TV history buff revels in Aussie past

He has for many years had many acclaimed roles as an actor, author, history and archaeology buff and TV presenter and has been knighted - but for Tony Robinson one past role is never far from the present.

So he has a pretty good idea how his time as Baldrick, in Blackadder, the much-loved British comedy of the 80s, can emerge in interviews about new projects.

Sir Tony says such an exchange can often start with "so, have you got a cunning plan?"

Resisting the urge to use Baldrick's catchphrase, The Weekend West congratulated him on the knighthood he received in November for public and political services, and asked about his current persona.

Sir Tony is credited with creating a wave of interest in British archaeology through the long-running series Time Team and in Australian history and culture via Time Walks.

His latest venture for History Channel, Tony Robinson's Tour of Duty, coincides with the centenary of World War I. For it, he will travel Australia and New Zealand seeking stories of people and places and their war links.

In each city the show hosts a community day, which in Perth takes place tomorrow at the Army Museum of WA in Fremantle.

The museum will be open, local historical organisations will run displays and visitors are invited to bring along their family's war story or memorabilia.

Sir Tony said Australians were, by and large, self-deprecating about their history.

"They think they haven't got very much - why do I come over here to look at history, they say, when you have such fantastic history of your own," he said. "I have always thought that was a false perception. I think there is more history here than most people give their locality credit for."

And as one of those Brits who has become a de facto Aussie, Sir Tony is uniquely placed to assess our war history and its impact on our psyche.

He said he could understand the view sometimes presented that British generals sent Anzacs to almost certain death in some of the disastrous battles of WWI.

"By and large I am of the opinion that it was a war of lions led by donkeys," Sir Tony said.

It was an outcome shaped by a complex history which included British landowners buying army commissions and being unprepared for the war's challenges, including how to deploy modern weaponry.

But the conflict played a central role in the emergence of modern Australia, he said.

"When I see and hear talk of Anzac Day and Gallipoli I see people remembering the forging of a new country," he said. "Australia is so much more confident of its own identity as distinct from its relationship with the Americans or the British. It feels able to take charge of its memories of the first war in a way that possibly it felt unable to do previously."

Modern Australia, he said, was "full of potential".

And what of the potential for a return by the Blackadder team?

"Every few years there is talk about it," Sir Tony said. "There are dreams but no plans."

(World War I) was a war of lions led by donkeys."Sir Tony Robinson

The West Australian

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