History on TV

(89 Posts)
MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 15:03:58

Sooo, this comes off the back of this thread about Richard III and then this thread about MN History Club.

I thought it might be good to have a big general thread about any history on TV we are watching/looking forward to/really enjoyed in the past. And I see we are already tackling some of the major themes such as the rugged cheekbones and leather jackets of the presenters on the other thread. wink

We're currently watching Neil Oliver's Vikings series, which is ace - what I really like about it is he starts out in the first programme in the Scandinavian bronze age/iron age, and showed where the Vikings had come from as a culture.

Is it safe to bitch about time team? I hate anyone who brings a jcb to an archaeological excavation!

I loved the BBC series on the Royal Manuscripts.


Sadly, no especially dishy blokes. sad

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 15:09:19


Well, on the one hand they're getting people interested in archaeology etc etc and so on and so forth, and also they do a very limited number of keyholey trenches so it's usually "only" a bit of 18th century broken china in a few spots they're destroying.

But on the other hand, yes.

LineRunner Sat 15-Sep-12 15:11:07

I would love to discuss Time Team. The whole 'three days to dig up the goodies' seems so at odds with the ethics of responsible excavation.

And Guy de la Bedoyere is not a real archaeologist, surely?

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 15:12:57

(I have to go and buy jeans now, bane. of. life., but back later)

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 15:13:39

He has THE coolest name though. I suspect he is actually a medieval knight and has fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum of some kind.

Time team made archaeology fashionable and meant there was an influx of students onto courses at universities who just saw it as a way of getting into the media...

Ooh, yes, please, let's be allowed to diss TV history! grin DH won't let me because I interrupt the telly too much. blush

silly - I heard the same about Bones and forensic anthropology (though from a very patronizing lad who was sneering that all these silly women had signed up to do it assuming they'd meet David Boreanaz-type men).

Having experience of both archaeology and forensic science (different jobs) I can sympathise with the ire held for programmes like Time Team and Bones (although CSI is my particular forensic bugbear!).

alcibiades Sat 15-Sep-12 16:12:16

I've just added a Neil Oliver DVD - A History of Ancient Briton - to my Amazon wish list. smile

I liked the early series of Time Team, but the more recent ones don't seem to have as much scientific content and seem to be going more for the wow factor. I think the show does have some value, though, because TV money pays for explorations that couldn't otherwise be afforded.

There's a series being repeated currently (probably for the umpteenth time) on Discovery History about the American Civil War. There's a lot of content in that, and it was that series that first got me interested in the history of the USA.

LineRunner Sat 15-Sep-12 16:35:19

Most of the Time Team sites haven't needed digging up, though.

Turkdean villa was a classic - they were all so disappointed because they didn't find a bloody great mosaic, despite the fact that the site was actually otherwise fascinating.

LineRunner Sat 15-Sep-12 16:37:48

I don't get Discovery, <sad> I only have Freeview.

IKnowItsMyFaultBut Sat 15-Sep-12 16:43:27

The vast majority of archaeological sites will at some point have a JCB on them! Removing the overburden (topsoil etc) by hand would take forever.

LineRunner Sat 15-Sep-12 16:46:49

And there was some trouble with Time Team digging up skeletons in Gosport or Portsmouth, wasn't there?

IKnowItsMyFaultBut Sat 15-Sep-12 16:50:06

You do need a licence to do it. Time team doesn't really resemble normal, commercial archaeology. It's a TV program first and foremost.

What gets me is when they don't find anything pretty enough for the tele, so they borrow stuff from the local museum and stand around on site holding it and talking about it. Very bizarre.

Time team is all about glory finding rather than doing anything of significant historical interest. Plus baldrick pisses me off with his whole "only I am worthy of speaking directly to the camera" thing.

And yep, removing topsoil by hand takes time, I've done it myself on digs, but is worth it to preserve the layers and to accurately record finds.

