Black Arrow out on DVD

Sunday, 20 September 2009 13:14

Back in 1888, Robert Louis Stevenson published “The Black Arrow”. The BBC has adapted it for TV twice, once theatre-style in 1951, shown over two nights, and then as a six-part serial in 1958. Just released is the third televisual conversion, Southern Television’s rendition of the story which ran for three seasons from 1972 to 1975.  Thanks to Simply Media, you had an opportunity to win one of three copies of the three-DVD set that we had up for grabs in our prize competition.

We’re taken back to the 15th Century, and the Wars of the Roses, in action that is filmed in the New Forest in Hampshire. Richard Shelton (Robin Langford in series one, then Simon Cuff for series two and three), following his father’s mysterious death, is put in the custody of Sir Daniel Brackley (William Squire). Brackley, a seemingly nasty member of the local nobility, is feared by many as being after Shelton’s forthcoming inheritance.

Black Arrow on DVD

Much like Robin Hood, Shelton joins up with a group of people working on the wrong side of the law, fighting Brackley’s treatment of the poor.  They are aided in their activities by a mysterious figure whose identity is protected by a mask, as he rides to their assistance on horseback.  Indeed, this mystery man has a hit-list, a quartet of people he intends to eliminate – the targets being revealed on a parchment left pinned by dagger to the door of the local church.  The message reveals: “Four black arrows under my belt, four for the sorrows we have felt; four men who played the evil part, one black arrow in each black heart”. The first three are soon eliminated, and only Brackley remains by first season’s end.

Season two is set some four years later, allowing for Shelton to be played by a different actor, Simon Cuff.  However, casting confusion abounds for those paying attention, as Cuff had taken the role of the unconnected ‘Chief Outlaw’ in the first series. Still, there was well over ten months between the season one finale and the season two premiere, so hopefully this didn’t cause the audience of the time much angst – for the DVD release, unfortunately, this barrier of ‘passage of time’ is removed!

Brackley has been hiding in France, away from the attentions of the Black Arrow. He decides that enough time has passed, so makes his return to England. In turn, Black Arrow reignites his pledge to see off Brackley. Throughout the second season, once more, we have no idea who indeed the true identity of Black Arrow actually is.

The third season reveals the Black Arrow’s secret, and anyone who has been following the adventures will shake their head in disbelief, leading to the only possible conclusion that Black Arrow has not consistently been the same person! Had the internet been around at the time, we would no doubt have seen forums alive with as much debate, and as many theories, as we have currently seen for the like of JJ Abrams’ Lost.

Indeed, with the mystery effectively over on one level, season three is a very different scenario to what has gone before. Shelton becomes even more in the mould of Robin Hood than had previously been the case, moving from settlement to settlement, assisting those in distress. This includes saving and then enlisting the help of the young Peterkin (John Sanderson), most notably in saving a bride-to-be from being burned at the stake, who has been charged with being the witch who summoned up the spirit of Black Arrow!

The series has become one of those that are just on the cusp of memory, and information about the series is incredibly bereft on the internet.  In books on Cult TV, mention of the series are very thin on the ground, and without the entry made by Alistair D McGown and Mark J Docherty in their “The Hill and Beyond: Children’s Television Drama – an Encyclopedia” this article would have been VERY scant on detail!  Such is the way of much of the programming from Southern Television which, following one library acquisition after another, has very much reduced in profile compared to shows from this era made by other ITV franchises. Indeed, save for its initial transmission, and a few satellite screenings in the early 1990s, it’s not been seen on broadcast channels since.

Quality wise, it’s not quite on par with the likes of the HTV historical television productions, as it mixes location filming with studio-based video scenes. However, the intrigue and subterfuge across its episodes makes up for this, as nothing is ever quite what it seems.  Indeed, for such a forgotten series, it’s interesting to note that it did get its own comic strip in the LOOK-IN comic/magazine.

