Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tall, Dark and Handsome!

In the summer of 1972 I sat down to watch a children's TV programme called Desert Crusader ...and fell desperately in love. His name was Thibaud (pronounced Tee-bow). He was le Chevalier Blanche, the white knight, a half-French, half-Arab crusader knight adventuring around the Holy Land during the reign of King Fulke 1131-1143. As his name suggests, he was garbed in white robes, apart from his black sword belt, and was the epitome of the chivalrous warrior. I can remember being glued to each episode and not wanting to blink lest I miss a microsecond of my hero's performance. You have to realise that there were no video recorders or DVD's back then - nothing to record these episodes to rewatch. They had to be treasured in the memory.
Desert Crusader was a French made programme, its home-grown title being Thibaud ou les Croisades. It was dubbed for an English audience which made for interesting lip sync! Around the same time programmes of a similar format were popular in the UK. Belle, Sebastian and the Horses for example, or The Flashing Blade - which had a very catchy theme tune. See here for example http://tinyurl.com/6o9fax
Desert Crusader's theme music and opening titles can be accessed here http://tinyurl.com/62xhpe
You would not believe how much my heart used to pitter-pat at that intro once a week as I awaited my date with Thibaud! I had always told myself stories verbally but I never wrote anything down until I was 14. My first effort at a novel was a Tudor tale inspired by watching Keith Michelle in the 6 Wives of Henry VII, but I'd not got very far into it and had become bored with the storyline.
Now, a year later, in love with Thibaud (as portrayed by actor Andre Laurence) inspired by the programme as a whole, I wrote my first full length novel and actually thought that I'd love to become a writer for a career. My hero was loosely based on Thibaud - I suppose these days it would be called fan fiction but there was no name for it then. Although it started as 'fan-ficition' it quickly developed a life of its own and departed from the beaten track of the TV series, broadening out into a whole new landscape.
I wanted my writing to feel as real as possible, so I had to knuckle down and do the research. This involved hauling home from the library various tomes on the Middle East, the crusades, medieval weapons and culture, geography, horsemanship, food and drink. You name it, I set about reading far more diligently to feed my hobby/project than I would ever have dreamed of doing where my schoolwork was concerned!
My long-suffering mother despaired as instead of asking for clothes and makeup for Christmas and birthday presents as per a 'normal' teenage girl, I'd ask for books such as Runciman's History of the Crusades vols I and II, or the Oxford History of England. By the time I'd finished my first 500 page novel I was hooked. Yes, this was what I was meant to do. I wanted to write historial adventure fiction for a living. Of course in the real world it was a case of 'dream on' and those dreams in question, first given a solid framework and focus when I was fifteen, didn't materialise until I was 32 when I finally reached the slush pile of literary agent Carole Blake with my 8th novel The Wild Hunt. Carole took me on and seventeen years after first setting eyes on Thibaud, I achieved my goal. It is probably no coincidence that Guyon, the hero of The Wild Hunt, looks very much like Thibaud in my imagination!

I thought I had lost Thibaud and Desert Crusader forever. When I mentioned the programme at talks no one seemed to remember it, and dubbed programmes had fallen out of fashion. It was never likely to be repeated. But then a man called Philip McDonnell wrote to me saying that he remembered it well and it had triggered his own love of history. He had tracked it down and had discovered that all of the episodes were available from Amazon France. I am very grateful to him because it has meant, more than 30 years down the line, I have been able to obtain the full set and once again look upon the face of the character who began it all for me.
Has the programme stood the test of time? Well....yes and no. The acting has more ham than the deli counter at Waitrose's. The fight scenes are hysterical, the costumes are straight out of Men in Tights. Run it on Fast Forward and it looks like an episode from Benny Hill. However, Thibaud, I am happy to report is still absolutely gorgeous (freshly washed blow-dried hair notwithstanding). Amid all the ham and slapstick, serious themes are treated thoughtfully and actually with a touch that is far more subtle and in keeping with the period than something like Kingdom of Heaven. The interraction between Christians and Muslims is one of people rather than idealogies. There are good and bad Christians in the story lines and good and bad Muslims - and their religeon doesn't have anything to do with whether they are goodies or baddies. There are distinctions made between the different Muslim and Crusader factions. The Tuaregs and the Bedouins and the Egyptians all wear different garments and have cultural differences. Thibaud, born of a European father and Turkish mother, straddles the lines between the cultures and thus is a good observer of both sides and able to move between the two. There is a very amusing episode with a red-haired Scotsman (wearing a kilt!!) who speaks with an accent the French obviously thought of as British. I was also surprised at how brilliant the horsemanship is in this series. There is a lot of riding about in the episodes, usually at a rapid trot or full on canter. Thibaud (Andre Laurence) is absolutely at home leaping on and off his mount, performing tricks such as leaping from one to another at full gallop, and just by his very body language, showing how much at ease he is around horses. This too helps to balance the authenticity of some of the less credible material and certainly enabled me to suspend my disbelief. For certain a knight would be able to ride as if it were second nature to him. It's interesting to hear the actors speaking in rapid French. I am sure that the Norman French of the period didn't sound exactly like this, but it is a step closer to the original than full on English, so although I don't understand all that is said, it helps my imagination to soar.