LineRunner Sat 15-Sep-12 17:24:05

They should have removed the topsoil by hand at Turkdean because the most interesting thing about the site was probably the immediate thin post-Roman layer, just under the topsoil. Which was scraped off by machines, to get to the villa (and the mosaics).

IKnowItsMyFaultBut Sat 15-Sep-12 17:34:04

Removing overburden by hand is the ideal, however it would massively increase time and budget to the point that many sites would just not get done.

Some machine drivers are amazingly accurate too. Some however, should not be put in control of a lawnmower!

The recent one about Henry V111 "Patron or Plunderer" was good. Enjoyed seeing the tapestries, etc. very much. The presenter was strangely dishy too.

LineRunner Sat 15-Sep-12 18:06:27

I know hand excavation of the topsoil can't be accomplished in rescue / developer-funded archaeology. But no-one's making Time Team dig anything.

Christ they give me the rage.

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 19:22:48

To be fair I'm pretty sure I've read about TT being fully aware that they are usually doing an experimental probe dig, which may or may not pave the way for someone else to come along and do a proper excavation.

My problem with them (apart from "Is it ritual/human sacrifice?") is more that they can't help giving the impression that you "study" archaeology by digging stuff up. Which is just as misleading as the idea that you work in archaeology by going on TV. There's a point of view that we'd get more benefit from having more stuff published, catalogued and studied thoroughly that's already been dug, rather than spending every summer producing yet more wheelbarrowfuls of potsherds.

LineRunner Sat 15-Sep-12 19:25:09

God I love cataloguing.

Ritual!!! Aaaarrrggghhh!

Breakfast is a ritual!

Putting on socks is a ritual!

It means nothing!!!!

<Goes for a lie down>

Tryingtobenice Sat 15-Sep-12 19:35:26

Anyone see 'the British' on sky? Truly horrible dumbed down history. If you need that much cgi and russel brand opining to interest people then don't bother, just do another dance contest show or something.

Francis Pryor is the worst offender when it comes to things being 'ritual'. He drives me crackers.

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 19:45:56

Basically TT get a free pass from me though as TV because they're still one of the very few formats that isn't "authority presents scripted viewpoint to camera as if all of what they're saying is 'true' and none of it is remotely controversial". I've seen some great history TV, but I've rarely seen any authority figure presenter even hint at the fact that the whole point of studying history is that people disagree with other about it. And particularly not the ego-driven big names.

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 20:01:37

JoyfulPuddleJumper Weirdly I was about to say I enjoyed Pryor's Britain BC very much, as a partial exception to the "authority presents script to camera" format! Not too much "it's ritual" in it at all. He spent a good chunk of one of the programmes talking to the director of a long-term (bronze age?) mega field survey of a big chunk of land in the fens, and I thought it explained really well how big archaeological projects work, and how we learn gradually about settlement/population change over time etc. I could almost sense a producer jumping up and down somewhere and screaming "We must have a slo-mo panning shot across a spectacular find or what's the point!" smile

Oh, damn, I quite like Francis Pryor's book on Seahenge. blush

I was all taken with the 'ritual landscapes' thing and I'm not usually into woobollocks.

What should I watch to give me a different perspective?

MadBusLady I missed that series! I was thinking more of his cameos on TT and his academic work.

LRD I had a lecturer at uni who was obsessed with ritual landscapes. It made essay writing quite easy!

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 20:18:57

Hmm, DP advises me I may be mixing up Britain BC the book with the series "Britain - the Not So Dark Ages" blush Anyway, the series was Pryor, and it was very good.

MadBusLady Sat 15-Sep-12 20:23:05

Sky's "The British" sounds hilarious grin Russell Brand??? May have to search out some YouTube clips, just to exercise the blood pressure.

Tryingtobenice Sat 15-Sep-12 21:43:41

The british only started last week. Even the trailer admits it is capitalising on the summer of british success. Any excuse for a bit of jingoistic history. To hear them tell it Britain was the toughest conquest the romans ever faced....

meditrina Tue 18-Sep-12 13:49:17
meditrina Tue 18-Sep-12 13:50:10


Sorry DYAC, should be material.

habbibu Wed 19-Sep-12 13:35:11

Neil Oliver makes me want to scratch my ears off with a stick. Why they can't find an actual Viking specialist to do this series is beyond me.

