(Images: courtesy of robinofsherwood.org; the seven swords of Wayland screen props)
For many, the 1980s series Robin of Sherwood, starring Michael Praed and later Jason Connery in the title role, was the definitive television version of the famous Robin Hood legend, seamlessly blending swords and sorcery into a compelling and magical retelling of the myth, and creating an atmosphere that subsequent revisions have failed to capture. Now three decades on, it’s stood the test of time – despite the dodgy ’80s hairdos.
In a show chock-full of memorable moments and superb performances – not least the amusing interplay between Nickolas Grace’s ruthless Sherriff of Nottingham and his hapless henchman Sir Guy of Gisburne, played by Robert Addie, and a haunting BAFTA-winning soundtrack – it’s tough to pinpoint a particular episode as being the best.
(Image: courtesy of robinofsherwood.org; “sixth sword” Orias blade close-up)
A personal favourite, however, is The Swords of Wayland, in which the merries leave Sherwood Forest for Ravenscar Abbey in North Yorkshire, poised to do battle against the greatest enemy of them all – Satan – and his minions, including the so-called Hounds of Lucifer.
At the heart of the two-part episode is Robin’s magical sword, Albion, which was entrusted to him by Herne the Hunter and “charged with the powers of light and darkness” by its maker, Wayland the Smith.
As the “seventh sword”, Albion is the last in a series of weapons of power whose purpose becomes clear as the plot unfolds. Released in 1985, The Swords of Wayland reveals a shadowy coven – the Cauldron of Lucifer – intent on finding the seven swords and bringing them together for their own nefarious ends. And with the first six in their possession, only Albion eludes them. Naturally, they’ll stop at nothing to capture it.
(Image: courtesy of robinofsherwood.org; Morax, Solas, Orias, Elidor and Flauros)
“Morax, Solas, Orias, Albion, Elidor, Beleth, Flauros. On each of them, words of high magic unspoken since they were made,” says the coven’s evil leader Morgwyn of Ravenscar (Rula Lenska) as she addresses the assembled Cauldron.
She continues: “Wayland knew the danger. Oh yes, he knew. That’s why he scattered them and for hundreds of years they remained apart. Two of them were buried. Others lost in battle and some so cunningly hidden that none had knowledge of them, except the Cauldron of Lucifer. The search took many years, many lives.”
But where are the swords today? Not the ones forged centuries ago by Wayland the Smith; the television props that were commissioned by producers at HTV back in the early 1980s? Fast-forward 30 years and Robin of Sherwood has a loyal and deeply engaged fan base, and for the show’s most dedicated followers, the props proved almost as iconic as the characters themselves.
(Image: courtesy of robinofsherwood.org; runes on the blade of Flauros)
Robin of Loxley’s sword, Albion, featured prominently throughout the show’s three seasons, and changed significantly over the several years of production. An early Season One Albion, for instance, featured an elaborate jeweled hilt and no name on its blade. The hilt apparently proved painful for actor Michael Praed and various stunt doubles, and as a result was redesigned for Season Two. A variety of Albions were produced, from close-up swords and ‘fighting Albions’ to replacements for those that broke.
Season Two’s Albion proved to be the definitive design, and when the decision was made to film The Swords of Wayland, it was decided that the seven swords would sport a uniform look and feature their unique names on their blades.
Unlike the other sword props made for Robin of Sherwood, Morax, Solas, Orias, Elidor, Beleth, Flauros and Albion from The Swords of Wayland were all specially commissioned, acid-etched pieces. It’s understood that, even in 1984, each one carried a price tag of £800.
(Image: courtesy of robinofsherwood.org; Solas blade runes close-up)
According to the website, the swords spent many years in the care of actor Phil Rose (Friar Tuck) with the exception of Beleth, which went missing during filming three decades ago. Mr Rose donated five of the remaining swords – Morax, Solas, Orias, Elidor and Flauros – to a charity auction in 1998. Though their whereabouts are now unknown, it’s likely that they’re in the possession of a small number of Robin of Sherwood’s most dedicated fans.
Other than Albion, only the “sixth sword”, Orias, saw any significant screen time, but the others remain genuine and beautifully-crafted reminders of what was arguably one of the best shows in British television history.
(For a detailed overview of the sword props, technical information and a breakdown of their various runes, visit the excellent robinofsherwood.org. Additionally, you may wish to check out some of the other RoS fan sites also, from the Trail of Robin of Sherwood (Facebook page), Hooded Man and Robin of Sherwood TV Show page.)