In my final years of high-school and the first year of university, I remember watching a lot of British TV, before it was popular to do so in Canada. The Spokane PBS station was available in Calgary at the time, and I was a frequent viewer. Not just for the very popular Monty Python, Dr. Who, Black Adder, and Fawlty Towers shows (although they started my fondness for British TV), but for lesser known series like The Wombles, Doctor in the House, The Goodies, The Two Ronnies, Upstairs Downstairs, Butterflies, The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, and The Young Ones written by Ben Elton who I would later work with in 2009.
Most were wacky or witty comedy shows, because no one does those better than the British, but occasionally I would find shows that were just interesting and entertaining to watch. The British just seemed to take more risks with their audiences and didn’t pander to them too much and trusted them to figure things out for themselves, unlike most North American TV of the time that didn’t trust their audiences and had to indicate where it was ok to laugh and when it was ok to go to the bathroom by strictly regulating how long shows were and where commercial breaks were.
One of these fabulous British offerings was a show called Robin of Sherwood. It was a series that aired for 3 seasons starting in 1984 and depicted the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men vs the evil Sheriff of Nottingham… not a new topic by any means, but it portrayed it in a very different manner than it had been previously (or since for that matter). It was steeped in mysticism and mythology and dealt with the classic story from a fantasy genre point of view. It was, and still is, really entertaining.
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Robin of Sherwood (or RoS as the fans refer to it) and there was a convention to celebrate the occasion with many cast and crew members in attendance. It was to be our next stop on this trip at the St Pierre Marriot in Chepstow.
The St. Pierre was an interesting place to hold a fan convention. It’s built in an old castle like structure with stone and timbers, with an 11th century church on the grounds. It has large rooms that can be used as lecture halls, and banquet facilities, along with 2 restaurants and a bar. These made it an ideal location for the convention.
It is also a golf and country club with two full 18 hole golf courses attached. That part was a little weird.
On the first night before the convention in the bar, you could really tell who was there for the convention, and who was golfing. The well groomed group wearing sweater vests and designer slacks drinking expensive bourbon and driving Mercedes were most likely there for the 18 holes. The bunch with the ripped jeans, lip piercings, Klingon tattoos, wearing a T-shirt that says “I got jousted by Sir Guy of Gisburne” probably didn’t care much about the length of the fairway on the 14th. It got even worse on the Saturday and the beginning of the convention, and I’m pretty sure I contributed greatly.
One of the minor repeating characters on Robin of Sherwood was the inhabitant of the dungeon in Nottingham Castle and was simply known as “The Old Prisoner”. He was used mostly for comic relief with log tangled hair, a scruffy beard, a catch phrase of “there’s only one way out of here, feet first” and his pet rat Arthur.
It was an easy costume to reproduce for the convention consisting of brown rags, a pair of boots, and a theatre stage rat that lives in the crew room at work (don’t worry guys, he’s safe in a box in my luggage and will return undamaged).
Needless to say that walking around the halls of the hotel in that costume drew some very strange looks from the golfers who had no idea what was going on. Women clutched at their purses as I walked by, and many people hugged the walls with mouths open. One gentleman even exclaimed “Oh My God! That ruffian has a rat with him! How on earth did he get in here! Call the front desk!” followed my many harumphs and fainting.
At one point, in between convention stuff, I stood outside the front door of the hotel, not thinking, to get some fresh air. Jason Connery walked past me, chuckled, and said “You’re a good advertisement for this place, aren’t you?”
The convention was a small intimate gathering of about 200-300 people, not like some of the mega science fiction conventions that I’ve attended in the past that take up entire convention centers or stadiums, and because of that the fans could get up close and personal to the actors and even talk one on one with them. I had a fabulous conversation about theatre with Nicholas Grace (who played the Sheriff of Nottingham) and about The Drowsy Chaperone which he was in on The West End, geeked out a little with David Holloway talking about audio things, and listened to Mark Ryan’s stories in the bar about various film and theatre productions and his time with special forces.
There was also a medieval village set up on the golf course with weapon demonstrations, flaming sword fights, and an archery range.
It was a very successful weekend, and I picked up a few souvenirs and autographs, but I felt a little out of place being on the side with the fans. I’ve worked with some really famous people, and would go so far to call some of them colleagues, because I work with them.
During the panel discussion with Nick Grace, he brought up voice training and how it seems to be lacking on the West End these days. “Always make friends with the sound department” he said, and I felt very strange sitting in the audience listening, instead of manning the sound board and dealing with microphones.
There was even one point during Judi Trott’s interview where the system was on the verge of feeding back, and it took all of my willpower not to leap over the chairs and fix it.
But, I didn’t; I restrained myself, and mingled with the other attendees, content with not working, and occasionally scaring the normals with my mangy hair and pet rat. Feet first Arthur, feet first.