Lords of the Greenwood by Chris Thorndycroft

Occasionally I have reviewed books connected in some way to the Robin Hood legend - the last one was Elizabeth Chadwick's excellent Lords of the White Castle.  This week I finished Lords of the Greenwood, by Chris Thorndycroft, and it is another novel I highly recommend.

The earliest surviving Robin Hood ballads place the outlaw not just in Sherwood Forest, but also further north, in Barnsdale,Yorkshire. In the nineteenth century the antiquarian and first assistant keeper of the public record office, Joseph Hunter (1783-1861), made several groundbreaking discoveries. These included identifying the location of the 'Sayles' mentioned in the 'Geste of Robyn Hode' (c.1450) and linking the king's search for the outlaw, with the progress made by King Edward II in 1323. But this was not all. Remarkably, Hunter discovered in Edward's accounts for this period, a 'Robyn Hode', porter of the king's chamber. He then went on to try and link a Robert Hood of Wakefield with the Robin Hood in the kings chamber accounts. Hunter's discoveries were hailed as a tremendous success and still remain fascinating and controversial today. 

Robin Hood's links to Yorkshire have provided a fresh backdrop to the legend for many authors. And, in my opinion, the most innovative have been 'Hodd' by Adam Thorpe (2009), 'Robin Hood' by Carola Oman (1949) and 'Wolf's Head' by Steven A. McKay (2013). Now 'Lord's of the Greenwood' can be added to this list. 

Chris Thorndycroft has taken a unique approach, by weaving together the stories of two men - the 13th Century outlaw Roger Godberd, (whom some believe inspired the legend of Robin Hood) and the 14th Century Robert Hood of Wakefield. The link is Stephen de Wasteneys, a previous member of Godberd's notorious gang.  In later years, he becomes a member of Hood's and provides a link between the two, cleverly blending the stories of these possible contenders for the original Robin Hood. 

The book starts with young Robert Hood of Wakefield, wrongly accused of murder and finding himself outlawed, along with his bitter enemy, Will Shacklock. Gradually, as the Earl of Lancaster's rebellion of 1320 sends the country into turmoil, their animosity heals. Meanwhile, more and more people join the outlaws in Barnsdale, including old Stephen de Wastenys.

By the evening camp fire, de Wasteney's  tells of his exploits with Roger Godberd at Nottingham Castle during the barons bloody revolt against King Henry III, led by Simon de Montfort. After betrayal, Godberd and his men are outlawed and seek sanctuary in Sherwood Forest, constantly hunted by the Sheriff.

Meanwhile, Lancaster is caught and beheaded. The rebellion is over and Robert Hood's exploits in Barnsdale, draw the attention of King Edward II. They are eventually given an ultimatum, enter the king's service or be hanged.

Thorndycroft's novel runs to 669 pages and is a rollicking good read. It captures the spirit of the early ballads, particularly with the sinister Guy of Gisburn:
"I must say, you come highly recommended," the sheriff told the man, not knowing why he felt the urge to flatter him. There was something unnerving about the man that suggested he should be kept on good terms. 
"I'm a hunter," said the man, wiping his mouth on a dirty sleeve,"and I keep hunting until I get my kill." 

With looming tension and darkness, the final chapters of the book also closely follow the ballad tradition. So, if you are interested in his legend, get this book and enjoy the gritty exploits of two historical Robin Hood's for the price of one!

Richard Todd at Shiplake

It is always interesting to hear from readers of this blog. David Denton sent these recollections to me :
"Dear Clement, just a small piece of trivia after reading that your a fan of the movie, 'The Story of Robin Hood!'
Well, I used to go to see Richard Todd when he had his farm at Shiplake, near my home town of Henley-on-Thames, before I moved to the village
of Mapledurham. He was a lovely man, and even me at my age of 15, I had a crush on him. Also on summer evenings, bumped into Robert Beatey, as I and friends used to walk along the tow-path by the river. Oh! Happy bygone days! And over the years I met Bill Owen, Michael Hordon, Anthony Steele, Diana Dors, Sabrina and many others, - but Richard was always my favourite.
I had 'The Story of Robin Hood' on VHS for years, but was so delighted when it came out on DVD.
So as I said at the beginning just a small bit of info."

