Interview - Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse

Robin of sherwood poster

We love audio dramas. We love Robin of Sherwood. We even love our own Barnaby Eaton-Jones! So, after news leaked last week of the return of Robin of Sherwood in audio form, co-produced by none other than Barnaby himself, Steve Taylor-Bryant cornered him by the filing cabinets with a longbow...

We know your beautiful beard and dulcet tones from our plush offices here at /G-f but, for those who don't know you intimately, "Who is Barnaby Eaton-Jones?"

A mysterious enigma of a creative whirlwind, who can't stand still long enough to concentrate on one career. Or a lucky chancer. Nobody is quite sure which.

When did the love affair with Robin of Sherwood start for you? Mine began with the advert on HTV just before episode 1 aired.

You know what, I remember it as a youngster but in the same way as I remember a lot of children's action/adventure shows back then (Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, etc). I loved it, I made longbows, I was a little bit scared of Ray Winstone and wanted to have blonde hair like Jason Connery. I bought 'Look-In' (a kids TV magazine, if you're not in the UK) and loved the comic strip within; if you aren't aware of his work, Google Mike Noble – he was the artist and he's absolutely brilliant. But, when I really became immersed in it was when I was commissioned to provide the evening entertainment for a Robin of Sherwood convention called 'Legend' in 2004. I thought I'd do a Reduced Shakespeare Company-like play, squashing all three series into an hour and a half of frantic parody. To do this, I had to re-watch the entire series, know the background and history (for the in-jokes), and really fell in love with it as an adult again. It is spectacularly good and very mature, with Pagan themes running throughout. It's certainly not aimed directly at children, which was the brilliance of writer/creator Richard 'Kip' Carpenter, and it's what it is: a glorious re-telling of the legend (using both of the main legends, one of Robin being an ordinary villager, the other of him coming from aristocratic blood) which has probably become the definitive version and certainly the one where any other re-telling that came afterwards tries to copy. The mood, the music, the attitude, the alchemy of a cast and crew working in harmony and that indefinable magic that captures your imagination and doesn't let go – it's all there in a series that, crucially, doesn't really age because it's set in the past. Plus, at the convention where my theatre troupe performed the full-length parody ('Robbin' The Legend), Nickolas Grace laughed at my jokes. That cemented my love. His Sheriff of Nottingham is the touchstone of every other Sheriff since his wide-eyed, sarcastic and explosive portrayal.

Most people grow out of particular fandom as they mature, the rest of us become bloggers so we never have to shut up about our favourite things, but you've always gone a step further. Talk to us about the exciting audio news released this week and your involvement?

It hasn't been an easy road and, as my co-producer Simon Barnard will also admit, at times it's been like trying to get out of the Sheriff's dungeon using a dead rat to pick the lock. But, Richard 'Kip' Carpenter was approached as far back as 2010 and then rights issues had to be sorted. Sadly, Kip passed away unexpectedly in 2012, which made it more of a mission to honour him and his family – especially his daughter – have been instrumental in supporting this venture. We lucked into the script by a happy accident when a lady called Rowena Sayer asked – as I ran the most recent convention for the show – if I'd be able to pass it back to Kip's estate, because she knew she had the original copy that Kip had auctioned off for charity (with his pencil annontations all over it, as it was typed way back in 1989). 'The Knights Of The Apocalypse' is a somewhat famed script within fandom, as it was written as a coda to the last series, which would have been a two-part special or a feature-length movie. It's big, bold and epic. It really is a grand tale and, when I first read it, I could see it playing out in my mind. It's so well-written that, oddly, you feel like you've watched it; but then again it's from the pen of the man who created and wrote the majority of the series, so it's got that style and panache and excitement that he's able to bring to the page. With Kip's daughter's blessing, and making sure this production is a charitable one (to benefit Kip's chosen charities – The Sherwood Forest Trust and The British Red Cross), we finally signed off on this one-off with ITV via Simon Barnard's audio company Bafflegab.

Very soon, we'll have a page on Indiegogo live, as this production will go ahead initially – like the recent and rather brilliant 'Thunderbirds 1965' one, which has had so much love from the fans – by the medium of crowdfunding. So, really, it's the fans that wanted the revival to happen that will be responsible for making it happen! You'll be able to buy the CD via here, with perks available depending on how much you donate. We promise that there will be some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to invest in.

I would imagine gathering a cast that have dispersed over time to different successful ventures was a Herculean task, or were they all as up for it as you?

I'm sure you'll be surprised to know that getting the merry band back together was actually the easiest part. Very fortunately, I was in touch with a fair few because of the Robin of Sherwood conventions and, because they're all still good friends with each other, it was easy to get in touch with the rest. Because it was Kip's script, and due to their love for him, they all agreed straight away. That was especially gratifying, as this is a charitable production where we can't pay normal fees, so they are simply coming back because of their faith in Kip and his writing and their love for the original show.

Original cast

How do you go about being professional, dedicated, and keeping Richard Carpenter's original TV based idea whilst completely changing the medium from visual to audio, and why was audio the medium to choose for this?

