This is Robert Llewellyn's personal blog. The views contained in here are mine alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of anyone else I work with or for. Just thought I ought to make that clear.


21 years in the golden shire

I recently read an article in a local glossy estate agents magazine while I was waiting for fish and chips. I describe the magazine as such because at least half the pages are filled with details and wonderful photographs of desirable residencies in the Cotswold area. There was also an editorial piece in the front of the magazine which I could skim read with ease as it followed a very well trodden path.

It was a jocular account of the excesses and eccentricities of the nouveau-arriviste Cotswold family, swollen with cash from the sale of their multi million pound Notting Hill terraced house.

I also recently attended a funeral of a wonderful local woman who died far too young, a born and bred daughter of the Cotswolds. The gathering at the church was anything but unique, many races, ages and social groups had gathered to bid farewell to this popular woman. Basically normal people who live in the Cotswolds. Loads of them. Not one merchant banker, movie star or retired footballer among them.

The contrast was notable.

In the 21 years I’ve been living in the Cotswolds I will have read at least 21 articles written by erudite, observant and witty journalists who don’t live here who enjoy nothing more than describing wealthy residents of the golden shire with barbed insights and brand accurate put downs.

The portrait they paint is always snide, knowing and accurate, if you only inhabit the tiny, totally irrelevant little world these self-loathing scribes clearly do.

I’m sure you’ve come across such lazy appraisals.

‘The Cotswolds - full to the brim with movie stars, TV presenters and merchant bankers,’ they chortle. ‘Living in their delightful barn conversion with 2 Labradors, a Range Rover in the garage, son Tobias at Winchester and daughter Florette at CLC.’ (That’s Cheltenham Ladies College for you plebs)

Ha ha. So observant, so terribly witty.

‘I chat with the good lady wife Bruschetta.’ Continues the faceless hack. ‘as she leans on her 4 oven Aga and worries about the organic free range hare she has hanging on the pantry door.’

Oh guffaw, so accurate, so cutting and original. We know someone just like that.

‘She passes her days painting blanket boxes she sells at a charming little shop in Winchcombe while hubby embezzles billions in the City.’

Oooh, political and disruptive, such brave and knowing satire.

Well, let me paint another picture for you. The vast majority of residents of the Cotswolds, and I’m claiming around 98%, do not run merchant banks, don’t work in the TV business, don’t have an Aga or a Labrador, they don’t have Range Rovers or live in barn conversions. They have normal occupations with humble incomes and their kids go to the Cotswold comprehensive school in Bourton on the Water.

Some of them even vote Labour! Blimey, I know it’s hard to believe but they really do. They keep quiet about it obviously.

There are even actual farmers who live and work in the Cotswolds, they live in small houses and use their barns for, wait for it, storing hay and agricultural machinery. Oh, the dizzying shock!

There are quarry workers, Tesco delivery operatives, people who work in IT, in fact quite a lot of people who work in IT because GCHQ in Cheltenham needs a few of them. There are teachers, bakers, dry stone wallers, shop workers, retired people who aren’t that bothered about the colour of their wellingtons, there are people who work in insurance, local banking, pharmacists and builders.

Basically normal people who don’t get interviewed about their life style or taste because it’s probably not seen to be that entertaining.

‘Mary lives in a bungalow in Bourton on the Water, she has two sons, one works locally, the other is at University in Plymouth. Her husband Phil is a builder, running the company set up by his father. They’ve lived in the Cotswolds all their lives, as did their parents and grandparents. They don’t have an Aga or a Range Rover. Teri runs a catering company but when her children were younger, she was a child minder.’

Have you ever read about someone like that in a witty, cutting observational piece about the Cotswolds by the likes of AA Gill? No, don’t be so silly. As if. Much better to find a chinless red trouser wearing toff who represents 0.003% of the UK population and inflate their importance beyond all recognition.

Much safer.

In my 21 years of residence, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about being one of the people these journos love having an annual go at. Yes, I do occasionally work in the TV industry, our house was never a barn but it does have an Aga. We have dogs, okay, not Labradors but one is a Lurcher which is, without question, a posho status symbol breed apparently.