Richard Todd c.1950

David contacted me again recently, with some more memories:
"It was a long time ago. But I can remember the first time that I cycled to see him, not knowing just quite where he lived. On the road to Shiplake from Mapledurham there is a hill before you desend down towards the village. It was my school summer holidays... and I came across an old man cutting the grass verges, so I decided to ask him if he knew where Richard lived, and knowing that he lived in a large white farmhouse, their was such a house in the distance, to the left of the landscape...so I tentively said to him who lives in that big house on the hillside? And I can remember to this day all these years later.."Todd the Actor." And it was spoken in a country dialect, which now having acted myself, I can do it justice!!

Back in 2014, I published an article about Richard Todd's home at Pinkney's Green, Maidenhead. I had this comment from 'berrys5555':
"This was very interesting to read. I visited a house called Hailywood in Shiplake Oxfordshire many years ago that belonged to Richard Todd. It was attached to Haileywood farm which he also owned and farmed. The house was very large and I remember the drawing room, it had a small area which was raised like a small stages with a grand piano on it. It’s now owned by a well known musician and the estate has been broken up and some of the land has been built on."

Shiplake and Haileywood Farm

The large house had previously been owned by the famous concert pianist, Eileen Joyce (1908-1991). It seems Richard Todd purchased Haileywood from her in 1957. Below is an interesting Youtube clip of Richard Todd at Shiplake in about 1959.

Behind the Scenes at Denham Studios

Filming the final scene at Denham Studios of Robin Hood

Many of us have often wished to be at Denham Studios during the filming of The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men in 1951. Well - at least this incredibly detailed photograph (above), goes somewhere to fulfilling our wishes. It has been sent in by our regular contributor -Neil.

We can see Joan Rice (Maid Marian) hugging Robin Hood (Richard Todd) shortly after he has been made the Earl of Locksley by the returning King Richard the Lionheart. To see our picture strip of this scene, please click here.

Detail - showing Joan Rice, Richard Todd, James Hayter and Ken Annakin

Many of the production crew are visible in this remarkable image, including director Ken Annakin, standing alongside James Hayter (Friar Tuck). Also several of the 'outlaws', including Ewen Solon. Notice also, the huge Technicolor camera, which is possibly being operated by the director of photography, Guy Green.

Neil says:
"That is the Studio scene at Denham showing the filming towards the end  in Robin Hood’s Camp – but this is the original photograph and absolutely crystal clear  whereas we will both have seen this one in a smaller less clear version – I think from the Old Monrovians visit there at the time.

I think this scene would be filmed at the end of July 1951  - and I have a feeling that we would be on our holidays in St.Albans at  that time - so as a small boy with my parents and brothers, would have been passing the Denham Studios at that very moment

The other picture with Walt Disney, Richard Todd and Elton Hayes, we have seen before – but again this is a bigger clearer one.

I am so happy with these. Please use them on your site if you wish."

In the second picture that Neil has kindly sent, we can see Walt Disney on the Nottingham Castle set, during his visit to Denham Studios in June 1951. Alongside him is Elton Hayes (as the minstrel Allan-a-Dale) and Richard Todd (Robin Hood ‘disguised as a soldier of the Sheriff’). 

In his autobiography (Caught in the Act, Hutchinson 1986), Richard Todd describes the ‘solid’ dungeon walls as being constructed of pure wood and plaster.

Elton Hayes (Allan-a-Dale), Walt Disney and Richard Todd (Robin Hood)

Filming of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men began on 30th April 1951. Ken Annakin, the director of the movie, in his autobiography (So You Wanna Be a Director, Tomahawk 2001) says that 10 weeks into shooting, Disney made a surprise visit to the set. Annakin describes how the great man had photos taken with the stars of the film in the Nottingham Square set on the lot. This also included ‘numerous’ pictures with Joan Rice (Maid Marian) on the archery field.

This fits with Richard Todd's (Robin Hood) memoirs where he describes Disney coming over from London to Denham near the end of June 1951 and how he was thoroughly pleased with the way things were going.

Coinciding with Walt’s stopover, the then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) paid a visit to the Denham Studios, accompanied only by her lady-in-waiting and equerry. The future queen was shown by Walt Disney and the art director Carmen Dillon around the outside sets and the costume department. Perce Pearce, the producer of Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, insisted that filming should continue as normal as that is what the young princess wanted to see. So for about twenty minutes she stood quietly in a dark corner, while production carried on, then gave a friendly wave and slipped out of the stage. I wonder what scene it was she saw being filmed?

To read more about the production of the film, Walt Disney, or see the picture gallery please click on the labels in the side bar.

