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Home Life Weekend

Tony Robinson: 'As soon as you stop changing, you may as well just give it up'

He may have been in the TV industry longer than most, but Tony Robinson won't slow down. Gemma Dunn catches up with him

There's no stopping Sir Tony Robinson. From acting, directing and writing books, to presenting and political activism, the Blackadder actor is relentless in his bid to work - and carry on working in pursuit of a career that has already spanned five decades.

"There's a hundred things, a thousand things," he jokes of his unremitting to-do list. "My wife (Louise Hobbs) always says that my epitaph should be: 'This is the next thing', because I am always looking out for the next thing."

A reunion with his Blackadder co-stars, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, perhaps?

"If it happens, it happens," he answers coyly, having earned his break in the beloved Eighties sitcom as the dim-witted Baldrick.

"I have got and have had the best job in the world - I wouldn't change it for an instant, I absolutely adore it," he follows, careful not to fan the flames.

"And it's great that I still feel as interested, as inspired by it and as ambitious for my medium as I did when I first went into it as a little kid."

For now, we can be sure of one thing - Robinson's next adventure will be one of the aerial kind.

Back with a new series of Channel 4's Hidden Britain By Drone, the history buff and travel enthusiast (71) will once again use the latest filming technology to explore aspects of our country in a completely different way.

Dispatching flying cameras of every shape and size, Robinson will soar above historic sites normally closed off to visitors, get behind the doors of some of our biggest British brands and find unexpected hidden treasures in pockets of our rolling countryside.

"You couldn't have made this two or three years ago," he notes of the access-all-areas appeal.

"I suppose you might have been able to if you had half-a-million quid and you could afford to have the helicopters all the time," he muses.

"But, even then, the helicopters couldn't get that low and you couldn't get all the interior shots."

Hidden Britain By Drone isn't Robinson's first brush with the unmanned aircraft, however.

"It's actually something that I've been growing up with over the last four or five years," he reveals.

"The first time I ever used a drone was on Time Team, but they were enormously big, very cumbersome and as soon as the smallest wind blew up, they flew away and off and into the side of a cliff.

"But it was easy to see what potential they might have - though you never know with new technology whether it's going to be realised or not."

Now it's full steam ahead as the four-parter sees Robinson break down the barriers - think barbed wire fences and big locks - as he journeys anywhere, from an immense stately home to an abandoned theme park and an underground Cold War bunker.

"It's quite fun," he says, having previously explored the length and breadth of Britain on foot for the Walking Through History series.

"The great thing about documentary television is that it provides access where you wouldn't have had it before. And this series has that in spades."

Also on the agenda is a visit to hidden beehives on top of upmarket department store Fortnum and Mason, a stop-off at a ginormous recycling plant for aeroplanes and an insight into the hidden world of bats.

"That's where our minds are at the moment," the London-born star says of addressing environmental factors. "I was doing an episode just now that was about the challenge of all the plastic on our foreshores and, indeed, in our oceans and how we can deal with that.

"And that's a great use of drones to look at foreshores - especially the sandy ones, where if you used a helicopter, they would kick up and you'd find yourself in a sandstorm."

He hopes such timely topics, combined with the pull of history and cutting-edge technology, will generate cross-generational interest.

"I'm passionate about that," he insists. "Any new way you can find of looking at history does it for me - which will continue to happen as long as we need access and as long as television can operate.

"I am certainly not one of those defeatists that believes television is dead; we're just going to look at stuff in our own time on laptops now.

"A programme like this demonstrates the kind of thing that telly can do and will continue to do so well."

Does Robinson, a proud father and grandfather, deem it important to change with the times?

"Yes. As soon as you stop changing, you may as well just give it all up," he responds immediately.

"When I started in TV, a television camera weighed about the same as the Isle of Wight, but there's so much we can do now that we've never been able to do before. I could make a television programme all on my own, really, with my phone.

"But I want a Hidden Europe By Drone next, please. And then Hidden West Indies."

And, just like that, he's planning his "next thing".

  • Hidden History By Drone, Channel 4, Sunday, 8pm

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