New BBC drama The Gallows Pole comes from writer-director Shane Meadows, and tells the true story of the Cragg Vale Coiners and their leader David Hartley.


The series is based on the book of the same name by Benjamin Myers, and stars Michael Socha as Hartley while Sophie McShera plays his partner Grace.

However, there are also a number of other figures who loom large across the series - the Stag Men, mystical beings who appear to David and influence the course of his life.

But what's their real purpose in the series, were they in the book on which the series is based and what has Meadows said about them?

Read on for everything you need to know about the inclusion of the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole.

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Are the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole book?

One of the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole.
One of the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole. BBC/Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC/Dean Rogers

They are. The Stag Men which appear in the series version of The Gallows Pole are drawn directly from Benjamin Myers's book of the same name.

In the book, they appear to David Hartley throughout the narrative, described as "Stag-headed men dancing at on the moor at midnight, nostrils flared and steam rising."

What has Shane Meadows said about the Stag Men?

Michael Socha as David Hartley with the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole.
Michael Socha's David Hartley with the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole. BBC/Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC/Dean Rogers

In the series, the Stag Men act as both a mystical saviour for Hartley, a guide in his criminal endeavours and a confidante, frequently talking to him through what appear to be dream-like states.

Speaking with and other press, Meadows revealed that he and star Michael Socha went on a ghost tour with a folklore expert in Yorkshire.

He explained that the guide talked about how "in the 1760s people believed that demons and stag men were flying into this cave and it was like a portal to another [world]".

Meadows continued: "You can imagine if you were walking back from Birmingham for three days you could see all kinds of s**t. And what was really prevalent was how that hadn't died; people still speak about boggits and the stag men and you were kind of going, ‘There's actually something really romantic and beautiful about that.’

"I think in Ben's book there was a real connection to David, they come into his room and sort of dance around in a circle on an evening. And so there was obviously the fact that Ben had got it in there, we were doing this research, and I realised that it was really anchored in that community."

Meadows also explained that the relationship between David and the Stag Men in the series was partly inspired by 1980s series Robin of Sherwood, and Robin's relationship with Herne the Hunter.

However, the nature of the dynamic was in part only devised while on set.

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"We did it as an experiment really, me and Michael, it kind of wasn't in my script or wasn't really written into my treatment," Meadows said. "But when we were on set I said, ‘I'd love to show a conversation.’

"And me and Michael did the first one, and you know like on I'm a Celebrity, in the jungle, imagine a whole episode where no one laughs at Ant and Dec’s jokes at all, it's just dead silence. Try improvising through that baby.

"So we carried on for about an hour. No one found any of it remotely entertaining. And I got it into the edit and I thought, ‘That died a death, but I'm wondering whether it died a death because I was speaking through a Bluetooth speaker.’ It didn't look as lovely as it did on the camera, and I watched it and put it together."

Meadows revealed that he and the team have already started planning future interactions between David and the Stag Men in a potential second season, and revealed they already had some footage shot.

"Who knows where it would go in future seasons," he said. "I mean, we shot one, we went into another episode that kind of isn't connected to the prequel, there's all this footage.

"And I think in the last one that we did, Grace is in there as well, and both David and the Stag Men don't think Grace will be able to hear it because it's a mystical relationship just between them two, and she wakes up and is kind of embroiled in it as well.

"So it's probably gonna get ridiculous and become something that only maybe me and Michael, maybe only me, will find funny.

"But I kind of love that as a motif to sort of say, ‘Well, yes, this is period, but it's not taking itself too seriously.’ The idea of a sort of agony aunt relationship between this six-foot dude with massive horns and the king of the coiners, I sort of love, and it was hard to push through because the first one died a death.

"But we carried on - repeat until funny, as my wife says."

The Gallows Pole premieres on BBC Two on Wednesday 31st May at 9pm, when all episodes will also arrive on iPlayer. For more, check out our dedicated Drama page or our full TV Guide and Streaming Guide.

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