Tony Robinson has a cunning plan. It’s a podcast. Called Cunningcast. Get it? After four decades as a beloved stalwart of the British entertainment industry – in Blackadder, then Time Team, then as host of a range of historical documentaries – Robinson is so established as a national treasure he can basically do whatever he wants. And what he wants to do is take listeners on a “journey of curiosity” as he investigates… well, things that he is curious about.
If that sounds a bit vague, wait until you hear the episode themes. “What did the past smell like, was it horrible?” “Why do our dogs love us so much?” “Why were pies invented?” I can’t give you answers to any of these, I’m afraid, because I have only heard the debut episode – which has nothing to do with pies, or dogs, or what either smelled like. However, I can tell you about Stonehenge, because Robinson, who has made multiple documentaries about this archaeological mystery, is utterly fascinated by it. Episode one features a team of esteemed academics (Raksha Dave, Alison Sheridan, and Mike Parker Pearson – who has revolutionised our understanding of this Neolithic monument) waxing archaeological about how incredible Stonehenge is: older than the pyramids, more British than Buckingham Palace, and just a few hours down the A303 from London.
They have a lot of fun discussing it. “I hoped that you were going to tell me that Stonehenge was created by Merlin wrestling with a giant,” Robinson says at one point, before wondering aloud if aliens had any involvement. History buffs will be delighted by this deep dive into how and why ancient Britons lugged hundreds of tonnes of stone across the country. So will anyone who finds Robinson’s instantly recognisable voice inexplicably soothing, a call-back to a calmer, simpler age (the Nineties, that is, not the Neolithic period). Whether that sense of soothing tranquillity will be maintained with future guests remains to be seen: Miriam Margolyes is the star of episode two.
Tony Robinson’s Cunningcast
Zinc Audio, Acast
This article appears in the 22 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Banks on the brink