The artful Tony
A lot of kids sing, dance and fantasise about being on stage – but Tony Robinson went one better and actually did it by the age of 12. Born in 1946, he was such a precociously talented and exuberant lad that he was soon talent-spotted at an amateur theatrical production and whisked to the West End to appear in the original West End production of the musical "Oliver!".
Originally cast as one of Fagin's boys, things suddenly became even more exciting when the actor playing the Artful Dodger "did a bunk", and Tony was plonked in his place. He stole the show as the young pickpocket, and the whole experience cemented his desire to be a full-time actor.
"Small and vaguely humorous"
Thanks to his West End experience, Tony had no trouble getting a place at drama school after finishing his O-levels. Thus began the long period that most actors ruefully remember – the "doing any job that comes along, no matter how rubbish" phase.
Still, playing a succession of bit-parts did bring him wider notice, and one fateful day in the early 80s the script of a show called The Black Adder was fed through his letterbox. Tony was initially flattered to learn that the part of Baldrick was being handed to him without the need for a single audition – but then his agent confirmed that most of the more established comic actors in London had already turned the part down! (It also transpired that Tony had only been offered Baldrick because the head of comedy at the BBC had once glimpsed him on stage and noted him down as "Tony Robinson – small and vaguely humorous".)
A very cunning plan
Blackadder proved such a cult success that for many years it seemed Tony would only ever be known for playing the iconic part of Baldrick. But then, quite unexpectedly, his career was completely revamped by a low-key show about archaeology.
Time Team, which started in 1994, actually had its roots in the mid-80s, when Tony – a history buff – went on an "educational holiday" to the Greek island of Santorini, where a professor of archaeology named Mick Aston showed Tony and some other tourists around some digs. Tony and Mick Aston hit it off and discussed the possibility of making a show that would popularise archaeology. Years later Aston was invited to be the resident expert on just such a programme, and he immediately suggested Tony for the part of presenter. Nobody thought it would last more than one series – how wrong they were!
A passion for politics
Aside from acting, Tony's other great passion is politics. In fact, as he once noted, "Blackadder fans call out 'I have a cunning plan', Time Team lovers want me to dig up their garden, while the Tories shout 'You Labour idiot!'"
Not that Tony is just another celebrity Labour supporter. He's been an active member of the party and actually served for four years as a member of the National Executive Committee – the governing body which oversees policy making and the general direction of the party. Although he's no longer in the committee (it was just too exhausting), he remains by his own admission a committed left-wing radical. But his early ambitions to serve in Parliament aren't quite as strong as they used to be. Or, to put it in his words, "At first I wanted to be an MP but now I think it would be crap."
Did you know?
Tony's had a more varied comedic career than some might think. Quite aside from Blackadder, the 80s saw him star in The Young Ones and the Lenny Henry Show – and he was also a key performer alongside Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones in their classic sketch show Alas Smith and Jones. He's also no stranger to drama, having starred in episodes of Bergerac, Casualty, Doctors, and the US series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. (And if you want to see him in another unlikely setting, check out The NeverEnding Story III, in which he plays a gnome.)