Monday 10 June 2019

Celebrating 35 years of Robin of Sherwood: Exclusive Guest Interview — Phil Rose #RobinOfSherwood @FriarTuck_PhilR @Carole_E_B

Celebrating 35 years of
 Robin of Sherwood.

Exclusive Guest Interview
Phil Rose 

From the bewitching music to the cast of colourful and very memorable characters, Robin of Sherwood captured the hearts of many when it first aired in 1984. Now, 34 years on, I want to take a journey back to this magical time when Robin of Sherwood fever gripped the nation and talk to the actors who made this series so very successful. So please give a warm welcome to Phil Rose, who played the wonderful Friar Tuck.

Hi Phil, it is such an honour to have you on Myth’s, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots today. I hope you don’t mind taking a journey back to Sherwood as I know my readers will be dying to hear, from your lips, what it was like to be a part of something that is considered by many to be a television national treasure. So, let’s crack on…!

 How did the role of Friar Tuck first come to your attention?

In 1982, the year before Robin of Sherwood started. Esta Charkham casting director, cast me in a film with Peter Ustinov and Simon Dutton called ‘Memed My Hawk’.  Esta knew my profile, size and age and thought I fitted perfectly for Friar Tuck.  I was the oldest of the Merries, so my age benefited an advisory monk role which matched the rest of the cast perfectly.

My agent got a call from Esta Charkham to attend the casting for the role of Friar Tuck which had been pitched to me as a one off drama for television.  How wrong this turned out to be.  

On arriving at Pinewood Studios I was directed to a small waiting room in which another gentleman was waiting. This person informed me they had all gone to lunch and as we waited we got into a lively conversation about all and nothing and after about fifty minutes we were interrupted by a tall, bearded man who entered the waiting room.  “Hello Phil, nice to see you, I am Paul Knight the producer”, he said, “I see you have already met our Writer, Richard Carpenter!”  

The unknown man I had been talking to, said with a beam on his face “Hello Phil, would you like to play Friar Tuck?”.  I was astounded, our chat had more or less been my interview and the rest they say is history!

Such an amazing story of how you got the part of Friar Tuck! Did you do any background research into Friar Tuck before you auditioned for the part?

Before we actually started filming,  I did  do some research on Friar Tuck but being more of a ‘theatre actor’ – playing the friar in Pantomime, medieval plays and of course ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I was very familiar with the role.  When I knew I had the part I did take extra care to watch old Robin Hood films and television series. They were really all a ‘template’ for the character of ‘Friar Tuck’ I ended up playing. Which I truly loved.

What did you think of the script when you first saw it? In particular, what did you think of the religious themes that run alongside the story of Robin and his band of outlaws?

Anyone who knows Kip’s work, knows they are in for a good watch. They realise how much of a great writer he is with past successes like Catweazle e.t.c., but few I feel knew what a great moment in television we were actually about to embark on.  Kip was insistent on quality of content and accuracy and had immersed himself in research and the glorious bonus of him being a professional actor himself, meant that he understood both acting, production and historical accuracy. 

All of the actors knew they could discuss their scrips and he was extremely encouraging if you thought it was good to ‘play something this way’, rather than what was in the script, or if you wanted to ‘add’ something.  He allowed us to be very fluid in our character role and was exceedingly supportive.  This allowed the cast to be comfortable in their roles and helped the team jell into what become a very happy and professional cast.

For me in particularly, the religious theme which ran through the series, the holy orders, Godliness of the church and state combined, the ethics of morality, the pagan villagers, and outlaws all kept it fascinating and enjoyable for to discover this particular Tuck inside of me which I do hope people liked.

How much influence did you have on how Tuck was portrayed?

Quite a bit of my influence came from Kip himself, and my theatre background but the other characters bounced ideas between themselves all honing their art and helping others along the way. We had those with few words and we had those with lots and lots of words but all where equal when we worked together. It was the scenes where Tuck was persuaded to join the Outlaws by the actions of Abbot Hugo, and Simon De Belleme that rounded Tucks character off from a monk of completely Godly behaviour to one who flew by his pants with outlaws.

Which leads us on very nicely to the next question. At the beginning of the series, Tuck is The Sheriff of Nottingham's chaplain, but he finds it very easy to abandon that role and live as an outlaw in the woods. Why do you think this is?

As I just mentioned, I played Tuck to have a few questions in his mind when he left the Sheriff to join the outlaws.  He did not really see it from going from 'God to Bad', but his moral ethics kicked in and it was more about going from ‘Greed to Good’.  He ‘got down with the kids’, the people outside of the world of the monied law lords, he preferred the villagers and the outlaws and their ethics where much ‘closer to god’ than the greedy Sheriff and his cronies.

