Obituary: Kenneth Robinson

KENNETH ROBINSON was a man with a mission: to expose cant, muddled thinking and hypocrisy in all their myriad manifestations. The fact that he did this with optimum ridicule and scorn to radio listeners and television watchers in their millions got him into a lot of hot water. He once said, proudly, that his life as a professional irritant had been marked by a succession of sackings and suspensions.

The most spectacular by far was his dismissal from the popular Radio 4 programme Start the Week in June 1986. He had been an acerbic and unpredictable contributor to the show for 15 years. Strained relations between Robinson and the then presenter, Richard Baker, reached a climax when Baker announced after a piece of vintage Robinson that this would be his final contribution. Robinson did not wait for Baker to complete his smooth words of valediction. 'I'm not going] I'm not going]' he exclaimed. 'They've given me three days' notice after so many years . . . it's a bloody disgrace]'

Two years earlier Robinson had been suspended from the show for six weeks for poking fun at a dating agency for the disabled, provoking a flood of protest calls. He was later contacted by the Spastics Society, who were amused by the item and invited him to write a humorous book for the disabled.

Robinson could always be relied upon to spike Richard Baker's soothing balm with a handful of grit. There was a time when his terrier presence made 'Startle the Weak', as he nicknamed it, essential listening. Whose ankle would he snap at this morning? The long list of victims included Anna Raeburn, Frederic Raphael, Angela Rippon (whom he reduced to tears), Esther Rantzen and Pamela Stephenson, who poured a carafe of water over his head.

He was an equally unorthodox presenter of the television programme Points of View for two years in the early 1970s. What finally brought about his demise was an item about bananas. The producer was furious about the frivolous way in which Robinson referred to the fruit. It turned out he was married to a banana heiress.

An eccentric career in the media began on the Croydon Advertiser, where he upset amateur theatre enthusiasts with his caustic, Tynan-

like reviews. He was sacked for steadfastly refusing to learn shorthand and typing. He joined the Church of England Newspaper, writing a film and theatre column, and then spent 10 years editing the Architectural Journal. He later became chief promotions officer of the Design Council and design correspondent of three national newspapers, and was regularly invited to talk about architecture and design on radio and television. He also gave talks to women's institutes, Young Conservative groups and the like, from which he later evolved a one-man show, The Worst of Kenneth Robinson, which played at a number of London theatres in the 1970s.

A man of deep religious convictions, Robinson also had a stint as a presenter of religious programmes. He completed his contract this time, but the producer felt his ironic tone of voice often undermined the sincerity of his script. This was always a dilemma for Robinson. On the one hand he wanted to be free to debunk anything he found risible, on the other he resented others trivialising things he held sacrosanct, such as religion and sex. He never succeeded in reconciling his role of professional wit with his curiously uncontrolled sense of moral indignation.

He was well aware of the risks of speaking his mind regardless of the consequences, that he was doomed to walk a professional tightrope. 'I am told people want me to stir things up,' he once said, 'but not too much.'

Kenneth John Robinson, writer and broadcaster: born London 26 April 1925; married 1955 Mary Hargreaves (one son, one daughter); died Kingston upon Thames 26 March 1994.

(Photograph omitted)

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