Hidden Winchester, Interviews

Our interview with Tony Robinson

Earlier this year Tony was in Winchester, filming for tomorrow night’s Channel 5 programme on Winchester Cathedral. We were lucky enough to spend a little time with him in between filming, and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

Given what we do, and Tony’s long running involvement with the promotion of heritage across the UK through series like Time Team and now of course his new Channel 5 show ‘ Britain’s Great Cathedrals’, we started by asking him what has been the most significant change in the way we look at our Heritage in the last 25 years?

The word heritage was seldom used as a collective noun to describe Britain’s old buildings 25 years ago. This modern nomenclature is a huge advantage in that it identifies our collective responsibility to protect the fragile evidence of our past. But unfortunately, it’s also a bit of a curse in that it makes our history seem like a series of large-scale artefacts which are frozen in time, rather than vital and exciting places we can constantly interact with.

And we certainly agree with him! Heritage Open Days has transformed over the past 25 years and here in Winchester we now have as many events as we do open buildings. We went on to ask what the three stand-out moments have been for him over that time.

  • Performing in the National Theatre’s Oresteia in front of ten thousand people in the Greek amphitheatre at Epidaurus.
  • Discovering the East End workhouse in which my great grandmother died of diphtheria.
  • Excavating a previously-uncovered Roman mosaic floor in Gloucestershire.

We are always discovering new and amazing things in our City and so we wanted to find out what discovery had surprised Tony the most during his trip here.

I love the Antony Gormley statue called Sound II. I’m sure it’s very well known, but I’d never heard about it, and when I entered the crypt for the first time, it completely blew me away. I also think the bust of William Walker, the deep sea diver who helped underpin the nave at the beginning of the twentieth century, is absolutely splendid.

Both statues are two of Winchester’s hidden treasures and, if you haven’t already seen them, we certainly recommend taking an hour or two to visit.

Aside from Winchester, we were keen to find out a bit more about Tony’s travels across the UK and asked whether there was a favourite spot he likes to revisit which has a historical significance?

Lincoln Cathedral. I’m currently making a series about six of England’s finest cathedrals, but for some reason Lincoln isn’t on the list. This is a grave omission, as I’ve been told firmly and usually politely on Twitter many times. The first repertory theatre I ever played in was the Lincoln Theatre Royal, and for three months in the mid 1960s I lived in the shadow of the cathedral. I’ve always thought it was a wonderful building, and I hope we get a second Cathedrals’ series so I can revisit it.

We hope there is a second series too!

Based on Tony’s long standing involvement with Time Team, we were curious to know – if he could go back to a point in time and visit, when would that be and why? We were delighted with his answer!

The reign of King Alfred the Great. How could one man have transformed southern England so swiftly and effectively? (And I’m not just saying this because I’m being interviewed by someone from Winchester!)

Finally, we asked Tony for his thoughts on Winchester and its involvement with Heritage Open Days;

As a place of historic significance, Winchester has an amazing story to tell. Heritage Open Days give you an opportunity to explore places you may never have seen before, so take some time to explore behind the scenes of this great city.

Thank you so much again Tony – we can’t wait to watch ‘Britain’s Great Cathedrals with Tony Robinson‘ tomorrow night at 8pm on Channel 5. 

Credits – Interviewer & Photographer – Mike Hall of Mike Hall Photography

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