Born in Homerton in the London Borough of Hackney, London, Robinson attended the independent Woodford Green Preparatory School followed by Wanstead County High School (now Wanstead High School), a grammar school in what is now the London Borough of Redbridge. At school, Robinson passed four O-Levels (English Language, English Literature, History and Geography) and went on to study for A-Levels. However, he did not complete his A-Levels and decided to study at a drama school instead. He performed in his first professional acting role at the age of 12, as a member of Fagin's gang in the original production of the musical Oliver!, including a stint as the Artful Dodger when the boy playing the role failed to turn up. Over the next five years, he appeared in a number of West End shows, in film and on television.
Too young to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Robinson instead studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. After leaving, he spent four years in repertory theatre most notably at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
He won an Arts Council bursary to work as a director at the Midland Arts Centre, Birmingham and founded the Avon Touring Company, a Bristol-based community theatre company, with writer David Illingworth. He played a small role as student doctor Grace in the 1972–73 series of Doctor In Charge.
He appeared in the 1974–75 season at Chichester Festival Theatre, as Angel Chicago in the nativity musical Follow The Star. In the 1975 season, he appeared as Hovstad in Henrik Ibsen's Enemy of the People. In 1976, he appeared as Feste in Twelfth Night, and as Majorin in Monsieur Perrichon's Travels.
In 1972 he starred in the children's educational programme Sam on Boffs' Island and was later a presenter on Play Away. He also appeared in the award-winning Horizon documentary Joey, and in the title role in the BBC production of The Miracle of Brother Humphrey. He also had a minor part in the film Brannigan starring John Wayne.
He was also one of the Who Dares Wins team in the Channel 4 comedy/satirical show in the early/mid-1980s.
Robinson came to prominence in 1983 for his role in the British historical sitcom Blackadder, as Edmund Blackadder's dogsbody Baldrick. In the first series, broadcast as The Black Adder, he was quite astute, while his master was an idiot. Later series (Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, Blackadder Goes Forth) moved the duo through history and switched the relationship: the Edmund Blackadder of Blackadder II was a brilliant schemer, whereas Baldrick had devolved into a buffoon whose catchphrase was "I have a cunning plan" (which he rarely had).
In addition to his acting on Blackadder, Robinson also wrote and narrated several Jackanory-style children's programmes, encouraged by Richard Curtis. Programmes in this style included Tales From Fat Tulip's Garden (continued in Fat Tulip Too), Odysseus: The Greatest Hero of Them All (a retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey) and Blood and Honey (tales from the Old Testament, filmed on location).
After Blackadder, Robinson became the narrator and one of the lead actors for the British animated series Nellie the Elephant, based on a song of the same name. The series ran from 1989 to 1991 and was shown on Children's ITV.
He also provided voice-over to the Free-ranger Chicken cartoon short, an English child-scripted arts-funded production in 1989. Robinson also presented the early-Saturday evening series Stay Tooned for BBC 1, which featured a selection of classic Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons. In 1989 he created the children's comedy TV series Maid Marian and her Merry Men, a loose retelling of the legend of Robin Hood in which he appeared as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Four series were broadcast on BBC1 during 1989–94. In 1990 he appeared as "Shlomo Denkoviz" in Series 8, Episode 2 of Bergerac - "My Name’s Sergeant Bergerac".
In 1994, Robinson began presenting Time Team, a TV programme devoted to archaeological investigations limited to three days (the outcome was never guaranteed, varying from spectacular to disappointing). In 2005, Exeter University conferred an Honorary Doctorate on Robinson, and Honorary Professorships on principal presenter Mick Aston and producer Tim Taylor, to reflect its great appreciation for what Time Team has done for the public understanding of archaeology in the UK. In the 2011 episode "Hitler's Island Fortress", Robinson described himself as an amateur archaeologist.
Also in 1994, Robinson played a minor part in an episode called "One Flew Over the Parents Nest" in the TV series Minder, playing a character called "Willie the Weed". Robinson was drafted to present other history-based shows on Channel 4, including The Worst Jobs in History, researching and re-enacting some of the more horrible jobs of the past millennium. He also took this show on tour around the country along with an autobiographical question and answer session. This first series was followed by The Worst Christmas Jobs in History in December 2005 and then a second series of The Worst Jobs in History on Channel 4 in April 2006.
In 1999, Robinson returned to star in a one-off Blackadder short film to celebrate the new millennium, entitled Blackadder: Back & Forth. This short film was shown in the Millennium Dome throughout 2000 and was later aired on BBC One in 2002.
