WHILE our travels are confined to a daily walk around a local park, Sir Tony Robinson is here in his bright, snazzy shirts to bring a little sunshine into our living rooms.
The Time Team host is back on screen with the latest instalment of his global rail tour.
But while long-distance journeys gazing at the Rocky Mountains or visiting one of the wonders of the world sounds idyllic, the 73-year-old presenter reckons it wasn’t all plain railing.
From getting stuck in a loo to his pants falling down and handling a huge block of marijuana, the Blackadder legend details a catalogue of mishaps that would give his screen character Baldrick a run for his money. He said: “Filming Around The World By Train is like running a marathon. The mileage we cover is phenomenal but it’s not all glamorous.”
On a journey through Canada, Tony nipped to the train toilets — and had to be rescued when he got locked in for an hour.
He said: “I got slightly panicky because I thought, ‘Christ almighty, the next station is not for another 300 miles. I could be stuck in the toilet for hours!’ Thankfully one of the guards went past and heard my calls for help and got me out.”
Always game for a laugh at his own expense, he left the footage of the incident in the six-part Channel 5 series, which kicked off last night. He said: “We could have easily left that out because I look a bit silly, but that’s life.”
He took the same approach and let viewers see him with his trousers down, again in Canada. The Rocky Mountaineer train took him to the Jasper National Park in Alberta, where Tony pitched in to help local rangers.
He said: “Of course that’s the moment my pants decide to fall down. I’m actually trying to help drive these elk out of the town and have to stop to pull up my trousers. You couldn’t make it up.”
Touring through South America brought extra problems, with altitude sickness and swine flu. On the legendary Train To The Clouds — which travels from Salta in Argentina to La Puna in the heart of the Andes and reaches a height of more than 4,200m — Tony needed oxygen to cope with the thinner air.
He said: “There is actually a medical carriage on the train, with a doctor and three nurses, because people were falling over like mad things. At one point I did need oxygen. It just makes you feel a bit better.”
“At the end of the day we’re not used to suddenly going up to high altitudes. When people climb Everest they do it a little bit at a time.”
But it wasn’t just the height which knocked out half of Tony’s crew. He said: “We thought we were just giddy from the altitude but, in fact, two of the team had gone down with swine flu — and that was in the days when we weren’t worried about flu.”
“There’s this great moment on camera when I say to the sound man, ‘How are you feeling?’ and he said, ‘A bit giddy all over’. We just all laughed and then within 12 hours he was confined to hospital. I think they picked it up in Buenos Aires, but we don’t know. I luckily escaped it.”
The TV crew had to hire bodyguards when they visited the city of Juarez in Mexico, where the drug gangs have a firm grip on day-to-day life.
He said: “There were some parts of Mexico where it was pretty scary because of the gangs operating there. We were very aware that we were travelling with a lot of expensive kit so we did end up having security to protect us.” Tony got a shock when he visited a distillery and the owner passed him a slab of cannabis to use in an exotic variety of tequila.
The dad-of-two said: “I had to keep a straight face, like I didn’t know what it was. He handed me this brick of marijuana like it’s nothing, but it’s legal over there so I was OK.” As to whether he and his team sampled the weed-infused spirit, Tony let out a bellowing laugh and said: “I couldn’t possibly admit to anything.”
Being a passionate history fan, travelling to Machu Picchu in Peru to visit the Inca citadel was a life-long dream for Tony. Viewers will see him fight back tears as he is overcome with emotion.
He said: “I’ve spent 20 years doing archaeology and I suppose Machu Picchu is like what the pyramids were for the archaeologists in the late 19th Century.”
“There is something so profound, so big, so well made, so historic about it. It’s always been a dream place for me, so it was a pinch-me moment, for sure.”
On a trip to the Arctic Circle, Tony dons a protective suit to see wild wolves — and is soon getting his face licked. He said: “You feel so inferior. It was going to do what it wanted to do.”
“I’d been told by the woman who took me there that if it bit me, I wasn’t to jerk away, and I wasn’t to shout out. I was just to say, very calmly, ‘The wolf has bitten me!’ If I said that then she would do everything she could to deflect the wolf from me. How scary is that?”
The series reveals extraordinary corners of our planet. It couldn’t come at a better time as the world shutters its doors.
Tony muses: “What do I take from my travels? A heart full of experiences. I just hope everyone watching at home will love it as much as I did making it.”
- Around The World By Train is on Channel 5 on Fridays at 8pm.