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18 November 2016

At PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn quotes Baldrick – and the media start reading my tweets

The Twitterati have discovered that I’ve recently been less than flattering about Corbyn. Luckily, by the next day, it's almost over.

By Tony Robinson

As I open the front door, my mobile phone chirrups. “Turn on your TV,” the text reads. “You’re on PMQs.” By the time I get into my cab, I’ve had half a dozen similar messages. My daughter, Laura, is bound to have BBC Parliament on, so I give her a call. She tells me Jeremy Corbyn has just chided Theresa May in the House of Commons for her lack of a Brexit strategy, saying that you had to “consult the great philosophers” to decipher what she had in mind. And he mocks, “All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says: ‘Our cunning plan is to have no plan.’” Mrs May replies, “The actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, I recall.” My phone is now chirping like a tetchy guinea pig.

The Twitterati have discovered that I’ve recently been less than flattering about Corbyn. “Trying so hard to support him,” I’ve tweeted, “but with SWP, anti-Semitism report, etc, he makes it bloody difficult. ­Beginning to think that’s the idea.” And, a few days later: “Corbyn faces no more hostile media than every Lab leader in history. He’s just inept at dealing with it.”

Soon I have 1,200 new Twitter followers and the national press is on to me, as well as the television and radio news. By the next day, my tweets are all over the morning papers. I am at the very centre of a media storm. But by lunchtime, it’s all over. Laura and I are still reeling with shock and amusement but the circus has moved on.

We’re a bit disappointed. It was quite amusing while it lasted.


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Fast company

I sit in a gloomy Islington Council meeting room with 26 other recalcitrant drivers, attending a four-hour speed awareness course in order to avoid the ignominy of getting three points on my driving licence. I thought that it would be a boring waste of time, but it is interesting, well organised and highly illuminating, like one of those lectures at the Hay Festival you go to on a whim but that turns out to be the best experience of the week.

I’d recommend the course to anyone. It’s more about psychology than stopping distances. All of the errant motorists around me agree that, from now on, their driving will improve – though we aren’t confident the effect will last very long.


Under the dome

That night, I go to a gig at the O2 in south-east London with my wife, Louise. I’d almost forgotten that only a few years ago this remarkable building was the Millennium Dome, Peter Mandelson’s doomed hymn to a social-democratic future.

It’s not the greatest music venue in the world – it’s huge, austere and characterless and the transport links are a bit grim – but it’s packed and buzzy. I’m glad that the place has found a purpose and brought life back to this bleak little meander on the Thames adjacent to the Blackwall Tunnel.

Lou is a long-time fan of Maxwell, the headline act for tonight’s concert. I doubt that many New Statesman readers will be aware of him, but he’s awesome: in his forties and as smart and spry as the lead singer in a 1960s Tamla Motown group. His music is old-style soul with a contemporary feel, and he’s backed by a big and accomplished band. Try his version of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work”. It’s terrific.


Chilly winds of Leicester

To Sheffield, as part of Pan Macmillan’s tour to promote my autobiography, No Cunning Plan. I’m booked in to the city’s Hilton hotel. Apparently the Bristol City players stayed here last night. My team! My hotel! Maybe one of them even slept in my bed!

As I wheel my suitcase down the corridor, I hear a cleaner’s voice drifting in through a half-open door. “Bloody footballers,” she grumbles. “I can’t stand cleaning up after them. The things they get up to.” I can only imagine.

The Crucible is one of my favourite theatres. It’s a 980-seater, but warm and intimate, with a thrust stage: the antithesis of the O2. I talk, perform and answer questions for an hour and a half, then sign books and chat for another hour. It’s a great night.

The next day, I’ve got a lunchtime signing in Leicester town centre at Waterstones and only 13 people turn up. I autograph the big pile of stock in front of me and hope that no one will notice the absence of my Leicester fan base. A salutary experience.


The way old friends do

Two days later, I’m back in London and at Laura’s flat. We’re watching Westworld and she’s fiddling with her phone. “Howard’s died!” she says suddenly.

Howard Davies is now remembered as one of the nation’s finest theatre directors, but in the 1970s he was my best friend. Six of us, three couples, had bought a five-­storey Georgian house in Clifton and set up a commune. The men worked at the Bristol Old Vic and the women were teachers at local comprehensives. We read Brecht and Germaine Greer and campaigned for Tony Benn. It was in the commune that our children were born and we shared the blissful and baffling first few years of parenthood.

Howard’s career took off, and when a play that he directed for the RSC transferred to Broadway, my partner Mary and I flew to New York for the first night – the swankiest thing we’d ever done. I’d almost lost touch with him over the past few years, but then I heard he had cancer, and so, the previous week, I went to visit him at his home in south London. He was desperately ill but we shared a few hours together, chatting about the future of British theatre, our frustrations about the collapse of the Labour Party and the daft things that our grandchildren had said and done.

It felt just like the old days. Now he’s gone. I’m heartbroken for his family, but so pleased I had those last few hours with him. He was a profoundly talented director, a socialist, and a perceptive and wonderful man. I’m very proud to have been his friend.

Tony Robinson is at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 27 November. “No Cunning Plan” is published by Sidgwick & Jackson

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This article appears in the 16 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump world