Magazine article The Spectator

Stop the Week, I Want to Get Off

Magazine article The Spectator

Stop the Week, I Want to Get Off

Article excerpt

SKIP ALL THAT: MEMOIRS by Robert Robinson Century, L15.99, pp. 230

If the word 'urbane' did not already exist, it would have to be coined in the event of Robert Robinson absconding from one of his quiz programmes and a description were needed for his Wanted poster. The term fits him like a string driving-glove at the wheel of the `Sportsman's Coup' he drove as an undergraduate.

Inside Urbane Man, of course, crouches Suburban Boy, fearful of coming out - as we know from all those seamless discourses on Stop the Week, the thinking listener's Just a Minute. By far the best section of these memoirs is Robinson's recollection of his childhood in Raynes Park, near Wimbledon, with his bike from Gamages, his Greyfriars Holiday Annual, an assortment of aunts worthy of Alan Bennett (`Who put that big fire on?') and even, in the best Orwellian tradition, a murderer for a neighbour in the shape of one Captain Ferguson, who slit his sister's throat to protect her from the depravity of other men, and was hanged for it.

The School Certificate was swotted for at the local grammar under a mad, though quirkishly inspired, headmaster who urged his charges to `make sure you get out of this suburban slum' over the hols, yet had a school badge designed incorporating its major eyesores - the bypass, the Southern Railway, and the concrete bridge that carried the one over the other - `his only regret must have been that he hadn't managed to work in the fish-paste factory'.

To his father, an accountant with the United Africa Company, who wanted him to read something dull at London University and get into the civil service, SubUrbane Boy patiently explained the case for going to Oxford:

I had to go to the university, since it changed you - changed you like garlic and onion and alcohol changed you: a degree made you feel different; made people perceive you differently: changed your tribe. . .

Talk about the child being father of the man - the honed words were already falling off his tongue like shelled peas into a colander.

And so to Oxford, after a spell in the army - where he applied for a posting to the Intelligence Corps `for no better reason than that the name appealed to me' young Robinson went, and edited Isis. …

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