Sir Tony Robinson, presenter of Time Team and beloved Baldrick from Blackadder, came to the University of Birmingham on Friday 25th October to give a talk on some of the ‘weird and wonderful’ events that occurred in the past and which have inspired his series of children’s books.
Elgar Concert Hall filled up with a combination of teachers, university students, enthusiasts and primary school students all eager to see the acclaimed television personality-turned-author, and he did not disappoint. From the moment he ran onstage with his dazzling sparkly shoes, his charismatic and energetic performance engaged with children and adults alike.
From his hilarious, though not very PC, impression of Adolf Hitler crying like a baby, to his ‘mummification’ of a school teacher (accompanied with gory actions and sound effects), Sir Tony took us on a journey through time, pinpointing prominent events that could be perceived as dull to an audience of 7-10 year olds, and turning them into something fantastically interesting. He spoke about a range of prominent events in history, spanning from the Roman Empire and World War Two, to the slightly less well-known and wackier ‘invention of the Boat Cloak’, which all made for an unpredictable and constantly amusing performance.
Although slightly akin to a pantomime, the audience interactions provided laughs and really brought to life the events that he described. One unlucky pupil had to act out the first Olympics by running around the audience over and over, adding in actions whenever Sir Tony would call them out, “Javelin!”, “Shot put!”, after which Sir Tony informed him that the original Olympics would have been done in the nude(!) which had the boy’s fellow pupils in stitches.
In the Q+A session after his talk, an audience member asked what inspired Sir Tony to first start writing children’s books. Sir Tony explained how he had been approached by a publishing company and asked if he would consider it; and with the help of a friend he got to grips with writing. He told the audience that he realised that he could write on his own once he had decided on the most interesting, weird and wonderful historical events to write about. He then went on to highlight to the audience the importance of writing about something you are truly passionate about, which really resonated with me as a final year student with deadlines already beginning to loom.
The talk was concluded with the advice that everyone ought to write about the weird and wonderful elements of history as they would become rich, get to drive fast cars and be knighted!
Sir Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders series aims to teach children about history in a way that excites and interests them, taking away the elements of dullness and boredom; and his talk inspired many audience members (me included) to buy a book from his series. In this manner we can see how he accomplished what Baldrick would call a very cunning plan!
by Hayley Yates