Tony Robinson describes feeling nationalistic after reading Anthony Powell and recalls being inspired by J R R Tolkien.

He became a household name as the dunce Baldrick in historical sitcom Blackadder, but Tony Robinson is now better known as an author of children’s books and maker of TV programmes about the past. Britain’s Bronze Age Mummies: A Time Team Special aired on Channel 4 earlier this year.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

This 12-volume saga starts off in the First World War and ends in the Sixties. It features an array of characters—mostly upper-class socialites and Bohemian artists—whose lives intertwine. I know that if Powell had ever met me, he’d have thought I was a gibbering, wild-eyed Bolshevik, and I’d have thought him a boring, crusty, snobby old Tory. But all of that is blown away by the sheer quality of storytelling. I’m not especially nationalistic, but sometimes there are particular artists whose work you look at and think, I’m really proud to be living in the same country as this person, and pursuing the same kind of endeavour. For me, Powell is one of those people.

Half Magic by Edward Eager

As a child in the Fifties, I read every book I could lay my hands on, and identified with every hero in every single one of them. Even now, I still want to be the hero in the last novel I read. And this—the first book that really had an impact on me—has four of them.

Set in the 1920s, it’s about a group of very ordinary kids in Ohio who find a magic coin, but the magic only half works. For example, if you wished to be back home, it’d get you halfway, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no money. The resulting mayhem makes for a kind of Monty Python for five-year-olds, and completely blew me away. It altered my understanding of what was—and what was allowed to be—funny.

The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

I read it when I was 18, when it wasn’t particularly fashionable. I was seduced by the idea of reading this epic, which seemed to be dripping with English history—except it wasn’t called English history. I didn’t know at the time that Tolkien was one of the foremost Anglo-Saxon scholars in the country. This potent fusion of drama and history, crafted in such a subtle but adventurous way, inspired an awful lot of what I do now. It bares the soul of a man who was in love with history, and knew how to use it in an imaginative way.

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