A huge thank you to Neil for sending these images.

Elton Hayes on Tour

I recently posted about the release of a CD containing a compilation of songs by Elton Hayes (1915-2001). Elton was unforgettable as the minstrel Alan-a-Dale, in Walt Disney's classic movie The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). The CD is now available here and receiving some great reviews.

Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale in Disney's Story of Robin Hood

Geoff Waite, a good friend of this web site, has written an interesting and detailed biography on the inner sleeve of the CD. And he has been in touch recently, to explain the reason why the new Elton Hayes CD does not contain tracks from Robin Hood.

Geoff says:

"Just to thank you for kindly letting your readers know of the Elton CD
release. I too like 'The Girl in the Wood'.

I agree that it would have been terrific if the songs from Disney's Robin
Hood had been included, but the record company were working from an archive
of radio performances made by Elton and as far as I am aware none of these
included 'Whistle my Love' which would have been an obvious choice. They had
already made their decision on the content of the CD based on the best of
those live performances, featuring just Elton and his guitar from his radio
show 'He Sings to a Small Guitar'. It should be borne in mind that the
actual studio recordings of 'Whistle my Love' and 'Riddle De Diddle De Day'
include an orchestra backing conducted by Philip Green. But it would still
have been nice to find a version of this song in the archives.

A small consolation perhaps is the photograph of Elton with Joan Rice on the
CD cover."

The success of Robin Hood, meant that Elton Hayes's popularity soared around the world. Below is an interesting American newspaper cutting of that period, describing his tour promoting the Disney movie.

Elton Hayes's newspaper article

Dated 8th June 1952, the newspaper article says:

"Dixieland music and the city's food received a salute from a visiting British movie actor and musician today.

He is Elton Hayes a Londoner, who is in New Orleans on a tour of Southern Cities to promote Walt Disney's newest Technicolor production, "Robin Hood", which was filmed in England with an all-British cast.

"My impression of the city where jazz was born was entirely different from what I imagined." Hayes said at the Roosevelt. "Instead of the 'city that care forgot,' we find a thriving, bustling, metropolis."

Last night Hayes dined at a famed French resteraunt in the Vieux Carre and went on a tour of the Quarter's spots which Dixieland music. "I had plenty of both," he smiled, "and enjoyed what I had."

Like Europe

Hayes was astonished to find so much at the Vieux Carre still in tact. "It's a lot like Europe," he found.

Turning to "Robin Hood", Hayes said he enacts the role of "Allan a Dale" a roving minstrel. He first plays the lute, which he describes as the first juke box. Coins were dropped into the instrument by Maid Marian, played by Joan Rice, as a reward for information sung to her of Robin Hood.

Others in the film's cast are Richard Todd, who plays the title role; James Robertson Justice, Little John; Martitia Hunt as Queen Eleanor, and James Hayter as Friar Tuck.

Hayes said "Robin Hood" was his second association with Disney. He was hired by Disney to prepare original sea chanties for "Treasure Island", due to the fact that Hayes collection of old English ballads were unrivalled in all of England.

He is Britain's counterpart to America's Burl Ives, ballad and folk singer. 

The actor-musician broadcasts regularly over the British Broadcasting Co. network on his own show, "He Sings To A Small Guitar." 

He visited a number of radio stations yesterday to appear with disc jockeys. Hayes said he was amazed at how much ad-libbing is permitted. "In England we have to stick pretty close to the scripts."

Hayes said he recorded three months of shows in advance to make the trip to America, his first. He returns in six weeks.

"Robin Hood", Hayes added, "will reach New Orleans at the end of July. I think it's one of Walt Disney's best."


I think you will agree, that this newspaper article gives a fascinating insight into not only the promotion of the film, but the popularity of Elton Hayes at this time.

Richard Todd Autographs

Richard Todd as Robin Hood

It is always interesting to see memorabilia from Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). John Nelson has shared some of his wonderful collection before and this signed autograph of Richard Todd is one of the best. John says:
"Sending you my Richard Todd autographed photo/Lobby card. These are possibly two of the nicest and most memorable items I have in my Story of Robin Hood collection.
Two of many posters, lobby cards and photos that Richard kindly signed for me over the years.
Signed at his desk he was very careful and quite meticulous in the way he signed them. The first one is a lovely 11x14 photograph I had enlarged from an original still, the clarity is amazing and the inscription even more so.
The lobby card story is quite amusing. He was signing so many items for me that he wrote "Robin Todd". We laughed and then he added Richard to the front of his Robin Todd autograph. 🏹
I have so many happy memories of meeting up with him. Always the perfect gentleman and sadly missed by his friends, family and his many admirers.

