Thursday, 10 March 2011

Neil Oliver

He’s a BBC TV presenter known mainly for the boring Coast but he’s just done a two-programme series, A History of Ancient Britain. It follows neatly on the geological programme, The Making of Britain (I think), presented by Tony Robinson, and takes the story forward into (human) prehistory.

In this series Oliver is, at last, terrific, and the reason is that he’s dealing with his own specialism: he’s an archaeologist. Accordingly, he can ad lib convincingly, talk knowingly to other archaeologists and react appropriately to the uniqueness or run-of-the-millness of the finds they show him. And he has an archaeologist’s emotions of delight and wonder. I wish we’d had six programmes, not two, so he could have taken time to discuss at more leisure such items as the significance of the construction of the Dover boat relic of which the huge, axe-hewn planks were sewn together with withies, not nailed or jointed. (Was this because nails hadn’t been invented, because wooden nails were too difficult to make or ineffective or because metal ones -- bronze, they would have been at that point -- were too expensive?)

He stopped with the bronze age, 1500BC, but I wish he’s gone on the iron and difference it made, and the Celts.

BBC, learn the lesson: give us experts setting their expert minds to work in their own field. Wouldn’t anyone prefer this to the middle-brow blandness of mere tourist stuff like Coast -- which is worth watching, if at all, for the aerial filming? We want to see archaeologists being archaeologists, and physicists (Brian Cox) being physicists -- same as in fictional form we like watching police being police and hospital doctors being hospital doctors.

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