These days the late broadcaster Robert Robinson is regarded as a figure of fun, if he’s regarded at all. Partly it was the comb over, partly it’s having been thoroughly mocked by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie doing a parody of “Call my Bluff.”
Robinson used to present a radio show called “Stop the Week” which was referred to by people I knew as “Clever Dicks”. The show was broadcast on Saturday afternoons, but they evidently recorded it on Fridays, and after the show, Robinson and his fellow broadcasters would go drinking in a famous pub just down from the BBC, called the George.
I was working in a bookshop in the same area and some of us would also go into the same pub after work. We never quite got over the fact that Robinson usually wore a rakish hat.
Anyway, these days find myself having quite fond memories of Robinson. And I’m particularly fond of a slim volume he wrote, titled The Dog Chairman – a collection of very short prose pieces and the occasional longer essay (hey, he interviewed Borges!). The title refers to an offer he had to make a commercial where he would have been chairman leading a discussion of dogs talking about dog food. He declined.
There’s another piece in the collection titled “How Not To Write Books” in which he discusses his attempts to write a memoir of his days at Oxford. He says he could never come up with the sort of stuff his publisher wanted. He writes, “I kept conjuring up terribly literal tableaux, like the time a man called Young tipped up a plate of sausage, beans and chips into his lap at the Lyons in Cornmarket Street. He leant on it with his elbow and it turned right over. He just sat looking down at the beans running into his turn ups and I think he was on the verge of tears. We were all very interested in food in those days – that’s to say we liked it copious and cheap – and Young had actually paid for an extra portion of the beans. ‘I’ll always be one __ing dinner down,’ he said quietly, when he’d got control of himself, ‘and, as you all know, I was proud of the trousers.’”
There’s also a short piece, not quite a review, of the British Good Food Guide, always an easy publication to mock (and now published by Waitrose I understand), and I don’t know what edition he’s writing about but obviously pre-1982 since that’s when his collection was published.
He describes a restaurant near Oxford Street, which would therefore be close to the BBC and the George and the bookshop where I used to work, “run by a family called the Wees, and specializing in marinated bracken shoots, and another not far away where they not only don’t have a licence, you mustn’t bring your own drink either because says the Guide, ‘they disapprove’.” He swears he’s not making this up.