I hope you like them and can share them with the many followers of your wonderful "The Story of Robin Hood" website.

Keep up the great work, always interesting and informative".

Richard Todd signs as Robin Fitzooth

Below is John's signed lobby card showing Richard Todd's autograph as Richard Robin Todd.

'Richard Robin Todd'

It is interesting to see how garish these lobby cards were. We have seen before, that the whole set seem to have been printed in a way that coloured the costumes differently from the original movie. Was this to make the images brighter? And therefor more eye catching? Or was it due to the primitive printing techniques of the 1950s? If you know, please get in touch. 

If you have memorabilia or memories of the movie, or perhaps autographs of the wonderful stars that appeared in Disney's Story of Robin Hood, please get in touch.

New Elton Hayes CD

I have some great news for all my readers. The Elton Hayes double CD, that we have been patiently waiting for, is now available on the  Retrospective label, from Amazon UK. The 64 recordings display a unique mix of various traditional English ballads performed by Elton. Unfortunately his songs from Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) are not featured. 

The sleeve notes are written by Geoff Waite, who is not only an authority on the life and career of Elton Hayes, but a regular contributor to this web site.  Geoff kindly kept me regularly informed during the albums production.

Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale

It is wonderful to finally own this rare collection of music by Elton. A musician whose work is almost completely forgotten. Some of the tracks have been skilfully restored from acetate discs. And, one track I particularly enjoyed and recommend, is The Girl in the Wood track 11 on CD2. It is both beautiful and haunting.

So this double album gives a new generation the chance to listen to the ballads of Elton Hayes (the man with a small guitar) - or as we know him - Allan-a-Dale. 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my Merrie readers! I hope you all have a peaceful and prosperous 2018.

I will have more information about the new Elton Hayes CD very soon.

Joan Rice in 1973

Joan Rice in 1973

This is a slide of Joan Rice taken in about 1973. It is not known  exactly where she was, but this image may have been taken outside the stage door of a theatre. 

I have dedicated this blog to the memory of Joan Rice (1930-1997). She was personally chosen by Walt Disney to play the part of Maid Marian in his wonderful live action movie The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). Today, Joan is almost completely forgotten, but down the years I have tried to piece her life together.

For a short period Joan's film career was very successful and she became one of the many British 'pin-up girls' of the 1950's. But sadly her career quickly waned and her last appearance on the silver screen was as a grave robbers wife in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970).

Joan's acting abilities were criticised by director Ken Annakin and film legend Richard Todd. But I have since discovered that after her work on the silver screen faded she continued a successful and distinguished stage career. 

Joan Rice in 'A View From The Bridge'

In September 1959, Joan played the part of Catherine, in Arthur Miller’s play A View From The Bridge at the Savoy Theatre in Kettering. Another highlight was in 1972, when she appeared alongside Davy Jones of 'The Monkees', James Hayter and Dave King in Forget Me Not at the Leeds Grand Theatre. This production was later voted 'play of the year' and went on tour. 

Joan also played the leading female roles in such plays as Rebecca, Tea and Sympathy, Dial M for Murder, Bell, Book and Candle and Gaslight.

The image of Joan Rice at the top of this page was taken in 1973. From the 20th February till the 10th March 1973 she appeared at the Theatre Royal Windsor in A Voyage Around My Father alongside Gay Hamilton. So, that could have been when she  The programme notes include a short bio about Joan:
"Joan was born in Derby and educated in a convent, and her hobbies are animals, she has two Labradors that attend rehearsals, music and bridge."
This blog now has 90 pages on the life and career of Joan Rice. To read more about Walt Disney's first Maid Marian click here.

Elton Hayes CD Release

Elton Hayes as Alan a Dale

Geoff Waite has been researching the life and discography of Elton Hayes (1915-2001) for many years. He has regularly contributed to this blog and given us fascinating information about the man who played Alan a Dale in Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952).

Elton Hayes

This week Geoff emailed me with news that Nimbus Records are about to release a selection of music by Elton Hayes as part of their 'Retrospective' series. It is wonderful to think, that once again Elton's songs and ballads will be heard again. So watch this space for more information.

This blog has 28 pages about Elton Hayes's life and career. To read more, please click here.