Other more recent adaptions include the 1985 TV movie directed by John Hough and starring Oliver Reed, Donald Pleasence, and Georgia Slowe (Perdita Hyde-Sinclair in Emmerdale), the 1973, 1988 and 1999 animated versions, and “La Freccia Nera” in 2006, which shifted the action from England to Tirolo, at the border between Italy and Germany.

Black Arrow – The Complete Series is out now on DVD with a running time of 486 minutes approx, a ‘PG ’certificate and a RRP of £19.99. And now, thanks to Simply Media you have the opportunity to put one of three copies of Black Arrow onto your mantelpiece.  All you have to do is tell us the answer to the following question: Which TISWAS regular presenter featured in Season Two of Black Arrow, playing Megs?  The answer was Sally James, and the winners were Alison Maclean of Tyne & Wear, Joy Whitelock of Bridgwater, and Melanie Gardiner of the Isle of Wight. Well done all!


Black Arrow Episode Listing


Robin Langford as Richard Shelton (Season 1)

Simon Cuff as Chief Outlaw (Season 1), Richard Shelton (Seasons 2-3)

William Squire as Sir Daniel Brackley (Seasons 1-3), The Stranger (Season 2)

Eric Flynn as Will Lawless (Season 1)

Glyn Owen as Will Lawless (Season 2)

Helen Stronge as John Matcham / Joanna Sedley (Season 1)

Gordon Rollings as Father Oates (Season 1)

Ivan Beavis as Bennet Hatch season 1)

Charles Waite as Richard of Gloucester (Season 1)

Phillipe Monet as Herald (Season 1), Richard of Gloucester (Season 2)

Michael Ripper as Rutter (Season 1), Priest (Season 3)

Griffith Jones as Lord Risingham (Season 1)

Gordon Rolligs as Father Oates (Seasons 1-2)

Eddie Byrne as Brocks (Season 2)

Sally James as Megs (Season 2)

John Rees as Carter (Season 1), Gunn (Season 2)

Dorothea Phillips as Mistress Hatch

Michael McStay as Knoles (Season 2)

John Sanderson as Peterkin (Season 3)

Brian Coburn as Lord William (Season 3)

Roberta Tovey as Anne (Season 3)

Nigel Havers as Roger (Season 3)

Mark Donaldson as Hawker (Season 3)

Pearl Hackney as Nurse (Season 3)

Written by Ben Healey (Seasons 1-2), Anthony Read (Season 3)

Produced by Peter Croft

Executive Producer: Lewis Rudd (Season 3)

Directed by Peter Croft


Season One


1.01 The Prophecy

Original ITV Transmission: 4 December 1972


1.02 The Leper

Original ITV Transmission: 11 December 1972


1.03 Richard Changes Sides

Original ITV Transmission: 18 December 1972


1.04 The Cattle Drive

Original ITV Transmission: 1 January 1973


1.05 The Chess Game

Original ITV Transmission: 8 January 1973


1.06 The Crossroads

Original ITV Transmission: 15 January 1973


1.07 The Last Arrow

Original ITV Transmission: 22 January 1973



Season Two


2.01 The Stranger from France

Original ITV Transmission: 5 December 1973


2.02 The Return of Black Arrow

Original ITV Transmission: 12 December 1973


2.03 Sir Daniel at the Inn

Original ITV Transmission: 19 December 1973


2.04 Plot and Counterplot

Original ITV Transmission: 2 January 1974


2.05 The Ambush

Original ITV Transmission: 9 January 1974


2.06 The Lady Prioress

Original ITV Transmission: 16 January 1974



Season Three


3.01 Peterkin

Original ITV Transmission: 24 November 1974


3.02 The Wedding

Original ITV Transmission: 1 December 1974


3.03 Trapped

Original ITV Transmission: 8 December 1974


3.04 The Stake

Original ITV Transmission: 15 December 1974


3.05 The Adventure of the Holy Finger

Original ITV Transmission: 22 December 1974


3.06 Captured

Original ITV Transmission: 5 January 1975


3.07 Winner Takes All

Original ITV Transmission: 12 January 1975



Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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