Good clean fun
Every week another Robin Hood film is completed at Walton-on-Thames. Every week from the same studios comes another rousing adventure built around Sir Lancelot of Round Table fame. A few miles down stream at Twickenham they are turning out episodes of The Buccaneers at the same surprising rate.
Television is giving a new lease of life to the heroes of costume drama. Not only to Robin Hood, Sir Lancelot and Dan Tempest, but also to the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Count of Monte Cristo. Baroness Orczy and Alexandre Dumas would be amazed to see how many new adventures have been built around their immortal characters.
The success of costume drama is phenomenal – and perhaps slightly inexplicable. We know all the basic plots. We know that Sir Percy Blakeney, alias the Scarlet Pimpernel, alias a hundred and one other heavily disguised characters, will never meet his end at the hands of Chauvelin. We know that Robin Hood, in however precarious a position he might be, will never be outsmarted by the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham. We know that the Count of Monte Cristo will always win in the end, and that Dan Tempest will beard the wicked pirates to whose number he once belonged. Yet despite all this knowledge, we sit enthralled by the suspense of each and every episode. The excitement never flags. Could it be that we all visualize ourselves as the hero, out-fighting the villain with long bow, sword or cutlass as may fit our mood of the moment?
Although all the series mentioned are filmed in England, they have a vast viewing public in the United States. They are there serving dual purposes – earning dollars for Britain, and placating American parents who like to see their children watching dramas with a true historical flavour. And of course the parents watch, too, for this is healthy drama … good always overcomes evil … villainy and injustice are undone with unfailing regularity.
Richard Greene’s Robin Hood has certainly endeared him to many millions in all walks of life, and of all ages. This handsome British actor has brought immense charm and gallantry to his interpretation of the hero of Sherwood Forest.
With Maid Marian (Bernadette O’Farrell) Richard recently completed a personal appearance tour of the United States. This tour took the pair right across America, and wherever they went they were mobbed. Richard Greene, who had thought the trip might turn out to be absolute torture, came home beaming.
‘They really loved us, and it’s so good to know that you’re really appreciated,’ he said. ‘Without a live audience you can never tell.’
Alan Wheatley, who plays the Sheriff, also has testimony that his villainy is not wasted on apathetic viewers. Recently he was involved in a near car crash. The other driver got out, looked him up and down and said, ‘What a pity I didn’t run into you. My daughter absolutely loathes you, and if I had smashed your car I’d really have been her hero for life.’
Thirty-six year old Plymouth born actor Richard Greene was only three years of age when he had his first walking-on part. He learned most of his acting with the Brandon Thomas Repertory Company in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
He was twenty-two and earning eight pounds a week when one of Daryl Zanuck’s talent scouts saw him and he was flown to Hollywood to co-star with Loretta Young in his first picture.
A long and distinguished film career followed, broken only by service with the Army, from which he was discharged as a lieutenant in 1944.
Robin Hood is his first television series, although he starred in many live drama productions in America. In off-duty hours you will often find ‘Robin Hood’ sailing his yacht at Cowes with the same enthusiasm as he displays in being a landlubber on the set.
Bernadette O’Farrell was born twenty-nine years ago in Co. Offaly in Erin’s Isle. After giving up ballet she went to work in a solicitor’s office. A series of introductions led her, via Sir Carol Reed, to Frank Launder and Sydney Gilliat. They gave her a small part in a film, Captain Boycott. As a result of this she was offered a Rank contract, which she courageously refused, and instead went into repertory. Then followed a television play for the BBC, and back to films with the Launder-Gilliat partnership. One of her most important parts was in the film Gilbert and Sullivan, but the connection with this production team has paid even bigger dividends, for Bernadette is now Mrs. Frank Launder.
The lead in The Buccaneers is played by twenty-nine year old Robert Shaw, now under a seven-year contract to the makers of the series. Bob plays the part of the swashbuckling Captain Dan Tempest, pirate turned King’s man.
Robert Shaw is well suited to this athletic part. He has played rugby for the Wasps, one of London’s top rugger clubs; his school quarter-mile record still stands; he is an expert swordsman and a great squash enthusiast.
But quite apart from his athletic prowess, Shaw is a very fine actor. He stepped straight into his Buccaneers role from the London Old Vic Company, where he played in many Shakespearian dramas, including King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Merchant of Venice. His prowess in this field took him to Stratford Memorial Theatre, where he played during the annual Shakespeare festivals. His first film role was as Richard Todd’s sergeant pilot friend in The Dam Busters.
Off stage, Bob writes as well. His first play, Off the Mainland, has had a West End run, and his second, Retreat, is also expected to see the light of London’s theatre land.
Robert Shaw is the eldest of a family of five. His father is a doctor. Born on August 9th, 1927, he was educated at Truro in Cornwall. At the Old Vic School he met Jennifer Bauke who has since become his wife.
An early sword fight while he was filming The Buccaneers resulted in Bob’s over-enthusiastic opponent running him through the left hand. However, he is generally considered as tough as the character he portrays and well able to look after himself. While filming in Devonshire early in 1955 Robert was challenged by fellow actor Donald Houston to swim the tricky ship-filled Fowey harbour. It was three o’clock in the morning. At four o’clock Bob was safely in bed, having won his middle of the night wager.
The stories which make up The Adventures of Sir Lancelot are, historically, the oldest of all the cloak and dagger series shown on Associated Television. The two leading parts of Sir Lancelot and King Arthur are played by William Russell and Ronald Leigh-Hunt.
Sir Lancelot’s adventures have been the subject of some of the most beautiful epic poems in the English language. The sword Excalibur, which plays a prominent role, is of course an integral part of English legendary history. So are the damsels in distress, which are admirably adaptable from literary form to television screen, and which are constantly engaging the chivalrous Lancelot’s attentions.
A visit to Nettlefold Studios will reveal a wonderfully reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village with huts, sheep, goats and costumes transporting one into a world of pre-Norman Conquest days – a world which film-makers rarely tread. Location scenes for these particular films have to be shot in Kent, where the company requisitioned Allington Castle. Allington is a fitting site for such activity since its long history has included settlement by Ancient Britons, Romans and Saxons.
From pre-Norman times, a hasty leap of eight centuries takes us into the times of Sir Percy Blakeney, central figure of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Marius Goring who plays the title role has regularly astonished viewers with the variety of his disguises. A Parisian woman flower seller one moment, he will turn up seconds later as a Chinese decorator, only to reappear at court after a ‘fade-out’ dressed in all the foppery that marked the days when George the Third ruled England in heart when not in mind.
Goring entered into the role with immense enthusiasm. ‘I enjoyed playing the Pimpernel,’ he says. ‘He embodies everyone’s ideal of a hero; a man who, for no personal gain, risked his life for the innocent. It’s a strange thought that his antagonists were the people who shouted, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!”’
George Dolenz flings himself into The Count of Monte Cristo with equal zest. George is an American citizen by naturalization. He was born in Trieste, and after several years of not knowing whether he was Italian or Slav he emigrated to South America before settling down in California. A regular screen performer since his arrival in the States, George now has a son in the same line of business. The son, following his father’s footsteps, has recently starred in an American tv series called Circus Boy. They exchanged letters from studios an ocean apart. For while Dolenz Junior worked in Hollywood, father spent several months in England filming the Monte Cristo series at Elstree.
So the months go by, and with them our heroes progress from strength to strength. Like the stirring tales from which they take their being, it looks as though their popularity need never fear a decline, for as long as heroes and hero-worship exist there will be room for Robin Hood, Dan Tempest, Sir Lancelot and Sir Percy on the screens of British television.