A multiple questionmaster calls his own bluff

We should cherish Robert Robinson as we used to cherish Evelyn Waugh, says Sheridan Morley; Skip All That by Robert Robinson, Century, pounds 15.99

When I grew up, I wanted to be Robert Robinson; others of my 1963 ITN graduate-trainee generation had their sights set on Robin Day or Alistair Burnet, but Robinson was always my man. First of all, long before it was fashionable, he had a healthy disregard for, and distrust of, politics and politicians; secondly, he had a prodigious capacity for work - at one stage I seem to recall him writing a Sunday movie column while chairing Today, Call My Bluff, The Book Programme, Points of View, Ask The Family and Vital Statistics simultaneously on BBC sound and vision; and thirdly he always managed to imply that he had really meant to be somewhere else at the time.

For years I vaguely imagined him on leave from some rather elegant Oxford or Cambridge professorship, and I was a little nervous that these memoirs would turn out to be another port-drenched anthology of favourite High Table or Garrick anecdotes; I should have known better. Skip All That works as a wondrous comic novel, as well as an autobiography. Like two other, but curiously lesser-known Radio 4 broadcasters, Paul Vaughan (with whom he shared a headmaster) and Christopher Matthew, Robinson has a perfect ear for the eccentricities of outer-London suburban life in the years just before or after World War Two.

Robinson now turns up all too seldom on the airwaves, but can usually be seen popping into the more rarified delicatessens along the King's Road in Chelsea; that is now where you'll also find Sir Dirk Bogarde, and though I have no evidence that they have ever met, they remind me irresistibly of those two little men who used to pop out of weather-forecasting huts, Bogarde severe and gloomily predicting rain and frost, while Robinson beams with the promise of eternal summer.

Only occasionally in this book can there be found a sense of waste or regret, although looking back he feels he should have done something more meaningful with his life than journalism or broadcasting. Like many of us who had Nevill Coghill as an Oxford tutor, he seems to think he has never quite managed to deliver the right essay in the right week to the right man, although I would argue that some of his documentaries, notably the quest for B Traven, author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, will live as long as arts programmes are valued or discussed.

Here too are ruefully funny accounts of trying to act with John Osborne and an increasingly recalcitrant Jill Bennett, of a pitched battled with Edith Sitwell and an unwise attack on American students published in Time magazine.

Robinson also has a dramatist's ear for great dialogue: interviewing Jayne Mansfield he asks about rumours that her bathroom has carpeted walls: "To which do you refer?" she trumps him, "I have 13". And a world of Strindbergian marital gloom is revealed when, after witnessing several decades of work, his mother asks his accountant father, "You like figures, don't you?" and he replies simply "No".

Far and away the best autobiography of the year, Skip All That is also infinitely sad in the realisation that, were you to start in television now, it would be impossible to make a living out of it as Robert Robinson has done. By the standards of today's tele-children he is politically incorrect, far too knowledgeable and ultimately not desperate enough to be allowed to earn a living in front of camera or microphone. He remains the last of the gentleman broadcasters, and we should cherish him as we used to cherish Evelyn Waugh.

Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?