Robinson also contributed the voiceover for the TV series Airline in its set of new series from 1999 focusing on the daily routine of EasyJet staff at a selection of airports. The show was made for ITV and is often repeated today on Sky Real Lives, Sky 1, Sky 2, Sky 3 (now Pick TV) & ITV2. He worked as the narrator for six of the remaining nine series until 2006 when the series ended. Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out, a largely improvised stage show, followed in early 2005 and included a mix of the many themes from his career for which Robinson is famous. He also edited and presented The Real Da Vinci Code, a documentary for Channel 4's Weird World series which countered the claims made by Dan Brown in his novel The Da Vinci Code.
In addition to telling his own stories, Robinson narrated the abridged audiobook versions of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. Nigel Planer, Celia Imrie and Stephen Briggs narrated the unabridged versions. He also provided the voicing for several characters in the videogame Discworld. He followed on this Discworld work by playing a role in the live action television dramatisation of Hogfather, broadcast on Sky over the Christmas season in 2006.
Robinson also presented Classic FM's Friendly Guide to Classical Music which aired on a Sunday at 4 pm. The whole 16-episode series was repeated on 26 December 2006. He revealed on the BBC Radio 2 feature "Tracks of My Years" that his favourite songs are: "I Can Help" by Billy Swan, "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis, "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol, "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, "Unfinished Sympathy" by Massive Attack, "Tangled Up In Blue" by Bob Dylan, "Shoulda Woulda Coulda" by Beverley Knight, "This Woman's Work" by Maxwell, "He's So Fine" by the Chiffons and "Falling Slowly" by the Frames.
In 2007, Robinson narrated television advertisements for Honda, in the humorous style of Tales From Fat Tulip's Garden. The advertisements feature plastic cars with expressive faces (similar to Thomas the Tank Engine). He has also done voiceovers for laundry product Vanish as of 2007. In the spring of 2007 Robinson visited thirty towns in Britain and Ireland with his one-man show, A Cunning Night Out. The show was released on DVD.
With Channel 4 Robinson presented Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment and Catastrophe and Man on Earth focusing on humanity's struggle with climate change in the past 200,000 years. Tony Robinson and the Paranormal was first broadcast on Channel 4 in December 2008. In this series, Robinson investigates paranormal phenomena combining the fields of archaeology, parapsychology, history and spiritualism to investigate paranormal evidence.
In July 2009, he appeared in the light-hearted BBC1 series Hotel Babylon as sly hit-man named Arthur Barnes. The character is knocked unconscious by a flying bottle expertly lobbed by the hotel manageress during a showdown in the lobby.
In February 2010 Robinson, described as the 'stunt Pratchett', read the main part of Terry Pratchett's BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture.
From 1 September 2010, Robinson hosted a new series on National Geographic Channel called Birth of Britain which was repeated on Channel 4 beginning in January 2011. Tony Robinson Explores Australia was first broadcast in the first half of 2012. Filmed in High Definition, the series roughly follows a chronology from the earliest sightings of Terra Australis Incognita through to the present with each era defined by a theme rather than equal blocks of time.
From 10 September 2012, Robinson hosted a new series on History Channel Australia called Tony Robinson's Time Walks. The series uncovers stories that shaped the character of various cities and suburbs around Australia, including Fremantle, Melbourne, Hobart, Woolloomooloo, Bendigo, Newcastle, Carlton, Brisbane, St Kilda and Adelaide.
During October 2012, it was announced that Time Team would be cancelled after nearly 20 years on television. Tara Conlan from the Guardian called the show "television history". When talking about the successful run of the show, Tony Robinson said "Not many performers are given the privilege of featuring in two iconic TV series – but I've been lucky." It is said that the show is being cancelled due to dwindling viewing figures.
Between 2012 and 2014, Tony Robinson presented a series of programmes for Channel 4 called "Walking Through History". It featured Robinson hiking through iconic British landscapes, including the Cairngorms, the Jurassic Coast and Stonehenge. As of November 2014, 16 hour-long episodes have been broadcast in four series.
In September 2013 Sir Jonathan Miller directed the Gala Performance of William Shakespeare's King Lear at the Old Vic in London. Robinson played the Fool.
In 2014 Robinson played the eponymous title role in a touring production of "The Hypochondriac", Richard Bean's new translation of Moliere's "Le malade imaginaire", directed by Lindsay Posner.