Paleodad Thu 20-Sep-12 09:52:04

read this and had to comment r.e.JCB's!
Removing topsoil with anything other than machine is a complete waste of time, whether on a research or commercial excavation. Nothing you get from the topsoil can tell you anything about the underlying archaeology, except that there may be archaeology underneath, and lets face it, if you're going to the trouble of excavating a particular area you should have done your homework first and expect that there is something there (unless the area is being checked to make sure there isn't, in which case hand excavation of topsoil is an even bigger waste of time.
Topsoil finds have no value in terms of dating a site as they could have come from anywhere, and are not in a secure context/layer. All you can say about them is how pretty they are.....
Agree about JCB's though, not really suitable for archaeology as a straight line or smooth surface if virtually impossible to all except the most skilled drivers (though i have seen a few....). A 30 tonnne 360 tracked machine is much better! That said, a JCB is still better than hand-digging topsoil.

oh, and just to add about Time Team, it's worth bearing in mind that in the background of most of the excavations they do is a professional archaeological unit(s) doing the legwork, ably aided by many hardworking volunteers from local societies and groups. Time Team excavations are often preceded by a lot of work by professionals and volunteers, and the excavations often continue after the cameras have gone.

Paleodad Thu 20-Sep-12 10:19:09

@linerunner: yes Guy de la Bedoyere is a real archaeologist...though his views are regarded by some in academia as somewhat Neocolonialist old-fasioned. He got into quite an argument in the letters pages of British Archaeology magazine a few years ago (2006-7?) when David Mattingly published a new book on Roman Britain, for those that enjoy a good academic spat!

strandednomore Thu 20-Sep-12 10:53:13

We watched the 2nd episode of the British last night and yes, we were left scratching our heads as to why those well-known historians Russell Brand and Frank Lampard (to name but two) were commentating. Having said that, I must be a little dumb as I quite like the CGI effects!

Looking forward to what Andrew Marr has to offer.

strandednomore Thu 20-Sep-12 10:54:18

Love to know what you all think of Horrible Histories. My dd (7) loved is, she is always quoting from it. I think it's very funny, have just started reading their books too. I think it's a good way to get youngsters interested in history - I wish they had been around when I was little.

Paleodad Thu 20-Sep-12 11:29:07

Horrible Histories is great, and best of all it's all true! Love the fact that they don't talk down to their audience either.

scaevola Mon 24-Sep-12 14:43:52

Following on from the Andrew Marr article, this is what the BBC has put on its website about what readers/viewers would want to see included. It's mainly unsung things that a huge the invention of double-entry book-keeping.

Was the first Vikings programme any good? It's not on Iplayer and I only saw the second. It was very pretty TV but I found him quite an annoying presenter (England had a 'national mindset'? Really? I'm not even sure it does now. And 'shipmanship'/'craftsmanship' - if I were in his classes he would get feministy raised eyebrows for being a twonk with this one.)

But I would love to diss it with someone who knows what they're talking about. grin

DH's thing is Kievan Rus, but he is sadly less into the dissing of things than me, so was just amused at the real geek role-player Russians rolling their longboat.

MadBusLady Tue 25-Sep-12 11:27:07

Hmm, the first one was better, we thought that. But I don't like dissing these things unless it's really merited, TBH. It's not yet another "The Vikings were big fierce, beardy men, here are lots of slo-mo action shots of actors making fierce noises" jobbie, and that puts it a long way ahead of most rivals. DP is also into the whole eastern Vikings thing so felt much vindicated that the series is touching on them at all.

