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Peter Paton

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The History Bloke
by Peter Paton   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, June 29, 2006
Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2006

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The History Bloke















By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine








History has got hip. And genealogy is getting radical. Popular history's poster boy, Tony Robinson, explains why the past means so much to the present. And how a "turnip-loving moron" came to his rescue.

Radical genealogy. They're not words that usually go together. But Tony Robinson isn't the usual kind of history presenter. He's not so much the history man as the history bloke.

Forget the dusty archives and fake-heraldry of family trees, Robinson speaks with passion about how family history can change the way people see themselves and the world around them.

"How do you know who you are unless you know where you came from?"

Robinson, presenter of the Time Team archaeology programme and formerly Baldrick from Blackadder, says that putting genealogical information online, such as the 1841 census, will have far-reaching implications.

Beaten up

"Up until now, it has been the preserve of aristocrats and kings and queens. But suddenly, for the first time, everyone has got the possibility of owning, not just their own semi like Mrs Thatcher wanted, but also owning their own history."










My dad fell to the ground saying 'I'm not Jewish, I'm not Jewish'
"None of us know how it will affect the zeitgeist once it is out there. But inevitably it will mean changes. It's more important than people have clocked onto yet."

"In my own case, people have always said that I looked Jewish, and my dad was beaten up by the Fascists in the East End in 1938 for being Jewish - and he fell to the ground saying 'I'm not Jewish, I'm not Jewish.'

"But now, when I look back in my genealogy, I see that my great great great grandmother is Julia Levy - and suddenly there's a new perception on who I am."

If they'd had ancestry websites in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, he says "it wouldn't half have been difficult to find an Aryan race".

Robinson, an engaging, spiky 59 year old, says that "ancestry is archaeology without the muddy hands".

'Stroppy'

And it's archaeology with which he is currently most associated - with Time Team pulling off the unlikely trick of successfully combining reality television with bejumpered academics.






Tony Robinsons
In The Rag Trade, 1975 (left) and as Baldrick in Blackadder III, 1987
If Robinson has thrived as the bloke-in-the-pub interpreter for these history professionals, he says it's a reflection of his own background.

"I didn't go to university, I left school at 16. There's part of me that's a stroppy auto-didact that feels 'why should knowledge be the preserve of just some people?'.

"I used to attempt to read hard books and didn't really understand them - and then I realised that this vocabulary was an artificial barrier - and it made me angry and shirty."

Robinson's route into becoming the acceptable face of archaeology was an odd one - through a "turnip-loving moron". At the age of 36, he got the part of Baldrick, the wart-sporting, rat-trapping fall guy in the Blackadder series.

The comedy was a popular and critical success - and "suddenly doors opened". He was able to make his own documentaries.

Leaving a mark

"By the time I started the first Blackadder I'd already been acting for a quarter of a century. Suddenly to be able to tell my own stories about something that mattered was an enormous liberation."

And it meant he was able to explore his passion for history, archaeology and genealogy, including his work as spokesperson for a genealogy website, ancestry.co.uk.








I didn't set out to be the Jamie Oliver for the elderly
"Archaeology is about the mark of ordinary people on the landscape - it isn't mostly gold chariots and tiaras, it's mostly bits of old fence."

"It's the mark of one person that is so exciting, one person's thumbprint. Recently we dug up something with a mason's mark, it was one geezer, one artisan, that I had a little relationship with. It's an anchor for your imagination.

"There's something terribly reassuring knowing that someone was in this field 700 years ago who made this mark."

History is now part of the television mainstream - and its lens is already being turned on re-interpreting the 20th Century. So how does Robinson think our own era will be seen?

What future historians will find most appalling will be the way that old people are treated, he says - a point made powerfully in his documentary this year about his mother's death.

"People will look back on our treatment of the elderly with the same kind of disbelief that we look back on child labour. We think how could they have done that?






Meera Syal, Stephen Fry, Sheila Hancock
The BBC's Who Do You Think You Are series taps into the genealogy bug
"Yet, at present, we consign a high proportion of our frail elderly to low-level torture for the last few years of their lives - and almost completely cut it out of our imaginations. It's creepy, weird stuff."

"I didn't set out to be the Jamie Oliver for the elderly," he says. But this latest campaign adds to a career that already includes an eclectic mix of actor, director, presenter, documentary maker, political activist and author.

Whatever the subject, he says it can be made accessible and appealing to a wide audience.

"Get the story right and they'll listen - there are no uninteresting subjects, just uninteresting ways of talking about them." Cunning, very cunning.




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Reviewed by Aberjhani
Great article. Too many people are emotionally and spiritually crippled by a lack of knowledge of who and what they really are. These are not just interesting intellectual ponderings with which Robinson presents us but quite useful and possibly even crucial insights and information.
Aberjhani
Reviewed by Birgit and Roger Pratcher
Loving to dig around in the past, we truely enjoyed this article. But, it is not really urgent to know where you are from to know who and what you are, it's more important to know where you're going.
B&R
Reviewed by Tinka Boukes
Thanks for sharing Peter!!

Love Tinka
Reviewed by Cynthia Borris
Peter,

I love studying the past especially my own. This is fascinating information. "Stroppy". That's a cool word. Not American at all. Exactly how does it translate? Is it like *cool*? Just curious.

Cynthia
Reviewed by Crystal Silver Angel (Reader)
((((Peter as usual this is FASCINATING))))))

I went through this process a few years ago and found my people all the way back almost to the 1600’s. Most of them German, Scottish, Irish, English and Swiss. My names trace back to Buchanan ( Scotch ), Richardson, (English ) Kuhn ( pronounced koon ~ it’s German) and Jenkins (English)..My blood is that I am half English… And I found relations to royalty in Ireland and U.S president. I did all the research because I wanted to fill in the missing link of just who my DNA came to be.. I was pleased. Most of my research came from the Mormons church. You talk about a POWERHOUSE of knowledge, they know everyone’s line !!!!!!! They have all the records. Isn’t that something! I went and searched on their
"micro fesh" films and right before my eyes, film after film my relatives right as far back as the seventeen hundreds were right before my eyes.. My second great grandfather had a plantation estate and was wrecked by the civil war.. It is on historical land now…They all came in the 1600’s and my German side came in the late eighteen hundreds…It was astonishing… This is truly one of your best articles and my favorite!!! We all are astonishing, we are!!!

Peace & Love, Dove
Reviewed by Mr. Ed
I Like this History Bloke! I'm a history nut, and I've also researched my family's history. I believe he's correct, it truly is a fascinating subject. My ancestors seem to have connections to the Cossacks, the Russians, and the Poles, and I continuously try to learn more.

My wife's ancestors are Apache Indians, and since I've always been interested in Native American culture anyway, her family history fascinates me, too.
Reviewed by Jerry Bolton (Reader)
Watch out! You are still putting these articles on that . . . Well, you know. Good one. Ancestry. I relate a bit to this. I was adopted. Didn't know it until I was sixteen. Have NEVER persuaded any of my fucking family to tell me who my mother AND father is. Bastards and bitches!!!!!
Reviewed by Elizabeth Parsons
An interesting article. I was fortunate in some ways to have been born to my father later in his life. He had a wealth of information on his and my mother's backgrounds and a knack for telling a good story. I grew up learning more family history than what I cared to know at the time. But what I wouldn't give now, to be able to sit and listen to him tell his stories of our family history once more.
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