Tony Robinson has written numerous children’s books, starred in the iconic four series of Blackadder, and presented an array of popular TV shows including Time Team, The Worst Jobs in History and his latest venture – Tony Robinson's Coast to Coast – that sees him walk from the west coast of England to the east through the Lake District, the Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors.
Let’s take a ramble through Robinson’s career and reveal some of the sights.
Liza Minnelli and a plate of oranges
One of Robinson’s first screen roles was appearing in Judy Garland’s final film, 1963’s I Could Go On Singing. Robinson’s big moment was a half-time scene at a schoolboy rugby match, the 14-year-old appearing with a plate of refreshing oranges for the players.
As Robinson recalls in his autobiography, No Cunning Plan, his starring role was butchered to 3.5 seconds, “I’ve counted them,” he says.
Also, his backstage attempt at sexy small talk with Garland’s 15-year-old daughter, Liza Minnelli, failed too. “My friends thought this was hysterically funny and told the whole school. I was mortified.”
Steve Marriott and 'Itchycoo Park'
Hackney born and bred, Tony Robinson was friends with another East End urchin, Small Faces singer Steve Marriott. They met as 12-year-olds in the original West End production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!
Robinson was the Artful Dodger, Marriott his ambitious understudy. Robinson’s story has them visiting 'Itchycoo Park'’s inspiration, Ilford’s Valentine’s Park, to smoke untipped cigarettes.
"What did you do there? I got high!" Marriott sings. Says Robinson: “I was the first person to get high in Itchycoo Park with the singer of the Small Faces, and I was sick three times before I got home.”
The Knight and the Duke
Worlds collide when the "Duke" John Wayne meets a future knight, Sir Tony Robinson, in the 1975 film, Brannigan. Let’s just say that Our Tone makes a big splash in his first brush with Hollywood.
Helen Mirren and that tattoo
While performing with Helen Mirren in Dennis Potter’s 1979 TV play Blue Remembered Hills, Robinson was intrigued with the small tattoo etched on Mirren’s left hand.
Some have theorised it’s a Masonic symbol or an ancient rune, while Mirren herself has stated it’s a Native American symbol meaning "love thy neighbour" that she acquired drunk on brandy at a Minnesota reservation.
When Robinson enquired, however, Mirren put her hand on his and said, "I picked it up in a brothel in Marseilles."
Bellowing Brian Blessed
Robinson has said Brian Blessed, playing King Richard IV, was the one saving grace of an otherwise dreary first series of The Black Adder. Blessed still enjoys razzing Robinson. Upon seeing him on a crowded, peak-hour train, Blessed promptly employed a vicious headlock and boomed, “I’M SORRY, THIS LAD’S JUST DONE A TERRIBLE FART, AND HE’S PRETENDING HE HASN’T. CALL THE TRANSPORT POLICE!”
Another time, Robinson ran into Blessed at shopping centre and the Shakespearian actor bellowed: ‘I KNOW THIS MAN. HE F**** OLD LADIES!”
Blackadder and Baldrick
Not until he played gormless Blackadder manservant Baldrick in the ’80s did Tony Robinson found fame. Renowned for his dull wit and lack of hygiene, Baldrick also had a plethora of cunning plans up his sleeve which became his iconic catch-cry. Invariably, those are still the words shouted at him in the street: “Oi, Tone, you got a cunning plan?”
Watch Tony Robinson's Coast to Coast on Wednesdays at 7:30pm on SBS.
Missed the first episode? Watch it at SBS On Demand right here: