Tony Robinson’s election to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee is just the latest in a string of successes for the diminutive actor.
Besides his blossoming political career there is Channel 4’s cult archaeology series, Time Team, which has excavated everything from Hadrian’s Wall to a crashed Spitfire.
He has written 16 children’s books and has undertaken charity work for Oxfam and Comic Relief.
Tony Robinson’s stage career started at 12 when, playing a member of Fagin’s gang in a West End production of Oliver!, he was catapulted into the role of The Artful Dodger when the boy playing him, as Robinson remembers, ‘bunked off’.
This led to a spell at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama and fringe theatre. Then, in 1983, everything changed. Richard Curtis, of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame, approached the then almost unknown actor to take on the role for which he will always be known, that of Edmund Blackadder’s sidekick, Baldrick.
It was Curtis who encouraged Tony Robinson to write, made him feel comfortable with his predominantly Oxbridge counterparts and involved him in Comic Relief. Oxfam’s Claire Lewis praises the actor’s involvement, especially in the On The Line project which links people in Europe and Africa. ‘He’s very intelligent and always asks the right questions. I love him.’
For his part, Tony Robinson says that the most moving moment of his life was when he saw a dying child revived thanks to a rehydration pack which cost 20 pence.
Household fame, though, did not extend to everyone. Mick Aston, Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bristol, and one of Tony Robinson’s Time Team colleagues, first met him while running an educational visit to the Greek island of Santorini in the mid-eighties which Robinson attended. ‘Everyone was saying: ‘It’s him off Blackadder.’ I didn’t know who he was as I’d never seen it’, recalls Aston.
‘During the Santorini visit we got talking and Tony said, ‘Let’s make a TV show on archaeology.” The two men became great friends and, five years later when the idea for Time Team was being put together, Tony Robinson, with his educational pedigree, was the obvious choice to present it.
Tony Robinson has been a long-standing commitment to the Labour Party and the actors’ union, Equity. His four years as vice-chairman were politically rough. Open warfare broke out between those, including Tony Blair’s father-in-law Tony Booth, who wanted Equity to remain non-political, and New Labour activists like Tony Robinson and former EastEnders star Michael Cashman MEP who, their opponents claim, are seeking to affiliate the union to the party.
In other ways, his time at Equity brought great success. It was restructured, and a half a million pound deficit turned into a small surplus. ‘He was great behind the scenes,’ says Equity’s Martin Brown, ‘helping us to find new ways of doing old things.’