In a museum recently I learned something incredibly basic about the Jurassic coast that blew my mind. It was just about the age of the coast and the conditions in Devon/Dorset that brought it about, things so fundamental a geologist or palaeontologist probably wouldn't even consider it a "fact" but to me it was new, and it was a pretty basic picture-led gallery (with, I'm sure, heaps of over-simplification and inaccuracy) that brought it home to me. It didn't matter, it gave me a starting point. When I wander around in another field as a beginner, I realise how precious I can be about the fields I am specialist in.

THAT SAID grin I did get a bit annoyed with the constant refrain (not confined to this series) about places in Scandinavia/the Baltic being "on the edge of the world". Only if you (a) are Christian/Orthodox/Roman/Byzantine and (b) have a particular kind of cartography.

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 13:32:43

I've just read Guy de la Bedoyere's website and I like him a lot more now. smile

Fair enough, madbus, I am just quibbling then.

I did get annoyed at the 'national mindset' bit, though, and that was merited - it's a dodgily xenophobic thing to do, to attribute 'national mindset' to the Anglo-Saxons before there was even such a thing as a unified nation. Plus he kept talking about the vikings invading 'us' in England. 'Us' who? English today are not Anglo-Saxons.

I think that does tie in with what you're saying about the 'edge of the world' ... it was a wee bit rude.

I take your point about being precious. blush

MadBusLady Tue 25-Sep-12 14:15:29

I definitely quibble and am precious. Occasionally I think "hm, I probably shouldn't be". grin

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 14:19:04

Hi LRD, I was going to say why aren't you busy finishing your thesis? grin that the idea of 'ritual landscapes' isn't per se considered woo - it's more that it's considered a bit of a lazy concept. If you think about it, anything can be considered 'ritual'. It's like saying something is 'cultural'.

Because I am currently indulging in alternate bouts of sulking/panicking about postdoc apps, writing a 1000 word research proposal, and wishing no-one had told me there were over 100 applicants per place.



No, seriously, I am getting there thank you. I take your point about ritual/culture. Ritual as I'd use it has a fairly narrow (Catholic) sense, so I didn't pick up on that at all.

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 14:35:07

I think Paleodad might be more 'in the know' about this, but I think there's a running joke in archaeology that calling something 'ritual' means 'I don't know what it's for'.

LRD, I'm also writing researchy stuff - grant applications as it happens to re-write a monograph I did a long time ago. Doing my head in.

grin I like that.

Good luck with grant apps! They sound like the bigger scarier cousin to what I'm doing, eek!

MrsjREwing Tue 25-Sep-12 14:42:51

Phill on TT, why the long nails and boak at the sweaty hat.

clems Wed 26-Sep-12 23:20:50

There are lots of pros and cons to TT, but they do at least use proper archaeologists. Most work for the more traditional units outside the show, and I think a lot (if not all?) of the post excavation is done by one of the big firms.

I think someone somewhere probably made it illegal for Phil to drop the hat and get a haircut..

LineRunner Thu 27-Sep-12 00:08:33

The excavators are really good. I suppose what I don't like is the artificiality of the rushed excavation, like something they've chosen to do for TV is somehow akin to rescue archaeology.

And what really hate is when they bring on a couple of archaeo-farts and set them up for a faux debate about a non-problem that is faintly embarrassing to have resurrected again.

A bit like having a programme about particle physics and making David Icke debate with the Pope about the nature of the ether whilst pretending they only had three days to save the world. Well ok it's actually nothing like that but it annoys me. grin

I would love to see David Icke debate with the Pope. About anything, really, but the nature of the ether while pretending they had three days to save the world - that would be a blockbuster.

I know how to have fun, me.

Paleodad Thu 27-Sep-12 10:03:36

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

clems Thu 27-Sep-12 10:44:59

Oo I dunno, I've been on plenty of sites where the developers have demanded we finish in three days.. we just told them to eff off, and didn't have Tony and Phil to extoll the virtues of a bit of crumbly pot to further our cause ;)

They film everything about five times from different angles and then spend half the time trying to work out how to inject the maximum sense of [false] jeopardy.

Paleodad Thu 27-Sep-12 11:00:08

like i said the Time Team effect, i forget how many sites i've been on where people have said (both in jest and seriously) "Time Team do it in three days, how come you need x weeks?"

