Yet another swashbuckler in ITV's endeavour to bring just about every romantic British historical figure to the small screen. But in this case a fair bit of poetic licence was required.
Richard the First, king, soldier, poet and political intriguer - and one of the most romantic figures in history - was the hero of Richard the Lionheart, a series from Granada that was first aired in February 1962. The producers claimed that the series was based on fact as far as possible but in spite of Richard's fame little is known of his personal life, "...so we have taken some liberties here and there," said associate producer Brian Taylor in a TV Times article that heralded the start of the series.
Richard was played by Irish actor Dermot Walsh who added, "he (Richard) was not always all one would like to see as a man. We have concentrated on his good side." In doing so, the production team would have had their hands full. King Richard I was a typical product of his time. A man brimful of contradictions. A brilliant general but a bad ruler. A sensitive poet and singer...yet bloodthirsty and fearless in battle. By selling honours and titles and imposing crushing taxes Richard was able to finance an army of 4,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 foot soldiers and a fleet of 100 ships to launch a crusade against the Saracens, the Mohammedan rulers of the Holy Land. But Richard fell out with fellow generals, Philip of France and Leopold, Duke of Austria who both returned to Europe. But when Richard became worried about the intrigues of his younger Brother, Prince John, who was seeking to usurp the English throne he hurried home alone through Austria. Leopold, still furious at Richard's behaviour in Palestine, arrested him in Vienna and had him imprisoned in Durrenstein castle. Richard was ransomed in 1193, arrived in England in 1194 and returned almost immediately to France. He never set foot in England again and was fatally wounded in 1199 fighting a French viscount.
So, Richard the Lionheart, the series, was firmly set in that short period in 1194 and follows the king as he tries to thwart Prince John's attempt to hold onto power by joining forces with Richard's enemies. Naturally, this results in a series swashbuckling adventures as Richard is constantly in fear for his life from the likes of Leopold, Philip of France and the Saracen, Saladin. Richard does, of course, have his allies. Actor and singer Iain Gregory played one of them; the musician Blondel. Blondel first met Richard on the road. He was so rude to the King that he was challenged to a fight. Blondel almost beat the King and as Richard admired strength of arms more than anything else he immediately made him his court musician. "So Blondel became the first pop singer in popular history" said Gregory. The trouble with Blondel was that he never bothered to write down any of his music. "The only complete tune I played on the lute was 'Greensleeves'" (which was actually written several hundred years later). "The other pieces in the series were variations on a blues theme which I devised with the help of jazzman Bill le Sage, musical advisor to the series."
"What I'd like to know is how Blondel managed to keep his lute intact while he fought. In the series I had a lot of broadsword fights and in the end my real lute got so badly damaged that I had a number of hardboard lutes made, and they all got bashed eventually. One day at the studio I asked a stage hand to 'bring me my lute.' He returned a few minutes later with my pay packet. I had to explain that I did not mean l-o-o-t. But I suppose you could say I was acting for the loot, because I was only 19 years old and very well paid."
Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by LM (1st March 2008), adapted from original TV Times article. for Television Heaven.