MAAAAAARI-A-A-AAAAAN! Yeah, I admit, I only got custody of this because I could sing the theme tune from start to finish. A children’s TV programme from the late 80s and early 90s, it tells the ‘real’ story of Robin Hood, in which Robin is a slightly camp tailor, the Merry Men are a motley collection which includes a Rastafarian, a dwarf and a thick bloke called Rabies, and Maid Marian is actually in charge. Writer Tony Robinson stars as the Sheriff of Nottingham, who, flanked by hapless guards Gary and Graham, spends his time thinking of ever more ingenious (read: stupid) ways of stopping the gang from robbing the Royal Family.
If this all sounds a bit silly, it is. In fact, if there had been an BAFTA for the silliest show of all time this would have had to be in the nominations. As it happened, a BAFTA for Best Children’s Television Programme would have to do – and it would have been two years running had it not been for Press Gang. Extraordinarily popular, Maid Marian managed four series and a Christmas special, all of which are enshrined here with a host of extras and four comic books.
After sitting through all 25 episodes three times, the first time forced and the other two entirely unnecessarily, there is little doubt that kids’ shows aren’t what they used to be. High-budget and beautifully cast, it’s written and produced with an attitude that appeals to all ages and awarenesses. If you don’t like the obvious slapstick, you’ll be laughing at the asides and nods to popular culture: for all intents and purposes it works in the same multi-levelled way as The Simpsons. Younger children will appreciate the crazy chases and ever-increasing amounts of gunge; those who are no longer children will be entertained by the wry asides, adult jokes and sheer abandon of the performances. At the end of every episode, everyone is united by a highly-singable theme tune which for many of us signalled that Neighbours was about to start and tea was probably on the table.
The superb cast get plenty of opportunities to reflect on their efforts in between episodes. Most famous is Danny John-Jules, who starred as Cat in Red Dwarf and is currently involved in various film projects. Wayne Morris, who nearly steals the show as Robin, appears in Nickolodeon show Genie in the House, and guard Mark Billingham is now an award-winning crime writer. It seems incredible that Kate Lonergan and Forbes Collins, who played arch-enemies Maid Marian and King John, barely worked in TV again – something which gets more than a mention in the commentaries. The peasants, actually a repertory company, spawned various successful writers and directors and to this day look like they had a ball.
It’s difficult to pinpoint any one aspect of the programme which makes it so good. The humour is consistent, the sets and props are incredibly detailed and the songs…well, bizarre. Structurally it stands up to the best sitcoms, and while it has moments of being too obvious there is nothing cringeworthy. It has dated incredibly well – contemporary references are fleeting, and were deliberately left out to create a self-contained world in which the characters could operate without worrying about realism. Best of all, it’s intelligent; sometimes too intelligent for Robin, who spends one song looking up its lyrics in a dictionary.
The care and attention lavished on the series has transferred to the DVDs. Spanning eight discs are twenty-four standard episodes, one Christmas special, the internal promotional trailer, an interactive game, four commentaries, various sketches and interviews and the German-language version. Each DVD case also contains a cartoon booklet by Paul Cemmick, illustrator of the original comics. It’s insanely expensive for a reason, although as with all box-sets Amazon are offering a healthy discount.
“They’ve got the power, they’ve got the weapons. All we’ve got is a Rasta, a wally and a bearded avocado.” Sums it up nicely, really.
(4 DVDs, £49.99)
And as a special treat to all who scrolled down to this bit, why not enjoy the theme tune with us?