Time Up for Time Team?

Dig by Wire: this was the first episode of Time Team in the new series, and I found it very disappointing (I had been looking forward to it). There are two new presenters who came over as extremely lightweight, one of whom seems to have replaced (for at least some of the time) Stewart Ainsworth, and who didn’t really impart any information that wasn’t a bit obvious; presumably the other new person is taking the place of Helen Geake, but again she didn’t seem to be a lot of use. The director likes to show her having a pint with the lads, though. My daughter, ever succinct, in an email to me: ‘there wasn’t much archaeology on it … it seemed to be Francis [Pryor] saying how much archaeology there was to do and then everyone just messing around looking at seafood and throwing tennis balls at each other’. It was somehow not at all satisfying: I didn’t really feel I knew anything new at the end. So, a great shame, as it was probably a fascinating site to be digging, but what came out of it was sort of what one would expect from the sea by the Coast: shallow.

Episode 2, A Village Affair, this time with Mick Aston, was a bit more traditional (and in Mick’s line – reminiscent of the Shapwick project with which he was intimately connected): trenches in the field and test pits in the gardens in an attempt to explain the medieval history of Bitterley in Shropshire. This programme was a little more satisfying, but there still didn’t seem to be as much archaeology as their might have been and would have been in the past.

Episode 3, The Drowned Town: Channel 4 have started moving the programme round the schedules. Anyone tuning in at 6pm to watch Time Team will be treated to the last half of Deal or no Deal (that most interesting of programmes where people intermittently open boxes over the course of an hour), as Time Team was broadcast at 4.20. This episode is in Dunwich, most of which has fallen into the sea during and since the fourteenth century, as it’s positioned on England’s fastest eroding coastline. Again, it didn’t seem quite the same as in previous years.

I was planning to add some thoughts over the weeks about a few more episodes as they were broadcast, and post this later, but it would appear that I’m not the only person who doesn’t think Time Team’s quite up to scratch any more. Watching the first three episodes I felt quite sorry for the archaeologists, who didn’t seem to be getting a fair crack of the whip. Mick Aston certainly hasn’t been happy: the series currently showing (19) is his last. He’s quit, and he explains his reasons in an interview in the British Archaeology magazine which goes on sale this Friday (it’s available through larger branches of W H Smith, as well as on subscription); rather sadly, he says that he’s not proud of Time Team, and seems upset, feeling he’s leaving no legacy. That may be how he feels, but I think he’s wrong, and quite a few thousands of people would agree with me, I’m sure. Mick’s written an interesting account of the Dunwich visit in the same magazine, and I’m looking forward to his forthcoming book about Shapwick, due in June – that project is quite a legacy.

I hope that series 20 of Time Team, currently being planned, doesn’t turn out to be ‘cliché-ridden pap’, but I fear it may, and the fault won’t lie at the feet of the archaeologists. I also wonder whether series 20 might be the last.

Added 9/2/2012: I should have read a little more of British Archaeology yesterday. There is a news story on page 7 which, among other things, quotes Frances Pryor as saying ‘there had been things that Mick & I got cross with in series 19’ but that all these had been addressed for  series 20. Let’s hope so – Time Team is important in keeping archaeology’s profile higher than it otherwise would be, plus, from a selfish point of view, it’s one of the few things I watch regularly on television.

Added 14 Feb: For a more balanced account which probably gets as near to the truth as is possible (unlike the recent press coverage) go to Mike Pitts – Digging Deeper where there are a couple of posts about this.

Added 20 October 2012: There’s more news about the future (or lack of it) of Time Team – several links in this post.

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