Tony Robinson

For other people named Tony Robinson, see Tony Robinson (disambiguation).
Sir Tony Robinson

Robinson speaking at Hyde Park in 2010
Born (1946-08-15) 15 August 1946
Homerton, London, England, UK
Nationality British
Occupation Actor, comedian, television presenter, political activist
Years active 1971–present
Spouse(s) Mary Shepherd (1972-1992)
Louise Hobbs (2011–present)
Children 2
Tony Robinson's voice
from the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, 3 July 2011.[1]

Sir Anthony Robinson, known professionally as Tony Robinson (born 15 August 1946), is an English actor, comedian, amateur historian, TV presenter and political activist. He is known for playing Baldrick in the BBC television series Blackadder and for hosting Channel 4 programmes such as Time Team and The Worst Jobs in History. Robinson is a member of the Labour Party and has served on its National Executive Committee. He has also written sixteen children's books.

Early life

Robinson was born in Homerton in the London Borough of Hackney, London. His father, who died in 1979, was a civil servant and his mother, who died in 2005, was an audio typist.[2] Robinson attended the independent Woodford Green Preparatory School followed by Wanstead County High School[3] (now Wanstead High School), a grammar school[4] in what is now the London Borough of Redbridge. At school, Robinson passed four O-Levels (English Language, English Literature, History and Geography) and went on to study for A-Levels. However, he did not complete his A-Levels and decided to study at a drama school instead.[5]

He performed in his first professional acting role at the age of 12, as a member of Fagin's gang in the original production of the musical Oliver!, including a stint as the Artful Dodger when the boy playing the role failed to turn up.[5] Over the next five years, he appeared in a number of West End shows, in film and on television.


Early career

Too young to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Robinson instead studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. After leaving, he spent four years in repertory theatre[6] most notably at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.

He won an Arts Council bursary to work as a director at the Midland Arts Centre, Birmingham and founded the Avon Touring Company, a Bristol-based community theatre company, with writer David Illingworth.[6] He played a small role as student doctor Grace in the 1972–73 series of Doctor In Charge.

He appeared in the 1974–75 season at Chichester Festival Theatre, as Angel Chicago in the nativity musical Follow The Star. In the 1975 season, he appeared as Hovstad in Henrik Ibsen's Enemy of the People. In 1976, he appeared as Feste in Twelfth Night, and as Majorin in Monsieur Perrichon's Travels.[6]

In 1972 he starred in the children's educational programme Sam on Boffs' Island and was later a presenter on Play Away.[7] He also appeared in the award-winning Horizon documentary Joey, and in the title role in the BBC production of The Miracle of Brother Humphrey. He also had a minor part in the film Brannigan starring John Wayne.[6]

He was also one of the Who Dares Wins team in the Channel 4 comedy/satirical show in the early/mid-1980s.

Blackadder period (1983–1989)

Robinson came to prominence in 1983 for his role in the British historical sitcom Blackadder, as Edmund Blackadder's dogsbody Baldrick. In the first series, broadcast as The Black Adder, he was quite astute, while his master was an idiot. Later series (Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, Blackadder Goes Forth) moved the duo through history and switched the relationship: the Edmund Blackadder of Blackadder II was a brilliant schemer, whereas Baldrick had devolved into a buffoon whose catchphrase was "I have a cunning plan" (which he rarely had).

In addition to his acting on Blackadder, Robinson also wrote and narrated several Jackanory-style children's programmes, encouraged by Richard Curtis.[8] Programmes in this style included Tales From Fat Tulip's Garden (continued in Fat Tulip Too), Odysseus: The Greatest Hero of Them All (a retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey) and Blood and Honey (tales from the Old Testament, filmed on location).

After Blackadder (1989–1999)

After Blackadder, Robinson became the narrator and one of the lead actors for the British animated series Nellie the Elephant, based on a song of the same name. The series ran from 1989 to 1991 and was shown on Children's ITV.