Robinson and his former wife Mary Shepherd were active in Bristol Labour politics from the early 1980s.
From 1996 to 2000, he was vice-president of the actors' union Equity, helping with a huge restructuring programme which turned a £500,000 deficit into a small surplus. He continues to work within Equity. In 2000 he was elected to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, a position he held to 2004.
He was also active in the "Make Poverty History" campaign during early 2005, in the lead-up to the G8 summit in Scotland, and is the patron for UK-based charity Street Child Africa.
In March 2011, Robinson participated in the 'March for the Alternative' protests in Central London, which opposed the Conservative led Coalition UK Government's spending cuts programme.
In 2006 he appeared in Tony Robinson: Me and My Mum, a documentary surrounding Robinson's decision to find a nursing home for his mother, and the difficulty he had with doing so. The documentary showed his mother's death in the home. It also featured stories from other families in similar situations. It appeared as part of Channel 4's short season of programmes entitled The Trouble with Old People.
He previously supported the football clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City, but now supports Championship side Bristol City. He also follows Spanish Liga BBVA side Valencia, often spending his holidays in the country.
He is honorary president of the Young Archaeologists' Club of the Council for British Archaeology. Robinson has shown his support for the Burma Campaign UK, an NGO that aims to highlight human rights violations in Burma under the State Peace and Development Council.
He is a big fan of the rock band Genesis and provided sleeve notes for the reissue of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as part of the Genesis 1970–1975 box set.
In late 2009 he was invited to be guest speaker at the Pride of Craegmoor Awards, where he gave a speech about his time with his mother and finding a care home. He then went on to give the prizes to Craegmoor's Shining Star and Leading Light.
Robinson married Louise Hobbs on 24 June 2011.
Robinson was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for public and political service. Robinson was quoted as saying "I’ll use my new title with abandon to highlight the causes I believe in, particularly the importance of culture, the arts and heritage and the plight of the infirm elderly and their carers," adding, “I also pledge that from this day on I’ll slaughter all unruly dragons, and rescue any damsels in distress who request my help.”
In August 2014, Robinson was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.1999: Honorary Master of Arts from the University of Bristol for his services to drama and archaeology.
2002: Honorary Master of Arts by the University of East London.
2005: Honorary doctorate from the Open University for his contribution to the educational or cultural well-being of society
2005: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Exeter for his active involvement in politics.
2006: Honorary doctorate from Oxford Brookes University.
2008: James Joyce Award from the Literary and Historical Society of UCD.
2011: Honorary doctorate by University of Chester.
2013: Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in her Birthday Honours List.
Brannigan (1975) – Messenger
Blackadder (1983–1989, 1999) – Baldrick
The Young Ones (1984–Episode entitled "Bambi") – Dr. Not-The-Nine-O'clock-News
Maid Marian and her Merry Men (1989–1994) – Sheriff of Nottingham & creator/writer
The Neverending Story III (1994) – Engywook (male gnome)
Blood and Honey (1991) – Presenter (Storyteller)
Time Team (1994–2013) – Presenter
Wrestling with the Big One (1995) – Presenter (Storyteller)
My Wonderful Life (1997–1999) – Alan
Faeries (1999) – Broom (voice)
Minder ("One Flew Over the Parents Nest", Series 10, Episode 4)(1994) - Willie the Weed
Mrs Caldicot's Cabbage War (2002) - Nick Reid
Romans (documentary) (2003) – Presenter
Britain's Real Monarch (2004) – Presenter
Spider-Plant Man (2005) - Robin
Codex (2006–present) – Presenter
Terry Pratchett's Hogfather (2006) – Vernon Crumley
Codex (2006–2007) – Presenter (Tuesday Morning Channel 4 and 4 HD)
The Doomsday Code (2008) – Presenter
Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment (2008) – Presenter
Catastrophe (2008) – Presenter
Big Top (2009)
Airline – Narrator
Hotel Babylon – Arthur – Series 4, Episode 3 (2009)
Jam TV (2009) – Himself, Episode 5
Man on Earth (2009) – Presenter
Tony Robinson Explores Australia (2011) - Presenter (The History Channel Australia)
Tony Robinson's Time Walks (2012–present) – Presenter (The History Channel Australia)
The Life Of the Midland & South Western Junction Railway (2012) - Contributor (Independent Film)
Tony Robinson's Walking Through History (2013–present) – Presenter (Channel 4 and SBS)