we had done with Hood, Barnaby brought the project to us. Which as the recording script in front of me. It has been sent out to the cast already, and it will be going into the studio later on this month. Yeah, we're two-timing it, but there's room for all Robin Hoods I think.

AWW: As executive producer, how does your role differ from the Hood series?

IM: Well, I wasn't writing it for a start, and I wasn't casting it. Our job is to oversee it, but Barnaby is a very talented producer in his own right. So our job is to make everything is going as smoothly as it can be, that everybody has been looked after and that everybody knows where they've got to be. Our job is more logistical support really. It's been an easy ride in the sense that you're not sitting down and writing something from scratch. It's a Richard Carpenter [the later series creator of Robin of Sherwood] script. And you're not having to sit there having to go through thousands of auditions. Not that that's not pleasurable, but sometimes I think everything has its limits. It's been a ride where we've not had to do everything, let's put it like that.

AWW: There must be quite a few logistical challenges as it started as a film or TV script, and while it's been adapted to suit audio I believe it has more characters than the normal audio drama.

IM: There are a lot of characters in it. The beauty about being able to adapt for audio is that, of course, you can have people double up. Although I don't think they've got anybody doubling. Maybe one actor is doubling up roles. But there are certainly more characters than you would normally get in a standard drama, but I think that would always be the case with Robin of Sherwood. Right from the get-go, you've got that very coherent group of Merries and then the sheriff and his cohorts on the other side. So that's a large cast to begin with. But when go into extras like guard on the left, second knight riding with prisoner -- it does mount up. But fortunately, we're not having to cast that. Barnaby is, and what a splendid job he's done so far.

More on Robin of Sherwood

AWW: I think having Freddie Fox as the new Guy of Gisburne, from what I've seen of him, seems like really inspired casting. [While the surviving cast members such Jason Connery and Ray Winstone are returning for the audio drama, Robert Addie, the actor who played Sir Guy on TV, passed away in 2003. As Gisburne has a large role in the script, it was necessary to recast.]

IM: Not only is he an up-and-coming actor, but he's somebody who was instantly spotted and suggested by Nickolas Grace [who played the sheriff in the TV series and will reprise the role on audio]. Of course. when you are having to recast parts that have been made so iconic on TV you do have to think carefully, but Nickolas Grace was bang on the money there. There was quite a bit of excitement through the net when that announcement was made. There again, Barnaby has a good eye and a good ear for these sorts of things, and there is to be another announcement on Monday as well which I think will excite people. It's going to be who is taking the lead role as leader of the Knights of the Apocalypse. Waiting with baited breath for that one to come out.  [The following day Barnaby and Iain had announced that Anthony Stewart Head, well-known for his roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Merlin, has been cast as the leader of the titular knights.]

AWW: I know you would not want to spoil it with any details, but how would you describe the script of Knights of the Apocalypse? What can people expect from it?

IM: I think if you grew up watching Robin of Sherwood and you loved all the elements -- there's sword and sorcery and skullduggery and adventure, good guys going up against the bad guys, the bad guys having a bit of swagger and good lines and quick -- you won't be disappointed. Obviously Richard Carpenter wrote the script. And there was nobody as eloquent for my mind as Richard Carpenter when he was putting a story and a script together, and the beauty of his writing is still there. It's a great adventure in classic Robin of Sherwood territory. I think that everything you would want to be in there is in there. I think people can just look forward to something that will tick all the boxes for fans.

AWW: And where can people order Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse?

IM: Well, if they haven't already gone to the Indiegogo campaign, you can still put your pre-order in. It will be sold on the Spiteful Puppet website, and the proceeds will be going to Richard Carpenter's chosen charity. [Funds will go to The British Red Cross and the Sherwood Forest Trust.] That's where people can find it once it's been released. I'm not sure when the actual release date is, but we're on a fairly tight deadline. It's coming out by summer at the very latest. [I am keeping to historical link to the original crowdfunding campaign in Indiegogo but since its 2016 release it's been available exclusive on the Spiteful Puppet site. - AWW]

The Recording Process

AWW: So, when you get the scripts, do you start working on sound design or is it something you do after the cast has recorded? Both for the Hood series and Robin of Sherwood.

IM: For both of those, in fact for anything that I do sound design on normally, I wait until the cast has recorded. There are ways, I think the BBC still do this occasionally, where they'll create a soundscape and play it in. Frankly we don't have that time, so we get the cast in and they move through the script in a reasonable pace. There's a lot of work that gets done in a day, and people have a lot of fun and have a few laughs along the way. Once you've got the cast and their lines recorded you can start to build the soundscape around them. It's very different the other way. And would need an army, you'd need a very long soundscape and sometimes it's impossible to know how a script will play out. I mean I suppose the golden rule is one page equals about one minute. You know sometimes it doesn't always work out like that. So it's just easier to put it together after the cast has done their lines.

