Don's Diary

November 12, 1999


An orderly week ahead. Drive to Cambridge to examine a doctorate and then scout tour-sites for next week's "Robin Hood" conference in Nottingham.


Disorder looms. According to conference colleagues, a Sunday Times journalist wonders if my paper, The Forest Queen, is about a gay Robin Hood. I speak to him from Clipstone, viewing the ruins of King John's Hunting Lodge.

Courteous and quite scholarly, he keeps returning to gender matters. I say that my paper will argue that J. H. Stocqueler, being a wit and theatrical, may have implied Robin in the subtitle of his novel Maid Marian: The

Forest Queen (1849): but that is just one paragraph. I comment that inter-male feeling is evident from the earliest ballads (where there is no Marian) through to today's tights-wearing lads.


On "Robin Hood" tour. Hathersage (Little John territory) is best. Seriously lost on the South Yorkshire road system within a bow shot of Robin Hood's grave.


It is on page three, with Errol Flynn grinning in colour. Apparently I think the real Robin Hood capered through medieval forests in pink tights. Peter Tatchell agrees. The Earl of Huntingdon is dismayed.

After lunch the phone calls start. I twice explain to the BBC my plodding interpretations behind the Sunday Times story. Bright-voiced Radio 5 says fine, what about 8.30 tomorrow?


The phones are hot and the secretaries bothered.

Reuters has run an internet story. Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand all call. Radio Winnipeg asks if Cardiff University is in London but we get on fine. A hysterical short with Sydney and a thoughtful talk with Melbourne. The Nottingham folk are down in the mouth; it is like calling Santa a paedophile, one says. Other Midlands stations are amused at Nottingham's embarrassment: much merriment from Leicester, Birmingham and Northampton.


The net widens. Two guys on British Forces Network (I did not know we still had one) provide a learned debate as does, in its more hyperactive way, the Chicago Lesbi-Gay Line. I have rejected So Graham Norton and The Big Breakfast. There is a line between folly and suicide.


The calls are slowing and

changing. Der Spiegel and L'Evenement conduct lengthy, well-organised interviews, less excitable than the English media. Why did this story touch an Anglophone nerve? Was it outrage at the gay suggestion? Or simply shock that a hero can be sexualised at all? I arrive at Nottingham like an outlaw needing heavy disguise. But the conference begins: old friends, good scholars, wryly amused. Off this evening to see the green men at Southwell Cathedral. No comment from me.

Stephen Knight is professor of English literature at Cardiff University.

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