Sir Robin was educated at Harrow and Oxford, where he gained a double first in classics and a rugby blue. In 1961 he came top of the Civil Service entrance examination and started at the Treasury, becoming private secretary to the Financial Secretary, and then secretary to the Budget Committee.
By 1972 he had become the private secretary to the then prime minister, Edward Heath, and held the same post under Harold Wilson when Labour took office. But in 1975 he returned to the Treasury, where he held a variety of senior posts.
In 1982 he returned to Downing Street to work closely with his third prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, as her Principal Private Secretary, for three years.
He was knighted in 1988 when he returned to Downing Street as Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service with a salary of pounds 118,179.
He oversaw a scheme intended to make the Civil Service more efficient, involving 70,000 jobs being hived off to new agencies. Commercial standards and targets were to be applied in the nearest thing the public service could come to privatisation.
A keen sailor, golf and squash player, Sir Robin, 56, is also fond of opera.