Richard "Kip" Carpenter was the main writer and creator of Robin of Sherwood, the 1980s British television series that added Herne the Hunter and an Arab Merry Man to the legend of Robin Hood. (The series also featured his wife Annabelle Lee in the a guest role.) He has created other popular fantasy series such as Catweazle, and has written scripts for many other shows, movies and books (some based off Robin of Sherwood).
He also wrote a television series based on real-life Yorkshire outlaw Dick Turpin. Two later shows included his 1990s series Out of Sight, which earned him a Writers Guild of Great Britain award, and Scarlet Pimpernel TV movies starring Richard E. Grant which were shown on A&E in the US.
Richard Carpenter passed away on February 26, 2012. But nothing's forgotten. Richard Carpenter wrote a reunion movie script was adapted as a special audio drama starring the original cast -- Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse -- with proceeds going to The Sherwood Forest Trust and the British Red Cross.
I'd like to thank Christine Haire Alexander of Spirit of Sherwood for arranging this interview and for the use of several pictures.
This interview was conducted in e-mail conversations during February 1998.
AWW: How did you come to create Robin of Sherwood?
RC: My partners were looking around for a family viewing subject to exploit and Sidney Cole suggested Robin Hood as he had been one of the executives behind the Richard Greene Robin Hood [The Adventures of Robin Hood TV series] which was shot in black and white thirty years before and was still being shown in America. We felt that a new approach was needed.
AWW: What was your first exposure to the Robin Hood legend?
RC: I had a very nice Robin Hood book when I was eight with lots of pictures. Funnily enough I can still remember that the book had a peculiar smell - not unpleasant - in fact quite like dried flowers.
AWW: What were some of your influences in creating Robin of Sherwood?
RC: The games I played as a child . The English woodland. The Errol Flynn movie.
AWW: Why did you incorporate mystic elements like Herne into the series?
RC: Robin Hood is one of the few perennial legends with no magic in it. There is a fragment of a ballad called Robin Hood and the witch I believe - but tantalisingly breaks off after a stanza. The Middle Ages were extremely superstitious and much remained of the old pre-christian fertility and tree worship religions. You must remember that the country was largely based on agriculture: and the crops and the turning year were extremely important to everyone. Vestiges of this still remain throughout Europe. Although the Mother Goddess was supreme - the male principle was considered equally important. The question is whether Herne is a shaman or if he - like shamans do - ‘becomes’ the god at certain times after practising certain rituals.
AWW: How did the character of Nasir, the Arab Merry Man, come about?
RC: By accident. I had created a character who was an arab servant of Belleme (the evil sorcerer in the pilot). A man he had brought back from the Crusades which were having a huge cultural influence on Europe. In the first episode this man attempts to kill Robin and is killed by Little John. It was decided that Mark Ryan would survive the fight and befriend Robin and - because he hated Belleme - would join the band - provided he remained almost silent throughout the series.
AWW: Why did you make Will Scarlet so angry and rebellious?
RC: I think if you'd seen your wife raped and then trampled under the hooves of the rapists' horses you'd be angry and rebellious.
AWW: How did you come up with the idea of there being two Robin Hoods?
RC: Again this was very much a question of necessity. Michael left the show to play D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers on Broadway and we need a new Robin or the series would come to an end. So I revived the sixteenth century idea that Robin Hood was the son of the Earl of Huntingdon. And created the idea that Robin Hood was a kind of title - which it probably was anyway.
AWW: Could you please explain briefly how you saw all the merry men, and the sheriff and Gisburne? (Including a comparison of the two Robins.)
Robin - a young man who believed in freedom to take deer for food and suddenly having his destiny thrust upon him. Aware of his extra sensory perceptions and finally certain that what he represented was the truth.
Robert of Huntingdon. Gets called by Herne - fights against it and then accepts it - and of course falls in love with Marion. Despite his privileged upbringing he has a sense of injustice.
Scarlet - a rough ex-soldier - slightly crazy - and out for revenge.
Much - a gentle slightly simple young lad.
Little John absolutely loyal to Robin and a sort of early socialist.
Tuck, devoted to Marion but believing that Jesus was right when he said ‘In my Fathers house there are many mansions.’ Tolerant and balanced.
Nasir - a loner but loyal. Ruthless in combat and not given to long speeches! A Muslim and a prince in his own country.
Marion. Gentle and deeply in love. Compassionate and loyal.
Gisburne. A fascist. Intolerant, cruel, unimaginative and arrogant. A soldier.
The Sheriff. Devious, a politician. Witty, amusing and cynical.
AWW: Why did you make Gisburne the second Robin's half-brother?