AWW: And when these are recorded, from what I've seen of the pictures, it looks like most of the cast records together in a room in full view of each other into mics. Is that how it works?

IM: Well, that's how it works for us. There are other ways of doing it. I mean you could put them all into small individual booths and have them listen to what the other actors are doing. But we have them in the round inside the Soundhouse. So they can act against each other, and that's the way we do it.

The Appeal of the Robin Hood Legend

AWW: So, what would you say the enduring appeal of the Robin Hood legend is?

IM: I think it's the fact that one level you've got good defeating bad, righting wrongs, but I mean life is tough, isn't it, for everybody. And throughout every age in history there are always people who do things that are perceived as being a bit too greedy. They get their comeuppance. I think that's one half of the enduring appeal. The other half is the jokery. In some of the old ancient ballads you have Robin Hood being quite a cheeky fellow, you know. He's fond of a joke I think all of those combine to make something people can lose themselves in. And it is nice to think that authority isn't always going to have it its own way. I suppose it's a bit of a democracy really. That people who set themselves up a little too high will take a fall. And all of those things make it enduring. Plus it's a good story, isn't it? And at the end of the day we all love a good story.

AWW: I don't think it would have endured for 700 years if it weren't a good story.

IM: It's one of those ones that people constantly go back to. It's funny that it goes in and out of fashion. But it's always there, isn't it? Bubbling away in the background, different interpretations.

AWW: And yet with all the different interpretations, there are still things in the earliest ballads that are in all modern interpretations. It can change wildly, and yet there is a continuity.

IM: Yeah, I think so. In part that may come from when writing it you have to go back and you have to look at source material and, of course, you're imbuing your particular version with an element that comes from the ballads that's always going to be there will seep through. I have to say that actually if as a casual reader you were going to look at the old ballads, they do take some getting used to. It's not the easiest thing in the world to read. Perhaps it's a good thing that writers carry forward, paraphrasing if you like.

AWW: I think the flexible has kept it vibrant, whereas a lot of other medieval legends are trapped in those hard-to-read, old ballads that people don't know today. Most medieval heroic figures would be completely unknown to modern audiences, but Robin Hood and King Arthur are known.


Going big with King's Command

AWW: What would you most like people to know about your productions?

IM: Well, a good romp and if people think they know the legend, then this should hopefully allow them to reform opinions. Maybe ours might be closer to how it actually was. Maybe that's a conceited thing to say. At the end of the day I just think it's a good story.

AWW: You've got a fantastic voice cast.

IM: Well, we couldn't have wished for a better bunch of guys. I think we had about maybe 12 or 13 hundred applicants. We had 600 hundred for Marion alone. We had to listen to everyone. I say listen. We had some people say "this is my picture", even though we had said it was for a radio production. And there were some who said "I would be willing to come to a casting", and again we specifically said "send us a sample of your audios so that we can take it forward." So, I suppose we discounted about three or four hundred people. But once we got that cast, they were absolutely brilliant. They really gelled. I think a few people said that the story gets more epic as it goes along which is lovely to hear. You don't set out to do that, we just wanted to get a good story.

AWW: It does get more epic. For example, in King's Command you bring the story to France, much farther afield than the others.

IM: When I was storylining it, I sat down with Merle [Nygate], our script editor, and I was a bit dubious whether we should do that. I was wavering, but she said "no, no, no. go for it." it's nice to see characters out of their comfort zone. And I think Robin of Sherwood did that, where they took characters out of Sherwood and it still works. And it opened up space for some of the other things we wanted to do.

AWW: King's Command also deals the most with genuine historical aspects with the battle at Mirebeau.

IM: Which I shamefully hijacked, didn't I? That's probably one of King John's only victories. It was just such a good thing to base the whole premise of that adventure on, because it was them in a trap there, and surrounded and Arthur [of Brittany] looking like he might actually succeed in forcing King John's hand, but then King John catching Arthur completely by surprise. It's a very intriguing period of history and it's quite complex as well. I spent a good two weeks just boning up on all the ins and outs, logging the journey that they were going to make. I did take great liberties in the writing because you have to for a journey like that. But it didn't take away from the fact that it was a fascinating episode in history. It's difficult to imagine that King John could have been so inept in war in a way that Richard was absolutely brilliant. John was absolutely hopeless apart from that one little moment where he had a stunning military victory.

On Magna Carta

AWW: It just occurred to me when we were talking about real history that you had another project last year.

IM: Oh, Magna Carta! That's right. What do you want to know about that?

AWW: Well, what was it and how did it come about. I haven't heard it yet. I don't think it's available for download. Is it on your site?

