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...
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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