RC: I was at a party and the only two blondes in the room were Robert Addie and Jason Connery. I suddenly thought - those two could be brothers and the idea was born. It helps to explain why Robin - who knows - doesn't kill him.
AWW: What are some of your favourite episodes and why?
RC: The first double episode ["Robin Hood and the Sorcerer"] because it established everyone and used the silver arrow in a new way. The King Richard episode, - oh I really can't remember after all this time. ["The King's Fool"] But generally the first series episodes were among my favourites.
AWW: You incorporated a lot of real history in the series, particularly in the King Richard episode. What do you think the importance of history in such a series is?
RC: It gives the story an authentic background and helps to make it more believable.
AWW: And one question a friend asked me to ask, although it was on my mind too... Why did you make such huge leaps in the shows time period? (Early 1190's in the first series, end of the 1190's in the second, 1209-1211 in the second?) Also, I have an old Robin Hood book by Henry Gilbert. One of the bad guys in it is Sir Isenbart de Baleme. Was Simon de Belleme a reference to this character? [Isenbart later appeared in E. Charles Vivian's early 20th century Robin Hood novel as well. And that novel has other names which were recycled in RoS. - AWW]
RC: I was not writing a history lesson. Dates are unimportant in a fantasy. Robin Hood is a fantasy. He never existed. Funnily enough Belleme did which was why both Henry Gilbert and I used the name.
AWW: What do contributions do you think Robin of Sherwood has made to the Robin Hood legends?
RC: Chiefly by introducing a mystic element and making the characters younger and tougher and questioning the decisions made by Robin.
AWW: Why did you make the outlaws so young?
RC: Because rebels generally are young. There is something faintly sad if not ridiculous about an old rebel.
AWW: Robin of Sherwood has a strong fan following after 15 years. Why do you think this is? And what do you think about the fans?
RC: I think - because so many ends were left untied when the series was cancelled - it provided the fans with a what happened next element which is always intriguing. Many fans have used Robin of Sherwood very creatively with stories poems costumes and art-work. Robin Hood lends itself to this kind of follow-up.
I welcome the fans and have made many of them my friends. The Robin of Sherwood fandom is generally intelligent and imaginative.
AWW: Could you please list some of the most positive experiences in working on Robin of Sherwood?
RC: Not really. It was just a very happy time working with a very talented and enthusiastic bunch of guys. They all worked extremely hard. They played extremely hard too - but I won't go into that!!
AWW: Could you please list some of the elements that came out better than you expected? And some ones that did not work out the way you intended?
RC: I think Gisburne and the Sheriff worked particularly well together. I would have like to have built up the Marion / Robin relationship but in this country we had a five thirty slot and so the romance - or rather the sexual element in the romance - had to be cut right down.
AWW: I'm told you wanted to do a fourth series of Robin of Sherwood. What things would have happened in that series?
RC: As I've said earlier, we assumed we were to do a fourth series and many loose ends would have been resolved. Gisburne would have discovered that he was Robin's half brother - there would have been more dissension within the band. It is possible the Sheriff would have been replaced and Much murdered. Who knows?
AWW: Why was the show ended prematurely?
RC: Television politics.
AWW: Could you please give some information on your proposed Robin of Sherwood movie?
RC: As it is never likely to happen I don't see the point. The story is quite complicated but contains all the usual elements.
[18 years after this interview took place -- and years after Richard Carpenter's death -- that Robin of Sherwood movie script was adapted into an audio drama Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse, starring the original TV cast.]
AWW: I read once that you were working on doing a Bronze Age Arthurian series. What became of this?
RC: Nothing so far but I haven't given up.
AWW: What projects are you currently working on?
RC: At the moment I have two projects. Three feature length scripts for the BBC based very loosely on The Scarlet Pimpernel books by the Baroness Orczy - due to start shooting in a month's time. [This series starred Richard E. Grant.] And the third series of Out of Sight - a series about an invisible boy which won the Writers Guild of Great Britain award last year- also due to start shooting in April.
AWW: Why do you think the legend of Robin Hood has endured for so long?
RC: It has elements of anarchy in it which I think everyone finds appealing. It is romantic and swashbuckling. Robin shares a dare-devil cheek with characters like Till Eilenspiegel. He is an archetype of the man fighting against injustice and that makes him immortal.
AWW: Would you like to do more Robin Hood stories at some point?
RC: No. A writer must always move on.
AWW: Is there anything you would like to add?
RC: Only that I amazed that there are still people watching a series made so long ago! Thank you for your interest and I hope the answers make sense and help to illuminate my approach to the subject.
AWW: Once again, thanks for taking time out to answer my questions. Oh, and in case I haven't said it before, I really like your version of the legend a lot. Thank you for creating such a wonderful show.
