Monday, October 10, 2011

Robin Ellis Talks with the Café about "Poldark" and His New Cookbook for Diabetics

Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark in 1975.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications once dubbed Poldark "one of the most successful British television dramas of all time." Such high praise masks the fact that Poldark was an immensely entertaining, well-made historical drama set in Cornwall in the late 18th century. Based on the novels of Winston Graham, the 29-episode series appeared in 1975-77 on the BBC in the United Kingdom and on Masterpiece Theatre in the United States.

Chef, author, and actor
Robin Ellis today.
Although an ensemble drama, the cast was anchored by Robin Ellis, who played Captain Ross Poldark. He catapulted to fame as the series' rugged, dashing hero. Over the last 34 years, Ellis has enjoyed a successful career in television, film, and stage. Diagnosed with type II diabetes several years ago, he recently wrote a cookbook for diabetics: Delicious Dishes for Diabetics: Eating Well with Type-2 Diabetes. Robin Ellis graciously agreed to an interview with the Café.

Café:  It’s been 36 years since Poldark was originally broadcast. It still has a strong fan base and attracts new viewers on DVD. What do you think is the key to its enduring popularity?

Robin:  It had the advantage of being adapted from a successful series of novels written by Winston Graham while he was living and bringing up a family in Cornwall. The stories grow from the characters' development and feel authentic--and they are good stories that don't seem to date. There's the added plus of Cornwall itself which is very photogenic.

Café:  What was your favorite Poldark storyline?

Robin:  Good question--it has to be the developing Demelza-Ross-Elizabeth story. I also enjoyed Ross' fights for the underdog against the establishment.

Café:  When the eighth Winston Graham Poldark novel, The Stranger from the Sea, was adapted for TV in 1996, were you approached to play Ross again?

Robin:  I was--but it didn't work out. Disappointing for us as it would have been fascinating to play the same characters twenty years on.

Robin poses with Anne Kelleher
of Acorn Media.
Café:  Donald Douglas, who played your nemesis Captain McNeil in Poldark lives near your home in France. Do you stay in touch with other Poldark cast members?

Robin:  I see Donald very regularly. Living in France makes it more difficult. We've been in contact with Richard Morant--the first Dr. Enis--recently and I occasionally bump into Angharad (Demelza) when we are in the UK. Christopher Benjamin (Sir Hugh Bodrugan) has family down here in France, so we see him from time to time. Dear Ralph Bates (George Warleggan) died twenty years ago and Jill Townsend (Elizabeth) lives in California. Some of us used to go to the annual lunch of the Poldark Appreciation Society--an unofficial reunion--but they haven't happened since the nineties.

Café:  You’ve done a lot of film and television work in addition to Poldark, including Fawlty Towers and Merchant & Ivory’s The Europeans. What are some of your favorite non-Poldark roles?

Robin:  I played the Earl of Essex in Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson--a wonderful experience. Colonel Hammond in A King and his Keeper--a dualogue between Charles the First and his jailer set on the Isle of Wight--opposite the great Alan Badel (playing the King). The lead in Bel Ami by Maupassant for the BBC was a challenge--not least because I had to live with a red perm for months! The musical She Loves Me also for the Beeb was also fun with the lovely Gemma Craven. Meredith says the best thing I did was Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier for Granada with Jeremy Brett and Susan Fleetwood. I spent a very happy year at Stratford in between the two series of Poldark.

Meredith and Robin.
Café:  How did you and your wife Meredith meet?

Robin:  We met in New York City--she interviewed me for NBC-TV when WGBH Boston flew English actors over for the 15th anniversary of Masterpiece Theatre.

Café:  I’ve read that you bought your home in France on the day you saw it. What attracted you to it?

Robin:  It was a "coup de foudre"--(love at first sight)! I just knew that it was where I wanted to be--though we barely knew where it was. Hard to explain that...

Café:  Was there a history of diabetes in your family?

Robin:  Yes--my mother developed type 1 in her late thirties. So I knew about it and that it was something you have to take seriously. The problem is that with type 2, which I have, there are no obvious symptoms, so it's hard for people to believe that there is a problem.

The new cookbook.
Café:  What inspired you to publish your recipes in your new book Delicious Dishes for Diabetics: Eating Well with Type-2 Diabetes?

Robin:  I have cooked for years and collected recipes for years--my mother did the same. We were eating reasonably healthily when I was diagnosed 12 years ago and I realised that with some adjustments to my way of eating I had a good number of recipes already that were suitable for the condition. Then the idea of trying to interest a publisher came up.

Café:  This is a question for Meredith: What is your favorite dish that Robin prepares?

Meredith:  That's a difficult question! Which is your favorite child??! His salmon fishcakes are light (no potato!) and delicious in summer. In winter for comfort food I love his soups--especially a minestrone that includes pancetta. One of his big company dishes that we have for parties is a spicy fish curry--we've even had that for Christmas lunch! His recipe for mussels (a tomato & garlic sauce) is delicious too-- though it always depends on getting good mussels. One of his best sauces is walnut and garlic that is served with duck. His cookbook is really a collection of the dishes we eat year 'round. I like them all in their right season.

Café:  Finally, what’s on the horizon for the Ellis Family—any other books, television appearances, etc.?

Robin: A busy time for sure! I am blogging most days about food, cooking and life in rural France. I'm working with a publisher in California to re-issue Making Poldark--a memoir which I have updated. The cookbook, Delicious Dishes for Diabetics, officially comes out in the United States on November 1st and we're planning a trip to New York, Washington, DC and Chicago to promote it. It was recently ranked number one in its category on which was thrilling. I enjoyed doing one of the original Swedish Wallenders and am open to acting offers (actors rarely retire!). Thanks, Rick, for inviting me to the Classic Film & TV Café!

