Tony Robinson has time of his life walking down under

TONY Robinson is down under, filming a history series for Australian TV. “We’re doing 10 walks through various bits of Australia and it’s going to be called Tony Robinson’s Time Walks – they had to get the word ‘time’ in didn’t they?” he says.

The Blackadder star turned Time Team presenter, now 65, made a first series of Tony Robinson Explores Australia ast year for the Australian History Channel, and it became the channel’s most successful show.

“When something suddenly goes wham like that it’s a real buzz and very unexpected. They’ve asked me to come out every year for the next five years,” he says.

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With the UK archaeological show Time Team (which Robinson’s been presenting since 1994) regularly seen on Australian TV, he’s a familiar face.

“It’s terribly flattering to know there are so many people on the other side of the world who know you.”

We’re not losing him – he’s merely making hay while the sun shines. “It’s only for three months of the year and perfect for me. We can’t dig between November and January in England, so if I’m going to go abroad, that’s the time to do it,” he explains.

Those missing the familiar grin will be glad to hear he can be seen this weekend in a Channel 4 documentary on superstitions. Tony Robinson's Gods and Monsters explores the weird and wonderful beliefs humans have held through the ages – from human sacrifices in Iron Age Britain to witch hunts and exorcisms in the 17th century. The five programmes use a combination of experiments and dramatic reconstructions.

Episode one focuses on zombies. “The first references to belief in staking the undead to stop them rising again are in the 12th century, near the border with Scotland,” says Robinson, getting into professorial mode. “There’s a story that this rather dodgy bloke thought his wife was having an affair, so he crept up into the rafters of Alnwick Castle to spy on her, saw her having a bit of hanky-panky and slipped out of the rafters, then crashed to the floor and died.

“He was buried, but then he broke out of the confines of his coffin at night and went into Alnwick village, breathing pestilence and spraying blood at people, before disappearing back into the grave. Eventually the local villagers ripped up the earth and plunged a stake into him.”

Robinson discovered that up until the early 1800s, anyone could request permission from a magistrate to open up the coffin of a person who had committed suicide and stake them so they couldn’t rise again.

“There’s documented evidence of at least seven cases of that,” he says. “If you look at every superstition, they’re either about fending off evil or imbuing yourself with more power.”

Robinson feels lucky that he has managed to carve out a very successful niche as a presenter of all things historical – although he scratches his head slightly at the long-lived success of Time Team.

“It’s a bunch of hippies digging a field and occasionally finding something. Who would have thought that would last 20 years? It just seems to have tapped the zeitgeist. It’s hit me three times – with Blackadder, Time Team and on children’s television with Maid Marian and Her Merry Men,” (which he created).

He’d love the opportunity to act again – and dreams of playing all Shakespeare’s clowns in a season – but he’s booked up with documentaries until next Christmas. One project he would always make time for, though, is a Blackadder film. Rowan Atkinson recently said it “wasn’t impossible” they could revisit the classic comedy, in which Robinson often stole scenes as bumbling everyman Baldrick.

“I think a lot of the others have always been very diffident simply because we’ve all got so much on. But if Rowan is beginning to think a bit more fondly about doing something, then maybe Richard and Ben (Curtis and Elton, who wrote the shows) will as well.

“I think we’d do much better making a Blackadder movie, than going back to a TV series. Everyone would just compare it with the other TV series, whereas if we moved to a different kind of canvas then there’s a chance that people might be prepared to judge it on what it is.”

Tony Robinson’s Gods and Monsters starts on Channel 4 on Saturday, November 26.