IM: It isn't, and I think we might have to revisit this because we've had a number of people wondering if they could get their hands on it. It was commissioned by Salisbury Cathedral. For the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta they had a big exhibition there which is still running. The Magna Carta was the first kind of Bill of Rights if you like for England. And every law we've had since then is based on Magna Carta. Salisbury has quite a connection with the Magna Carta and how the Magna Carta came to be. So, Salisbury Cathedral, making contact through some mutual friends that we had, commissioned us to write a drama to go alongside it and illustrate their connection and how Salisbury Cathedral was involved in how the Magna Carta came into being. So we did that. It was about 40 minutes and it was written by a young woman called Kelly Dobitz who funny enough is an American, but she is so good with her grasp of British history and she really knew her stuff. She wrote the script. Because it was a fairly rapid commission we used some of the guys who had been in Hood, but we also cast Gareth Thomas who some people make recognize the name from Blake's 7 [the cult British science fiction TV series from 1978 - 81]. We got him to play the lead, the character of Elias de Dereham. And for a limited period it was part and parcel of what the Cathedral were offering on their website. I think it's been taken down, and a number of people have said can we have it, can we buy it? We would have to go back to the Cathedral and see if it's something we could have on our website. With all of these things you get into copyrights and permission, agents. You have to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed.

Looking forward to the future

AWW: Well, I should wrap this up as I would suspect you must have a busy time coming up with the Knights of the Apocalypse and a lot of interest should come from the Radio 4 Extra broadcast.

IM: Well hopefully. The big thing is will they ask us to write some more? I don't know. We'll see. We're entering the final phase of the production we're on -- the Knights of the Apocalypse so that records at the end of this month, and then we work on the sound design and putting it together, getting the artwork. There have been a lot of negotiations. Such as getting the rights to the Clannad theme and image rights. We haven't been idle.

AWW: Does it record in the same studio as Hood?

IM: Yeah, we're using the same studios. We're using the Soundhouse because for my money they're one of the best studios around. They really do give a good result. I'm looking forward to that. In many ways it was the only way it could come back. It's been many years and the actors are ... older and wiser. That would have ramifications for the characters as you would see them on screen, and this particular script is supposed to be set as a direct follow on from the third series. So they have to be in their prime. With a few tweaks audio is good for that. TV and film, less so.

AWW: It will be interesting if it follows on directly from the show. At the end of the third series Marion was in a different place.

IM: She's was in very different place, she was a nun. As to what happens with that, you'll have to buy the audio to find out.

AWW: I'm looking forward to it.

IM: Well, I can't give anything away. Let's put it this way, it's a great story. People will enjoy it. Fans will enjoy it.

AWW: I think anyone who has waited 30 years can wait a few months more.

IM: Well, we'll be going into post-production in March. I know it's terribly frustrating when you have a long wait between having the production days and post. That was always the thing with Hood. "Oh, when's it going to be out?" But I like to think the wait will be worth it. Fans will get that little shiver and the goosebumps. It's lovely to bring that back to people. It's kind of a special thing, isn't it?

AWW: But that's not to sell Hood short. I'd love to hear more tales of Phillip de Nicholay and your take on the characters.

IM: Oh so would we. But is the thing we say in Spiteful Puppet, that there's room for all interpretations of Robin Hood. And there have been so many. And some more recent adaptations owe more to Richard Carpenter than they'd possibly like to admit. With our version [the Hood series] we were very keen not to draw anything from Robin of Sherwood to separate them. I think ours is more historically based and more from the ballads if anything. Although arguably I suppose if you grew up watching Robin of Sherwood and then writing about Robin of Sherwood, maybe in some ways you can't help but be influenced. I think that's part and parcel of what you absorb, like a sponge.

AWW: But then the Robin Hood legend has always absorbed the best versions. That's why it's been able to endure as a legend.

IM: Yes, legends do grow and adapt, and they sometimes have more than their fair share of borrowing.

AWW: So, has Spiteful Puppet got anything else planned for the future?

IM: We do. We're in negotiations for a few different things but we can't say too much about it. There are at least four projects on the table at the moment that we are looking at, and hopefully in the not too distant future we'll get the go-ahead for them.

AWW: I'll leave it there, but thank you very much for your time.

IM: Thank you. It's been a pleasure talking.

[Indeed Spiteful Puppet did get the go-ahead to continue with Robin of Sherwood audios. Below I reach out to Iain in December 2018 to talk about the new adventures.

 AWW: When we last chatted it was Feb. 2016 before even most of Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse had been recorded. Obviously a lot has changed since then, including your departure from Spiteful Puppet in 2017 -- although you've written some of the subsequent releases. What challenges did you have in writing new adventures for the Robin of Sherwood characters?