He also provided voice-over to the Free-ranger Chicken cartoon short, an English child-scripted arts-funded production in 1989. Robinson also presented the early-Saturday evening series Stay Tooned for BBC 1, which featured a selection of classic Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons. In 1989 he created the children's comedy TV series Maid Marian and her Merry Men, a loose retelling of the legend of Robin Hood in which he appeared as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Four series were broadcast on BBC1 during 1989–94. In 1990 he appeared as "Shlomo Denkoviz" in Series 8, Episode 2 of Bergerac – "My Name’s Sergeant Bergerac".

Tony Robinson (left), Mick Aston and Guy de la Bédoyère on a Time Team shoot in 2007.

In 1994, Robinson began presenting Time Team, a TV programme devoted to archaeological investigations limited to three days (the outcome was never guaranteed, varying from spectacular to disappointing). In 2005, Exeter University conferred an Honorary Doctorate on Robinson, and Honorary Professorships on principal presenter Mick Aston and producer Tim Taylor, to reflect its great appreciation for what Time Team has done for the public understanding of archaeology in the UK.[9] In the 2011 episode "Hitler's Island Fortress", Robinson described himself as an amateur archaeologist.

Also in 1994, Robinson played a minor part in an episode called "One Flew Over the Parents Nest" in the TV series Minder, playing a character called "Willie the Weed". Robinson was drafted to present other history-based shows on Channel 4, including The Worst Jobs in History, researching and re-enacting some of the more horrible jobs of the past millennium. He also took this show on tour around the country along with an autobiographical question and answer session. This first series was followed by The Worst Christmas Jobs in History in December 2005 and then a second series of The Worst Jobs in History on Channel 4 in April 2006.

Career 1999–2010

In 1999, Robinson returned to star in a one-off Blackadder short film to celebrate the new millennium, entitled Blackadder: Back & Forth. This short film was shown in the Millennium Dome throughout 2000 and was later aired on BBC One in 2002.

Robinson also contributed the voiceover for the TV series Airline in its set of new series from 1999 focusing on the daily routine of EasyJet staff at a selection of airports. The show was made for ITV and is often repeated today on Sky Real Lives, Sky 1, Sky 2, Sky 3 (now Pick TV) & ITV2. He worked as the narrator for six of the remaining nine series until 2006 when the series ended. Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out, a largely improvised stage show, followed in early 2005 and included a mix of the many themes from his career for which Robinson is famous. He also edited and presented The Real Da Vinci Code, a documentary for Channel 4's Weird World series which countered the claims made by Dan Brown in his novel The Da Vinci Code.

In addition to telling his own stories, Robinson narrated the abridged audiobook versions of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. Nigel Planer, Celia Imrie and Stephen Briggs narrated the unabridged versions. He also provided the voicing for several characters in the videogame Discworld. He followed on this Discworld work by playing a role in the live action television dramatisation of Hogfather, broadcast on Sky over the Christmas season in 2006.

Robinson also presented Classic FM's Friendly Guide to Classical Music which aired on a Sunday at 4 pm. The whole 16-episode series was repeated on 26 December 2006. He revealed on the BBC Radio 2 feature "Tracks of My Years" that his favourite songs are: "I Can Help" by Billy Swan, "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis, "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol, "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, "Unfinished Sympathy" by Massive Attack, "Tangled Up In Blue" by Bob Dylan, "Shoulda Woulda Coulda" by Beverley Knight, "This Woman's Work" by Maxwell, "He's So Fine" by the Chiffons and "Falling Slowly" by the Frames.

In 2007, Robinson narrated television advertisements for Honda, in the humorous style of Tales From Fat Tulip's Garden. The advertisements feature plastic cars with expressive faces (similar to Thomas the Tank Engine). He has also done voiceovers for laundry product Vanish as of 2007. In the spring of 2007 Robinson visited thirty towns in Britain and Ireland with his one-man show, A Cunning Night Out. The show was released on DVD.

With Channel 4 Robinson presented Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment and Catastrophe and Man on Earth focusing on humanity's struggle with climate change in the past 200,000 years. Tony Robinson and the Paranormal was first broadcast on Channel 4 in December 2008. In this series, Robinson investigates paranormal phenomena combining the fields of archaeology, parapsychology, history and spiritualism to investigate paranormal evidence.