I am so glad to have found Thibaud again. I feel as if a piece of my past has been restored to complete the circle. I leave you with a particular close up. No wonder I was head over heels from the start. One look into these and I never stood a chance - thank goodness!


Carla said...

What a lovely story, and how splendid that you managed to find the DVD set!

Eliza Knight said...

Wow, he is handsome! Isn't it amazing when you can find things like that? When I was a child I was a huge fan of Fairytale Theater, but I couldn't find the DVD's anywhere. A few years ago, my mother found the set and bought it for me, now I share it with my own daughter. It wasn't until watching it as an adult I recognized all the famous actors that got their start by taking parts in the tales.

Jan Jones said...

Oh lord. I'm in love. Again.

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

What a great story! I loved Arthur of the Britons with Oliver Tobias, which was made in the early 70s. I despaired of it ever coming out on DVD but a friend recently told me the two series are now available and I've just bought them. What joy! Now I shall have to investigate Robin Hood (the Richard Greene version) and William Tell (Conrad Phillips)- but definitely not Ivanhoe with Roger Moore.

Anonymous said...

Like you I never thought I'd see this series again. Do you know if the DVD has english subtitles?

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Thanks for the comments folks. Sarah, I am going to have to get hold of Arthur of the Britains to add to my 'retro' collection. That was a favourite too. You are right about the Ivanhoe though!

Matt - sadly there are no English subtitles, so you have to watch it all in French. I have a French 'O' level, but it's all a bit fast for me! The episode with the red-haired Scotsman with the 'English' French accent is a hoot though!

Anonymous said...

I watched him as a kid on French TV. Yes, I found him very cute, but my heart was taken: I was already in love with Zorro.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for this. I too was and still am in love with Thibaud. I want to be a writer as well, but have never fulfilled that dream.

Lately I have been looking up all the old series of my childhood and I remember this one so well and am so glad that I have discovered what it was called and I have now ordered it.

I am so excited about being able to see him again!

Catherine x

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading your story. My children enjoy both Richard Greene's Robin Hood and The Flashing Blade - along with the US television series Lost in Space. I've tried to get the dvd for the dubbed version of Tibhaud, Desert Crusader, and even tried Amazon France for the French language original but to no avail. Any thoughts?

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for dropping by the blog.
I obtained my copy from Amazon France so as far as I know they stock it - unless they've run out.
Just been to look - yes they have it in stock. I'm no good at typing urls into comments posts but the below is the correct one sans underline.
You need to go to Amazon France and type Thibaud ou les Croisades into the search box and voila!


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for the advice. I followed the link and have managed to order a copy of Thibaud. Looking forward to trying to follow in French now!
Thanks again for your help.

Anonymous said...


I want to thank you so much for this. This series has been playing on my mind for so long. I remembered the gorgeous man in the flowing white robes in the series which I used to watch when I was young. I remember that he never got dirty! Anyway, doing the google search brought me here and now thanks to you - I have the DVD. I cannot speak French! But I am still enjoying it thoroughly. He has the Hollywood good looks - better looking than most of them in Hollywood actually. The fighting is more realistic than I remembered. I am not at all surprised you were inspired by this character. I too have written stories based on characters in series that I love - I am sure Thibaud will be one of those now!

Unlike you I am not a published author, and I am so pleased that you have been successful.

Love Catherine x

Simon Trick said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I really enjoyed reading your story. As a boy of 12 I watched it and thoroughly enjoyed the series. The music has stayed with me these past 37 years, tucked away in my memory, waiting to hear it again and check how accurate it was! I'm pleased to say that it sounded as I remembered...but I'm not too surprised to hear about the acting being 'hammy'! Anyone who watched 'The Flashing Blade' in the late '60s will know what I mean. I thought it was brilliant at the time; I saw it again many years later and was shocked at how awful it was. But the theme tune was still catchy (not aged as well as 'Desert Crusader' though). Some readers may remember 'On the Waterfront', a late '80s Sat morning kids' prog (which I watched aged 28!!), which did a fantastic overdub send-up of 'The Flashing Blade'.
Thank you for enabling me to hear the music once again for 'Desert Crusader'. It still sounds great. Now I know about your books, I shall locate and buy a copy. Any recommendation for a first to read?

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Simon, thanks for dropping by and glad I was able to help. Youtube is brilliant (although it devours time) for finding all sorts of blasts from the past.
Books: I would say take a look at The Greatest Knight and see how you go from there. It's the story of William Marshal, one of England's greatest medieval men and there's plenty of chivalry, swash-buckle, political scullduggery and romance!

