Thursday, 25 June 2009

Alan A Dale, R. I. P. : A Tribute to Joe Armstrong.

When I was a small boy I hated Alan A Dale. You see, whilst it was relatively easy to make my plastic Little John toy “soldier” fight my plastic Sheriff of Nottingham, as Robin Hood fired his imaginary arrows and Friar Tuck bought his club down on their arch enemy, Allan A Dale could be made to do little else but stand there and sing a song. No wonder plastic Marian kept running away. (See this link).

Alan A Dale was really popularised by elaborate book illustrations, decades ago; the ballad singer who could relate the tales. The only filmed version of Robin Hood to successfully incorporate the singing outlaw in anything like his original manifestation was Disney’s "Story of Robin Hood", where he functions very much in the style of a narrator. Apart from that movie, versions such as Errol Flynn’s tended to merge Alan’s minstrel qualities with the bright attire of Will Scarlet, and the “foppish dandy” version of Scarlet was born whilst Alan A Dale all but disappeared. (There was one notable exception in “A Challenge For Robin Hood”, but any film which had Robin Hood’s toupee as a co-star was doomed to failure).

If the Tiger Productions / BBC version of Robin Hood has one positive lasting legacy, something totally original which had not gone before, it will surely be Joe Armstrong’s Alan A Dale. Whilst some of the very best Robin Hood stories, like the meeting on the bridge with Little John, were being cast aside, the character of the singing outlaw was brilliantly re-drawn, but with respect to his origins. The outlaw who once sang his tales in ballad form around the camp fire, would continue to tell his tales, but this time of a different nature. Alan A Dale would be the teller of “tall tales”; “little white lies” designed to get him out off a sticky situation, or indeed talk him into one of benefit. And if his silver tongue and wide blue-eyed innocence failed to save his skin (as was usually the case), then his frustration turned to “one liners” which cut his enemies down to size in other ways, leaving their dimmer witted minds unsure how to respond. For example, who else could have gotten away with his comments to Gisborne in Series 2 and survived? The casting of Joe Armstrong in this laddish, street smart, wise cracking, jack-the-lad role was inspired, and Joe certainly seized the opportunity and ran with it.

When Alan turned traitor in Series 2 I thought I’d have problems with the idea. But it turned out to be perhaps the best thing about that second series. We all remember it for the stupidity of Marian’s murder, or the frustrations of following a de-railed script which put Marian back in Nottingham straight after her engagement. But the backdrop to all this was a series of outstanding performances from Joe Armstrong, culminating in those scenes in the cellar fighting Robin Hood. A few weeks ago I think I set the train of thought in motion that Jonas Armstrong is at his best when placed opposite a strong actor. Well, those scenes opposite Joe are ample evidence of that.

I wish there was more to say About Joe Armstrong’s performances in Series 3 but, sadly (and has been mentioned many times in our comment boxes), he was largely neglected in the scripts. The temptations and jealousies of having a girl living in the camp would have been perfect subject matter for Joe’s Alan to explore in greater detail. Better still, the fact that Gisborne is now living and fighting alongside the outlaws would have been a great opportunity for some Alan style jibes at his former boss. But more importantly than that: Alan’s previous treachery and disillusionment are what happens when leaders pursue “lost” and dubious causes, neglecting the needs of those closer to home. Alan wasn’t the only outlaw to have left Robin Hood, even though the extent of his desertion was the most extreme.

As the end approached, and perhaps for the first time in his life, Alan A Dale was lost for words. His large blue eyes filled with tears as he pleaded his innocence. No-one wanted to know. Ironically, only Guy’s expression seemed to show a hint of understanding, as if it said “Hey, this is not my team, I’m not involved”. But even after that rebuttal, together with his own long held conviction that King Richard’s return would never prove beneficial to a common outlaw like himself, Alan still turned back to try and warn Robin Hood about Prince John’s approaching army. And at the very end, he was shot in the back, as if from an enemy afraid to face his cutting sarcasms any longer.

Alan’s lifeless form was placed with some degree of care and respect at the gates to the City of Nottingham. Yes it was intended as a show of power on the part of Sheriff Vasey. But as it lay there it took on an iconic quality, a symbol which spoke not of the impending invasion from the enemy without, but of the strength and resolve of those within. Alan’s body became the demarcation zone; the “line in the sand” which said: “Over this you will not pass. It ends here”.

Alan A Dale, R.I.P. "Him, we liked."


For more Alan A Dale posts and information see links here:

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Blogger robin hood said...

Robin Hood Series 3 Cast:

Robin Hood - Jonas Armstrong
Kate - Joanne Froggatt
Guy of Gisborne - Richard Armitage
Tuck - David Harewood
Sheriff of Nottingham - Keith Allen
Little John - Gordon Kennedy
Much - Sam Troughton
Allan-a-Dale - Joe Armstrong
Isabella - Lara Pulver

25 June 2009 at 14:13  
Blogger robin hood said...

Joe Armstrong tribute.

Death of Alan A Dale.

25 June 2009 at 14:13  
Anonymous Annie said...

Lovely, Robin. Your last paragraph makes me feel slightly better about episode 12.

25 June 2009 at 16:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thankyou, for this fitting tribute to Allan A'Dale and to the brilliant Joe Armstrong!

25 June 2009 at 16:56  
Blogger robin hood said...

Thanks Annie, and thanks Anonymous.

25 June 2009 at 19:29  
Blogger evielyn said...

That was really lovely Robin. Such a waste of a good character and a brilliant actor.
So many of his storylines were just wasted.
You have said it all!

25 June 2009 at 19:41  
Blogger robin hood said...

Thanks Evielyn,

One does begin to wonder just what they can possibly do in a 4th Series with so many of the "originals" gone.

But, looking on the bright side, I know the name "Joe Armstrong" within a cast list in any show anywhere will be good enough reason to tune in and watch.

25 June 2009 at 22:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have nothing to add. You said everything and more I could have said. I agree with everything you said.
Thank you.


26 June 2009 at 02:25  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice.

(Though will it interfere with the gravitas of the episode and the response to it if I admit to having a nice laugh at, "No wonder plastic Marian kept running away"?)

27 June 2009 at 01:37  
Blogger MChris Wsh said...

Many years later...did anyone notice that while Little John is throttling Allan A Dale for supposed treachery (again?), that Giz is in the background laughing? Cracks me up I don't think he thinks he's on camera, otherwise seems pretty odd. There's always haha better you than me laugh.

1 May 2017 at 04:01  
Blogger Ian Gordon Craig said...

Hi MChris Wsh.

Mush admit I've never returned to series 3 after it aired. Maybe one day.

I as really sorrow to see Alan depicted as a traitor, along with other twists and turns in the overall plot.

1 May 2017 at 07:43  

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