Tuck comes across as very non-judgmental, especially in Lord of the Trees, when the villagers of Wickham are celebrating The Time of the Blessing. As a Christian monk and a character who, despite his outlaw ways, is very devoted to God, what do you think makes Tuck so tolerant of this pagan celebration?

This is an interesting questions that pops up all the time, mainly by modern day Pagans at Pagan events where I may be doing a talk.  'How can Tuck as a Christian monk, take part or even worse support the villagers in their pagan ritual in ’Lord of the Trees?’

I’m a little like Tuck, I have the Pagan on one shoulder and Christianity on the other.  I was like most of us, raised as Christian but find myself very comfortable with modern day Paganism, in particular Herne the Hunter which of course was a major character in Robin of Sherwood. 

Phil speaking at Pagan Pride Under the Greenwood Tree - Nottingham.

Conversations with my pagan friend Carole and others at these events, brought to light the impact that Robin of Sherwood had on people discovering an earth based religion in the mid 1980’s and numbers in Paganism shot up, thanks to Kip and his Robin of Sherwood.  A lot of people felt as though they had “come home” which is the term often used and I do feel that Robin of Sherwood, connected both on a spiritual level and a mental level with those seeking an earth path.

However in the show, Tuck stands by, watching the pagan themes, understanding that, whilst he can preach the word of God, there is little he can do about the gentleness of the old Pagan culture the villagers have which is ingrained in their psyche.  He knows they adhere to Christianity, but deep inside the pagan still hangs on to culture, folklore, ceremony and superstitions.  He knows on Sundays they will be in Church but, on May Day, the old Beltane MayPole will be erected and ribbons hanging from it..  and being in touch with the people, and still wanting to be their Christian guide, he takes it all in his stride.

In the most pagan of the series, the ‘Lord of the Tree’s episode, he really touches nature and incidentally nearly got a girlfriend in the process.   

Talking of which, the lady who played his ‘would-be' girlfriend trying to seduce him with the apple, was played by a lady called Jill James.  Upon writing this interview, It came to my attention that Jill James passed away on the 7th March this year 2019.

God Bless you Jill, a lovely warm and happy lady.

Phil Rose and Jill James.

My sincere condolence to Jill and her family. She made a fabulous ‘would-be’ girlfriend for Tuck.

There is a real sense of Good vs Evil in Robin of Sherwood, and there were some very memorable villains. Who was your favourite villain and why?

I think all the ‘baddies’ left their mark on the series, but good and bad was very complex in the series, you liked them but you hated them, the antipathy of loathing and loving at the same time, However for me ‘Morgwyn of Ravenscar’ was evil to excess. Having a woman baddie sometimes does concentrate the evilness and story lines. I can hear all the lady fans shouting at the screen and agreeing with me. I hope.

I was terrified of Morgwyn of Ravenscar when I was a child!

Robin’s band of outlaws are very much a bunch of misfits. Tuck is a very gentle and compassionate character compared to say Scarlett, and the only thing that seemingly keeps them all together is their devotion to Robin. In Herne’s Son, Tuck is the only outlaw left in Sherwood Forest. Why do you think he chose to remain when everyone else left?

As the band of merry men were a bunch of misfits – but all came together in a very cohesive  group of people, with all their own different skills which  contributed to a lean, keen, killing machine and good family entertainment – I hope!

By the way, we find Tuck on his own, back in the forest in ‘Herne’s Son’. I think he stayed ‘local’ in the forest, as he had nowhere else to go. He did turn his back on the world thinking Robin was dead. He was a sole renegade living a quiet life, or was he waiting for Robert of Huntingdon, who eventually did turn up and the adventure started all over again. Strangely though I did once have a lengthy chat with Kip about Tuck’s back story – which was very military and very bloody – but that is a story for another day.

Now I want to know more about Tuck’s back story! What was it like working with the great Richard Carpenter?

Working with Kip’s scripts were great. Kip was truly an awesome guy who gave a lot of us a help up in life and we all owe him a lot of respect, we wouldn’t be talking about this now had it not been for him, let alone moved to other successes.

He is sadly missed but his legacy of Robin of Sherwood and other drama series he wrote lives on. He had a lot of faith in all of us to take the script, make it breath and bring it to life. He listened, he delivered. I think all concerned on Robin of Sherwood lost a little something in our lives when he passed. Somethings may be forgotten – but not the Governor! Bless.

Phil with Tom Carpenter, Richard Carpenter’s son, early this year.

Kip truly was wonderful. I am a great admirer of his writing. What was your most memorable scene while filming?

My most memorable scene was myself and Dorothy Tutin who played ‘Lady Margaret of Gisburne’ – Guy of Gisburne’s mum. 

