Robert Robinson (1927-2011)

In 1979, Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel Offshore was awarded the Booker Prize.

From: Penelope Fitzgerald – a Life (2013) by Hermione Lee:

“…the Booker Prize judges…had discarded some of the heavyweight books of that year (Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter, William Golding’s Darkness Visible)…

…The BBC Book Programme about the Booker Prize, recorded and aired on 24 October (1979), was breathtakingly condescending and ill-judged. All the participants had dressed up for TV in the styles of the time: Robert Robinson in suit, striped tie, square glasses and comb-over…Penelope sat with legs crossed and hands folded in her lap. Her hair looked tousled and she had no make-up.

…Occasionally, with a marked effort, Robinson says he would like to ask Mrs Fitzgerald another question…Did she have a view of what the novel should be? “…I would say it started as soon as people realised that it was dark as night – that it was dark outside. And they felt that they would like a story told them. And that’s what novels are for…I think it’s that, for the time being, you forget that it’s dark outside.”…

In interviews, she played the role which she would now adopt as a useful camouflage. Glenys Roberts in the Evening News completely fell for it…(Fitzgerald’s) literary lineage is then respectfully cited, and for a moment the interviewer seems to realise that she is being hoodwinked. “In the modest manner of actual intellectuals she is more informed and less vague than she appears on first sight.”…

In an obituary in The Guardian of 13.8.11. Philip Purser wrote:

“The broadcaster and writer Robert Robinson, who has died at the age of 83 after a long period of ill health, had an extraordinary flair for either captivating or irritating his audience, or sometimes both…

…he concluded that the shape of the television screen bestowed the celebrity, but attracted only those who sought celebrity.

Was he himself of that inclination? Was he likewise the social climber that some held him to be? My guess is not, on both charges. When he and Josee married in 1958 and moved into a house in Chelsea next door to Richard Ingrams and his mother, it was not yet an especially fashionable area. They simply liked it – whether the pub was spilling out or the Queen was being entertained across the road – and stayed there all their life together. It became clear to me as a visitor how much spontaneous kindness and understanding Robinson was capable of when the situation called for it.

What he enjoyed most was people’s quirkiness…”

Dennis Barker added:

“Robert Robinson would have liked to be Dr Samuel Johnson, the combative conversationalist and author who always argued eruditely and implacably, and always expected to win. Everyone who had dealings with him was wise to remember that. What he was really was a television-age compromise: possibly the last of the radio and TV presenters and quizmasters to have come from the literary and literate tradition rather than the glib, spuriously matey banalities of telly showbiz…

…Robinson, the Johnson-manqué, liked to keep a tight hold on his Stop the Week court. After the recording of the programme he would often join the producer for the editing, in which some 10 or 15 minutes had to be cut. One regular founder-contributor who had noticed that some of his best quips were edited out, while Robinson’s remained in, decided one week to join in this process. Whenever one of the contributor’s bon mots approached on tape, the chairman found a technical reason why it should be edited out. “Come on, Bob,” joshed the contributor. “You can’t win them all.” The contributor was myself.

“Oh yes, Dennis, I can, oh yes, I can!” was his instant and unapologetic response. And, through most media situations, he could…”

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