'Quizmaster of Britain' Robinson dies at 83

Tributes are paid to sharp-witted presenter
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The Independent Online

The broadcaster and writer Robert Robinson, who appeared on shows such as Call My Bluff, Ask the Family, Stop the Week and Radio 4's Today programme, has died, aged 83. Robinson is credited with defining "the art of the quiz show host".

Paying tribute to the broadcaster yesterday, Caroline Raphael, commissioning editor for BBC Radio 4 comedy, said he was a "radio legend", with one of the most "recognisable and pleasurable voices on radio". "Many of the Radio 4 listeners will have grown up listening to Robert and enjoyed his quiet, wry intelligence. We'll miss him," she added.

However, he courted controversy after being persuaded to join the Today programme in 1971. One critic likened his personality to a "battering ram". Others dubbed him and his co-presenter John Timpson as the Brothers Grimm, as a consequence of presenting a bleak 1970s news agenda, dominated by economic decline, the falling pound and industrial relations strife.

In 1974, his three-year tenure on Today was crowned when he was made Radio Personality of the Year. Robinson's ability to prick political pomposity by asking awkward questions brought him many admirers, but also critics who dubbed him "the man who sneers at everything".

He himself enjoyed an enduring disrespect for many of the political breed. "It's impossible to make the bastards reply to a straight question," he said. Bored by what he called the "sonorous drivel" of politicians, he revelled in the role of quizmaster on such long-running shows as Radio 4's Brain of Britain, where "at least you knew it was a game".

When he retired as chair of Brain of Britain last year, Mark Damazer, a former Radio 4 controller, said: "The brilliant Robert Robinson defined the art of the quiz show host. He presided over Brain of Britain with sympathy for the contestants, wit and panache."

When his contestants got an answer wrong, the broadcaster famously uttered the catchphrase: "Ah, would that it were, would that it were." Echoing that phrase yesterday, the actor and writer Stephen Fry tweeted: "I've just heard the sad news of the passing of Robert Robinson. Would that it weren't, would that it weren't." And in another tribute, the BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine wrote: "Just want to say respect to Robert Robinson. Smart, well-read, modest. Great BBC man."

He was born in Liverpool and studied at Oxford University where he met his wife of more than 40 years, the actress Josee Richard. The couple had three children. Their only daughter, Susie Robinson, said: "He had a very long, productive and successful life and we'll all miss him terribly."

After leaving Oxford, he started his career in journalism, working for newspapers including the Sheffield Telegraph as well as The Sunday Times.

Although born in Liverpool in 1927, he and his family moved to Mitcham in south London when Robinson was very young. He went to Raynes Park Grammar School, where he was encouraged to apply for a county scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford.

Robinson died at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, in London on Friday after a long illness.