RC: Thank you for your kind words about the show. It was a team effort and I was a privileged part of that team.
Mark Richard Carpenter's abandoned Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse movie script was adapted into an audio drama by Spiteful Puppet. It stars the original TV cast, including Jason Connery, Judi Trott and Ray Winstone.
It can be ordered on the Spiteful Puppet website.
Robin of Sherwood starring Michael Praed and Jason Connery (known as Robin Hood in North America). This 1980s British series is one of the most innovative filmed versions of Robin Hood ever. Robin of Loxley serves Herne the Hunter, a forest god, until he is killed in battle and replaced by Robert of Huntingdon. Great cast, wonderful writing, and a haunting Celtic soundtrack by Clannad. This series influenced many later versions of the Robin Hood legend. It also introduced the concept of an Arab Merry Man. Highly recommended.
Europe, Network Video has released the series on DVD in the UK. In 2007, Acorn Media released the series for Region 1, North America with nearly all the same special features as the UK versions. In 2011 and 2012, Network and Acorn released the series on Blu-Ray.
Robin of Sherwood: Set One. This North American release contains all the Michael Praed episodes and most of the special features found on the European releases.
Buy Robin of Sherwood: Set One on Amazon.com (region 1, NTSC)
Robin of Sherwood: Set Two. This North American release contains all the Jason Connery episodes and most of the special features found on the European releases.
Robin of Sherwood: Set Two on Amazon.com (Region 1, NTSC)
Robin of Sherwood: The Complete Collection. This North American release contains all the Michael Praed and Jason Connery episodes and most of the special features found on the European releases.
Buy Robin of Sherwood: The Complete Collection DVD on Amazon.com (Region 1, NTSC)
Robin of Sherwood Blu-Ray: Set 1. In 2011, Acorn released the Michael Praed episodes on North American Blu-Ray. Although the picture is intentionally grainy at times, the quality is superior to the DVD. It shares the same special features of the earlier release and also includes new featurettes with Philip (Abbot Hugo) Jackson, George (Richard of Leaford) Baker and director Robert Young, and also PDF files such as Carpenter's early outline for the series.
Buy Robin of Sherwood Set One, Blu-Ray on Amazon.com (Region A, NTSC)
Robin of Sherwood Blu-Ray: Set 2. In Feb. 2012, Acorn released the third season (the Jason Connery episodes) on Blu-Ray.
Buy Robin of Sherwood, Set 2 Blu-ray on Amaon.com (Region 1, NTSC)
of Sherwood on PAL-format DVD or Blu-Ray (Not Playable on most North American
players) on Amazon.co.uk. The DVDs include special features like documentaries, blooper reels and commentary tracks with the writers, directors and (on episodes from the 3rd series) cast.
Robin of Sherwood - The Complete Series DVD (All episodes, PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin of Sherwood: Complete Series 1 DVD (PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin Of Sherwood - The Complete Series 2 PAL DVD on Amazon.co.uk
Robin Of Sherwood - Series 3 - Part 1 - Episodes 1 To 6 DVD (PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin Of Sherwood - Series 3 - Part 2 - Episodes 7 To 13 DVD (PAL) on Amazon.co.uk
Robin of Sherwood - Michael Praed [Blu-ray] [PAL] on Amazon.co.uk
Robin of Sherwood: Jason Connery - [Network] - [ITV] - [Blu-ray] [UK, PAL, Region Free] on Amazon.co.uk
All the Richard Carpenter episodes of Robin of Sherwood were adapted in four books from Puffin Books. Carpenter himself wrote the first and final novelizations. They also appeared in an omnibus edition. You can find used copies at online booksellers.
Richard Carpenter wrote the first series of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the 1990s TV adaptation of Baroness Orczy's novel starring Richard E. Grant.
Buy The Scarlet Pimpernel [Region 1, US] DVD Boxed Set on Amazon.com
Buy The Scarlet Pimpernel - The Complete First Series One [Region 2, PAL DVD] on Amazon.co.uk
Many of Richard Carpenter's other TV series are only available on DVD in the United Kingdom. They may not play on North American players.
Catweazle starring Geoffrey Bayldon features an 11th-century wizard transported to the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Buy Catweazle: The Complete Series [DVD] (UK, PAL format) on Amazon.co.uk
Dick Turpin featuring Richard O'Sullivan follows the fictional exploits of England's most famous highwayman.
Buy Dick Turpin: The Complete Series [Region 2, PAL DVD] on Amazon.co.uk
In The Ghosts of Motley Hall chaos reigns when a house is haunted by five ghosts, each from a different era.
Buy The Ghosts Of Motley Hall [Region 2, PAL DVD] on Amazon.co.uk