In July 2009, he appeared in the light-hearted BBC1 series Hotel Babylon as sly hit-man named Arthur Barnes. The character is knocked unconscious by a flying bottle expertly lobbed by the hotel manageress during a showdown in the lobby.[10]

Career 2010 to date

In February 2010 Robinson, described as the "stunt Pratchett", read the main part of Terry Pratchett's BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture.

From 1 September 2010, Robinson hosted a new series on National Geographic Channel called Birth of Britain which was repeated on Channel 4 beginning in January 2011.[11] Tony Robinson Explores Australia was first broadcast in the first half of 2012. Filmed in High Definition, the series roughly follows a chronology from the earliest sightings of Terra Australis Incognita through to the present with each era defined by a theme rather than equal blocks of time.[12]

From 10 September 2012, Robinson hosted a new series on History Channel Australia called Tony Robinson's Time Walks. The series uncovers stories that shaped the character of various cities and suburbs around Australia, including Fremantle, Melbourne, Hobart, Woolloomooloo, Bendigo, Newcastle, Carlton, Brisbane, St Kilda, Adelaide, Canberra, Kalgoorlie, Townsville and Launceston. He also went to Christchurch, New Zealand.[13]

During October 2012, it was announced that Time Team would be cancelled after nearly 20 years on television. Tara Conlan from the Guardian called the show "television history". When talking about the successful run of the show, Tony Robinson said "Not many performers are given the privilege of featuring in two iconic TV series—but I've been lucky." The show's ratings were falling, causing Channel 4 to pursue an alternative "innovative" approach to historical documentary programming.[14]

Between 2012 and 2014, Tony Robinson presented a series of programmes for Channel 4 called "Walking Through History". It featured Robinson hiking through iconic British landscapes, including the Cairngorms, the Jurassic Coast and Stonehenge. At least 16 hour-long episodes were aired, in four series.[15]

In September 2013 Sir Jonathan Miller directed the Gala Performance of William Shakespeare's King Lear at the Old Vic in London. Robinson played the Fool.[16]

In 2014 Robinson played the eponymous title role in a touring production of "The Hypochondriac", Richard Bean's new translation of Molière's "Le malade imaginaire", directed by Lindsay Posner.[17] That year he also made series of programmes on World War I using original 3D photographs to portray life at the time. [18]

In 2015 Robinson presented an hour-long programme for Discovery TV, "Tony Robinson's Wild West", in which he attempted to uncover the reality of America's Wild West in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Featuring such key figures as Wyatt Earp, Geronimo and Buffalo Bill,[19] it included artefacts and stereographic images.

Politics and personal life

Robinson first married at the age of 21, and divorced four years later. He then formed a relationship with Mary Shepherd, and both were active in Bristol Labour politics from the early 1980s. They have two children but separated in 1992, having never married, after Robinson had formed a relationship with the then 35-year-old singer-songwriter Teri Bramah.[20] On 24 June 2011, Robinson married 30-year-old Louise Hobbs.[21]

From 1996 to 2000, Robinson was vice-president of the actors' union Equity, helping with a huge restructuring programme which turned a £500,000 deficit into a small surplus.[22] He continues to work within Equity. In 2000 he was elected to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, a position he held to 2004.[8]

He was also active in the "Make Poverty History" campaign during early 2005, in the lead-up to the G8 summit in Scotland, and is the patron for UK-based charity Street Child Africa.

In March 2011, Robinson participated in the "March for the Alternative" protests in Central London, which opposed the Conservative led Coalition UK Government's spending cuts programme.[23]

He is honorary president of the Young Archaeologists' Club of the Council for British Archaeology.[24] Robinson has shown his support for the Burma Campaign UK, an NGO that aims to highlight human rights violations in Burma under the State Peace and Development Council.

