I don’t know why this should be the standout memory of BBC kids sitcom from the nineties, Maid Marion And The Merry Men – a show that seemed to beat Hollywoood’s redent plans by decades.
Written by Tony Robinson (who also starred as the Sheriff of Nottingham), it posited that history is always written by the future – and its one that wouldn’t allow Maid Marion to have led a team of scruffy do-gooders The Merry Men in the forests of Sherwood and so elevated Robin instead.
But it was this ditty to Pancake Day that seems to have survived the decades more than anything, and gets dragged out once a year on social media.
I was of course heavily influenced by my experience of working on Blackadder when I wrote Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, and was particularly inspired by the collaborative work I had already done with Richard Curtis for children’s TV shows like Theseus the Hero, and Odysseus The Greatest Hero of them All. But the show which impressed me most at the time was The Young Ones. A whole generation of teenagers took to it in such a personal way. It was THEIR programme. It was almost as though the show would be invisible to anyone over the age of 22 who watched it.
My children were eight and eleven when I started writing Maid Marian, and I wanted to create something which would be as iconic for them, particularly as I found a lot of children’s TV output dull and a bit patronising. It was at a time when MTV was at its height, and I was aware that even very tiny kids were musically sophisticated in a wide variety of genres, so wanted to write songs that felt current but tapped into playfulness. My director and collaborator David Bell, a disreputable hippy, with whom I’d worked worked for a number of years on schools radio, felt the same way as I did, and found the perfect team of David Chilton, and Nick Russell-Pavier to write the music which brought the lyrics to life.
I also vividly remembered how when you’re young there are a few days of the year when the usual daily grind comes to a halt because something special and really exciting is happening around the nation. I wrote Father Bloopy for Christmas, Colin’s Release for Red Nose Day, and in the same spirit wrote Pancake Day for Danny John-Jules.
I’d expected him to sing it in the liquid tones of George Benson, or give it the raw energy of Public Enemy, but he surprised us all by creating this cheeky, little Oomcha! song like something Arthur Askey might have performed in the 1950s at the Hackney Empire. The contradiction between the energy of rap and the cuteness of Danny’s delivery were absolutely perfect. But the icing on the cake was Dave Bell’s editing; I’d wanted a kind of ‘scratch’ sound for the word ‘pancake’, but Dave’s contribution made the song unforgettable.
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