BBC radio Sheffield presenter has had a daytime slot since 1984 but has also been a successful playwright and author in a varied creative career
I’m welcomed to the home of BBC Radio Sheffield presenter Rony Robinson with a hug that’s as sincere as the man himself.
Instantly I’m offered a hot beverage before being invited to join him in ‘his space’ up in the attic where we’ll reflect on a colourful career, spanning back to the 1960s.
The climb up two flights of classically steep Sheffield stairs is worth the effort for two reasons: the outstanding views over Rony’s home village of Totley and to get an insight into the thinking space of a playwright, author and broadcaster.
It’s intriguing and a little chaotic, similar to Rony’s reams of scribbles in the notebooks on his disorganised desk.
At 73 he’s still working full time and has recently landed the prestigious title of the ‘longest serving presenter hosting a weekday programme in the BBC’ – a reflection of his efforts and popularity.
But so much more has come before this point. Born in 1940 in a house just a stone’s throw away from his current abode, Rony has a strong passion for Sheffield and is thankful for what he describes as ‘good fortune’ that has enabled him to spend the majority of his life in the Steel City.
Rony did have a short spell in London where he attended Keble College in Oxfordshire and flexed his journalism hand for the first time as editor on the university’s weekly newspaper.
“I wrote something on the royal family which landed me in a bit of hot water. I panicked and went teaching,” said Rony. “I didn’t mind so much as it was an exciting time to be teaching English in the ’60s. There was less fuss about grammar and more focus on creative writing, which I relished.”
But it wasn’t long before Rony’s writing spread beyond the classroom. He published his first novel, The Ted Carp Tradition, in 1971 and later became a freelance playwright – a career that returned him to his Sheffield roots in the early ’80s.
He has since toured with theatre companies but has also been a resident playwright at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre twice and once at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, resulting in ample memories.
“My first play for the Crucible, Edward Carpenter Lives, was initially reviewed as being rubbish by The Star but the second time it was produced there The Star said it would be the play to save the theatre,” recalled Rony.
“I loved being hands on as part of the theatre companies. They have a wonderful way of life – I lived on their wages and drank in their pubs.
“But I’ve also enjoyed seeing hundreds of my plays performed by different theatre groups across the country. It’s interesting to see how they interpret and deliver them – I’m not sure any have ever got it quite right, but then maybe I didn’t write them right in the first place.”
Despite his parents being keen amateur actors and his three children being drawn to the performing limelight, Rony’s never been tempted to step on to the stage himself.
Instead he prefers to hide behind his earphones and mic at Radio Sheffield.
The infectious presenter first landed a daytime slot on the radio station in 1984 and has ruled the airwaves ever since with listeners falling for his honest, loving and trusting nature.
“My first show was with co-host Tony Capstick,” said Rony. “I didn’t know him all that well and I’m not sure what he thought of me but he was kind and incredibly well known – I got to share in some of that fame.
“We never really had a script but we had a great connection despite often broadcasting from different studios because he smoked so much.
“For me a connection is key to a great radio show and I’ve had that with co-presenters including Jenny Day and Stephanie Hazeldine – I’d quite like to end by co-hosting with Paulette Edwards.”
But he has no intention of hanging up his earphones just yet.
Rony loves the variation his broadcasting brings, favouring human interest stories over hard news which allows him to build real relationships with his dedicated listeners.
He also loves the opportunity to take his show out on the road and doesn’t shy away from a controversial topic. He’s visited a sperm donation clinic live on air ‘to do the biz’ and stepped behind the closed doors of a swingers’ club – all in the name of radio.
Rony said: “I’ve been fortunate to meet some fantastic people over the years and remained in my patch – Sheffield.
“I don’t think I’ll leave a lasting legacy as radio is throwaway, but I don’t mind that.”
After a whistlestop tour through Rony’s eventful life we return down the steep stairs to the back door.
“We’ll meet again,” he assures me as I leave and I hope this is true, for I too have been infected by Rony’s unique charm.