Anne Robinson: “I’m the oldest woman on TV who doesn’t judge cakes” | Anne-Robinson
Anne Robinson, 76, was born in Crosby, north of Liverpool, to Irish parents. She started out as the first female intern on the Daily mail, and developed his trademark caustic style while writing the Daily Mirrorthe “Wednesday Witch” column. She began appearing on television in the 1980s, becoming a presenter of Points of view and Watch dog. Robinson is best known for the BBC game show The weakest link, and tomorrow takes over as the new host of Countdown, which airs at 2:10 p.m. every day of the week on Channel 4.
How does it feel to go back to the quiz worldshows?
I stopped doing The weakest link ten years ago when he moved to Glasgow – my grandchildren were just born and I didn’t want to be that far – but loved every episode I did. When Countdown happened, it was like a brilliant fit. It didn’t take long for me to say yes.
Were you a Countdown fan already?
I was. I love its light and its shadow. You’ve got the cerebral side – Susie Dent discusses the origin of words; Rachel Riley being a mathematical genius; competitors who are miracles at what they do – but you also have fun with chatty interludes. I’ve been pretty insistent on which guests I want in Dictionary Corner. We have people like Reverend Richard Coles and Julian Clary moving the conversation forward.
You were known as the “Queen of Wickedness” on The weakest link. Did you like that nickname, or has it become a grindstone around your neck?
It was never a grindstone. It wasn’t my initial intention to be horrible – I just didn’t want to be a nerdy game show host. Then I met the candidates, who were incredibly competitive and happy enough to be rude to each other, so I thought, “Oh well, I can be myself.” If the viewers at home were saying “Why is she so fat?” You might as well say it. It was wonderful never to let a thought go unnoticed.
Do you regret some of the sharpest things you said?
I wouldn’t be doing much now. We are very awake these days. But if I ever thought I had gone too far, I would tell them to delete it. That’s not to say that I haven’t met candidate mothers on the streets who told me they would never forgive me.
Will we see a warmer side for you on Countdown?
Probably yes. The difference is that we chat before the show starts, to help them relax. At The weakest link, I made a point of never meeting the candidates, not even on celebrity specials. Partly to keep the mood going, but partly because I never know what to say to celebrities.
There are very few female quizzesshow the hosts on television. Why is that?
All I know is that I broke all the rules throughout my career. When I was on the Mirror, I was the first woman to regularly publish a national newspaper. The guys must have been annoyed by the attention he got, because I had the same experience as them, I was just a woman. It’s all a bit bogus. When Countdown told me I was the first female host, I moaned. Suffice to say that I am the first guest with a cocker spaniel.
Is it nice to counter the trend of ageism? Few women get television jobs in their 70s …
They don’t get a job in their 50s either. I’m the oldest woman on TV who doesn’t judge cakes. I was not compliant in school and have never done so since. It’s handy to be a nutcase.
How has your education in Merseyside contributed to your character?
It was unconventional. I come from a long line of wild Irish alcoholic wolves. Liverpudlians, like Glasgowians, tend to be quick-witted. My family certainly was, so we kids had to follow.
Your mother was a wonderful figure who turned a market stall into a huge wholesale business. What did you learn from her?
Don’t be afraid of anything. And that the men were mostly rather funny. When Germaine Greer arrived, I wondered why she was so angry. I was not brought up thinking that women were mistreated because they didn’t have it in my house.
Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
No, because I like that women become more courageous in the negotiation and don’t see themselves as victims. In that sense, I am very pro-women. My generation broke down a lot of barriers, but now women feel more persecuted than we do.
Do you look back fondly on your career on Fleet Street?
I have been very lucky. All the things I missed from my education I learned from the newspapers. If I have had success on television, it is directly thanks to my training in journalism. Looking back, however, it was very sexist. The sous chef would deliberately leave your typewritten copy on the floor so you would bend down to pick it up and the men could see your panties. I never thought, “How dare they? I thought, “It won’t be long before I’m in charge of this batch. “
You got royal scoops in your journal days. Do you sympathize with Harry and Meghan?
Not a lot. Although ironically, I think their complaint about a member of the Royal Family worrying about their baby’s skin color – real or not – has in fact resulted in some change. This has improved the diversity and attitudes among palace staff. I was once removed from Mirror editing rotation for writing an article on Diana’s eating disorder. The palace no longer has this power over the press. The balance has shifted.
As an elder Points of view presenter doing do you think the BBC deserves the criticism it receives?
No. I really like the BBC, but the people at the top are making bad decisions – certainly about the Martin Bashir affair. It would be a real shame if we lost the BBC as we know it, especially radio. Everything is too micromanaged. The day supervisor saw the pilot of The weakest link and ordered 62 episodes on site. It would never happen now. There would be endless and disturbing committees. The last documentary I made for the BBC, six different people got their hands on my script. I went, “I’m not saying that. It’s not even grammatical.
You were the viewer’s champion in the face of authority over Watch dog. Do you still feel like a stranger?
Yes. People might ask me for selfies, but I hope I kept the sense of the absurd. I remember meeting Cherie Blair’s mom and thinking, “How stupid of me, I can’t be rude with Cherie’s outfits anymore.” You should never befriend or become one of these people.
How long have you been sober? Is it still difficult?
Forty-two years old. I think it’s harder not to eat chocolate. I almost killed myself. At worst, I weighed less than six stones. The doctor gave me two months to live. But if you can stop drinking when you have a problem, eventually you can get back to the level of talent you had and start over. I am grateful that this has happened to me. It gave me new life.
Is more writing going on?
I should write another book now but haven’t started it. Every day I feel guilty for making TV instead. I’m generally not a procrastinator so I don’t know why I find it difficult. Unless you’re my shrink, I don’t think I can discuss this with you.
How did your confinement go?
Thirteen out of 16 months were spent with my daughter and grandchildren. The day before the first lockdown, they left London and came to my house in the Cotswolds. They pulled into their station wagon and things kept coming out of the back: dogs, children, laptops, soccer balls, tennis rackets… it just kept on going. At first it was awful. Irritating, noisy and disturbing. But when they settled in we walked into a model and it was lovely. I even started to recycle. My daughter came in with a labeling machine – who’s wrapping that up when you rush to save your life? – and labeled my bins. We have been compared to Edina and Saffy from Ab Fab. I guess if you have a crazy mother you become an adult.