Tony Robinson on Walking Through History, Time Team and Blackadder

"It’s entirely up to writers Richard [Curtis] and Rowan [Atkinson]. If they decided that they wanted to do another series, I would definitely say yes"

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Tony Robinson on Walking Through History, Time Team and Blackadder
Written By
Jade Bremner

Channel 4 recently cut long-standing archeology show Time Team, but Tony Robinson won’t be absent from our screens for too long. His new four-part series, Walking Through History (starting on March 30), sees him cover 60 miles on foot through some of Britain’s ancient landscapes, telling tales about the surrounding areas along the way. We caught up with Tony for the inside track…

We’re really pleased to hear you’ve got a new show, but how do you feel about Time Team being axed?

I became so frustrated with my inability to be able to tell the wonderful bits of British history, I actually badgered them [Channel 4] into giving me a series. They are going to carry on doing the Time Team documentaries, so the brand will survive – we’re doing four of those this year. They’ve given me the walking series to do. It’s not one of those partings of the way where I’m spitting feathers, as often happens in television. People appear ranting and raving on page five of The Sun saying; “I’ve been betrayed!” It’s nothing like that, I feel philosophical about it. I’ve freelanced for twenty years; I’ve known by and large what I was going to do through the course of the year – and that’s an enormous privilege. I think it would be mean spirited to resent it. On the other hand, of course I feel frustrated.

Do you think the end of Time Team will affect the way the British public views national history?

It’s too early to tell yet. My concern is that because of the financial cuts, local authorities aren’t doing the excavations that they used to do, universities aren’t, English Heritage isn’t, National Trust isn’t. We were the biggest funder of field archeology in the country, believe it or not. To withdraw all that investment in archeology is very worrying, first of all because of the discipline – you need young people to practise it so they can get better and better. Also because archeology is coming up all the time, with developing, with global warming, meaning that more of the coast is exposed, with new Tescos and motorways being built. If what is laid there isn’t being dealt with properly then it means an enormous amount of our heritage is under threat.

Would you describe Walking Through History as a travel show on foot?

Yeah, each episode I walk about 60 miles. I had to do the same bit four or five times, for each take, so I’ve actually walked longer than the 60 miles. When you see me coming up the top of the hill puffing like a walrus, that’s not a piece of rather bad acting. If my face looks slightly irritated occasionally, I’ve been asked to do the same climb for the seventh time.


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What’s your favorite period in history?

Now. We know that we’ve got a roof over our head. We know, in all likelihood, we’re going to have sufficient food for the day, clean water that isn’t going to give us cholera, we’re unlikely to be beaten to shreds by the army or the police during the course of the day. All of those things, which haven’t been the lot of most people throughout history, we just have on a plate. I do quite a lot of work in schools and I always try to remind people that we may moan a bit about the recession, but we still live in one of the richest countries in the world and are an incredibly privileged people regardless of income.

If you could go back to any time anywhere in the world to discover anything, what would it be?

It would have to be around 30 AD in Jerusalem, wouldn’t it? I’d really want to know what precisely was going on then.

Have you got any theories on that?

Ahh… next question.

Why did you choose to set Walking Through History in Britain?

I wanted it to be a counterpoint of Time Team. Time Team is by definition is very static. Once you’re in that field and you’ve dug your trenches, that’s it. I wanted to talk about the landscape in an entirely different way and I feel that there are so many wonderful stories to tell. One of the four walks is through Kent – Thomas Boleyn's (Anne and Mary Boleyn’s dad) neck of the woods. He was, in many ways, a self-made man. He cornered the iron smelting industry.

In your opinion, what’s the best place in the UK to visit?

I love the Pembroke coastal path. Whenever I’ve been there, it’s been sunny, but slightly bracing. So you’re happy to keep walking, but you’ll get a bit of a tan. The wildflowers and the insects are great and you’ll occasionally see a small mammal. There’s lot of old crumbling history in the landscape to look at and the landscape is constantly changing. One of the walks that we did was probably my favourite English walk. It’s a Dorset coastal path, and here the story of the Second World War unfolds.

What’s your best piece of travel advice?

Go slowly. Most of us work so hard and live so hard. On the first day of the holiday I remain in work gear, it can take me some time to slow down and all that time I’m missing the serendipity of the wonderful things that are all around us.

What would you never leave home without when going on a trip, walk or holiday?

My wife. I’ve spent so much of my life in what can be quite solitary professions, particularly when you’re fronting television programmes. I’ve been all over the world doing that on my own, to be able to enjoy that in the company of someone you adore makes it five times as good.

Do you think there’ll be another series of Blackadder?

It’s entirely up to writers Richard [Curtis] and Rowan [Atkinson]. If they decided that they wanted to do another series, I would definitely say yes.

You attract eccentric fans, what the strangest fan mail you’ve ever received?

It’s part of the territory. I’ve had quite a lot of turnips, but I think the scariest thing was when a parcel arrived at the house addressed to ‘Baldric Bristol’ and at the time that Blackadder was on, so the post office knew where to deliver it. It did look a bit weird and it was at the time when there were a lot of terrorist bombs around. I took it out into the back garden and I poked it a bit with a stick and then I cut the string with scissors. Eventually I opened it up. Inside there was a china horse with one leg missing and a pair of broad sunglasses. No note or anything.

What’s the highlight of your career so far?

My BBC children’s series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. That was the first time I was ever given a million-pound budget in order to create a television series from nothing. I wrote it all, I was one of the leads. It was just me and the director and we created it from scratch. Looking back at it, I’m terribly proud of it.

Watch Walking Through History at 8pm, 30 March, on Channel 4


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