Robin Hood's courageous sweetheart

 

In the mid-1950s, Bernadette O'Farrell was one of the best-known Irish actresses in the world. As Maid Marion in the television series The Adventures of Robin Hood, she was watched by an estimated 30 million people each week. She gave up the role after two years when shopkeepers started addressing her as Maid Marion.

The daughter of a bank manager, she was born in Birr, Co Offaly, on January 30th, 1924, and educated at a local convent.

She was working as a solicitor's clerk when the film director Carol Reed, a friend of the family, suggested she audition for producers Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat. They had set up a film unit in Ireland to make Captain Boycott, a film based on the tenant farmers' revolt of 1880.

The result was the part of the wife of a farmer (Liam Gaffney), who joins others to ostracise the ruthless landlord, Boycott. When the landlord, defeated, leaves Ireland, the local priest advises the community to "boycott" anyone else who tries to do them harm, thus bringing the word into the English language.

Launder later commented, "It was a fascinating and memorable film to make, and I met a lot of marvellous people on it, including my wife".

He married Bernadette O'Farrell in 1950, and in the same year cast her in The Happiest Days Of Your Life, which told of the hilarious results of a group of girls being mistakenly billeted at a boys' school.

Among other films were Lady in the Fog (1952) in which she co-starred, helping a reporter (Hollywood actor, Cesar Romero) track the killer of her brother; The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953), as a member of the D'Oyly Carte company; and The Square Ring (1953), as the wife of an ageing boxer attempting a comeback.

But it was her casting in the Robin Hood series in 1955 which made her a household name, as she pluckily helped her sweetheart thwart the plans of his arch enemy the Sheriff of Nottingham. The high-quality scripts, many written under pseudonyms by blacklisted American writers, and the show's theme tune ("Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen . . .") were other elements in the show's success. Its popularity in America led to a tour of the country by Bernadette O'Farrell and her co-star Richard Greene in 1956.

Three years later she retired to raise her two daughters on the family farm in Buckinghamshire, and on her husband's retirement, the couple moved to Monaco. Frank Launder died in 1997.

Bernadette O'Farrell is survived by her two daughters.

Bernadette O'Farrell: born 1924; died September, 1999