Curator's Choice: Tony Robinson on the television, his career and snooker in full colour

| 07 February 2013

Curator's Choice: Actor and broadcaster Tony Robinson on the evolution of the television...

A black and white photo of an actor emerging from a television set during the 1960s
Tony Robinson popping out of a television at the Victoria Theatre, in Stoke-on-Trent, in 1967© Tony Robinson / Historypin
“Even though the telly was actually created and the BBC was founded in the 1920s, really the explosion of television has paralleled my life.

I was born the year after the war, and one of my earliest memories is watching the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, sitting under the dining room table on this tiny black and white television with my thumb in my mouth.

It felt like the most fantastic thing in the world: this notion that we could see the epitome of empire, the whole power and panoply of the British empire playing out in our own room.

It was quite extraordinary, unlike anything else, and it just transformed so much of peoples’ thinking, particularly, I suppose, after the introduction of ITV, when products were identified in your home.

I know before you’d had products in magazines, but that whole programme-making strategy, brought to bear on fags and toothpaste, was something entirely different.

I think, more than anything else, it created that yearning that allowed a consumer revolution to take place. There’s so much I remember: the first Doctor Who, the first night of BBC 2, the first night of Channel 4.

Colour telly was something I always fantasised about – ‘one day, who knows, when we’ve landed on Mars, we’ll create a television that has all the colours of the rainbow in it’, ‘no, that could never possibly happen’.

I remember the first time I saw it. I was in a pub in Edinburgh. I just walked in and the colour telly was on.

I felt so happy because I knew that for the rest of my life snooker would never be an entirely alien experience for me on the television. And then with that huge diversity, that explosion of digital and satellite television and latterly HD and big screen.

A photo of a man standing in front of a black flat screen television on an office wall
The actor is a fan of the modern telly
I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it. I just adore television, I always have.

People always moan about what’s on the telly, they always say ‘it’s not like the old days’. In fact television has always been two or three really good things every night, surrounded by a load of old rubbish.

It’s always been like that – you look back at the 1950s and 1960s, supposedly these golden years of television, and it was exactly the same then as it is now.

I think telly is great now. Alright, there are other platforms on which it’s disseminated, but the driving force is still that relationship between the person and the screen.

It’s not just my life that has paralleled the growth of television, my whole work life has as well. It’s being on telly that has created this person who is talking to you now.”

  • Tony Robinson is supporting npower’s online energy archive, Remember How We Used To (see The site chronicles how energy has transformed our lives during the past 60 years and powered our world into the 21st century.
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