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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?