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Dick Turpin

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Armada, London, 1979
(price: 60p; 128 pages)

dedication: To Poll Maggot

The blurb on the back:

Your money or your life!
The dare-devil hold-ups...
The stirring adventures...
The most outrageous escapades...
...of the most famous highwayman of them all.
Dick Turpin is a brilliant ride and master swordsman whose belief in liberty and his own rough justice make him an outlaw in the perilous and corrupt world of 18th century England.
With his old enemy, Captain Nathan Spiker, in pursuit, Turpin rides riotously for freedom on his beloved mare, Black Bess. But danger always travels with them - for capture means certain death!

opening lines:
In the Year of Our Lord, seventeen hundred and forty, on a rain-lashed night in March, a party of men rode up to the Black Swan on Hounslow Heath. They dismounted in the muddy yard and charged into the inn.

Richard O'Sullivan was always intended for comedy and, after a series of cheeky kiddie roles and a dalliance with the Doctor series, he really hit his strides in the 1970s with TV sitcom Man About The House and its second spin-off, Robin's Nest (the first, of course, was George and Mildred). And then there seems to have been a certain career confusion. Ideally he should have either gone completely against type in a Robert Lindsay doing GBH kind of way, or else done a Richard Briers and found another comedy vehicle, refining his style further.

Instead he took on this kids' drama series, which was certainly lightweight but wasn't played for laughs, leaving us all a bit lost about how to respond to O'Sullivan's undoubted screen charisma. He was still roguish, still lovable, but no longer self-deprecating - in fact, he seemed to be cast as a kind of 18th century Robin Hood, a folk hero in permanent rebellion against the forces of corrupt tyranny and legalised oppression.

Despite its curious status, the show was a success, running for more than 30 episodes over four series, and - once you shook off the image of Robin Tripp in knee-breeches - O'Sullivan was well up to the role, looking like a more sensitive Oliver Tobias. And the programme, written by Catweazle creator Richard Carpenter, was a decent piece of work.

As indeed is this novel - a perfectly fine bit of historical children's drama of the kind that Leon Garfield might have knocked out when times were quiet. Enormous liberties are taken with history, but Mr Carpenter points out in the Introduction that he's more interested in the legend than the truth, so you can't really complain, and nor would you wish to. There was apparently a second volume, Turpin and Swiftnick, but I don't have a copy to share with you, I'm afraid.

packing a punch
Richard O'Sullivan engaged in thoroughly convincing fisticuffs


from the maker of...


Robin of Sherwood

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t.v. spin-offs