Dave Carswell said...

Hi Elizabeth
Can i ask you do you know if the english dubbed version is available?? i saw it on Amazon France, & contacted Uk Amazon & they didnt have a clue!!
I was also a big fan of Arthur of the Britons, & The Flashing blade!! they take m back to those saturday mornings as a child. in the early seventies!! (happy times)waited so long for these to apear on dvd, lets hope thibaud does as well!Does anyone remember the french made Robinson Crusoe?? Best Wishes Dave Carswell

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Hi Dave,
Thanks for dropping in.
I can't help you on your query, but I suspect that the French version is the only one that's going to be available. If there'd been a dubbed English version, I'd have it. Annoying but better than nothing I guess. I very vaguely remember Robinson Crusoe, but it didn't grab me with the same dazzle as Desert Crusader - or should I say it hasn't stayed with me down the decades!
Good hunting!

Anonymous said...

A thousand thanks for the links to the theme tune! As with some of the earlier comments I have never forgotten it over all these years and now the short 'taster' of the theme sits happily on my new fangled MP3. Unlike you I never fell in love with Thibaud (being a boy!) but this series started my life long love affair with swords and armour. The thing I really remember was the sound of the combat, not your hollywood 'knitting needles' clacking away but real full bodied clanging like two hammer and anvils! (I even made my own broadsword in metal work at school at the time!)
Once again many thanks for the memories

Best wishes

Robin Godbeer

Unknown said...

I thought I had forgot all about Thibaut....but no...how marvellous..the joy of watching the series especially if my brother was not around to tease me...Andre Lawrence was French/Canadian I believe so could have probably dubbed it himself....I would love to read "Tigers Eye" was it ever published? Arthur of the Britons..really like that series /him until "The Stud" with Joan Collins co-starring....I have very recently been introduced to your books by my daughter who is an avid fan, and we both have a soft spot for William Marshall...keep the books coming. I started with the Wild Hunt and just about to read The Scarlet Lion...

Anna Purna said...

I am in ecstasy! I have been looking for this series for years and years and years - I too was completely smitten as a six-year-old and have never forgotten it, but no one I ever asked had heard of it. I began to think I had imagined it all myself. Please, please tell me where you got your DVD edition of it, as I would love to see it again. I just checked Amazon, they don't have it. Thibaud was amazing, the horses were amazing, the whole concept of it was designed to sweep young girls off their feet, I am convinced. I am so so happy to have found someone who was also glued to the TV on a Saturday morning before Tarzan, enraptured by the whole romance of it, and the handsome hero.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Anna, thanks for stopping by. You need to go to Amazon's French branch to find it. I think they should have a list of their international sites at the foot of the Amazon page. That's where I got my copies.

Carmen González Huguet said...

Thank you for the story. I saw Thibaud sitcom at the same time that you did. But I was living in El Salvador. They put it on tv in Spanish. Just few people remember this sitcom. And you are agree. As you did, I learned to love history through this show. Congratulations. You have become a writer. From El Salvador, carmengonzaleh@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

This serie go exibited in Brazil in years 70,called:"AS CRUZADAS",with unforgetable soundtrack(Mario Gem?).Guest star carismatic french actor André Lawrence.The Italian movie called:Os 7 de Tebas(I Sette a Tebe)-from 1963.direction by Roy Ferguson,with André Lawrence e Loredana Nusciak(Django).Marcos Maurício(Brazil).

Perfectionist said...

awesome story. loved your writing.


Anonymous said...

I remember it from summer holidays in the 70's but could never remember the title.
Pity the acting wasn't as good as I remembered, I suppose some memories should stay just that, although I've always had a love of history because of this program and the flashing blade of course. Of course when I started reading history properly Richard the lion heart and co were no where near as nice a bunch as the desert crusader.
I'll have to read some of your books, hopefully they won't be to girly, as a friend of mine said to me when we were 6 happiness is a good western with no kissing.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Actually I was amused to find a 'kissing' episode when I rewatched the sequences - but it was of the unrequited love variety in the end.
You will find occasional moments of kissing in my work, but it is fairly bloke friendly. I'd say try The Greatest Knight for a starter. Snoggery involved, but not to the exclusion of the derring do and other goings on.
As to six year old cowboys. Just mosey along to my website and take a look at a certain photo on my biography! :-)

Cathal said...

Just did a bit of "googling" on "Desert Crusader" this evening because like Simon in an earlier post I also remembered this show as a kid and still to this day could whistle the theme tune but hadn't heard it since those days as a kid! Delighted to finally get to the bottom of the mystery .... that it was in fact a dubbed French show. I loved watching it so much all those years ago. And yes my memory of the theme tune was spot it! Amazing what you remember.

Anonymous said...

I felt exactly as you did, when at 13 I saw the series on Italian tv, totally in love with the beautiful white knight! I still remember the day the last episode was on, one of the saddest of
my life!