Robert Hoffmann

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Robert Hoffmann Pencil Portrait
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Made by Franco-London Films and filmed in black and white on location in the Canary Islands in 1964, ‘The Advenures of Robinson Crusoe’ soon established itself in the UK as a vital part of children’s early evening broadcasting.

Playing the role of Robinson Crusoe was 23 year-old blonde-haired Austrian born actor Robert Hoffman. Following the series Hoffman went on to have a distiguished career mainly in German language films, although he did enjoy stardom in the UK once more in 1980 when he appeared alongside Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Patrick MacNee, Trevor Howard and David Niven in the movie ‘The Sea Wolves’ before appearing ,briefly, in the US series ‘Dallas.’

The character of Robinson Crusoe dealt with the dual concepts of solitude and loneliness.From the outside, solitude and loneliness look a lot alike for both are characterised by solitariness. But all resemblance ends at the surface.

Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. I have known the feeling of being with people or even one single person and still feeling lonely. This is perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.

Solitude, on the other hand, is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company. I personally love solitude, for it is a time that I use for reflection, inner searching, growth or enjoyment of some kind. Deep reading, (I habitually have a minimum of fifteen books ‘on the go’ at any one time although I never read fiction), requires solitude as does experiencing the beauty of nature. Thinking and creativity usually do too.

Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.

Loneliness is harsh, punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness. Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; in fact I would go as far as to say that I thrive on it. It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy, what allows us to have a self worthy of sharing. For many people, advancing years without a relationship brings into focus the thought of having no-one’s hand to hold on the day we die, yet for 50% of the world’s population, this is an inevitability. For that reason alone, an over preoccupation with having a relationship is a misguided ‘driver’.

The score for the television series was co-composed by Robert Mellin. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1902 and brought to England as a baby, albeit for a short stay, his parents . eventually settleed in Chicago. Robert began his career in the music business as a songplugger for Remick Music in Chicago, eventually being promoted to manager. After becoming an American citizen in 1938 (changing his name from Melnikoff to Mellin), he moved to New York and became an executive at Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) shortly after it was formed in 1940. In 1947 he launched his own company Robert Mellin Inc. which operated in both America and Europe. The success of the Mellin companies can be judged by the fact that when the group was sold in 1968, the asking price was $1.6 million.

Robert Mellin’s other successful career was as songwriter in which he proved equally adept at composing the melody or lyrics or both. His first major hit was “My One and Only Love” in 1952, co-written with Guy Wood. The song was recorded by countless artists, among them Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Sting, but perhaps the best-known versions were waxed by Frank Sinatra (one of my personal favourites amongst his Capitol recordings), and legendary one-off duet partners John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Mellin subsequently penned English lyrics for a German tune by Lotar Olias; the result, “You, You, You,” becoming the biggest hit of the Ames Brothers’ career in 1953. Similarly, Mellin wrote English lyrics for a tune by Italian composers Vittorio Mascheroni and Giancarlo Testoni; “My One Sin” was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1955. “Rain (Falling From the Sky),” a tune co-written with Gunther Finlay, was recorded by Frank Sinatra and featured in the hit movie ‘Picnic’.

In 1962 he supplied the lyrics to Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore” which sold over a million copies. The prolific scale of Mellin’s composing is reflected by his BMI account which runs to 608 titles, some written under the pseudonyms Robert Milton and Joe Hart. From 1952 he worked extensively in Europe, founding Robert Mellin Ltd in England. He also joined several performing right societies in Europe, becoming a member of SDRM (France) in March 1973, SABAM (Belgium) in April 1973 and SACEM (also France) from February 1979. He also joined SGAE (Spain) before renewing his membership of BMI in 1993. Mellin made London his permanent home from the mid-1970s and married his songwriting colleague Patricia Rossiter in 1980 at Westminster.

In 1968 Mellin’s publishing group acquired exclusive rights to all film scores coming out of Czechoslovakia and Rumania, as well as many from Italy. Mellin himself scored a number of Italian westerns, but his own best-loved scoring work was for cult tv-series The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1964) which he co-composed with Gian Piero Reverberi. The theme music became a hit single and the score was released on CD in 1990 and expanded in 1997 with Mellin credited as a guest advisor. In order to present the full score Mellin succeeded in locating the original tapes that he had stored in Rome. Sadly, it was on one of his business trips to Rome on 9 July 1994 that 91-year-old Mellin suffered a fatal heart attack, bringing to an end over 60 years service to music and movies.

Recommended listening

Robinson Crusoe – Rescued again (BBC Radio 4) 1998

Broadcast on the Beeb on 20 January 2011, I originally missed this programme but thankfully it ‘bobbed up’ again on YouTube whereupon I very quickly committed the recording to CD. It now comfortably nestles alongside my 2 DVD set of the original Tv series.

In this radio programme, Glenn Mitchell examines the impact of the French television series ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’ along with its extremely popular and iconic music score.

Anyone who was a child in Britain between 1965 and 1981 will remember BBC1’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, based on Daniel Defoe’s novel, or, at least, they will remember the music. The theme tune, with its rumbling introductory notes suggesting the rolling waves of the on-screen title sequence, remains distinctive, as does the full incidental score, comprising numerous cues that in each case represent some part of Crusoe’s existence.

It was filmed in the Canary Islands as a group of mini-series based on classic novels. Unlike most adaptations of the novel, this production concentrated not merely on events on the island, but incorporated Crusoe’s other adventures, told in flashback.

In 1964 the series was shown both in Europe and, in an English-dubbed edition, on American TV. By the time this version was screened on BBC1 in October 1965, it had been divided into thirteen 25-minute episodes. The series immediately captured the imagination of schoolboys everywhere, among them the writer and presenter of this programme, Glenn Mitchell.

The programme sets out to track down Crusoe actor Robert Hoffman, whose subsequent international career has included numerous features and the TV series Dallas. Now in his seventies, he still lives in his native Salzburg.

Initial tea-time screenings made way for early-morning repeats in every school holiday until 1981. Crusoe had become almost a cliché, and few noticed its departure from the schedules when black-and-white shows such as these were being consigned to skips.

Some claim the BBC prints were simply dumped, and others maintain that they were returned to a vault in France in 1982. When, after almost two decades, interest was expressed in a video release, the only surviving copies proved to be this 13-part English edition, in material requiring extensive restoration. Crusoe was rescued only from this single, fragile source and subsequently released on VHS and, more recently, DVD. Of the original French version, nothing remained but the first episode, rendered useless by Portuguese subtitles. It did, however, reveal that the French original had a different, and inferior, music score, fortunately replaced by the music of Robert Mellin – formerly a hit songwriter in Britain – and Gian-Piero Reverberi.

Before the series itself was recovered, the original music recordings had been rescued by Mark Ayres, a composer who has worked on incidental scores for Dr Who, has remastered audio tracks for the commercial release of vintage Who episodes, and was involved in the latter days of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Ayres’ work on the few remaining tapes produced a CD of the score in 1990, followed by an expanded edition in 1997 after composer Mellin had supplied some second-generation tapes of the edited cues.

The programme features contributions from fans Lawrence Marcus and David West, along with composer’s Mark Ayres and Gian-Piero Reverberi.

With readings by Barnaby Gordon the programme is produced by Stephen Garner

Recommended viewing

The adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Network 4 DVD Box set)

All thirteen episodes of the classic children’s serial in a four-volume box set. Compiled by Network Distributing (formerly Network/Network DVD, a video publishing company that specialises in classic British television, the firm holds the rights to a number of archive British programmes, predominantly those originally shown on ITV, but it also holds rights for BBC and Channel 4 productions. The company is also developing a catalogue of world cinema titles through its film arm Network Releasing.

In episode one, the central character starts his search for sustenance on the island, while in the second episode he builds a tree shelter. In the third episode the wreckage of his ship washes ashore so he sets about salvaging anything that he might be able to use. While he searches he makes a new friend – Dick the dog. In episode four, the shipwrecked Crusoe discovers valuable items and treasure aboard the wreck of the Esmerelda, and finds a cave which he turns into a new home. In the next episode he attempts, somewhat unsuccessfully, to make some furniture for his new abode, and in the sixth episode his shelter burns down. In episode seven, Robinson attempts to construct a canoe to escape from the island. episode eight sees him developing his pottery, breadmaking and basket weaving skills, while in episode nine he holds a banquet to celebrate the third anniversary of his arrival. Finally, in episode ten Robinson has to defend his island paradise against cannibals, rescuing one of their prisoners and naming him ‘Friday’. In episode eleven, Robinson attempts to make Friday into his manservant, with little success. Episode twelve sees Friday return after Robinson’s thoughtlessness drove him away, and in episode thirteen Robinson and Friday make their escape from the island. Also included is the French language version of episode one.