Sad News - Ask The Family was a favourite in our household.
Sad News - Ask The Family was a favourite in our household.
One of the old school
Sad news indeed, he was a regular on Radio 4 with Start the Week, Stop the Week and Brain of Britain. R.I.P. Robert.
Brilliant exponent of the art of speech broadcasting I am sure his family, fans and friends are missing him and his eloquence deeply.
Sadly it's not a bluff .... RIP sir.
Robert Robinson - Telegraph
13 Aug 2011
Robert Robinson, who died on August 12 aged 83, was a broadcaster and writer best known as the wordy and erudite chairman of such popular television parlour games as Call My Bluff and Ask the Family and of the long-running radio quiz Brain of Britain; in the early 1970s he co-presented Radio 4's flagship Today programme until he fell out with the BBC over the show's
Robinson was a performer about whom opinion was sharply divided. His air of aloofness, his oracular and anachronistic verbal style, and taste for polished epigrams irritated many. One journalist voiced the suspicion that he once arranged for weak tea to be served during an interview so that he could pronounce: "You could spear a shark in sixteen fathoms of it", and he had, indeed, been quoted as saying just that on an earlier occasion. (Of strong tea, incidentally, he would say: "It's thick enough for a mouse to trot on".)
His detractors were driven to apoplexy by his habit of finishing the genteel quiz shows he presented with the words: "I bid you goodbye". To them, Robinson's pale, stolid face signified smugness and complacency. They found his hair annoying too, even though there was not much of it – or possibly there was too much, for Robinson concealed his essential baldness by having the two hanks that grew out of the area above his ears wound around his head and ferociously plastered down.
Yet Robinson took criticism in good part, simply stating that he found the single word "goodbye" lacking in moment, and never dissembling on the subject of his hairstyle. Indeed, he admitted that the man who came to his house to arrange his coiffure would despairingly mutter: "I have created a monster" as he packed away his implements.
Robinson had tremendous self-confidence, and with justification. He was well-paid for what he did, and there were those who found his asperity and carefulness with words very welcome in an ingratiating, slang-ridden era. A reviewer once praised one of his programmes by saying that "it was a place where words were measured by the ounce rather than the job lot". This could have been said of any Robinson project, and he was not merely elegant in his speech, he was frequently very funny too.
In 1971 Robinson was persuaded to join Radio 4's early morning Today programme. In hiring him, the BBC took a gamble. Robinson had never been heard regularly on radio before. Neither, as it turned out, had he ever actually heard the programme himself, being an habitual slugabed who always slept through it. His co-presenter John Timpson had his doubts. "Nobody could know whether listeners would tolerate the company at breakfast-time of an intellect so lively and at times exhausting," he recalled.
Robinson, who once listed his favourite place as "bed", had severe qualms about a 4.30am reveille, confessing that he had never been up earlier than 9.30am since his National Service days. His predecessor Jack de Manio wired advice: "Don't, repeat don't, give up booze or go to bed early unless absolutely worthwhile, otherwise life becomes hell." Nevertheless, Robinson found his first programme nerve-racking. "You've no idea how brutally spontaneous it all is," he told a journalist after the show. "I was fluttering like a lavendered old lady."
But Robinson quickly hit his stride, striking up a winning on-air camaraderie with the avuncular Timpson. Under Robinson's hand, the 30-second cue (introduction) to an item became an art form. "Bob learned to use words to fashion lexicological objets d'art," Timpson observed. Visiting pundits were invited not to speculate but to "cast the runes"; a dull discussion on the economy would be embellished with a homily from Horace or a Balzacian bon mot.
One critic spoke of Robinson's "battering ram personality", describing him as the hare of the programme compared with Timpson's tortoise. But even Robinson's verbal pyrotechnics sometimes failed to make the programme sparkle. On dreary news days, the programme team dubbed Robinson and Timpson the Brothers Grimm as they waded through a gloomy 1970s swampland of strikes, a decaying economy and plummeting pound.
On one particularly threadbare morning, the programme devoted a full minute and a half to a woman whose knickers had fallen off in Selfridges. "If that's news," mused Robinson aloud at the end of the item, "on what principle is anything ever left out?" The director-general Ian Trethowan fired off a testy memo about this and other examples of Robinson's perceived Maoist tendencies.