However there are so many aspects of my clichéd existence that are never listed, my wife is an Australian, about as Cotswold wife as Edna Everidge, my daughter has ridden horses but is a vegetarian who doesn’t like hunting. My son lives in London because the Cotswolds are ‘so boring.’

We drive an electric car and we have solar panels on the roof. We are clichés of a type yet to be vilified by some bitter scribe who lives in Tufnell Park and thinks ‘global warming’ is a feminist plot.

The people in my village are kind, accepting of our eccentricities, non judgmental and charming. They live their lives quietly and are probably unaware of the frothing social put-downs so popular with such opinion pieces.


One of the many Gigs I Didn't Get.

Just managed to do a bit of data mining on some old files I found tucked in an old folder on an old hard drive in an old box under a pile of old papers.

The following extract is from a work diary I was keeping on my original Macintosh (an SE 2 20) I bought after working on Red Dwarf series 3 in 1989. 

I wrote the following on the 14th of December 1989.

Robin Driscoll and I had a meeting this morning with Rowan Atkinson after watching his half hour thingy and I'm supposed to write three ten minute ideas for him by mid January. Yeas, well, we shall see won't we. The ideas have to be visual, and definitely have a punch line. The characters name is Mr Bean, and in the ones I saw there were some very good car gags, the little red mini that always knocks something over when he parks it and occasionally drives a Reliant Robin into a ditch. 

That was it. I'd forgotten about the meeting and as you may have guessed by now my ideas were never used, hey ho.

I do know that Robin, who's a lovely chap and a brilliant comic actor in his own right went on to work with Rowan for many years and he helped create the Mr Bean we all know and love. 




It really was all black and white in the 1970's

Just found this old snap, taken on Ryecroft Street in Fulham in early 1978. Yes, that slim young man (I was 22) was me.

The picture was taken by Angie Hunter who lived in the same house. She later went on to be Tony Blair's right hand woman during his 1st term at number 10. I never got invited to any parties though. :-)

Yes, I used to smoke, shocking to remember. Stopped in '89, started again in 2000! Doh! Stopped in 2003.
The shoes, I made those myself, it's what I used to do. I was at that time a 'shoemaker.' Not a 'cobbler.' A cobbler mends shoes. I made them, a shoemaker is posher okay. 

The jumper was a real Swedish number my then girlfriend gave me, she was half Swedish.


The Barbie Land Rover

I’ve owned 3 Land Rovers in my life. I loved them all, big, brutish, rough as guts rattling road legal tractors that they are.

The first was a dirty matt red 110” Defender pick up with a factory installed 3.5 liter V8. It had a chronically noisy gearbox that became truly deafening when I fitted a Fairey Overdrive.

When our son was born, I drove my wife (in labour at the time) 50 miles up the M5 to Worcester hospital flat out, we maybe touched 70 mph twice. The noise was so overwhelming I couldn’t hear my wife swearing in loud Australian as she experienced contractions. We made it okay, oh yes, and the reason we had to drive to Worcester was that was the only hospital near us with a birthing tub. Both my kids were born under water and interestingly they are both amazing swimmers, but that’s another topic.

We fitted a baby seat on the cubby box in the cab and my pre toddler son liked nothing more than to push his little foot on the massive gear stick and kick the car out of gear just when I really needed to be in gear. Oh, the joy they bring.

With the arrival of my daughter, and for reasons that now totally elude me, I traded that old tank in for a 110” Defender station wagon, again a V8 petrol model, it was in exquisite condition and even then, back in 1996, it cost close to £80 to fill the tank.

In 1998 I traded that monster machine in for the 90” Defender SV pictured above. The young man standing in front of the car is my son aged 5, he’s now approaching 20.

This Landy had a 2.5 TDi under the bonnet, I didn’t much like the sound it made, it sounded like a bread van. I missed the burble of the old V8 petrol but the diesel was a tiny bit more economic to run.

This Land Rover became a vital part of the Scrapheap Challenge production crew from 1998 to 2001, it went everywhere we went, never got stuck, due to the rag top it could have camera mounts clamped to it. Lots of shots of weird contraptions hobbling along were filmed from the back of this Landy. It once conveyed 14 people in the back (they were all standing) out of a quarry and up to the catering wagon.

