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Friday, 26 May, 2000, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Tony Robinson's cunning plan
By Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

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.

Examining dung for The Natural World
He likes to get his hands dirty
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."

Baldrick explaining a cunning plan to Blackadder
Baldrick explaining a cunning plan to Blackadder
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.

Appearing in Maid Marian
He loves working for children
Mick Aston says Tony Robinson will be "chuffed to pieces" to have been elected to the NEC.

Running alongside his work as an actor and presenter 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 want 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."

Tony Robinson has argued that Labour needs to renew the relationship between the leadership and the grassroots.

Articulating the political message
Politics has always been a passion
"It's like the adverts used to say about body odour: someone has to speak even when your best friend won't tell you", he said.

Though pundits make him a favourite to become the first elected Mayor of Bristol, Tony Robinson insists he has no further political ambitions.

But, with the clout which comes with being a member of the NEC, he may well have a cunning plan up his sleeve of which even Blackadder would approve.

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23 May 00 | UK Politics
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