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There’s a chance to enjoy an evening with TV presenter, historian, writer and comedian Tony Robinson on Tuesday, May 22, at an event hosted by Waterstones bookshop in Guildford.
The popular presenter of Channel 4’s Time Team and many other topical history programmes will be at Holy Trinity Church in the High Street talking about and signing copies of the first two books in his Weird World of Wonder Series, Romans and Egyptians.
Not only did we catch up with him and ask him about the books and his love of history, we have a pair of books to give away in an easy-to-enter competition.
Our first question was: where does your interest in history come from?
I have always had an interest in history. My parents talked incessantly about what their lives were like before and after the war. I have become very passionate about how important it is for parents to talk to their children about their lives. What it gives children is an understanding that they are part of a continuum. They are not the only ones who have lived surrounded by old people and that those old people were once young and had adventures and excitement, and so did their grandparents and theirs.
I think it’s far too easy just not to be interested in history because you don’t see how it relates to you. But in fact, all that history is, is the first bit of the present. Without an understanding of why things are the way they are – which you can only get by understanding how things used to be and how things have changed – you’re not really going to have the tools in order to understand the world.
Is that part of the motivation behind your latest books?
Yes, I used to write quite a lot of children’s books when my own kids were young. I have a grand-daughter now who is only two and a half; and the best she can do is wear these books as some kind of hat (laughs) and listen to the interesting sound they make.
She has rekindled my passion for writing for children. This coincided with publishers Macmillan asking me to write a series of books – hence Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders, where you can cover a whole variety of subjects, do a website, an enhanced e-book and a free video game. Ardman Animation have done this game. It’s only been out less than a week, but has had more than three million hits – including, apparently, shed loads in China!
Some may say the book are similar to the Horrible History series?
From my books you get the jokes, the fascination with poo, but much more of an overview of each particular period of history. Kids come away from reading these books knowing how things really fitted together in any particular period. In a way, that was more important to me than anything else.
Where did the inspiration for the characters in the Curiosity Crew come from?
I wanted children to feel that they could be inside the book, rather than outside looking in. So I invented four children and their dog, who were inside the books asking the kind of questions children might ask, exploring history in the way that I hope children will explore it themselves.
What’s your favourite fact about the Egyptians?
In the 17th century, royal houses of Europe were so concerned with dying they wondered what they could find and use that had lasted a long time. They came up with Egyptian mummies. So mummies were imported into Europe and ground down, beaten into a paste which provided the nobility with a medicine known as mummy juice, which they believed gave them longevity.
Do you have a favourite period of history?
I have a friend who said to me once there are no boring things, only boring ways of talking about them. I think that’s absolutely right. There’s no one time in history that was better or more interesting for me than another. It’s the exercise of gleaning all of the facts and making them explode into life.
Do you have a favourite episode or series of Time Team?
My favourites are always the ones viewers have enjoy most. Purely from a personal point of view there was one many years ago where we in this very boring field in Gloucestershire and this Roman specialist said to me: ‘I think there is a Roman mosaic floor under here.’ And we were only two and a half feet down and he gave me the trowel and said: ‘See if you can find it.’ I peeled away a floor that nobody had looked at for something like sixteen-hundred years. It was patterned and colourful. I think it was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
Do you ever have rows about the items you find on Time Team?
All the time. We row about what the interpretation of the evidence should be. In other words they are forensic rows. They are healthy and I’m pleased we have them.
What over the last 20 years has changed our perception of history?
There is no good and no bad in the teaching and presentation of history. It’s all about pendulum swings. So when people get outraged because there are too many dates, or no dates because it is all social history, I think to myself, ease back and live a little. History is always going be taught best by the best teachers. It is all about fashions, but I don’t get upset as long as people are teaching history. I think teachers are one of the most undervalued professions we’ve got. I think to myself, wouldn’t it be great if we had a political party who said: ‘After the next general election, if we win we’re going to do absolutely nothing about education, and are just going to leave it to the teachers and the heads.’
What will you be doing at your visit and book signing in Guildford?
I’m hoping it really will be an event with audience participation and a lot of fun for people. We’ll have quizzes and a laugh.
Tickets for An Evening with Tony Robinson on Tuesday, May 22, at 6.30pm, at Holy Trinity Church, Guildford GU1 3RR, are £3 per ticket (£10 for a family ticket for four) from Waterstones, 71-73 High Street, Guildford GU1 3DY. Tel: 0843 290 8357
To win the books Romans and Egyptians from Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonder Series, answer this question: What country beginning with the letter E is famous for its pyramids? Email your entry to email@example.com marking your email ‘Tony Robinson book competition’ in the header box. Closing date for entries is Sunday, May 20.