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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Life of TV's 'Queen of Mean'
By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Anne Robinson
Robinson's tough persona helped drive the success of The Weakest Link
Anne Robinson, who celebrates her 60th birthday on 26 September, has moved from being a tabloid journalist to becoming the UK's most famous television host.

Before she was established as The Weakest Link's caustic quizmaster, Robinson was known as a warm radio host and TV's consumer rights champion.

But convent-educated Robinson honed her talents through years of writing columns in a variety of tabloid newspapers.

She turned up for work at the Daily Mail in 1967 wearing a mink coat bought for her by her mother, who had turned a stall in Liverpool's St John's market into the city's biggest wholesale poultry business.

Sole woman

Despite being the only female reporter on the newspaper at the time, Robinson said she did not feel vulnerable.

"After working on my mother's market stall during the holidays and then working in a tough north London news agency for several years, coming to the Mail was like arriving at the Palladium after a stint on the northern club circuit," she once said.

Anne Robinson
She presented Points of View and a self-titled BBC Radio 2 show
She fell in love with the deputy news editor, Charlie Wilson, who later became editor of The Times. They married and had a daughter Emma, now 32.

Robinson herself rose to become the Daily Mail's assistant editor, the first woman to regularly edit a national newspaper.

But her daughter was less than a year old when her marriage broke down, and Anne Robinson descended into alcoholism.

"At its worst, it meant ending up with my knickers around my head in a bed I didn't recognise, surrounded by vomit and having not the faintest idea where I was," she later wrote.

Custody battle

Her autobiography Memoirs of an Unfit Mother also tells how Robinson subsequently lost custody of her daughter in a bitter court battle.

The two have since become friends, appearing together on 2004 documentary Travels with an Unfit Mother.

Travels With An Unfit Mother
Robinson joined daughter Emma Wilson on Travels with an Unfit Mother
Giving up alcohol, Robinson spent the 1980s writing sharp, pithy, often caustic newspaper columns in the Mirror, The Sun, Today and The Times.

As she established herself as the highest-paid woman journalist in Britain, she was also branching out into television and radio.

She hosted a self-titled show on BBC Radio 2 for six years and BBC One feedback show Points of View for 11 years.

It was here that she developed her trademark "wink to camera" and her status as the viewer's champion in the face of authority.

Surprise hit

This helped her take the reigns of long-running consumer series Watchdog in 1993.

But Robinson made her biggest splash in 2000 when BBC afternoon quiz show The Weakest Link became a surprise hit.

It took me a while to realise [The Weakest Link] was turning some people on
Anne Robinson
The show replaced the traditionally benevolent quizmaster with a hard-faced interrogator, who delivered put-downs with relish.

Dressed in black leather, Robinson ejected contestants with a contemptuous: "You are the Weakest Link - goodbye", which became a national catchphrase.

"It took me a while to realise it was turning some people on," she later said. "

The nuns at my convent boarding school would be horrified."

Welsh offence

The Weakest Link's success led to international versions being made in 2001. In the US, network NBC took the unusual step of retaining Robinson as presenter, dubbing her "the queen of mean".

The timing could not have been better.

Robinson's outspoken, unapologetic approach had won her many fans but continued to rub some up the wrong way.

Days before leaving for the US, Robinson invoked the wrath of Welsh politicians by describing Welsh people as "irritating and annoying" on BBC Two show Room 101.

Anne Robinson
In 2004 Robinson was named the UK's second richest female entertainer
"I am happy to say I'm thrilled to be going to LA and not to Wales," she declared as she boarded her plane.

But while The Weakest Link was an instant success in the US, with nearly 15 million households watching its first episode, its popularity could not be sustained and it was dropped from NBC's primetime schedule one year later.

Nevertheless Robinson continues to present The Weakest Link, Test the Nation and other series for the BBC, maintaining her position as the UK's second richest female entertainer behind Tracey Ullman.

As she approached her 60th birthday, she told Saga magazine: "I think to me the most obvious advantage of getting older is not worrying about what people think of you any more."

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