Jayne nelson and Mr Merlin.
Ah, the 1980s. For all that we look back on them with fondness today (and the younger generation even wear the same clothes...), actually being there was like living in the Dark Ages. I was 10 years old in 1982 and loved so many TV shows I couldn’t even count them, but didn’t experience the joy of owning a VHS recorder until the start of 1983. Which meant that I would watch a show on TV and then... well, that was it. It was gone. There were only three channels back then, after all, and they shut down at midnight, so it wasn’t as though shows were repeated endlessly as they are now.
So it was a sad day for me when a little series named Mr Merlin stopped airing, because I knew I might never see it again. It was a silly US sitcom about a teenage boy, Zachary Rogers (Clark Brandon), who discovered, after pulling a crowbar out of a block of cement, that he was destined to become the new apprentice of grumpy old wizard Merlin (Barnard Hughes) in modern-day San Francisco. Merlin taught Zachary all his tricks and, inevitably, Zachary got the spells wrong and caused no end of havoc.
It was the greatest show I’d ever seen (well, I was 10). I recorded the beginning credits onto cassette tape, but that was all I had to remember it by when it ended. I missed it and assumed I would never see it again. And then one day I walked into a bookshop and found these two Mr Merlin tie-in books. The joy!
The first book contained the show’s first episode, while the second was an original story. I read them again and again, keeping Merlin, Zachary and all their adventures alive. Also, as the years passed, I realised that they weren’t simply cheap and nasty tie-ins written by someone who didn’t care – they were produced by William Rotsler, a man well-known and beloved in sci-fi circles, who’d won four Hugos for his artwork and written five Star Trek books.
It’s so hard to comprehend today, but TV and film tie-in novels were a godsend back then. Without access to videotape, let alone video rental shops or the prospect of owning a film or show, the only way to relive something was to read it. Thanks to authors like William Rotsler, who slogged away in other people’s universes to pay the rent, our fantasy worlds were kept alive. Thank you, sir.
Fittingly, Jayne now regularly works for a man named Merlin.