Robinson himself refers to the other cast members of Blackadder as “toffs” and Oxbridge types. He himself is a dropout who spent years as a working actor while the assorted other people involved in making the show were off, you know, getting educations. That isn’t why he’s cast as Baldrick, but it is an interesting thing to consider. He also says that a carrot is more intellectual than Baldrick, which is also definitely not wrong. It’s funny, then, that Robinson is the one who’s gone on to do quite a lot of educational programming—much as I love QI, it’s not quite the same as spending twenty seasons tromping around archaeological digs on top of all the other documentaries he’s done.
And I mean working actor; in 1975, when the others were all in school at one level or another, Robinson played a motorcycle courier in the movie Brannigan. John Wayne pushed him into the Thames. That was more than a decade after his West End debut in Oliver! Appropriately, he started as a member of Fagin’s gang and did a stint as the Artful Dodger. His TV career goes back as far as 1961. He may not be as big a star as the others, but he’s done the most work for the longest.
The show really didn’t work when he was the smart character. Oh, it’s a common enough trope, having the lower class guttersnipe be smarter than the toffs. My goodness, it’s a trope as old as the time the first series is set at least, and probably thousands of years older than that. Why didn’t it work this time? A lot of reasons. But shifting Baldrick to be, well, the Baldrick we’d all come to know and not want to stand downwind of was one of the changes that made the later seasons better than the first. Robinson was so good at the character; listening to his “cunning plans” is one of the great joys of the series.
Which made his transition to Educational TV Presenter so successful, I think. He’s an Every Man in a lot of ways. Yes, by later seasons of Time Team, he’s really come to know at least the basics of a lot of archaeology and history. Of course he has. It wouldn’t be believable to have Robinson still standing around saying things like, “What’s a hypocaust?” (I wish he’d explain it to the captioning people, who have come up with all kinds of things people are saying instead.) Still, he doesn’t have any kind of degree aside from a handful of honorary ones, so he’s only talking about what he’s picked up over literally decades of doing the whole thing.
It is also funny that he’s the only one of the main cast to have been knighted. Now, I think it’s a disgrace that Miranda Richardson hasn’t been; get on that, British royalty! And, sure, there are a couple of CBEs in the group. But the lower-class working boy from London who dropped out of school and played a street rat has definitely come a long way. He’s done a lot of charity; between his own mother’s illness and the illness of his friend Terry Pratchett (also knighted), he has personal reasons for supporting Alzheimer’s research. That’s the sort of thing that actually got him knighted, even if it’s funnier to think of the episode where Baldrick ends up in the House of Lords.