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Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 08:36 GMT
Anne Robinson: TV's rudest woman?
Anne Robinson
Quiz contestants and company spokesmen quake before her. But what's behind Anne Robinson's forbidding image? By Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

She has been described as acting like a cross between Cruella de Vil and Hitler's mother, a dominatrix, a bossy school ma'am, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and a PoW camp commandant.

All this for her current role as presenter of the quiz programme The Weakest Link in which the contestants are able to vote off their rivals to win a relatively small amount of money.

It has also earned her the title of the Rudest Woman on Television by readers of TV Times. And she loves it.

The Weakest Link
The Weakest Link
"The programme is a conspiracy between me and the viewers", she tells BBC News Online. "We're curious as to what on earth the contestants are doing there."

Her co-conspirators love it too. The programme is attracting more than six million viewers. Her contemptuous and dismissive phrase "You're the Weakest Link, goodbye", has become something of a national catchphrase.

The losers take the silent Walk of Shame, leaving, as the presenter likes to remind them, "with nothing". And the programme's success has added to Anne Robinson's considerable wealth.

She reportedly earned 2m last year and has delighted in telling everyone so. And there is more to come.

NBC's decision to air the show in the United States and to retain Ms Robinson as the host, is part of a vogue beloved by many Hollywood producers, of casting an ice-cold Brit as the baddie.

We're curious as to what on earth the contestants are doing there

Anne Robinson on The Weakest Link
"People say she puts on a fantastic act", says Jonathan Maitland, a former colleague on BBC TV's consumer programme Watchdog, "but it's not an act".

"Unlike so many sugary sweet presenters, Anne has the courage to be what she really is - difficult, cutting and rude. And good luck to her."

Her arrival in 1993, as the main anchor in Watchdog, following six successful years presenting the BBC's Points of View, coincided with an editorial shift in the programme.

Rather than rounding on the local con-man, it began taking on large companies. Nothing pleases her more than grilling smug corporate directors felt to be putting one over on the public at large.

"We've shamed nearly every holiday tour operator," she says. "Watchdog made them change their attitude towards their customers, and I'm very proud of that."

Anne Robinson with two watchdogs
Who let the dogs out?
Anne Robinson had honed her Rottweiler approach to journalism through years of writing columns in a variety of British 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 built up a stall in Liverpool's St. John's market into the city's biggest wholesale poultry business.

She was the only female reporter on the Mail at the time but 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 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 30.

But the child was less than a year old when the marriage broke down, and Anne Robinson began propping up the bars of Fleet Street as she descended into alcoholism.

Anne Robinson on the Weakest Link
Cruel but fair
At one point, she weighed less than six stone but concern for her daughter and support from family and friends pulled her through. She has not touched a drop for more than 20 years. She also gave up her other addiction, cigarettes, a decade ago.

"The one thing I've learnt from that episode", she says, "is that you can always come back."

Come back she did. With her sharp, pithy, often caustic columns in The Mirror, and later in The Sun, Today and The Times, Anne Robinson became the highest-paid woman journalist in Britain.

When she is not shopping, she spends her spare time between her home in London's Kensington and her country pile in Gloucestershire, complete with its 40-foot kitchen and indoor swimming pool.

With a fake Picasso portrait of herself
Unlike this painting, she is no fake
She shares these with her second husband, John Penrose, who is also her agent. She does not mix in showbiz circles and most of the friends who share her supper table have been friends for more than 25 years.

Now, after successful and canny career moves, her fame may even be extending beyond these shores. "People have called me lots of names," she says, "but they've never called me stupid."

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