He is a fan of the rock band Genesis and provided sleeve notes for the reissue of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as part of the Genesis 1970–1975 box set.[25]

Robinson was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for public and political service.[26][27] Robinson was quoted as saying "I’ll use my new title with abandon to highlight the causes I believe in, particularly the importance of culture, the arts and heritage and the plight of the infirm elderly and their carers," adding, “I also pledge that from this day on I’ll slaughter all unruly dragons, and rescue any damsels in distress who request my help.”[28]

In 2006 he appeared in Tony Robinson: Me and My Mum, a documentary surrounding his decision to find a nursing home for his mother, and the difficulty he had doing so. The documentary showed his mother's death in the home. It also featured stories from other families in similar situations. It appeared as part of Channel 4's short season of programmes entitled The Trouble with Old People. In late 2009 he was invited to be guest speaker at the Pride of Craegmoor Awards, where he gave a speech about his time with his mother and finding a care home. He then went on to give the prizes to Craegmoor's Shining Star and Leading Light. In January 2016 he described Alzheimer's as "one of the last great medical terrors" and announced he would be leaving money to the Alzheimer's Society in his will.[29]

Honours and awards

Selected filmography


  1. "Tony Robinson". Desert Island Discs. 3 July 2011. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. Sheldrick, Giles (8 January 2016). "Sir Tony Robinson talks about losing his parents to dementia". Daily Express.
  3. Sutton, Dominic (17 June 2013). "86-year-old keep fit instructor recognised in Queen's Birthday Honours list". East London and West Essex Guardian. Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  4. Wanstead High, history of our school. Retrieved 16 May 2015
  5. 1 2 "Biography". Unofficial Tony Robinson Website. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Chichester Festival Theatre programme 1976
  7. Cult Classics, BBC TV
  8. 1 2 "Tony Robinson's Cunning Plan". BBC News. 26 May 2000. Retrieved 22 January 2010.
  9. Honorary degree for Time Team's Tony Robinson, Exeter University, conferral 2005-07-25
  10. "BBC1 Programmes – Hotel Babylon Episode 3: 'The team joins a treasure hunt around the hotel.'". Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  11. "Birth of Britain". Channel 4. 31 January 2011.
  12. "Tony Robinson's Time Walks". History Channel on Foxtel. 10 September 2012.
  13. Conlan, Tara (19 October 2012). "Channel 4 consigns Time Team to TV history". The Guardian. London.
  14. "Walking through history". Retrieved 2014-11-13.
  15. "The Old Vic | King Lear". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  16. "The Hypochondriac—What's On—Theatre Royal Bath". Theatre Royal Bath.
  17. Emma Pietras (4 November 2014). "Tony Robinson's World War One: Blackadder star on grandfather who wouldn't speak of trench horrors". mirror.
  18. "Tony Robinson rides the real Wild West: The badlands are extraordinary". Radio Times. Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  19. Petty, Moira (2009-11-30). "Baldrick bites back: Blackadder actor on his 'arrogant' co-stars, bohemian lifestyle and a fiancee 35 years younger than him". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  20. Pisa, Nick; Todd, Ben (25 June 2011). "Tony Robinson, 64, marries lover less than half his age". Mail Online. London.
  21. "Tony Robinson". Absolute Speakers. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  22. "Hundreds from borough rally for central London march on Saturday (From Times Series)". 30 March 2011.
  23. "Young Archaeologists' Club". 22 March 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  24. "The famous fans of Genesis". The Times. London. 2 November 2008.
  25. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60534. p. 2. 15 June 2013.
  26. "Birthday Honours: Adele joins Blackadder stars on list". BBC. 14 June 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  27. "Tony Robinson knighted in Queen's Birthday Honours". Daily Mirror. London. 15 June 2013.
  28. "Sir Tony says he will leave money to the Alzheimer's Society in his will". Western Daily Press. 10 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  29. "Tony Robinson awarded honorary Master of Arts from". UEL. 1 November 2002. Archived from the original on 22 November 2007. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  30. "Tony Robinson honoured by Open University". Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  31. "Doctorate for Time Team presenter". BBC News. 15 July 2005. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  32. "Honorary graduates for 2006". 31 August 2006. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  33. "Tony Robinson is receiving a Doctor of Science". 4 November 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.

External links

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