One that mired him in even deeper trouble was an item he had introduced about the torture of IRA prisoners, abuse which had been dressed up by an official committee as "sensory deprivation". Robinson felt he had been censored when he tried to complain on air about such Orwellian distortion of the language and, although voted Radio Personality of the Year shortly afterwards, continued to resent unwarranted editorial interference.
He also disliked the programme's growing obsession with politicians, their "never-ending effrontery" and "sonorous drivel", whose every word, he believed, was spoken for advantage. In 1974, despairing of the ritualised political interviews he was called on to conduct each morning, he quit. "At least with Call My Bluff," he commented later, "you knew it was a game."
Robert Henry Robinson was born on December 17 1927 in Liverpool. His accountant father soon moved the family to the Surrey suburbs however, and Robinson grew up in Malden, or "Wimbledon", as he sometimes called it, "if I was feeling posh". He was a bright but diffident child. In his autobiography Skip All That (1996), which is more relaxed and funnier than his rococo novels, he blamed his transformation into a junior smart aleck on the highly competitive atmosphere at Raynes Park Grammar School, which he found suited him.
He identified Oxford University as "the original source of the high anxiety I had become hooked on", and applied to read English, which he referred to as "Literae Humaniores" when filling in the application form. He went up to Exeter College, became the editor of Isis and moved in a bookish, liberal set, getting to know Shirley Catlin (later Williams), Peter Parker and Robin Day, all of whom he would later – stoking the ire of his detractors – refer to as his "chums".
After National Service in Africa with the West African Army Corps, and dressing, as he later admitted, "like a prat" (bowler hat, fancy waistcoats), Robinson got his start in journalism with The Weekly Telegraph, a satellite of the Sheffield Telegraph, published in London. His job involved making up readers' letters which he signed "with a variety of distinguished names humanised by more humble addresses: George Moore, Chingford … JE Flecker, Scunthorpe".
After the Weekly Telegraph imploded, Robinson brought his insouciance and elephant hide to the writing of showbiz columns. He asked Rita Heyworth to jog his memory as to which husband belonged to which child, and was dragged away by a minder. Also, Diana Dors walked out on him when he said he preferred her real name: Fluck.
In 1960 Robinson became editor of the Atticus gossip column on The Sunday Times. By now he was also established in broadcasting and he gradually became a presenter first, a print journalist second. Although he had made his first radio broadcast in 1955, it was BBC Television's early 1960s film review programme Picture Parade that first brought him to the public eye. This led to an even more popular programme, Points of View. Originally a five-minute gap filler before the news, Robinson briskly and amusingly conducted the presentation of viewers' letters about BBC programmes.
On November 13 1965 he was hosting the satirical show BBC3 when Kenneth Tynan spoke the word "f-ck" on television for the first time, but even this did little to disturb his sangfroid; as thousands of elderly female viewers presumably reached for the smelling-salts, Robinson disdainfully remarked to Tynan that it was a very easy way of making history.
He became best-known for much less incendiary stuff – as the host of three long-running quiz shows. On television, from 1967, there was Call My Bluff and Ask the Family. (The first, a wordy parlour game for mid-league celebrities, he satirically renamed Call My Agent.) On radio, from 1973, he hosted Brain of Britain, which he referred to as Brian of Britain because so many of the contestants were middle-management, Brian-ish people. Robinson would often be quite rude to them on air. One contestant, asked to name the special property of a certain liquid used in industrial processes, hazarded that, if poured into a machine, it would flow into every nook and cranny. "No, no, no," chuckled Robinson, "I mean, you could say that of Tizer."
As his observational talents became recognised, Robinson applied his educated, articulate, lofty (if sometimes disdainful) persona to numerous television programmes; The Book Programme did for literature what Picture Parade and later Cinema did for films, while in 1977 he conducted an extraordinarily successful literary investigation in B Traven – A Mystery Solved, produced by Will Wyatt. He also presented The Fifties, Word for Word, The Book Game and was proud of his two series Robinson's Travels and Robinson Country. In 1984 he co-devised and presented Our House, about families who had lived in the same house for more than 50 years.
