It was 1966, and I was at drama school in London. During the holidays I took a job with a ships' victuallers, based in Stepney, east London. I had to drive out to the ships which docked in the port to find out what they wanted in terms of supplies, then go and get it. Although I'd passed my test, I didn't own a car, so the Austin A35 van they supplied was my first regular taste of motoring, and what a bad start it was.

This little van had two major problems. On the one hand it would jump out of gear. The gear stick would fly into neutral like a bullet from a gun, so it could lurch up and down the road in a very undignified fashion.

On the other hand, the van would engage a gear, then never let go of it. Now I could drive along for a bit in second, or third, but after a while an incline, or traffic lights, would mean that the van would come to a spluttering halt. I had two stark choices when that happened: either phone up the office and some burly cockney would come and take the rise out of me for days afterwards, or get out and push.

Now, my physique has been described by journalists as ant-like. Aged 17, it was only developing ant-like. Middle-aged women weighed down with shopping would stop and ask if I needed a hand.

My other horrendous experience involved another commercial vehicle. By this time I had left drama school and was doing the romantic, JB Priestley bit, touring the country performing Moliere's Tartuffe, packed into a Bedford coach. After a week the driver literally walked out on the company. They offered me an extra pounds 1 a week to drive it and for some reason, greed probably, I said yes. It was a huge, long wheelbase thing which I had to operate on tiptoes, double-declutching like a ballet dancer, with my nose pressed up against the windscreen. The brakes, though, were ferocious. A light touch would bring it screeching to a halt.

After three months, which included checking the fuel level with a broom- handle, I was relieved to get home in one piece when I got straight into my Triumph Herald. But as I approached the first set of lights, I thought I was in the Bedford, braked too late and smashed into the car in front.

Tony Robinson is starring in `The Very Best of Black Adder' on BBC video. The entire series is also being rerun on UK TV. He is also presenting `Time Team' on Channel 4 and will be appearing in Simon Nye's new comedy `My Wonderful Life' for Granada TV. He was talking to James Ruppert.

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