Maid Marian and Her Merry Men
The Complete Series One

Starring: Kate Lonergan, Wayne Morris, Tony Robinson and Danny John-Jules
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: U
Available 20 March 2006

It's a little known fact that Robin Hood was a complete wimp who took all the credit for the grit in Maid Marian's guts. It was, in fact, she who assembled and fought oppression with a bunch of prats known as the Merry Men - a dwarf called Little Ron, a Rastafarian, an ugly dolt by the name of Rabies and a yuppie called Robin of Kensington. Doing incredibly brave things like piercing their ears and rescuing tadpoles, Marian and her men combat the cruelty of a mad, bad king called John and his villainous Sheriff of Nottingham...

If you delve through the vast Archives of British children's television, you would be hard pushed to find any other show in the last 50 years, that caught the imagination of both children and adults alike, in quite the same way as Maid Marian and Her Merry Men.

Tony Robinson's historical comedy, which ran to four hugely successful and award-winning series, was a truly unique triumph of children's broadcasting that defied its time slot, and pulled in the grown-ups as much as the kids.

This 2-disc set comprises all six episodes of the original series from 1989, and it's almost criminal that's it taken this long to finally arrive on DVD (in fact, the later series were never even released on VHS - fortunately, we are promised their arrival on DVD later in the year.)

Tony Robinson's scripts put a new comedy twist on the legend of Robin Hood by having Maid Marian depicted as the real leader of the Merry Men, whilst Robin Hood himself is a pretty useless and wet ex-Tailor, who accidentally becomes recognised as the most feared and respected member of the gang, despite his total incompetence.

These six episodes chronicle the ongoing conflict between Maid Marian's freedom-fighting gang, and the villainous King John's right-hand man, The Sheriff of Nottingham. As well as creating and writing the series, Tony Robinson also gives us his best comedy performance ever as the devious Sheriff, as he brings infinitely more character and wit to this role than he was ever allowed to as Baldrick in Blackadder.

In fact, many comparisons can be drawn between Blackadder and Maid Marian. Both shows mine a similar comedy source - not just the obvious historical trappings, but also many of the comedy situations derived from the set-up - a wily, cunning servant (Sheriff of Nottingham/Blackadder) working for a thoroughly inept and ignorant Monarch (King John/Queenie). You could almost go as far as to say that Maid Marion is a children's version of that classic show, without the willy jokes.

This first series was the one that stayed most true to it's historical concept, and every episode is a cracker (later seasons, whilst still brilliantly funny, would go off on a bit of a tangent as the show's makers became more aware of it's growing adult audience, and the legend of Robin Hood would begin to play second fiddle to satire and surrealism.) Special mentions must go to A Game Called John, in which the Merry Men acquire their legendary uniforms from an unexpected source, and the sixth episode The Whitish Knight which pokes fun at ITV's Robin of Sherwood with a brilliant spoof of the cheesy Clannad soundtrack.

Throughout all six episodes, Robinson's sparkling scripts are perfectly complemented by a superb cast. Forbes Collins is wonderful as the bad-tempered and deliciously childish King John, and Red Dwarf's Danny John-Jules is ideal as the rasta merry man Barrington, who also acts as a rapping narrator for the show. The real scene-stealers though are Mark Billingham and David Lloyd as Gary and Graeme, the King's bumbling guards. Supposedly vicious and ruthless trained killers, they are actually terribly nice but dim blokes and provide much of the humour in these terrific discs.

The discs themselves are nicely presented with limited, but very welcome, special features. Clearly these are aimed at children and probably won't overexcite the mature viewer (a karaoke feature, a quiz, you even get a nice mini-comic in the packaging) but maybe that's exactly how it should be. It's all too easy to forget this is a children's show after all. The only real disappointment is that there is one commentary soundtrack for the first episode only, provided by Tony Robinson. It would have been nice to hear contributions from some of the other cast members, and it's baffling to see why Robinson didn't provide commentary on all six episodes as he clearly has a deep love and affection for his wonderful creation.

In conclusion though, these are six enchanting examples of children's television that stand on their own merits, and if there's any justice in this world, they will sell like hot cakes and ensure we get the later series on DVD sooner rather than later.

Danny Salter

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