He danced from the back streets of South Dunedin, through
the Depression, and all the way to Covent Garden. And he
gleefully courted controversy most of the way. Nigel Benson
meets Harold Robinson.
Harold Robinson moves slowly these days. But his eyes still
And he wears a satisfied smile, after what has been a most
The 89-year-old ("I'm 90 in January," he beams, with all the
enthusiasm of a 9-year-old about to turn 10) returned to
Dunedin last weekend for only the second time since he left
during World War 2.
Robinson grew up at 18 Richardson St, South Dunedin, later
attending St Clair School and King Edward Technical College.
It was a tough time to be growing up, as the optimism of the
1920s gave way to the Depression of the '30s, and even
tougher for a South Dunedin boy who was passionate about
"fancy dancing", as ballet was disparagingly known.
Robinson's theatrical talent was encouraged by his mother
from an early age and as a 10-year-old boy soprano he was
selected to tour Australia with the Westminster Glee Singers.
He was also an enthusiastic member of the Dunedin Shakespeare
Club, Otago Repertory Company and Lily Steven's dance studio
in Rattray St.
In 1939, when he was 19, the prestigious Ballet Russe de
Monte Carlo visited Dunedin and Robinson's talent caught the
eye of male lead Anton Dolin.
"But, in those days, in spite of my theatrical activities, I
was inspired to take holy orders," he says.
"I was drenched in holy blood. But they were very
strait-laced, the Church of England," he says, smiling.
Robinson would regularly ride a bicycle to Seacliff to take
Sunday school there.
"I still have my lay reader's licence."
All such considerations were put to one side when he was
called up to the army in 1941.
The next four years were spent serving with the 36th
Battalion in the Pacific and the 3rd Division in Egypt.
For some time he served as batman to Sir John Marshall, who
later became prime minister of New Zealand.
"He was the soul of rectitude and correct Presbyterian
standards," Robinson recalls.
"I remember him saying once to me: 'There is no wine like a
glass of cold water' and I thought 'To hell with that', but I
didn't contradict him because that would have been rude."
The pair had a close friendship for an officer and batman.
"He called me Robbie and I called him Marshie, but there was
never any over-familiarity in the address."