Tony: 'I didn't have to do all the rubbish jobs for once'
Tony Robinson's latest historical TV jaunt sees 10 celebrities step back in time. The Blackadder star tells Keeley Bolger why it was a pleasure to stand back and watch
He's donned tights, dug around in ditches and gathered dung in the name of work, but for the time being, Tony Robinson is enjoying a plum time on the small screen.
For once, the veteran broadcaster will be cosseted from such unglamorous tasks as he presents Channel 4's new series Time Crashers, which sees 10 celebrities sent back in time to scratch a life as an ordinary person.
Among the famous faces taking part are Kirstie Alley, Fern Britton, presenter Louise Minchin, Keith Allen, former footballer Jermaine Jenas and ex-Coronation Street star Charlie Condou, who will head back to a range of eras in British history, including the Iron Age and the Elizabethan times.
"What was so great for me was that for the first time, I didn't have to do all these rubbish jobs," says 69-year-old Robinson, chuckling.
"I was the one who had a duck down fleece. I watched them all and laughed at the fact they were all going through their deprivations. It was such a pleasure for me!" Among the "deprivations" the celebrities faced were the loss of their smartphones ("The first thing they did when we got to the pub was clutch their mobile phones like they were hypodermic syringes," reveals Robinson), along with the lack of their usual home comforts, of course.
"One of the things I found fascinating is that the thing the 'time crashers' hated most was that they had to be so deferential to everybody," adds the presenter, who has a grown up son and daughter.
"They couldn't giggle, they couldn't use their own initiative ... They hated it. They felt so affronted and outraged by how they were treated. It's a television show; you wouldn't know it from their reaction!"
For someone who has spent a good chunk of his career engrossed in the past, Robinson, who has also had success as an actor and comedian, has a pragmatic view of the present.
"If you said you were going to send me back to a period in history, I would say, 'Could it be five minutes ago?' We are just so lucky living in the time we do," he reasons.
He has been revisiting his own history recently, however.
Born in East London, Robinson, who wed his partner Louise Hobbs in Italy four years ago, is currently writing his autobiography.
"I'm absolutely confronted by (my history) every day at the moment," he says. "It's quite emotional.
"For most of us, we remember two or three things out of our various past times and incidents, and stories we unpack and tell at parties.
"But beyond those, most of us have forgotten things, or put them to one side because they were a bit painful, and to have to confronted about them again isn't the easiest thing in the world."
One thing he's happy to think back on is his time in Blackadder, in which he played dogsbody Baldrick.
"Every day, people stop me to ask about Blackadder," he says. "Isn't that lovely? This is a series that finished nearly 25 years ago, and still people in the street when they see me are reminded of who they were and how they were at that time. It's a real privilege to be in that position."
As well as his TV work and an animated version of his children's book series - Tony Robinson's Weird World Of Wonders - which he's working on, the long time Labour member is also keeping a keen eye on the Labour Party leader contest.
"At the moment, the story is that the Labour Party is going down the pan," he says. "Is it going through a difficult time? Yes it is. Will it get through that time? Yes, in some way or another, it will.
"In my 30s, I did think about standing myself, but my wife at the time said, 'No, this is unfair because you've got young children. Do it later on if you do it'," he explains.
"By the time it was later on, I wasn't really interested in being an MP any more. But I did serve on the party National Executive Committee for four years and I did enjoy it."
Given his upcoming autobiography and line of work, Robinson naturally has a foot in the past, but he is undaunted by the future.
"To be honest, I don't feel any different to how I have in the last 20 or 30 years," says the actor, who will turn 70 next August. "I mean things change in your life, but things change in your life however old you are. At the moment, it's just me doing the things I've always done, having the adventures I've always had."
Time Crashers begins on Channel 4 tomorrow, 8pm