Context is all, they say, which makes you immediately want to know the context of that statement – who are ‘they’, and when did they say it? In our soundbite age perhaps we should have context A-levels and context MAs as part of the armoury against post-truth – a line pulled from conversation devoid of context can be dangerous. Why am I making this point, you wonder; and you wonder because I haven’t given you the context. Here it comes.

This week Tony Robinson gave a gloriously funny talk about his early life, his days as Baldrick and his writing – even getting tearful when he revealed that he wrote Maid Marian and her Merry Men as a way of expressing his love for his daughter. But you need the context of the talk – good-natured, surreal and a bit rude – to handle what’s coming next. At the end there were ten minutes or so for questions. The last one was from a lady in a wheelchair. ‘I missed your earlier talk,’ she said, ‘so I wondered if you could hang around afterwards to sign my book?’ The audience laughed, the lady grinned broadly, and Robinson, mock-outraged, shook his head and said ‘F*** off!’ It was not an especially original closing remark but an amusing way to end the show. The questioner was delighted. But with no context? ‘Sir Tony Robinson tells disabled person to f*** off’ is not really a headline you want to see.

We need to remember context – that would be a really cunning plan.


Mark Blayney is a part of the Hay Writers at Work programme, which is a long-term development programme for selected new Welsh writers.