On radio Robinson's satirical side was given freer reign in his role as chairman of the incestuous but acerbically droll Radio 4 programme Stop the Week, which ran from 1974 until 1992. Here Robinson and friends such as Professor Laurie Taylor, theatre critic Milton Shulman and the journalist Anne Leslie, discussed "minuscule" subjects such as "Does it matter if people say: 'Different toe_SLps'?" or "How do you know when you're grown up?", or attempted to name six famous called Stan, while other, more irregular panel members attempted to get a word in edgeways.
Robinson was invariably speaking as the programme ended, and the producers would be required to fade him out in mid-flow. The show attracted a good deal of flak, but, to Robinson fans, everything else on radio sounded worthy and witless by comparison.
All this broadcasting attracted to Robinson two sorts of criticism. Firstly he was accused of being simply too full of himself, but he was also charged with failing to live up to his potential, which was a sort of backhanded compliment. In 1956 he had published a detective novel called Landscape With Dead Dons, on the typically cerebral ground that, once you had started with these plot-driven stories "you had to go on". It was a success, and was given the lead review in The New York Times. "I was glad, but naive as ever, I was expecting it; Mummy never says No."
Alongside collections of essays, Inside Robert Robinson (1965), The Dog Chairman (1982) and Prescriptions of a Pox Doctor's Clerk (1990), two further, more introspective novels, The Conspiracy and Bad Dreams, followed in 1968 and 1989. Robinson conceded that writing novels was a "magical" vocation, and averred that the thought of, say, Graham Greene as a quizmaster was grotesque. But, with apparent sanguinity, he would offer the defence that he had written as many novels as he wanted; he also said of his television and radio work: "I used the medium rather than the other way around – that's my story and I'm sticking to it."
With the spoils of broadcasting he bought a succession of big cars, a 16th century cottage in Somerset, and an exquisite and conspicuously grand main house in Cheyne Row, Chelsea. ("People say: 'I suppose you got it for a song' but not so. Not at all. Blood came out of my ears.")
He was once asked whether his ready wit would ever dry up. "Not really," he phlegmatically replied, "one is constantly renewing oneself, but all things come to an end, and one day I will be down to the canvas, the silence rolling like thunder."
He admitted to no particular interests beyond his work and family, considered watching television "a conscious decision to waste time" and resorted mainly to sport, especially horse racing, having a love-hate relationship with his bookmaker.
Robert Robinson married, in 1958, Josée Richard. They had one son and two daughters.
I really disliked Ask the Family which used to be on BBC 1 at 6.30 PM weekdays - where did they get these awful families of little middle class swots from ?
Robert Robinson came across as smugness personified on this quiz !
From the Guardian
Robert Robinson obituary | Television & radio | The Guardian
Robert Robinson obituary
Broadcaster who delighted in people's quirks and use of words, from BBC2's Call My Bluff to Radio 4's Stop the Week
The Guardian, Saturday 13 August 2011
Robert Robinson, seen here in 1994. Photograph: Tim Rooke/Rex Features
The broadcaster and writer Robert Robinson, who has died at the age of 83 after a long period of ill health, had an extraordinary flair for either captivating or irritating his audience, or sometimes both. He presided over such television institutions as Picture Parade (1959), the arts programme, the quiz shows Call My Bluff and Ask the Family (or as he labelled them, as "call my agent" and "ask your dad", both from 1967), all for the BBC. In 1961 he started the five-minute review of the BBC's own output, Points of View, which has continued until the present under a dynasty of presenters that included two further but unrelated Robinsons, Kenneth and Anne.
On Radio 4 from 1971 to 1974, he and John Timpson were the first to make the morning news programme Today a double act, and endow it with that little trace of friction that has sometimes resurfaced since. For the next 18 years, until 1992, came the Saturday early-evening discussion programme Stop the Week, in which Robinson and friends mused – often at length – on points that arose tangentially from what had been going on in the news.
On his own, except when calling for a ruling from the question setter he always addressed as "Mycroft" (Ian Gillies, who died in 2002), he was chairman of Brain of Britain from 1973 until interrupted by illness in his last seasons: he stood down for good in 2010. If his early days when he was solely a writer and newspaperman are included, his career spanned more than 60 years. Yet all the time he somehow gave the impression that he would prefer to be doing something of greater worth. I had an early experience of this when we first became friends in the mid-1950s. He was bemoaning his current job as film and theatre columnist of the Sunday Graphic, an admittedly rather pallid tabloid. Trying to cheer him up, I said that it wasn't a bad little paper. "Oh yes it is. That's exactly what it is – a bad little paper."
He was born in Liverpool, where his father was bookkeeper for a shipping company, though also a bookish character in another sense, learning languages and other skills to better himself. The family moved to London when Robert was a toddler, settling in the south London suburb of Mitcham. The local grammar school was Raynes Park, whose famed headmaster, John Garrett, lured the likes of Robert Graves, Harold Nicolson, Sybil Thorndike and C Day Lewis to address or perform for the boys, persuaded WH Auden to write the school song, and employed the inventive novelist Rex Warner as English teacher.
Garrett encouraged Robinson to aim for a county scholarship, specifically to his own Oxford college, Exeter, but it was to be a year before he could sit the exam and longer still before he could take it up. It was 1944 and the flying bomb attacks on London terrified his mother. He went back to Liverpool with her, and there worked as an office boy. On his return to Raynes Park (now under a new head) he won the scholarship, but first came national service, officer training, and two years in Africa commanding a Nigerian service corps unit.
At Oxford he met the actress Josee Richard, whom he would eventually marry, edited the student magazine Isis and imbibed the varsity lore and legend that underlies his first novel. How this actually came to be written some years later is another example of his wayward ambitions. Godfrey Smith, an Oxford friend and fellow journalist, happened to mention that his first novel had just been accepted. According to his own memoirs (Skip All That, 1996) Robinson was possessed by the news. It was as if Godfrey had climbed Everest. He dreamed that night, and every night, that he too had written a novel, and by day got on with it.
Landscape with Dead Dons (1956), a high comedy of a lost Chaucerian manuscript, plodding policemen and naked academics pelting through the streets of Oxford, was a deserved success. Paperback publication came in 1963, and in the 1990s it was one of the first titles to be made available again through the new wonder of printing on demand. Over the years two more novels, two miscellanies and the memoirs followed.
Meanwhile, his journalism was thriving. By 1960 Robinson was editing the prestigious Atticus column of the Sunday Times, and in 1965 he took a turn as film critic of the new Sunday Telegraph. On television he contributed to the BBC arts review Monitor, conducted The Book Programme (1974-80), buzzed around the world for Robinson's Travels (1977-79) and in 1965 hosted BBC3, the last manifestation of the Saturday night satire craze that had begun with That Was The Week That Was. But on television, nothing gave him greater satisfaction than two eclectic single ventures.
The first of these was a feat of literary detection he undertook with the director (and future BBC grandee) Will Wyatt. The true authorship of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a gold-panning story famously filmed by John Huston, had long been lost in a maze of false names and identities. Researching in Mexico, German and eastern Europe, they were finally able to call their 1978 report B Traven, a Mystery Solved: in 1983, Wyatt published their account as The Secret of the Sierra Madre. From Robinson alone in 1986 came The Magic Rectangle, his investigation into the nature of television celebrity that I likened at the time to a medieval anatomist rooting around in corpses in an effort to locate the soul. As the title again implied, he concluded that the shape of the television screen bestowed the celebrity, but it attracted only those who sought celebrity.
Was he himself of that inclination? Was he likewise the social climber that some held him to be? My guess is not, on both charges. When he and Josee married in 1958 and moved into a house in Chelsea next door to Richard Ingrams and his mother, it was not yet an especially fashionable area. They simply liked it - whether the pub was spilling out or the Queen was being entertained across the road - and stayed there all their life together. When the situation called for it, he was quite capable of displaying kindness and understanding abundantly and spontaneously.
What Robinson most enjoyed was the quirkiness of people. When the concept of Eurovision was about to be launched in the late 1950s, we television hacks were taken on a brief tour of the national services taking part. As we shuttled from Calais to Brussels and Brussels to Antwerp we filed stories on the run or roughed them out for delivery as soon as we got back - except for Fred Cook, the down-to-earth correspondent from the long-lost Sunday paper of the cooperative movement, Reynolds News. He contentedly sampled the meals and the drinks without any visible attempt to secure an account of what we had seen. Robinson was seated next to him on the flight home. As the plane began its descent to Heathrow he smoothed out a bit of paper and scribbled a few words. "There," he said, "that's broken the back of it." Robinson told this story for weeks, in admiration and wonder.
He is survived by Josee, their son Nicholas and daughters Lucy and Susie.
Dennis Barker writes: Robert Robinson would have liked to be Dr Samuel Johnson, the combative conversationalist and author who always argued eruditely and implacably and always expected to win. Everyone who had dealings with him was wise to remember that. What he was really was a television-age compromise: possibly the last of the radio and TV presenters and quizmasters to have come from the literary and literate tradition rather than the glib, spuriously matey banalities of telly showbiz.
The telling point about his virtues was that he would never appear in commercials. He genuinely placed too much importance on the value of words as meaningful and disinterested tools of thought and wisdom to accept money for delivering even a sincere favourable opinion of sausages or toilet paper.
He could be, and often was, called egotistical, self-centred, domineering and sneering; but at least one knew that the total effect was there because he meant it: he found it temperamentally impossible to be a creep.
One critic shrewdly observed that Robinson exemplified the meritocratic arrogance that had replaced the patrician version. Within those terms, he was certainly his own creation, though helped in his horizons by an eccentric schoolmaster. John Garrett took the view that any schoolboy's opinions were "as good as the Emperor's" – a liberating but dangerous message received loud and clear by Robinson, who decided to be as "clever" as possible for every minute of the day.
His first job in journalism was composing crosswords and fake readers' letters for The Weekly Telegraph, from where he went to the Daily Dispatch, which folded, propelling him into the Sunday Chronicle as TV correspondent. The feudal set-up of the Berry family's newspapers had its advantages; as he put it himself, go down in one ship and you were hauled aboard another. Soon the Sunday Graphic had him as its film-star correspondent.
A newspaper strike led to his appearing on a BBC television programme in which contributors delivered stories and views their pens could not convey. Robinson realised that he was a "natural", and was soon presenting Picture Parade. When, on the satirical programme BBC3, Kenneth Tynan decided to create a TV first by using the word "fuck", Robinson was in now way disconerted. He was much criticised in the subsequent set-to; but a man in a Lyons cafe in Holborn recognised him as having been on television, and the soon-to-be-ex-newspaperman liked that. He knew the limitations of what he did, but extracted top-dollar for it from anyone who employed him (and without the need of an agent).
In his 70s, he presented the radio programme Ad Lib, in which he interviewed groups of people devoted to one occupation. He was often able to abandon his combativeness in favour of rugged good nature, producing interesting material from people unused to talking publicly.
But to him the pinnacle was Stop the Week. He always maintained that no formula had been found for reflecting the goings-on of the week, and that every programme produced its own conversational rules, but in this he was deceiving himself: the sound of media folk creating an imaginary saloon bar with their often-used anecdotes about money, snobbery, gender, elitism and so on became an all too easily recognised formula. To some listeners, it became less a programme for lively minds than a refuge for the pretentious.
Robinson, the Johnson-manqué, liked to keep a tight hold on his Stop the Week court. After the recording of the programme he would often join the producer for the editing, in which some 10 or 15 minutes had to be cut. One regular founder-contributor who had noticed that some of his best quips were edited out, while Robinson's remained in, decided one week to join in this process. Whenever one of this contributor's bon mots approached on tape, the chairman found a technical reason why it should be edited out. "Come on, Bob," joshed the contributor. "You can't win them all." The contributor was myself.
"Oh yes, Dennis, I can, oh yes, I can!" was his instant and unapologetic response. And, through most media situations, he could. From now on, God will have a rather harder time.
• Robert Henry Robinson, broadcaster and writer, born 17 December 1927; died 12 August 2011
Last edited by Nick Dando; 13-08-11 at 02:35 PM.
His documentary on B. Traven I remember very well. Robert was always worth listening to and watching.
He was always the immensely polite host on the Brain Of Britain. R.I.P. Mr. Robinson.
and so the generations slip by.
So here's to you, Mr Robinson, god bless you please Mr. Robinson hey hey hey...........
Wasn't it "Private Eye" who always called him 'Smuggins'? I can quite see why, but equally I was a bit surprised by the Fry and Laurie parody which didn't seem particularly warm - had Robinson and Fry had some sort of fall out in the press, when you might expect Fry to be an admirer?