IM: When you approach writing for Robin of Sherwood, I think the first thing to get over, is the fact that you’re stepping into big shoes. Richard ‘Kip’ Carpenter created a very special version of the Robin Hood legend, and because it’s held so dearly by so many, the second challenge is that you have to get the feel of it, the tone, the dialogue, the interactions between the characters, right. Part and parcel of that is getting the approval of Harriet, Richard’s daughter. She knows her fathers work so well and can spot if something isn’t ‘Robin of Sherwood’.

You’re also writing for actors who know these characters so well because obviously they inhabited them and brought them to life, so if it doesn’t get past them, then it isn’t going anywhere. 

AWW: Which Robin of Sherwood story did you write first? Was it "What Was Lost" - the two-part opener for a fourth series, or one of the enhanced audiobooks set during the programme's history -- "The Ties that Bind" and "The Templars' Promise"?

IM: The first actual script I wrote was "The Templars' Promise”, quickly followed by "The Blood that Binds". I had in mind that the "Templar" script should be a heist with a twist, whilst the ‘Blood’ script I felt offered an opportunity to look at the relationship between Robert and Gisburne, and maybe that it was open to exploitation by a dark force that plays a long game which ultimately leads to the "Apocalypse" and beyond. That then lends itself to having some fun with the Sheriff, and have him play against type. 

‘What was Lost’ was part of the pitching process when Jason expressed a desire to perhaps explore what came after the end of series three. 

AWW: What considerations did you have in writing adventures set after the TV series finale? I don't want to give spoilers, but there was a major plot element in "What Was Lost" that made me mentally exclaim "Oh! They're going there? Wow!"

IM: Ah, series four… The one we all wanted so we could find out what happened next!

The main consideration for me was what one thing would force Marion to come back to Robin. It would have to be something big and also something that felt real.  

Having gone through some quite traumatic break up’s (or so they seemed to me at the time), I wondered about the emotions that Robin and Marion would be going through.  

With Robin… There would definitely have been that lack of closure, a sense that he couldn’t just move on because it’s unfinished business. I thought there would be a sense of anger. Robin would be looking for ways to dull the pain and that might lead to him lashing out, causing relationships to fracture. All of that whilst Marion is protecting a game changing development - not that Robin knows it.

All of this, whilst keeping them apart, was ultimately the thing that would bring them back together. Plus, in tight knit communities, nothing stays secret for long - too many prying eyes and ears listening out, not to mention the possibility of having to save your own skin by selling someone else out… Knowledge being power for some. 

Obviously some people may hate the direction of the story it, but that’s the writers curse isn’t it? 

AWW: Is there anything else you'd like to add about your Robin of Sherwood (and Hood) experiences?

IM: I just have such a love for the Robin Hood legend and it’s been a genuine honour to write for Robin of Sherwood - I hope I get more opportunities, especially to perhaps explore some ideas for what happens in the rest of series four. 

Of course, my own version of the legend, ‘Hood’, the the thing that started the ball rolling and I love those particular versions of the characters, and the people who played them. In a heartbeat, I’d write more for them… They are like my children. 

I deliberately left a couple of threads that could be picked up, and recently, I wrote a short synopsis for Tuck about how he got to be the man we first meet in ‘Noble Secrets’. Also, it was just such a blast producing and directing them.  

 AWW: Besides your work for Spiteful Puppet, I've really enjoyed the sound design you've done for Big Finish on ATA Girl and The Prisoner. What new projects are you working on?

Big Finish are just the loveliest people to work for and what they do is simply amazing, so working on any of their projects is a joy, from Torchwood, or The Martian Invasion of Earth, to ATA Girl and The Prisoner. The latter was my first job and as a huge, long standing fan of the show, it was just a dream job.

Right now, I’m working on the new Lucie Miller/8th Doctor [from Doctor Who] boxset which is out next year and the episodes are brilliant! 

AWW: Thanks again, Iain, for coming back and answering a few more questions. And I'm really looking forward to the return of Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller.

Order audio dramas by Iain Meadows:

Both the Hood series and Robin of Sherwood series of audio dramas can be ordered directly from the Spiteful Puppet website

The digital editions of the Hood audios are also available on Amazon.

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© Text and Location pictures, Copyright 2019 Allen W. Wright - All Rights Reserved
Behind the scenes photos of Hood provided by Iain Meadows and Spiteful Puppet and used with permission.
Behind the scenes photos of the Robin of Sherwood audio dramas are provided by Barnaby Eaton-Jones and the photographer is Kim Jones.
The Robin of Sherwood photos are courtesy Spirit of Sherwood and used with permission
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This page is a part of Robin Hood -- Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood