Mike Loades - Robin Hood & bees

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Drone Bee
Oct 26, 2009
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The following is a copy (minus the photo which he refers to) of a bee related post which I was just reading on the fb page of Mike Loades. Nice to see bees being used as stunt doubles for hornets!
The photograph is of me (on the horse) on the set of ‘Junior Robin Hood’ in 1974. Yes - it is my own hair. The reason I post it is because I don't have one of me and the bees. There were bees – a lot of bees – covering my face, as I was stung to death in a scene but the footage is no longer available and there are no photos. Younger followers may not realize that there was once a time when we did not photograph our every daily move. This can sometimes be frustrating but is probably more often a blessing :)

I tell the story however because bees have been in the news with the striking Angelina Jolie photograph with bees drawing attention to the crisis we have with our precious bee populations. I too would like to support bringing awareness to this. Bees are vital. The photographer of the Jolie image has said he drew inspiration from a 1981 Richard Avendon photograph of a man covered in bees. I would like to stake an earlier claim, albeit the image is not available.

Junior Robin Hood was a film made for the Saturday morning pictures (a British cultural tradition that is no longer with us). The premise was that Robin Hood and his followers were all kids (9 – 13 roughly) and all the baddies were grown-ups. (Note to British followers of a certain age – Keith Chegwin played the eponymous hero). The film had a sequel series called The Unbroken Arrow. It was in this sequel that I encountered the bees.

John Waller and I were on set throughout, playing bit parts and doing fight scenes and other general stunts. I think I was killed around six times in total – horse falls, shot by arrows, and stung to death. We also did a lot of the prop making. This was very low budget! There was a scene in which a man-at-arms chases Robin Hood Junior through the forest and RH stops, turns and shoots a hornets’ nest down from a tree. The nest lands on his pursuer and he is stung to death.

I made six nests by coating a rugby ball bladder with plaster of Paris, which I had mixed with yellow ochre and bits of grass. I stippled it and it looked fairly convincing. The rugby ball bladders were deflated and extracted. The nests were secured with some twine. We tied one, coated with some honey, to a tree and a beekeeper threw up some bees to swarm around it. Next, Alf, the props master, went up the tree in order to drop the nest on my head as I ran by. The first nest smashed on the ground because, having been stung at the critical moment, Alf dropped the nest a micro-second too early. The next attempt was a bullseye however. I was wearing a chapel-de-fer but the problem was that I had been a little extravagant with the plaster for this nest and, landing cone end first, it didn’t break. Instead I passed out with a small concussion.

While I was recovering, John Waller stepped up to perform the incredibly difficult archery shot, cutting the string with an arrow. This cord had been fashioned with some strands of garden twine mixed with ‘old man’s beard’ (a type of lichen). Just as he was about to shoot, John was stung on the inside of his bowarm. Throughout the proceedings the beekeeper had kept the area atmospherically supplied with bees and now the whole crew, except the cameraman, had moved to as far away as their jobs would allow. I remember that at least three other people, including the director were stung, Of course John cut the cord perfectly on his second shot. There was then another delay while the beekeeper went home to collect more bees.

When he returned, I had recovered and it was time to do the close-up of me being stung. We cut one of the nests in two and jammed it on my head. Make-up department came in and created some stings on my face and then smeared honey all over it. The camera came in close and the beekeeper scooped handfuls of bees from his box, presenting them gently to my face. They crawled all over the honey. Obviously it was part of the action that I should scream. In doing so, some bees found there way to my inner lip, which was somewhat unnerving. Drones, of course, do not have a sting and I assumed that these were all drones and so felt relatively safe. When the beekeeper came in at the end of the shot and started puffing his smoker at my face, I said “don’t worry, just brush them off – they’re all drones after all.” He responded “No, these are all stingers. I ran out of drones ages ago”. Happily I didn't get stung at all – it must have been the honey.

I relate this silly tale in order to promote awareness of our global bee crisis. We are losing them to pesticides, a pernicious parasite, habitat loss and climate change. However, there is hope. Sound beekeeping practices and efforts can do a lot to save our bees. Support them when you can.

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