Paleodad Thu 27-Sep-12 11:27:13

@Linerunner, you're quite right about 'ritual' and it is a bit of a running joke i suppose, maybe in part due to the 'Time Team' effect that non-archaeologists (& particularly clients) expect results/conclusions right there and then.

Personally, and in this context, i don’t really have a problem with the use of ritual, as it simply (imho) becomes a sort of short hand for saying 'there's more to this (feature) than meets the eye'; the excavated remains represent something more (perhaps conceptual practices) than a purely functional interpretation can support.

And surely you can't be serious about Guy De La Bedoyere shock wink

clems Thu 27-Sep-12 12:09:40

and how many ask where the series of small walls are!

LineRunner Thu 27-Sep-12 12:32:00

I like the bit on Guy de la Bedoyere's website where he expresses restrained concern about being berated by adult students for not answering their questions quickly enough!

"I’m sorry to say that, regrettably, in a few instances one or two adult students have taken exception to the idea that I’m not available at their beck and call and subjected me to the most extraordinary tirades. One actually wrote to complain that this website did not have a page devoted to her specific essay title, though that was by no means the rudest!"

Bless. Brings back memories of my own. We should get Guy on MN for a proper rant and we can all join in.

Also he is now a full-time teacher. A redemption of a sorts.

Paleodad Thu 27-Sep-12 12:32:04

Years ago i was digging in the middle of Newcastle, and overlying the (lovely) medieval layers were the big, fat, stone walls of a 19th century lead factory. Bloke comes up to the herris fencing and shouts "is it roman?", i go over and explain it is in fact the lead factory. He replies "no those stone walls must be a Roman Temple". I patiently explain (at some length) the stratigraphy etc. and how it can't possibly be earlier than the layers underneath. "no" says he, "it's a temple". "yes" i reply, "You're right, it's a Roman Temple", and he walks off smiling...

LineRunner Thu 27-Sep-12 12:35:16

Was that the Newgate area? <nosy>

Paleodad Thu 27-Sep-12 15:41:39

nearer to St James Park

LineRunner Thu 27-Sep-12 17:06:35

I lived near there.

What were we talking about?!

freerangelady Thu 27-Sep-12 20:40:47

I'm looking forwards to the new series on servants tomorrow night. Should dispel a few downton myths.

throckenholt Fri 28-Sep-12 18:46:18

I think the Farm series (Victorian, Green Valley, Edwardian and now Wartime) are all quite good - and very digestible for children.

MadBusLady Fri 28-Sep-12 18:49:39

Ooh, what channel was the servants thing on freerange? My great grandmother was a servant and had some fantastic stories.


It's on bbc2 at 9pm.

mixedmamameansbusiness Sat 29-Sep-12 14:17:45

Watched Servants last night.

Absolutely watchable.

For thoseinterested in domestic service (history of) I have a fab reading list from Birkbeck.

MadBusLady Sat 29-Sep-12 16:05:32

Yis, it was great! Thanks for the recommend - missed the first 15 mins, I'm going to catch up with that later.

I thought it was interesting that she concentrated on the servants of the professional classes (doctors, lawyers etc). I know from census records that one or two of my ancestors had servants living in and they were only tradesmen and artisans. I presume the "mistress" would have been more hands-on in those households, and the servant more like we'd think of as a modern au pair. Certainly can't imagine any of my ancestors sitting in drawing rooms!

SuperB0F Sat 29-Sep-12 16:11:09

I was about to recommend the servants thing! I watched it earlier while ironing, and really enjoyed it.

mixedmamameansbusiness Sun 30-Sep-12 17:52:20

Madbuslady - I think she put it that the mistresses were more hands on in terms of planning, since there was no housekeeper. She showed one mistresses book which had an almost minute by minute breakdown of what the servant would be doing. It struck me as the big house servants at least having a community ad allocated tasks whereas a one household servant was responsible for almost everything, sleeping in the kitchen etc.

