Affable actor and presenter Tony Robinson has been fascinated by the river Thames ever since he could remember making him the perfect host of new doco-series Walking the Thames With Tony Robinson. Grandparents NZ had an exclusive interview with Robinson to find out where did his love for the Thames came from.
“Oh, from my family, it never occurred to me not to”. Robinson says about his love for the river, “My family have always lived nearby. My dad worked by the Thames; my mum’s dad was a merchant fisherman. My first job at drama school was working at the docks”. With a deep understanding of others, Robinson relates this to New Zealanders. “Other people will have rivers that they are deeply proud of whether they are in Christchurch, Wellington or Palmerston North.”
Beginning at the source of the waterway in Gloucestershire through to its Kent estuary, Robinson meets people who work along the river and explores its history, influence, and population.
“I walked from the source to the mouth, around 200 miles. Everybody thinks Thames just goes through London as it is governed by its relationship with London. The river starts as a tiny stream, a river for pleasure-craft, London’s river with an embankment. After London it widens out to 5 miles across. It is a great river.”
Robinson meets some interesting people and unique experiences during his journey including visiting a sewage plant and canals. He even had the opportunity to be a coxswain for a rowing team, an exhilarating experience “They need to be small (coxswains), they rule the eight with a rod of iron. The sense of speed is like going 90 up the highway.”
Although Robinson grew up near and had his own personal affinity with the river, Robinson still learned something new. “I thought of the Thames as 200 yards across, dirty and going through London. I didn’t know about the cleaning of the Thames; I didn’t know about the seals in the mouth of the Thames. But the idea that there was such a complexity of wildlife just wasn’t there in there when I was a kid.”
Robinson makes a point of the Thames being fundamental to the southern UK for the last 2000 years with history repeating itself and families still doing the same things their ancestors did on the Thames.“In the 19th century you could be in Henley from London on the Thames in 30 minutes. You could hire a boat. The book Three Men in a Boat was based on the idea of Edwardians having a nice time out of London. There were thousands of the boats clogging up the river as far as Oxford. It was cheap to do. A lot of the boats they would have canvas rooves and they would sleep near a pub.”
Robinson gave this a shot while filming. “Once again, I was useless at erecting the tent, I don’t know why they chose me when I haven’t successfully done anything in my whole life. I can successfully talk my way out of anything, however. I would have been New Zealand’s first lawyer.”
Both the history of the Thames and family are important to Robinson. “Our history, it is who we are. The way I look behave, gags, talk it is all passed on.” And Robinson continues to pass this on to his own grandchildren. “My relationship with my grandchildren entirely uninhibited. We are just people at different times of our lives. To be able to discuss the world in that way is absolutely great.”
Walking The Thames With Tony Robinson – LIVING CHANNEL – Sundays from 29 September, 8.30pm