Some of the more rufty tufty members of the Scrapheap crew were critical of my Landy's paint job, it was a light metallic green and they dubbed it ‘Bobby’s Barbie Landy.’ I wasn’t threatened, they were just jealous. 

During it’s hectic life on Scrapheap a lot of young men ‘had a go’ off roading at various locations we filmed at. I drove it into the sea at Pendine Sands in South Wales so we could get a better shot of the scrappy races vehicles arriving for the race, waves were breaking over the bonnet but it never got stuck.

I ‘steam cleaned’ it later that day in order to ‘wash the salt off’ and then two weeks later had to replace all the brake disks as they looked like something pulled up from the hull of the Mary Rose. That was expensive, and embarrassing.

Mechanic at garage: ‘Where’s it been Robert?’

Me: ‘Um, it might have got a bit of sea water near it.’

In later life we used it to pull a horsebox when my daughter rode a pony, we attended numerous ‘Pony Club’ events, me looking like a tramp, all the other parents in their Range Rovers looking like the front cover of Country Life.

My Landy pulled more Range Rovers with road tyres off level, damp grass than I ever want to remember. Also, having learned to drive tractors at an early age, I can reverse trailers. I don’t enjoy doing it, it’s not a task I seek out but I reversed a lot of Range Rovers and horseboxes out of gates all over the South Midlands. Oh the joy.

A few years ago when our village was cut off in the snow and all the schools were closed, all the kids in the village went up to a local hill that seems designed for tobogganing and I tied a long tow rope on the back. 20 kids at a time sat on their toboggans, held onto the rope and got pulled back up the hill. It never got stuck.

Last week I finally sold the Land Rover back to the man I bought it from. It seemed fitting, he’s a Land Rover fanatic and skilled mechanic so I’m sure he’ll look after it a lot better than I did. The heater doesn’t work, nor does the fuel gage, the drivers door doesn’t shut, the bonnet doesn’t open very easily and there are some bits of mysterious metal rubbing together somewhere underneath.

On the last day I owned it I got in and tried to start it. Flat battery, we just don’t use it any more, in fact we’ve done less than 200 miles in it in the last year. As a final indignity to its he-man prowess, I had to jump start it from my Nissan Leaf.

If all goes to plan, in a few weeks I’ll be test-driving the Land Rover Defender electric, one of seven all electric Defenders that Land Rover revealed at the recent Geneva motor show. I’m intrigued.



Old Tech

I have ‘worked in the TV industry’ for the last 25 years, I understand how the industry works and why it exists, how it is financed and who makes the most money out of it (not the people who appear on the screen)

When I got back to my hotel room last night the telly started working as I walked into the room. I hadn’t touched a button, merely slid my key card into the little slidey thing by the door and kerchung. MTV, ‘worlds sexiest music videos’  appeared in glorious colour. Lovely.

I started channel hopping, something people have been doing for the last 40 years or so. Before that you had to stand up and turn a clunky knob on the telly to change channels. In fact when I was a kid you didn’t even do that, we had a nine inch Bakelite telly that only got the BBC.

‘We’re not having that awful commercial rubbish in this house.’ Said my mum.

The actual screen of the telly in the hotel, the machine itself is amazing, flat screen, incredible definition, top notch sound. That was all good but I was immediately aware of some numpty in some obscure office in London who had pre-decided what I could watch. A scheduler, a person who organises the schedule, a person who’s job it is to tell you what you can see and when.

Suddenly the technology I was using seemed archaic and limited, clunky and crude and above all, out-dated. The menu system is nothing short of tragic, finding out what you can watch is next to impossible, searching for a specific thing you want to watch? Forget it.

It’s crap, it’s a broken model, it doesn’t work and my experience in the hotel room reminded me why I don’t have Sky and why I don’t watch much broadcast telly any more.

Breaking Bad and House of Cards on Netflix is how I want my telly. It’s all available, all the time, I decide my own schedule, I watch it when it fits in with my time table, I’m no longer prepared to operate my life around the vague whim of some self important numpty in NoHo.

I’ll watch the news at a scheduled time and that’s about it. I know some people like to watch men running around with balls on a nice grass lawn and that’s fine too. But for the rest of it, I only have one thing to suggest. ‘Schedulers, sling yer hook.’