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Hay Festival 2017: Tony Robinson, Neil Gaiman, And Stephen Fry

A photograph of Tony Robinson at the Hay Festival

Photo © 2017, Liam Webb.

Tony Robinson wanted the house lights up so he could see everyone. Lucy Cotter introduced him as a politician and history buff at which point Robinson said “just a bloke doing his life really’. There was a fair chunk of humility that was apparent from the start.

Also setting the tone from the start were the jokes: Robinson’s mother spent World War Two defending the nation’s amateur dramatics. But on a serious note, she did encourage him to do theatre. As a teenager, the actor was understudied as the Artful Dodger and knew enough to get it right… he didn’t know the lyrics of ‘Consider Yourself’. He later went to drama school.

On the subject of school he said, “why does everything have to be a university degree?” He’s passionate about children having an education that is flexible, and said that as we don’t know what will happen in the future (what will be important then) why have just 5 important subjects?

When Robinson first read the pilot script of Black Adder he “though it was shite”, but then at that point it wasn’t what it would become. His letter, inviting him to audition for Baldric arrived very late in the creation process; he knew he wasn’t first choice. He never thought the role would change his life. There was little laughter during production; it was all about collaborative critique. “I don’t think there will be another Black Adder,” he said. The show ended on a high – even if another was written if wouldn’t be as good, nor as good an experience.

Of his TV show, The Worst Jobs In History, he said the worst was making the show; he was constantly ill from all the ‘muck’ and it took him 6 months to recover.

Cotter asked ‘why politics?’ (Robinson has joined the Labour party.) The actor spoke of hating bullying, the outrage about American history, but most importantly he didn’t want to just ‘moan about the world’ and then die knowing he hadn’t tried to do something about it. He talked about power in numbers. He’s active in his Bristol community; whilst it’s all away from his job as an actor he does realise the power of celebrity. People listen to him. He’s criticised Corbyn but says the leader had a good campaign. “We need the most robust opposition we can get.”

Robinson is also an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society. His parents both had Alzheimer’s for years; it was the ‘central motif’ of his life outside of acting. He found there was a lack of support for the condition and made a documentary about his mother, for which he received more letters than he had for Black Adder.

A photograph of Chris Riddell, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival

Photo © 2017, Marsha Arnold.

The evening after Tony Robinson’s talk, Neil Gaiman took to the stage with Chriss Riddell and Stephen Fry – it just made sense to link the two events together, all the more so as Robinson caused a small stir in the audience prior to the event, taking a seat in the first row. Riddell was there to ‘live draw’ the talk; the sketching was show on a big screen and for the most part Riddell drew his interpretation of the stories Fry and Gaiman were discussing, except the first drawing which was of Fry and Gaiman from Riddell’s literal point of view, a sketch of the side of Fry’s face and the back of Gaiman’s head. It was a fun talk throughout, but it was Riddell who initially set the tone.

The theme of the discussion was mythology, in particular Gaiman’s new book, Norse Mythology. The writer has always been interested in the topic and loved the Thor comics. The book began 9 years ago when he was asked about the subject. He spent several years thinking about how he should write it. It was important to him to write in a voice children could cope with. When it came to Loki and fighting, he stuck to one paragraph; he had looked forward to writing it but found it didn’t work dramatically.

Both author and actor read from their respective myth-inspired works; Fry’s is a book about Greek mythology.

Has Gaiman ever felt like a god, when writing and drawing? The reply: only twice – once when writing a Doctor Who script and including a stage direction, ‘interior Tardis’, and the second 30 years ago when he wrote what Batman might say.

At the end Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer (who was performing at the festival) came on stage to read a poem he had written. All in all it was a much greater event than even the description (and quoted appearances) could have suggested.


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