Americans do love their British TV as the inexplicable devotion to David Tennant and “Downton Abbey” testify. You can learn a lot about British history from English writers. Pretty much everything I know about British history of the Dark Ages and Renaissance I learned from Shakespeare’s history cycle. What you may not know is that you may be able to weave together a crazy quilt that covers you in a relatively authentic and comfortable warmth of some of England’s greatest heroes, real, folk, legendary and mythical.
The Adventures of Sir Francis Drake
The life of Sir Francis Drake would most definitely make watching TV a bit of a history lesson regardless of how badly executed the show might be. Drake sailed around the world, trafficked in slavery, was a major player in Queen Elizabeth’s court and was just generally a pretty fascinating guy. “The Adventures of Sir Francis Drake” was actually a British production used as a summer replacement for “Car 54, Where are You?” Talk about going from the ridiculous to the sublime! The most impressive thing about the show may well have been the full scale recreaton of Drake’s ship The Golden Hinde. Such was the exactitude taken in building this replica that it was moored in a British harbor and became a popular tourist attraction until a storm destroyed it in 1983 .
The Adventures of Robin Hood
If there is a fictional counterpart to Sir Francis Drake, it certainly isn’t Robin Hood. I mean, let’s face it, Drake was a world traveler, while Robin Hood’s most memorable adventures all pretty much took place in and around Sherwood Forest. From 1955 to 1958 Richard Greene was showing up for location shooting in England to lend an unusual amount of authenticity to this half-hour CBS series. The basic premise of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” circa 1955 was not substantially different from the Robin Hood series circa 2006…or the Robin Hood series circa 1874…or even from the Mel Brooks series “When Things Were Rotten” of the mid-70s. The 1955 Robin Hood was romancing Maid Marian and outwitting the Sheriff of Nottingham. Maid Marian may have been more maidenly and you never saw an arrow pierce skin, but essentially things have always been the same in Sherwood Forest on TV.
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot
Goodness gracious, but these British heroes do seem to have their fair share of adventures, don’t they? Those scholars who raise the hackles of Inspector Lewis as he goes about solving murder mysteries at Oxford University were brought into the production of “The Adventures of Sir Lancelot” in the late 50s to provide historical accuracy and authenticity in recreating the Britain that existed before William the Conqueror came to town. All that academic input seems a little overarching considering that subject of this half-hour NBC show. After all, wasn’t Sir Lancelot and the other Knights of the Round Table all just literary creations based on legends and myth. But, of course, the time period in which those adventures of Lancelot took place was real and that accuracy was painstakingly reflected in the recreation of an entire 14th Century British village in which the show was filmed, so who’s to quibble? What is also interesting is that Lancelot is the centerpiece of this show rather than King Arthur.
Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers
While there is no one single British hero folk or otherwise at the center of “Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers” this TV show joins the very popular feature film “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” in promoting the collective heroism of British Cavalry soldiers of the late 1800s holding an entire subcontinent at bay. The heroic quality of the characters at the center of this Eastern Western has doubtlessly undergone a significant transformation since the show first aired, much like the fact that a TV series presenting George Custer as a hero was barely possible in the 1960s and would be unthinkable today.