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Robert Orchard is one of three children born to a Devon farmer and a Welsh nurse. Educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Crediton. He read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from 1972–75, followed by a year's PGCE teacher training. While at Corpus, he was features editor of Isis, the student magazine, and a member of the Oxford University Broadcasting Society, also acting in numerous plays and revues, and directing Molière's The Miser with Peter Grose.
He began writing revue sketches during a holiday job soon after leaving school. He succeeded Geoffrey Perkins as president of Oxford University's student revue company, the Etceteras (part of the Experimental Theatre Club), and gathered a team to write sketches for a major show at the Oxford Playhouse in May 1976, After Eights, intended to raise the company's profile. The team included former TW3 scriptwriter and chemistry tutor, the late John Albery, and various fellow-students — among them Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, who met here for the first time. Both made their Oxford debut in revues he directed.
Orchard began his journalistic career in 1976 at the Thomson Regional Newspapers training centre run by John Brownlee in Newcastle, before joining the Western Mail newspaper in Cardiff. He moved to BBC Wales in 1979 and worked in broadcasting for the BBC for more than 30 years, covering mainly politics and parliament for TV and radio from 1984 — including the Brighton Bomb and the fall of Margaret Thatcher. He worked in Brussels and Strasbourg in 1985, setting up a new EU reporter post for BBC regions and reporting on the Heyzel Stadium disaster, before becoming Political Correspondent for BBC Wales and then, in 1988, a network Political Correspondent in a team led by the distinguished journalist John Cole, and including his former BBC Wales colleague, Huw Edwards, Mark Mardell, and Jon Sopel. He opted to focus on Parliament from 1992, mainly on Radio 4, becoming a BBC Parliamentary Correspondent and presenting Yesterday in Parliament — with a brief to entertain as well as inform, and later the more measured, nightly Today in Parliament, along with other specialist parliamentary programmes.
Orchard edited BBC News Online's General Election coverage in 2001; and later compiled the BBC College of Journalism's first online Guide to Parliament, to help other BBC journalists understand how Westminster works and how to report it.
He has written articles for Parliament's The House Magazine, the BBC News website, the Hansard Society, and lectures on politics and the media. He has lent his voice to create historical character cameos for a range of political programmes. Documentaries made for Radio 4 include Fool's Gold, on the 19th century Welsh Goldrush; a series for You & Yours assessing the privatisation of water, nuclear power and the Royal Mail; The Age of Ming, on ageism in politics; Hung, Drawn and Thwarted, on the prospects and perils of a hung parliament; and, more recently, a 70th anniversary tribute to "Today in Parliament"; and "A Very Welsh Coup" for Radio Wales, 25 years after the fall of Margaret Thatcher. Robert left the BBC staff in 2013 and is now a freelance political journalist and lecturer, and was recently a very mature student - achieving an MA in Politics and Contemporary History at King's College London 40 years after his first degree.
Away from parliament, he organised major poetry-reading tours of schools for Ted Hughes and for Thom Gunn through the 1980s and 1990s. He remained a keen amateur actor, not least at the pro-am Everyman Open Air Theatre Festival held at Dyffryn Gardens near Cardiff from 1983 to 1995... he was also one of the Festival's organisers and, as chairman for three years, helped oversee its expansion. With Tim Riley, he went on to found Moonlight Theatre in 1998, staging open air musicals at the Festival for several years.