By Tony Lee
From He’s Only A Writer
I had a drink in a pub this week. Nothing unusual in that, I hear you say - you often seem to be drinking in pubs, you goddamn layabout, but fear not, I mean something else when I start this column with such a phrase. You see, I had a drink in a pub with a very old friend this week: Peter Howarth, a singer, songwriter and musical impresario. When I was a lot younger, back in the days of black and white when dinosaurs walked the earth, I didn't want to be a writer, I wanted to be an actor, a vaudeville song and dance man, and I seriously worked at performing arts as my future. But of course, as all things do, life didn't work out that way and I ended up behind the pen than on the stage. But I still loved the theatre with a passion and went as much as I could, usually getting into shows on free passes provided by friends who were in the shows, or by friends in the more technical sides. There was a point in the early nineties when I would regularly sit on the sound engineer's desk of Les Miserables, happily pressing the sound effects that 'shot' Gavroche. There's a lot of pleasure in 'shooting' Gavroche. But I digress. I was talking about my drink with Peter. In the early nineties we met up for the first time – he had written a musical called 'Robin: Prince Of Sherwood’ (which was on in the West End) and was starring in it as the Sheriff, I’d gone with two friends, David and Malcolm to see it and in the bar afterwards we met and over a couple of drinks (or maybe a few) a friendship was formed. In the following couple of years we saw the show many times, met up with Peter and his wife Sarah on non-show occasions for drinks and even popped up to Derby (with another mate, Michael) to surprise him when the show was on tour. I never fooled myself, as far as I was concerned we were fans of the show, and he was the 'talent’. He had to be nice to us as we were his bread and butter. But Peter didn’t see it like that. He truly embraced us as friends, and I have many pleasant memories of those months when he was in the West End. We even surprised him once by turning up to a performance dressed as the Sheriff, we sat directly in front and centre and cheered when people booed and booed when people cheered. His expression when he saw us was one of delight. And afterwards he demanded we came round the side door so he could have a picture taken with us.
But by 1993 the show was closed, the tour was ended and we had no reason to see Peter anymore. But, again, Peter still kept in touch, even coming to see me when I was in a show of my own. But the years moved on and we eventually lost track, house moves, new cities and new jobs taking their toll. He became the new lead singer of the Hollies, and I moved into writing comics. Every now and then I’d think about getting in touch, but usually I’d just forget.
Fast forward to last week. By the joys of Facebook and Twitter, I’d recently had David Moore, one of the three original 'Sheriffs’ get back in touch with me and, while reminiscing about the olden days, he mentioned that he still had the picture lying around of that 'Sheriff dressing’ day – and he uploaded it to his facebook account.
Seeing this brought back a lot of memories of that time, because even though I claim not to be anything of the sort, there is a kind of 'celebrity’ image on the comic circuit, especially on the Doctor Who one – I learned this at Gallifrey One in LA – And anyone who doesn’t believe me? Go to the London MCM Expo on the Saturday afternoon this May and check out the Warren Ellis worshipping - but thinking about the conventions that I did, I realized one very surprising thing. I did my best in all occasions to treat the fans of my work like mates, and I realised that this was because of the way that Peter had treated me when I was a fan. I have fans who are now solid friends, and I believe strongly that it purely because of the attitude of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
But more importantly, I realized that Peter, more than anyone else was influential in the creation of Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood – and I’d not only not realized this, I’d never credited him.
You see, Peter, and his excellent musical (which really does warrant a repeat run in the West End, mister Kenwright) had reignited my love of Robin Hood, a story I’d loved as a child. And over the next decade, every now and then I’d hear a snippet of a song from the musical and it’d bring that love back. And when I wrote Midnight Kiss, I originally had a subplot for the later issues that involved Robin Hood and a connection to Nightmare De’Lacy. Unfortunately Midnight Kiss died, but the subplot was still shown, that Maryanne (De’Lacy) stole the silver arrow from Robin Hood, it being the silver from the arm of Nuadha, the king of the Fey. Nothing more was ever said of it, but it was Peter Howarth that, albeit subconsciously, instigated that scene.
That scene inspired Sam Hart to draw me a page of fan art. We’d just finished Starship Troopers together and he wanted a break to clear the pallet, and so he drew a sketch for me, a picture that when I looked at it made me go 'bloody hell. We need to write this story. ’ That sketch, with nothing added to it, became page one of the graphic novel.
So indirectly, Peter had created Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, in a manner of speaking.
I decided that even if he didn’t remember me, I should at least tell him of this. It had been over a decade since we had last spoken, but after a little bit of Google stalking, I found his MySpace page and fired him off a message saying thanks.
Within a couple of hours I had a reply. Peter did remember me well, and was happy I’d gotten back in touch as he’d lost my details years ago. We were also both going to be in London on the Friday, so a drink was planned.
Seeing Peter for the first time was like walking back through a door on memory lane. We sat down in a bar that was once the after show bar for Robin: Prince of Sherwood, and talked like we’d never been apart. Peter’s writing a new musical and had a CD of Robin for me – I gave him a printed out letter proof of my graphic novel. We talked about everything and everyone and I realized that what I had wanted when I was a kid, the performing, and the showmanship? I had it. It was just in a slightly different way. Peter works for the Hollies as their lead vocalist, but it’s not his own work, in the same way that I would write a Marvel, or 2000 A.D. story. When he gets a chance (and usually when his writing partner, 10CC’s Rick Fenn is back in the country) he writes music, in particular musicals – telling his stories in the same way that I write my creator owned stuff. He meets people who like his stuff, and he still to this day treats all fans as friends, and I was honoured to finally tell him how much of an influence he’d made in my life.
And at the end of the day, we said our goodbyes and went back to our respective lives, Peter off to prepare for another singing gig this weekend, myself to meet with screenwriter James Moran for a beer around the corner, where we discussed the differences of screenplays and scripts.
I listened to Peter’s CD this weekend, and the music was as clean and crisp as it ever was, and I found myself remembering just how damned good that show was back in the day.
I only hope that a decade down the line, when someone reads my own work, they feel the same.