Sadly both Dorothy and Robert Addie who played Guy of Gisburne are no longer with us and both are missed. 

The episode was ‘The Cross of Saint Ciricus’ in which Dorothy and I were in a very small set. It was the interior of the back of a covered wagon. A very tight space with us, the camera man, the lighting man, the sound man and the director. 

This is when she confesses to me that Guy and Robert are ‘step brothers’!!   If you watch the scene it is very long in dialogue especially for Dorothy but she did it all in ‘one take’. Very professional and a lovely lady to talk too.  Kip has mentioned this at a number of conventions before – How he got the idea for ‘step brothers’.  Apparently he was at a crew and cast party for ‘Robin of Sherwood’ and the only two people in the room with light hair was Jason Connery and Robert Addie. Fab!!

Such a fabulous story! What was your favourite line that your character said?

There were some good memorable dialogue moments. Initially, I hated saying ‘Little Flower’! I did mention this to Kip who did listen and take it in. He said to me "Phil, stick with it, it works!". I stuck with it and it worked. 

Also the Latin phrases I had to say ( Not having had any previous lessons in Latin.) may all sound a bit dodgy but once again Kip said "Phil say it strong and with conviction". He of course was right. It worked. I hope! 

Did Robin of Sherwood change your life in any way?

Having been more of a ’theatre actor’ of course it changed my life.  It was an instant recognition from the public and from fans. Suddenly we were all in peoples living rooms, people I had never met and would not have met had it not been from the series.

I enjoyed my fifteen minutes of fame (laugh) but in reality, I’m still getting people stopping me in the street asking for photos and signing things, and “Aren’t you Friar Tuck”, well, yes I am but the name’s Phil, pleased to meet you. I still do some acting and theatre of course but, you couldn’t believe how this series got to the hearts of people like nothing else I have done.

I have a secret love to be honest of fans doing this, I am I feel approachable, and it’s nice that some 35 years on, adults are now introducing their children to the series and still loving it.  It must have been good they are rerunning it on different channels.

It was a ‘brilliant boys adventure’, running around with bows and arrows, riding horses, trying to drown Jason in the river in the ‘Herne’s Son” episode (glad you survived Jason!)

It was nice that at the age of 67, I got the chance to run round the forest again and continue on that boys adventure when I was approached by Simon Barnard of Bafflegab Productions, who also produced the audios series “The Scaryfiers” in which I play a very gruff, no nonsense Yorkshire man called Bunny Cheesewright.
Simon sent me a script which Bafflegab wanted to produce, which turned out to eventually become “The Knights of Apocalypse” "KOTA", when Simon stepped down from production, Spiteful Puppet and Barnaby Eaton Jones and Ian Meadows, came forward to finish it off.  Spiteful Puppet, got the whole original cast together to do a full cast recording.  It was a lot of fun to do, of which I am extremely glad they did. So, the ‘ boy’s adventure’ carries on and it’s all in the recording studio – thank heavens for Barnaby Eaton Jones and Spiteful Puppet! It is extremely popular with fans – so the legend goes on.  Barnaby then continued the Robin of Sherwood Audios and I read a story for them and again came together on another script.
Thank you to all concerned for getting it together.

Do you still keep in touch with any of the cast?

Yes, I do see some of the cast and crew at conventions, the last one being in 2018, where I spent a lot of time getting to know some of the fans and sadly we have met at some funerals. I was rather sad to miss  the 60th birthday party for Clive two years ago but I had family business. Maybe your 70th Clive? 

Phil Rose and Jeremy Bullock.

Thirty-Four years on and Robin of Sherwood is still enjoyed by so many people. What kind of legacy do you hope Robin of Sherwood will leave for future generations?

After all these years I don’t think our ‘Robin of Sherwood’ has lost anything.  We know that it looks a little dated with the mullets and big hair, but you can’t change it.  It remains loved because of what it is, what it stands for and how it looked so, aside from the fact it was made in the 1980’s it’s still good today and you cannot improve on that.  If it’s good enough for television companies to buy the rights to show it you can’t really argue with that can you?

Other Robins have come and gone but they are for ‘their time’. For future generations we may even see Robin Hood in space – who knows! The very constant thing about our ‘Robin of Sherwood’ is that the most important people, you the fans, who were there at the beginning are here now and will be there with us in the future, and now they bring their children – our future viewing and listening  audience.  

I do think Kip’s baby is in very good hands for the future in our fans. Bless you all little flowers!

Phil, at the Horror Fest book launch at Atlantis, famous for great occultists like Aleister Crowley.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to us today! It is much appreciated.

You are welcome!

Phil loves to hear from fans of the show, you can find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx