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Sid Cole: BECTU Interview Part 3 (1987)

Memories of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood', Lew Grade and Pat McGoohan

Main image of Sid Cole: BECTU Interview Part 3 (1987)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Sid Cole was interviewed by Alan Lawson in 1987.

1. The Adventures of Robin Hood

This was the era of the Hollywood blacklisting, the McCarthy era. An American woman producer who came over Hannah Weinstein - I don't think she was blacklisted herself but she was very involved with people who were like Dalton Trumbo and all those guys!. Anyhow, she'd come to England to promote something and I remember meeting her through mutual friends. She had this idea of making either a series about King Arthur or Robin Hood and she asked my advice as I suppose she was asking many other people's advice. I said Robin Hood because the great thing about Robin Hood is that it enables you to sympathise with outlaws at the same time as feeling that they're good people which is always a good formula so you could be against the law and still with it as it were. So, off we went on Robin Hood.

Ralph Smart was the original producer and I was associate producer. We used a lot of blacklisted American writers not under their own names of course. There were a number of house pseudonyms. Somebody wrote to me from Finland the other day asking about those early days on Robin Hood saying he found it very difficult to find out who wrote the scripts and for the life of me I couldn't remember because the same pseudonym would be used by different writers. Anyhow the series was enormously successful. It was made in conjunction with Associated Television which was Lew Grade. It went for 4 years, we made 143 half hour episodes, it was a lifetime. It starred Richard Greene who I came to like very much as a person. He was no great actor really but his best performances were as Robin Hood because he sort of fitted it. I suppose in a way he was as good as Errol Flynn. I mean he was a good swordsman, he was a good archer, he did pretty well all his own stunts. By the time we got over 100 episodes we got to the point where the episodes almost made themselves.

I remember the editor we had, Thelma Connell, a very nice person and very good editor, came to me on one of the latest episode and there was a great ambush scene in the forest of Sherwood. She came to me and said Sid all you need to get the director to shoot for this sequence which goes on for about 7 minutes is two shots: a close shot of Richard and a close shot of Archie Duncan who played Little John because we have so many ambush scenes and of course everybody was dressed if they were the sheriff's men in chain mail or if they were Robin's men in Lincoln green, not that the colours mattered because it was in black and white. So she put together the most fantastic ambush full of action - everything arrows, swords all over the place - purely from the previous 125 episodes which you couldn't do today because you would have to pay repeat money.

We made a number of other things. I found it very interesting doing those films because they were very challenging. We even used, for instance, Lindsay Anderson directed some episodes of Robin Hood. I remember Lindsay telling me he was asked to write an account of his experiences on Robin Hood - probably by Sequence - and they expected a rather of smart-ass thing because Lindsay belonged to the intelligentsia. In fact, he's been overwhelmed by the atmosphere which at its best can exist on the studio floor where everyone is matey and cooperative and so on, and really feel that they are doing a good job together. Lindsay really found this for the first time in his life.

2. Lew Grade

During that time between 1955 and 60 the eminence behind the throne was the famous Lew Grade who I always found a very agreeable person. Among other things he had this habit of summoning you to conferences at the ATV building at Marble Arch at 7.30 in the morning where he was be already smoking one of those enormous Havana cigars that he was famous for. He didn't offer you one, butI don't blame him, they probably cost about £7 each even in those days. He was in a way a great person. I think he could bear comparison with some of the Hollywood tycoons because he was not a cultured man obviously but he had an instinct for what seemed to work with the public. He lost his way later on but at that time he was being very successful by following his own likings.

In himself he was very agreeable - you could trust his word implicitly. In fact he hated being asked to put it in writing because he thought that was rather insulting. If he said something that was true. When I came to an end of my contract period with ATV there came a moment when I wasn't sure what was happening because I hadn't heard anything about a renewal. Suddenly the payments of my salary stopped. I didn't know what to do about it. Then I got a message to go and see Lew and he said I understand the financial bloke hasn't been paying you any money recently. I said yes. He said well, we haven't anything else at the moment but I'll see that you're paid up to date and let me know if there's anything that you'd like us to consider. Which was very nice. We could do with a few more people like Lew Grade around.

3. Pat McGoohan

I was asked to come in on a famous series called Dangerman with Pat McGoohan, which was quite amusing. I'd seen Pat McGoohan in the theatre at the Lyric Hammersmith some years before. He played two tremendous parts in the theatre, one was the leading role in an Ibsen play which is almost impossible to produce called Brand. He was extremely good in that, and a play by that extraordinary, young German playwright in the early nineteenth century, I can't remember his name, a play called Danton's Death. [play by George Büchner] Which is an extraordinary play, very contemporary in political terms and yet it was written in about 1840 or so. McGoohan in that played Robespierre against Patrick Wymark's Danton. I'd always admired McGoohan as an actor and I found him very interesting to work with on the series which was quite fun.

The thing about Pat was that he was a very fervent Roman Catholic which meant he had a fervent sense of sin which is one of the distinguishing things among many Roman Catholics I've known. He always refused in the series - whoever the female character cast in the same episode was - to kiss a woman even if they were supposed to be in a scene which implied some degree of intimacy between them. I asked him once why this was so and he said he didn't want his children asking their mother why is daddy kissing that strange woman. To which the answer obviously is, or should have been, don't be silly dear that's your bread and butter. As a result of this I used to take certain amount of pleasure in casting what I thought were the most attractive actresses opposite Pat. And I heard that the reaction of women viewers very much was that ah well, she didn't get anywhere with Dangerman this week.

I cast Adrienne Corri in one episode and I mentioned this little foible of Pat's to her. Pat had reacted when I said I was casting Adrienne, he disapproved because Adrienne was a lady who announced to the press - and that was another headline at one time during the previous series I'd talked about - that she was the proud mother of two children although she didn't happen to be married. I spoke to Adrienne about that and she said she wasn't going to let a journalist make a big thing about it, I thought I'd get in first and then they'd got no story.

Anyhow I told Adrienne that Pat seemed to disapprove of that. I wasn't there when it happened but apparently the first morning she was on call she came out of her dressing gown the same time as McGoohan did and saw him and called down the corridor, hey McGoohan. He turned round and she said I understand you disapprove of me, well f**k you for a start. After which they became quite good friends.

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Audio & Video Clips
Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)
Cole, Sidney (1908-1998)
Grade, Lord Lew (1906-1998)
McGoohan, Patrick (1928-2009)