For more on Robin Ellis, check out his blog at and his Facebook page by clicking here. You can also follow him on Twitter as @RobinPoldark.


  1. I have truly been looking forward to this splendid interview, Rick! My husband and I would have dessert and enjoy Masterpiece Theater on Sunday nights. He had seen "Poldark" when it was first broadcast and we had the pleasure of viewing it together on a rebroadcast. From the opening episode where Ross, believed to be dead in the Revolutionary War, returns to find his lovely estate Nampara looking like a pigsty because of the slovenly servants Jud and Prudie, with Ross's beloved Elizabeth engaged to his cousin Francis, and his family fortunes in dire straits, I was hooked! Cornwall is a remarkable setting and I loved the theme playing as the waters crashed against the rocks. The stories indeed felt timeless, as Robin stated, and the actors were impeccable. I adored the rivalry between Ross and the newly rich, yet very arrogant, George Warleggan. And I was enchanted with precious Demelza, and loved the gleam in Ross's eye when he realized his attraction to, and ultimately, love for her. Bravo for your remarkable performance, Robin!

    I am looking forward to checking out your cookbook, too, especially for the soup recipes. It was very kind of you to visit at the Cafe.

    Rick, thanks for your excellent post!

  2. What a treat to have an interview with Robin right here at the Cafe. He sounds like a lovely man, personable and charming. Poldark was such a remarkable series -- I would like to see it again! Good actors are hard to come by, and I certainly hope that some decent roles come his way.

    I'm not diabetic, but isn't that a good way to eat for anybody? I always thought so, but truthfully I don't know for sure. I'm going to get the cookbook, and I will definitely be visiting Robin's blog. Wonderful interview, Rick. This is really something special!

  3. What a nice guy to grant the Cafe an interview. His cookbook sounds like a useful aide to diabetic cooking (strange phrasing) and could be helpful to anyone wanting to eat healthier.

    Must be difficult living in France with all those rich foods, though! I wonder if he lives near David Sedaris and Hugh?

    Nice coup, Rick.

  4. I'm thrilled to read this wonderful interview with, Robin. One of my favorite performances of Robin's is when he performed as Edward Ferrars, in the TV series, Sense and Sensibility.

    I'm going to check out Robin's blog. Although, I'm not a diabetic, I try and eat well. It is a good way to keep the weight off.

    Thank you Rick, for bringing us this very special interview.

  5. A lovely interview. I remember the 'Poldark' series, particularly its beautiful Cornwall scenery and its recreation of the 18th century. How fascinating that Robin Ellis has been able to branch out into so many of his interests.

  6. What a nice interview. How exciting that Robin's cook book has been ranked number one on Amazon! What an honor that must be. Keep up the good work Robin and Meredith, and thank you for sharing this interview! Best wishes! Lily (Poldark Appreciation Society)

  7. Though I haven't seen the "Poldark" series, I have seen "The Europeans" and "Elizabeth R" and was fascinated by this interview. Will have to get my hands on "Poldark" now. Also very interested in Ellis's cookbook for diabetics. Diabetes seems to be rampant in the U.S. these days and I would imagine even those who don't suffer the disease would benefit from perusing this book, an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure...

    Great work, Rick!

  8. An absolute joy to read this interview.

    We used to have [i]She Loves Me[/i] taped off of television, but the VHS broke ages ago. I think we wore it out! It's still a favourite around these parts when we think of Robin Ellis.

  9. After reading these comments, I was about to leave a comment lamenting the fact that I've never seen SHE LOVES ME and it doesn't appear to be avaiable on DVD in the U.S. But then, I saw where it's available for viewing on YouTube--not good quality and broken into parts--but at least I can watch it!

  10. Really enjoyed reading this interview with Robin Ellis. I have always loved Poldark. He was great in it and so was everyone else. The series inspired me to read Winston Graham's novels too. I agree with Toto that the setting in Cornwall was beautiful. Like Robin Ellis I am a diabetic too. That makes me really interested in his cookbook. It is an everyday battle to keep thin, exercise, and eat right to manage it. So this review has sold me on buying his book. I will enjoy trying the new recipes and so will my family.

  11. Fabulous review! The "Poldark" series is my all-time favorite British minseries. It edges out the Colin Firth P&P. Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees were a great couple to anchor the drama. Ralph Bates was great as villainous George, though I believe he loved Elizabeth in his own way. I haven't seen much of Robin Ellis' other work. I'm on the lookout for it now as well as the new cookbook.

  12. I enjoyed this a lot.I had the honour to meet Robin Ellis in Ipswich when he came to sign books in the ancient house.I watch Poldark over & over again.I love anything connected with the 1700s,especially Poldark.
    Morgan Murchison

  13. Poldark fans: Robin Ellis' memoir has just been released in an expanded form to coincide with the release of the Poldark DVDs in America. The new edition includes an account of why the third series fell apart and about his life experience with Type 2 diabetes:

    1. Thanks for the link, Meredith! We're looking forward to reading it.

  14. david on Isle of wightJuly 22, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    Yes Poldarks timeless saw it agen on dvd recently to remember the lovely Anghared..she was so lovely..what a loss. Robin was excellent too of course..I met him once in Ipswich in the 70s when he was doing some readings in a church I think. Dont know if he remembers? would love to live in France too!