I'm also surprised he was as "young" (if that's the right word) as 83. Though I enjoyed Bluff and Ask the Family as a kid, looking back a great deal of Robinson's work seems to be marinated in an almost Edwardian sensibility. Still, we won't see his sort of telly again, and that makes the world a poorer place. RIP.
On As the Family.......the boys always looked like 11 year old Michael Goves (the 'walking encyclopedia' ), with a younger sister named Hermione...Daddy was usually a hospital consultant, and mummy was a novelist or artist......
I suspect these families were selected because they mixed in the same Hampstead social circles as the producer of the programme......!
From the Guardian
Letter: Robert Robinson obituary | From the Guardian | The Guardian
Letter: Robert Robinson obituary
- The Guardian, Tuesday 16 August 2011
Robert Robinson, right, and John Timpson in the Today studios, 1971 Photograph: BBC
Marshall Stewart writes: Recruiting Robert Robinson (obituary, 15 August) as a Today presenter in 1971 (when I was the programme's editor) was not a straightforward affair. The majority of the diehard listeners were strongly attached to the somewhat eccentric style of the veteran Jack de Manio. Some senior BBC executives also had concerns: "a little leftwing?" (a familiar Broadcasting House concern in those days) and "too clever by two-thirds" were among their anxieties. But with the support of Tony Whitby, the controller of Radio 4, Bob Robinson played a significant and influential part in accelerating Today's transformation from a whimsical magazine into a news and current affairs programme.
Bob's fluency elevated scriptwriting to a new level. His sharp intellect introduced an edge to serious interviewing that politicians, in particular, had not often met on radio before, but he did it with underlying courtesy that made it difficult for both them and BBC mandarins to complain. He was also able to look after himself. When Lord Longford suggested during a live interview that Bob might be "pro-pornography", he terminated the discussion by saying: "For once, it seems to me that a BBC interviewer, namely myself, is being badly treated by an interviewee. Lord Longford, I bid you goodbye." Longford subsequently sent him a letter of apology.
Early morning broadcasting was not, however, something which he took to naturally. Early on, I recall a desperate phone call from him to the Today editorial office: "It's Bob. I'm sorry – it's six o'clock and I've only just woken up. I'm on my way. It won't happen again." We gently pointed out to him that it was indeed six o'clock – in the evening.
From the Guardian
Robert Robinson obituary letters | From the Guardian | The Guardian
Robert Robinson obituary letters
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 August 2011 12.30 BST
Robert Robinson: 'They ring me up and ask me to do an advertisement and I say, "Why do you ask me?"' Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images
Will Wyatt writes: Dennis Barker, in his obituary of Robert Robinson (15 August), rightly commends Robinson's refusal to do advertisements. "If my opinions are for sale, they are worthless as opinions" was how he would put it. "They ring me up and ask me to do an advertisement and I say, 'Why do you ask me?' They say, 'Aah, because you are the sort of person who doesn't do advertisements.' Then I say, 'But if I say I will, then I am the sort who does and you don't want me.'"
I only twice saw Bob almost at a loss for words. The first was when we were about to film an interview with PG Wodehouse. We set up in the garden of the great man's home and waited for him and his wife to emerge after watching their favourite soap opera. When they came out, Bob extended his hand, but before he could speak, Wodehouse said, "Oh, I did enjoy that detective story of yours. It was jolly good." Bob, taken aback, flattered and pleased, could only manage "Thank you, Sir."
The second was when we were filming in America and Bob volunteered that he might do an opening piece on horseback. "Do you ride?" I asked. "Occasionally, in Richmond Park," he replied airily. I spent the evening seeking a suitable mount at nearby ranches. "Did you find one?" he asked on my return. "Yes, he will be brought over in the morning." "What is he called?" asked Bob. "Bullet," I replied truthfully. Bob went quiet.
Pam Skinner writes: The columns of certain journalists stay in your mind, sometimes for life. For me, one such is Robert Robinson's Aboard the Raft (published in Inside Robert Robinson in 1965). His intelligence, compassion and social awareness still shine.
He writes about a secondary school headmaster, dedicated to young people of all abilities and backgrounds: "Outside in the world the little meritocrats, those natural survivors, were climbing ... into dinghies, leaving the rest to make do with rafts. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that there were more people on the rafts than in the dinghies. He ... knew that the quality of all our living – as distinct from our mere prosperity – depended on them."