Friday, 21 June 2013

Friday 21 June 1963

It's an especially appropriate title for this week's Dickie, as in this episode It All Kicks Off in a highly entertaining fashion.  We start off with evil Prince John and his lackey the Sheriff of Nottingham heading into Sherwood Forest.  Supposedly meeting up with a treacherous Merry Man who wants to tell them where to find Robin Hood, they actually rendezvous with a messenger from the King of France.  The messenger's dressed up in Lincoln Green (obviously we have to take the cast's word for this) at John's behest, and this proves part of a dastardly masterplan when the Prince stabs him to death after receiving his message, in an attempt to frame the outlaws for the murder.

"You know... TOO MUCH!"
The message this unfortunate chap brought was that "the devil is unloosed" - code that King Richard's been released from his Austrian prison.  Not best pleased, John storms over to Poitou, a region of France ruled by  Richard and dwelling place of the Lionheart's wife, Queen Berengaria (Sheila Whittingham), to have a moan.  Despite the length of time it would have taken to travel between Nottingham and West-central France in 1194, John spends the episode hopping between the two as if, well, as if they were two adjacent sets.  Richard's extremely fey companions Sir Gilbert (Robin Hunter) and Sir Geoffrey (Alan Haywood) have a jovial chat with John about the merits of France vs England.  "Personally I prefer French cooking," says Gilbert, biting lasciviously into an apple,

Berengaria tells John she's a bit worried, as his mother, Queen Eleanor, has taken to consulting Count Lazlo, a decidedly dodgy Gypsy fortune teller.  She's quite overcome with emotion, so John lends her his specially fragranced handkerchief: "Ooh John, what a lovely hanky!" she exclaims, as people in the 12th century were no doubt wont to.

From our first sight of Count Lazlo it's patently obvious that he's Richard in a crappy disguise, though strangely enough his brother completely fails to notice this.

"I will not have my apartments turned into a slaughterhouse!" cries Berengaria in the tone of a middle-class mother scolding a child for not using coaster when John threatens to run the mischievous gypsy through.

When the Prince is sent off in a huff the others all have a jolly good laugh about what a prat he is.

But, prat or not, John could prove a dangerous enemy and Richard's hatched a plan to take control of those parts of England ruled by the Prince.  It's time to reveal his secret weapon: it's Robert Fitzwalter, Earl of Huntingdon - better known (in this version of the story at least) as the king of the outlaws, Robin Hood! Here he's incarnated in the not-very-dashing form of Leslie Howard's son Ronald.  He's no Jason Connery, that's for certain.

Along with Robin, Richard and his men head to Sherwood, where they're watched by a picturesque pair of guards with oo-ar type rustic accents (Michael Beint and Humphrey Lestocq).

"Boi 'eaven, oi think it's Robin 'Ood!"
The guards fall foul of their quarry and are forced at the point of a sword to tell about John's murder of the French messenger.  Robin puts the horn to his lips and summons forth his men.

The Merry Men arrive, not very impressively, from above.  Little John dispassionately surveys Robin's new friends: "These be French nobles, I daresay, fallen on hard times!" Geoffrey and Gilbert's reaction confirms their role as the Julian and Sandy of the Crusades, Geoffrey standing with hand on hip while Gilbert huffs "Well really!"

Richard pops to Nottingham Castle in the form of Count Lazlo and tells Prince John's fortune.  "Do you know the king of France?" he asks.  "Intimately," says the Sheriff, bitchily.  Lazlo's terrifying knowledge of the messenger's fate puts the wind up John, who tries to frame the sheriff. But one of the guards recognised one of John's lovely hankies in the dead man's hand! (There was a point to that odd bit earlier on, you see).  The enraged Prince can barely contain himself.

With John thoroughly embarrassed, Richard pardons the outlaws and presents them with all the Sheriff's lands.  Hurrah!

The super fun The Devil is Unloosed feels like it should be a series finale, but it's not.  Dickie and his chums will be back in a couple of weeks.

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