Twitter is a marvellous thing. It connects people. It makes worldwide communication almost instantaneous. It brings us all closer together than ever before.
Unfortunately, it is very very good at transmitting bad news. Worldwide communication may be almost instantaneous but bad news travels faster. Richard “Kip” Carpenter passed away yesterday. His fellow television professional Anthony Horowitz tweeted the news to his followers at about 11:30 this morning. By roughly 11:32, it reached me. I’m merely one of many who will be saddened by his departure. How like us to transmit the news of the death of this most magical of television writers by the most technological means possible. He would have been amused.
Kip got me early. I didn’t realise it at the time – crammed into a school gymnasium with a hundred other school pupils, watching the “Look and Read” film Cloud Burst (I’d have been six at the time), I certainly didn’t care who wrote it. But it drew me in. The enchantments were weaving even then. When I researched my earliest television memories years later, there he was. It all made sense. For most of my life Kip was there, casting those spells that ensured that those television memories kept on piling up.
Kip was one of the best plotters in the business. He was also one of the best character men there was. He drew on myth, legend and fantasy and recast them into something new but redolent of old ways. He took Geoffrey Bayldon’s twelfth century wizard and chucked him into the early 1970s – the clash between magic and technology gave us Catweazle. While the BBC were giving us pantomime spooks in Rentaghost, Kip gave us The Ghosts of Motley Hall. Still a broad streak of comedy, but somehow more… sedate. More courtly. Certainly classier (although I like a bit of Rentaghost as much as anybody).
Swashbucklers? Kip could do that too. Dick Turpin and Smuggler took the historical thriller template and gave them a little twist, providing a peek at the person behind the legends. They were all teeth-rattlingly entertaining as well. Kip never forgot that. Not for one moment.
For me – and for many, I suspect – it all led up to Robin of Sherwood. Perfectly written. Cast to the hilt. Directed to an inch of its life, it’s the definitive telling of the Robin Hood legend. It looks gorgeous. It sounds gorgeous. It not only tells the myth, it adds to it. Kip wryly commented that after RoS, the Merry Men sustained a sudden influx of moody Saracen warriors, rarely there in earlier tellings.
The first two seasons are glorious. Michael Praed fits the part perfectly (Kip would later remark that after this he went off “to become a clothes horse in Dynasty”), inhabiting the part of Robin of Loxley and making the old stories fresh. It builds and builds until the final episode of season 2. “The Greatest Enemy” could quite easily lay claim to being one of the finest pieces of drama that British television has produced. For maximum effect, watch both seasons first. So much of it depends on the layers of dread and menace that it evokes, and the realisation that this might just be the time that the bad guys win. If you’ve not seen it, I envy you. You get the joy of watching it for the first time. It really is unlike anything that came before it. It’s unlikely that anything like it will ever happen again.
The final season – riven with production difficulties and faced with a brand new Hooded Man to bed in (Jason Connery suffering through no fault of his own – he wasn’t Michael Praed, but he can’t be blamed for that), RoS began to flail slightly – but an average episode of RoS is never less than competent and entertaining. Even with the difficulties he was facing, Kip managed to take the other Robin Hood legend (Robert of Huntingdon instead of Robin of Loxley) and kicked the series off in an entirely new direction. More than anything it became Marian’s story, and there’s the point. The story is everything in Richard Carpenter’s world. He tells those stories through rich, wonderfully real characters. It’s why we remember his stuff so vividly. This stuff has a way of hooking into your memories.
Kip’s output began to diminish in quantity after Robin. He never really stopped, but he slowed down a lot. No shame there. He’d already given so much. The last I heard, he was involved in attempts to put some sort of RoS reunion together to mark the series anniversary. It didn’t happen. Now it probably never will. Without Kip there doesn’t seem much point.
He’s gone. The work endures. I won’t be the last person to quote this today, but it seems appropriate. “Nothing’s Forgotten. Nothing’s Ever Forgotten”.
G’night, Kip. Sleep well. Bless you.