Historic tour of duty no comedy

Sir Tony Robinson enjoyed fine weather for his visit to the war memorial on Otago Peninsula. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery
Sir Tony Robinson enjoyed fine weather for his visit to the war memorial on Otago Peninsula. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery
It has been nearly 25 years since Sir Tony Robinson played Baldrick in the cult British comedy series Blackadder, but there is still a bit of the character left in the 67-year-old.

After climbing a steep slope to reach the war memorial on Otago Peninsula yesterday, he said it was like ''hiking up the sides of a giant turnip''.

These days, the British comedian is more a historian, and is in Dunedin this week to film an episode of Tony Robinson's Tour of Duty.

The 10-part series will air on the History Channel next year and will look at the extraordinary bravery of World War 1 and 2 soldiers, and the gentle and sometimes quirky yarns about the homeland effort. It is timed to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Gallipoli.

The first part of the Dunedin episode will follow Sir Tony as he explores the city and traces the lives of University of Otago-trained plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe, who helped rebuild the lives of fighter pilots burnt and disfigured in plane crashes; a young man who was quarantined on Quarantine Island after contracting a sexually transmitted disease in Egypt; and Dunedin-based relatives of Peter McIntyre, who became New Zealand's official war artist in World War 2.

The second part of the episode will focus on a community event, to be held at Otago Boys' High School this Sunday, from 12.30pm to 5.30pm.

Dunedin residents are invited to bring their war memorabilia and share their family's war-time stories with Sir Tony.

To viewers, it may seem a strange contradiction to see the comedian on television as a historian, but Sir Tony said it was not a big leap for him.

''I'm not one of those people you should hang around if you're looking for side-splitting laughter.

''Comedy is for young actors.

''I'm the least comical person you've ever met - especially when I'm in documentary mode.''

Tour of Duty is just one of many history programmes he has been associated with. Others include two seasons of Tony Robinson's Time Walks which featured Wellington and Christchurch, and two seasons of The Worst Jobs in History.

Sir Tony heads to Auckland next week to film an episode for Tour of Duty there, and will also film episodes in Launceston, Ballarat, Bathurst, Toowoomba, Newcastle, Darwin, Fremantle and Hahndorf in Australia.

He hoped a second season of Tour of Duty could be filmed in the future, mainly because it presented an opportunity for him to explore other parts of New Zealand.

He said he was particularly keen to visit Invercargill.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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