You know, that was a difficult consideration. Kip's script is visual and a big part of the show's appeal was how it was directed and the way it looked in terms of costumes and design and locations. However, we approached John Dorney (Best Scribe Award winner for 2015, no less), who seems to have a knack at adapting original and visual scripts and making them work beautifully on audio (check out his work for Big Finish, especially his adaptations for 'The Avengers' series). As a fan of Robin of Sherwood himself, he jumped at the chance and is busy creating his adaptation whilst staying true to Kip's words and vision. Obviously, an audio production – although not cheap – is always going to be an easier proposition than a television production. But, with this script being set straight after Series Three, the intervening years were also a factor. Voices, as a rule, don't age as much as looks! Mind you, Judi Trott (Maid Marian) doesn't age AT ALL, apparently.

We are huge supporters of audiobooks and full cast adventures here at /G-f but are aware we live in a privileged bubble. Do you think audio is as strong as ever? What more can we do to push the medium?

I think audio fights for attention in a way that it never used to, when radio was a staple of every household. But, I don't think it's ever faded. There's an intimacy and an imagination that you can't get from any other creative outlet. For example, the content that Big Finish provided when 'Doctor Who' was off the air provided sustenance for older fans and also bought in new fans too, so when the arrival of the new series begain in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston, the BBC – in its infinite wisdom – didn't stop the licence and Big Finish continues to provide new and exciting content to this day. Perhaps audio adventures which already have a fanbase, like Doctor Who, are the easier sells? I don't know honestly know. As an avid Radio 4 listener (Toby Hadoke's 'The Dad Who Fell To Earth' being a recent highlight), I love the way audio draws you in and no two listener's have the same experience. I'm currently trying to produce, alongside famed audio legend Dirk Maggs, a stage show of 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again' (a madcap comedy series, with The Goodies and John Cleese as regulars) and it's fascinating to create that 'live' radio recording for an audience which has to be like you're there for a live recording of the show in question but also bring in an added element of it being a show to watch too. To bring that added visual dimension to a radio series is difficult and there's a way of performing for radio which really stretches an actor more than being able to use physicality to portray emotions and feelings. I think audio, as a medium, is a real discipline and to do it well takes proper talent. That's why I take my hat off my to co-producer, Simon Barnard, as his Bafflegab company keep producing high-quality and award-winning audio work that possibly wouldn't work as well in a visual context.

As well as the audio you also plan and run the Hooded Man convention. How did this come about?

That was basically because the 30th anniversary of Robin Of Sherwood loomed large and nobody seemed to be in a place to celebrate it. The last convention was in 2008 and I'd been actively told to avoid trying to put something on as I wouldn't (a) get the fans to come along, and (b) get the cast or crew to attend. For me, that sort of negativity makes me want to do it more. So, having provided entertainment for 'Doctor Who' and 'Robin of Sherwood' conventions, I vaguely knew how these things ran but I wanted to do my own version. In the end, we sold out a year in advance and managed, for the first time ever, to get Jason Connery and Michael Praed (both Robins) on stage together for the fans. We had a huge gathering of cast and crew, the biggest there had been, and a huge attendance as well. But, for me, the actual reward was the comments afterwards from the Guests and the Attendees – all of whom said how relaxed and friendly it was. I run events that I would like to attend and that's exactly what I wanted to happen. It also helps massively that the cast and crew of the show are the most down to earth and lovely people I've met in the business that they call show, as well as the attendees being the most interactive and friendly bunch of fans I've had the pleasure of spending a weekend with.

What can people (hopefully me!) expect from the next convention?

More of the same, with added extra elements and new Guests that have never appeared before. Sometimes, the old adage of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' seems to be the most apt.

Where next for the never ending tale of Robin of Sherwood and where next for Barnaby?

Well, 'The Knights Of The Apocalypse' is a one-off with ITV and we're hoping, if this is successful (which will depend on how many fans actually buy the CD and help out with the crowdfunding by investing in the production), they may consider more tales from Sherwood. But, the important thing is to focus on this epic tale we're producing for audio – which is like a Hollywood blockbuster, with intellegence, for your ears – and see it as the return of the Hooded Man that everyone was clamouring for. Make this one a success and who knows? But, it does have to be a success because we want to provide a fitting tribute to Richard 'Kip' Carpenter and raise a lovely amount of money for the charities that he supported in his lifetime. Simon and I, producing this for Bafflegab, are both incredibly humbled to be able to bring this tale to life and reunite the cast for one last hurrah. It's an oft-used quote from the series but it's the best one to end on: 'Nothing's forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten'.

As for me, I've got my finger in many creative projects but my next two big projects are 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again' at Cirencester's Sundial Theatre (tickets available here) or my 10-piece tribute show to 'The Commitments' at Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre (tickets from here).

The best way to stay up-to-date with my chinbeard is by following me on Facebook or visit my website or follow me on Twitter (@BarnabyEJ).

Images - Barnaby Eaton-Jones/ITV