This is such a ridiculous thing, but I was very excited: I watched the last of the Vikings programmes the other day, and there's someone on there who grew up in my village and went to my primary school! grin

Maybe there was something in the water ...

tschiffely Wed 03-Oct-12 15:59:03

LDR, any chance you could FB them as see if they have Neil Oliver's number?? grin

LineRunner Wed 03-Oct-12 20:14:45

Is Neil Oliver dishy?

I always thought Michael Wood was dishy.

grin Sadly, tschiff, he's someone I haven't spoken to since we were about 9!

But I was very chuffed to see him there, all the same.

Otherwise of course, I'm sure he'd be only too delighted to set you up. wink

alcibiades Wed 03-Oct-12 21:45:12

Re Phil on TT. I read somewhere that the reason he has long fingernails on his right hand is because he plays the guitar. Lots of guitar players prefer to use their nails rather than a plectrum, and paint stuff on their nails to harden them.

I also read that his accent in real life isn't as strongly West Country as on TV, but, if that's so, I don't think it matters. I would guess that the original briefing for TT was to make archeology interesting for the discerning public, and have a few "characters" who could play to the camera while at the same time being experts. After all, being a good university lecturer often involves being something of a performer.

As for Michael Wood - definitely dishy, but also knowledgeable. Thanks to the History Club, I've added a couple of DVDs to my Amazon wish list for my upcoming birthday: Michael Wood's Story of England, and Neil Oliver's A History of Ancient Britain.

(I've also added The Lion in Winter, on the recommendation from elsewhere that only Katharine Hepburn could convincingly play Eleanor of Aquitaine.)

tschiffely Thu 04-Oct-12 07:32:16

LRD, ah well, it was worth a try grin. Neil is lush.

TunipTheVegemal Thu 04-Oct-12 10:02:50

Michael Wood is dishier than Neil Oliver IMO, though Oliver's voice is rather lovely.

The servant prog last week was fascinating but I found the presenter a bit monotonous - I longed for the animation of Worsley, Beard, Vickery or Ruth Goodman.

habbibu Thu 04-Oct-12 14:18:41

Neil Oliver? Oh Dear God. The man sounds like a badly programmed robot - weird spacing between words. And he's not a real historian. Huff.

tschiffely Thu 04-Oct-12 15:21:27

habbibu, how very dare you grin

I've got to admit he doesn't do it for me.

Are there any really foxy TV historians?

I will have to settle for Sue Perkins doing the history bit of Great British Bake Off at this rate.

We are watching Amanda Vickery's "At Home with the Georgians" on DVD at the moment - it's based on her book "Behind Closed Doors" about domestic life in Georgian England, which is a set book for one of my history modules.

My specialist areas of study and dissertation topic will all be 18th century social history, and I've got DH all enthused about the subject! He's really enjoying all the stuff David Starkey despises popular feminist female historian-presented telly history programmes that I'm force-feeding encouraging him and DS to watch!

Someone described Lucy Worsley as looking like "Christopher Robin's bohemian godmother" grin

You can sort of see their point!

TunipTheVegemal Thu 04-Oct-12 15:55:08

I don't know LRD. Griff Rhys Jones looks a lot better now he's got the beard. And Nicholas Crane's rolled umbrella and cagoule always do it for me....

Ooh, I do like a bearded man.

Less perhaps the cagoule-fetishism, but each to their own.

I would love to look like Christopher Robin's bohemian grandmother.

My mum recently told me no matter what job I get (she's at the stage of considering increasingly bizarre alternatives, having lower her expectations substantially in the last few years), she does hope I won't 'wear a corset on TV like that Lucy Worsley'.

Am quite disturbed by DHs little obsession with Ms Worsley. Previously unused-by-him, slightly archaic terms, such as 'fetching', 'gamine' and 'leggy' have passed his lips in connection with the bohemian one. hmm

Oh dear. 'Gamine'.


You should start referring to Tony Robinson as 'muscular' something. please don't

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