Thursday, March 8, 2012

TV Writer Richard Carpenter R.I.P.

Richard "Kip" Carpenter, who created the cult shows Catweazle and Robin of Sherwood, passed on 26 February 2012 at the age of 78. The cause was a pulmonary embolism.

Richard Carpenter was born 14 August 1933 in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. As a child Mr. Carpenter was interested in both the works of Shakespeare and Greek mythology. He studied the history of art at an art school in Cambridge. He did his national service in the British Army. After his national service, Richard Carpenter attended the Old Vic Theatre School in London. He worked in repertory theatre before making his television debut in an episode of The Silver Sword in 1957. In the late Fifties he appeared in such shows as Big Guns, The Black Arrow, Armchair Theatre, The Lost King, and BBC Sunday Night Theatre. He was a regular on Knight Errant Limited as Peter Parker (not to be confused with the Marvel Comics character of the same name) and on The Citadel as Dr. Philip Hope.

In the Sixties Mr. Carpenter appeared in such shows as Hancock, ITV Television Playhouse, Suspense (the BBC series), Espionage, ITV Play of the Week, Gideon C.I.D., ITV Play of the Week, The Baron, Out of the Unknown, Dixon of Dock Green, and Z Cars. He appeared in such films as Damn the Defiant (1962), Tarnished Heroes (1962), The Password is Courage (1962), Wings of Mystery (1963), Escape by Night (1964), and The Terrornauts (1967).

It was in 1970 that Richard Carpenter created the children's show Catweazle. Catweazle followed the misadventures of an 11th Century magician (the title character) who finds himself transported to the 20th Century. Catweazle received critical acclaim and became a popular success, so much that Mr. Carpenter would retire from acting to write full time. There were two series of Catweazle. Following Catweazle, Richard Carpenter became the lead writer on the ITV series The Adventures of Black Beauty. For the remainder of the Seventies he would write for such series as The Ghosts of Motley Hall and Famous Five. In 1979 he created the series Dick Turpin, very loosely based the historical highwayman of the same name. Dick Turpin had two series.

Richard Carpenter followed Dick Turpn with another swashbuckling series, Smuggler. Set in 1802, it followed the adventures of a former British naval officer turned smuggler. There was one series of Smuggler,, which aired in 1981. Following Smuggler Richard Carpenter wrote for the series The Baker Street Boys, about a group of street urchins who helped Sherlock Holmes. There was one series of The Baker Street Boys. It was in 1984 that Richard Carpenter created what was his greatest international success. Robin of Sherwood would not only become a hit series in the United Kingdom, but in the United States and Canada as well. Starring Michael Praed and later Jason Connery, the series blended the Robin Hood legend with paganism and real life history. Robin of Sherwood ran for three series and ended only because Goldcrest (who produced the show with HTV) had a slump in their feature film productions arm.

For the rest of the Eighties Richard Carpenter wrote for the shows Adventurer (a follow up to Smuggler), Hannay, and Pulaski: The TV Detective. In the Nineties, Mr.Carpenter wrote the series The Borrowers, The Return of the Borrowers, a revival of The Famous Five, and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that Richard "Kip" Carpenter was one of the greatest television writers and producers of all time. He created television shows that were intelligent yet at the same time exciting. His speciality was in focusing on outsiders, individuals who must largely lead their lives outside society. Examples are not hard to find in his series: Catweazle (tossed into a time not his own), Dick Turpin (an outlaw), Robin Hood (another outlaw), and the Borrowers (the six inch high Clock family driven from their own home). While Mr. Carpenter's series at times involved fantastic elements (the magic of Catweazle and Robin of Sherwood, as well as the six inch Borrowers themselves), they were very often set in worlds that were all too real. In the end Richard Carpenter created intelligent shows that would last and would appeal to in people of all ages, even if in some cases they had been written for children. To this day and I have no doubt in the future people will be watching Catweazle and Robin of Sherwood.

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