Saturday, August 25, 2012

Growing Up Robin Hood

I grew up in the shadow of Robin Hood. The old 1928 Robin Hood flour mill towered over the industrial buffer between where I lived and where I went to school. Up at the top, a beacon in the foggy darkness of January mornings, the red and green Robin Hood sign was my own version of Dr. Eckleburg's eyes.
My mom held on to her childhood love of Richard Greene's TV Robin Hood. Hopefully she still does. She used to tell me about how it was one of the few places--because it was produced in Britain, I guess--where writers blacklisted in Hollywood could get work in those dark days. No doubt this contributed to a nascent image in my imagination of the Writer as Radical Hero.
--Was there a Muppet Robin Hood?--
Along with tales of TV's Robin Hood, my mom also big-upped the 1930s Errol Flynn movie. Such was the state of my childhood: TV and movies were folklore passed down in the oral tradition by elders. This is how I learned the word Swashbuckler. (My dad's preferred swashbuckler was the Scarlett Pimpernel.) Our family was friends with a family of Flynns; descended from swashbucklers, no doubt.
By the time I finally saw these live action adventures of Robin Hood, the bar had been placed impossibly high, not just by the bedtime stories my mother told, but also by repeated exposure to the high production values and rich character development of Rocket Robin Hood, seen every Saturday morning between Hercules and Spider-Man (all from the '60s) on CFQC-TV/QC8 from the time my parents finally caved and brought a (black & white) TV into our home until an geological era later when they relented and signed up for cable(our TV was colour by then), adding three American networks airing brand new cartoons to the Saturday morning mix. You have no idea the paradigm shift that led to. After years, YEARS, of the same two dozen or so episodes of Rocket Robin Hood, The Mighty Hercules and Spider-Man--along with quasi-educational interstitials like Captain Nemo of similar vintage--I could finally watch the cartoons that adorned the lunchboxes of my classmates: Thundarr the Barbarian, Blackstar, Snorkles, The Littles! Truth be told, most of these shows were awful and left little to no mark on my psyche, while here I am, waxing prosaic on the finer points of Newton the Centaur, my eyes dewy at the memory of Betty Brant's geometrically implausible coif.
Ironically, the one cartoon that did stick was even older than Rocket Robin Hood. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, piped in from Detroit on Channel 7, was the title bout of the Saturday morning fight card. After that it was Wide World of Sports or Detroit news or something else I was not interested in. After The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, Saturday morning was over.
This was in contrast to the old QC8 days when the cartoon oldies block was followed by a movie of interest to a kid brain-starved by cost-conscious animation. Abbott & Costello, Pippi Longstocking, Swiss Family Robinson...the Adventures of Brian Keith in a Motorboat AKA Flipper, benign junk.
That was Saturday. Sunday had a Robin Hood of its own. That was typically the day we'd go visit my grandparents on my dad's side. Back in our pre-TV days, this was where we watched The Wonderful World of Disney and The Beachcombers (brought to you by Kraft!). At some point--after my grandparents had moved back to the city following a stint on an acreage, a stint which took pla e early enough in my life that I've always kind of considered myself part farm boy, even though I'm all city boy--when the VCR had adequately saturated Western Civ, they started playing the all-animal Disney version of Robin Hood on a constant loop at Grandpa & Grandma's. I have a lot of cousins, all of them younger than me, so there was always someone around to watch it. This is a guess, based purely on emotions, but I'd guess that movie repeated itself over and over and over from 1986 to 1991. There were pauses for Christmas specials, hockey games and Grey Cups...and I have a vague recollection of my Great-Grandfather in my grandparents living room having an opinion on the Colin Thatcher trial. But that would have to have been before the Robin Hood Era. There were also attempts at usurping Robin Hood's reign. I remember The Sword in the Stone made a valiant effort but didn't have the songs.
The songs! With Roger Miller as the troubadour rooster. Roger Miller's sublime easy listening/country soundtrack would eventually be mutilated by dancing hamsters, I shit you not.
And then there was Green Arrow.

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