Meeting Up With a Merry Man
By Priyangwada Perera
“What are these sticks and poles? Are you collecting firewood under your bed?” that was my mother, when I was a child. “Oh dear, don’t touch them, don’t throw them away. They are my bow and arrows and pole. Leave them!” I would run to protect my treasure, yelling. She called it ‘garbage’ because she was the one cleaning but nevertheless tolerated the lunacy.
This was not just me, but all Sri Lankan children of my age. There was one big reason and that was Robin Hood. Way back in the 80s, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) delivered home the biggest dream on earth. Created by the genius Richard Carpenter, a HTV production in association with Goldcrest, the show ran in England from 28 April 1984 to 28 June 1986 on ITV network.
Luckily, Sri Lanka brought it to our audience, not too long after it was telecast in England. Robin of Sherwood was embraced by young and old alike. For those of us who watched Carpenter’s masterpiece, any other version of Robin Hood is nothing but garbage. It is not just fierce loyalty of fans but some deep emotion this television series has created.
The original series was shot before I was born but to this day, even after ground-breaking revolutions in technology and cinematography, that age-old Robin of Sherwood still reigns. It is no joke to have been described by the famous professorial fellow of literature, Stephen Knight, that Robin of Sherwood is, “The most innovative and influential version of the myth in recent times.”
Saracen outlaw – Nasir
It was a rare treat to have had the opportunity to interview none other than the great Nasir, played by Mark Ryan. His character is unforgettable. He was the Saracen outlaw among the men of Robin Hood. Nasir Malik Kemal Inal Ibrahim Shams ad-Dulla Wattaab ibn Mahmud, stood 5 feet 10 inches tall with a crop of curly black hair. In a studded leather jerkin, wielding two scimitars, he stole our hearts. The same Nasir or Mark Ryan joined us for an exclusive Skype interview.
Nasir was quite the different man among the merry men. Feeling Nasir to be the most ‘quiet man,’ I could not help but ask how hard it was, being predominantly a man of action and emotion rather than dialogue. Ryan had an interesting story to tell. Initially he joined the production as the character Edmond the Archer, whom Carpenter planned to have killed by Robin Hood. However, Ryan was recognised and liked by the cast and crew alike during the filming of that one episode that they decided to make him a regular character. “Richard told me that ‘We’ve got you.
But we do not have dialogues for you.’ That did not bother me. I was ready. I said, ‘Give it to me.’ I had read all three volumes of A History of the Crusades by Steven Runciman and I was well-informed. Incorporating me into the merry men, they had to rewrite my character. That is why I had less dialogue.” For Ryan, real Sherwood was almost home. Born in Doncaster, England, Ryan lived a little away from the actual Sherwood Forest. “As a child, I used to go to Sherwood Forest with my entire family. We have family photographs of us there. I used to play under the Major Oak, the tree that comes in Robin Hood,” Ryan reminisced.
However, the series was shot somewhere on the boundary of Bristol and Wales because there were many 12th century-looking buildings. It was yet more wonderful to hear that even as a child he grew up with swords. He has had his bow and arrows since he was a child of four. “I come from a British Army family. So, swords were something I was comfortable with. But what I had were two Katana swords – small Japanese swords. Being a Sword Master, I had done a lot of work with stuntmen as well.
For Robin Hood I had some special training. But unlike now, most of us used to do our own stunts. That is dangerous and is not allowed now,” he recalled the good old days. “Furthermore, we used real blades and hilt sets on swords,” he said. He still has his swords. Ryan is also a licensed private investigator.
In the Transformers franchise, he voiced Bumblebee, Jetfire, and Lockdown. Voicing for Lockdown in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Ryan was nominated for the Best Vocal Performance in a Supporting Role in a Feature Film by Behind the Voice Actors. He is also a critically acclaimed author and journalist, action director as well as a singer. There is no end to his expertise.
Merry men – friends for life
Ryan said the Robin Hood actors are bonded for life. “We would start at six in the morning and go on the whole day. We were a family. You become dependent on each other. When Michael Praed or Robin of Loxley suddenly announced he was leaving for Broadway it was a shock. We were shattered.” All I could think of was that ache we still feel when thinking of that horrible episode where Robin is killed. Some of us never wanted to like the new Robert of Huntingdon taking over as Robin Hood. Imagine how it would be for them, being left in a void.
“Jason Connery walked into a very closely-knit group of us. He had to replace Praed who was a great actor. Imagine how it would have been for Judy Trott, Lady Marion. But, Jason took up the challenge and we blended in. The entire series was in transition. Yet, it was a ground-breaking transition in British Television that succeeded. The audience continued to embrace the story,” he said.
Best all-time villains
Just as we are completely in love with the merry men, Robin of Sherwood is incomplete without its most hated villains. Ryan said it definitely had the most brilliant bad guys. From the Sheriff of Nottingham, Guy of Gisburne, Baron Simon de Belleme, and my most hated and feared Gulnar, the series starred Nickolas Grace, Robert Addie, Anthony Valentine, and Richard O’Brien. “O’Brien, who played Gulnar is also the writer of the famous Rocky Horror Show,” he said.
This is where Ryan made a special mention of the brilliance of their Casting Directors Beth and Esta Charkham. That unforgettable aura Robin of Sherwood creates; a misty, dreamy, fairy tale type of memory refuses to disappear. The soundtrack by the Irish band Clannad, went on to be awarded for their music score.
The music of Robin of Sherwood is unforgettable and makes us nostalgic even today. Ryan knew they had Robin of Sherwood lovers in Sri Lanka but he was not fully aware of the intensity of that love. In return he wanted to extend all his love to the Sri Lankan fans of the show. Since the merry men are very much in touch Ryan also promised to let the rest of the cast know of this outpouring of love and fan following from Sri Lanka, particularly for both Robins. (Pix courtesy Nothing’s Forgotten Forum, Spirit of Sherwood: The Official Robin of Sherwood Fanclub, HTV, and Richard Carpenter)