A @Channel4 special: Time Team vs Restoration Man

Time Team Vs Restoration Man

My partner recently introduced me to Channel 4’s Restoration Man, and in return, I introduced her to Channel 4’s Time Team. It was an interesting trade. Restoration Man plugs neatly into my love of Grand Designs-style building shows, with a neat historic element. The GF was a little more suspicious of Time Team, arguing that it was slow, and uninspiring.

Frankly, this was unacceptable. I have lived in houses where Time Team was the regular evening viewing. I’ve dug on one of their sites. I have friends who were tutored by show veterans. When it was finally cancelled, after 20 seasons, we were in mourning. Hell, some of my favourite Twitter conversations have been with an anthropomorphized trademark item of sweat-encrusted headgear (with over 5,000 followers).

So yeah, you could say I’m an advocate – probably even a fan – and I’m certainly not alone.

How do they compare?

The surprising thing about both shows is that they can both end pretty unsatisfactorily. Because restorations can take several years to complete, Restoration Man rarely sees the end of a project in a single season. Shows end without really explaining the final outcome for homeowners.

Likewise, Time Team can spend three days on a dig and come away with little more than a few animal bones and a few hasty CGI animations of what they *might* have found if they’d had more time. Despite all this, the stories really do draw you in. Hell, it might even be the un-polished nature of the shows that makes them that much more believable.

That’s not to say they don’t deviate from this for the sake of narrative. The Restoration Man has a ridiculous over-acted scene every episode where he retreats to some library to research the building in question. Doubts about the project are over-egged for the audience’s sake. Likewise, the three-day time frame for Time Team’s digs adds a weird sense of urgency. Will they uncover the whole story by the end of the episode?

Which is better?

I never promised to be objective here, but Time Team still holds that special place in my heart. It trumps Restoration Man by the fact that it has so many more experts involved. The fact that it only takes them three days to film an episode (instead of three years) makes a big difference too.

Does heritage benefit the community?

National Trust Places

Recently, a report from the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) has highlighted that the UK fails to make the most from our heritage. It begs the question of how beneficial is heritage and how should we utilise these assets?

Whilst we consider our historical sites to be culturally important to us, sadly heritage is usually the first sector to be battered by financial cuts.

Last year, the government announced further cuts to its investment into the heritage sector. These cuts were not the first. When the Coalition government came to power in 2010, heritage took an initial battering of cuts from the Comprehensive Spending Review.

When times are hard, governments deem it more important to spend money on more ‘essential’ services like hospitals and infrastructure.

Although, it is wrong to think that heritage sucks up money thus depriving community development. In a previous NTPlaces blog post we have seen…

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Alan Moore – Writer; Shaman; Guardian of History

This week, all kinds of hell were raised when Northampton Borough Council tried to auction off an Egyptian statuette that had been donated to the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, and a boycott began against the new Hercules movie. In both cases, Alan Moore was a vocal figure; denouncing the shadowy figure of The Man, and calling Him out. But who the hell is Alan Moore, and why should we care?

This is Alan Moore. He’s speaking at the UK Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2009, but I like to think he’s rolling his lucky D20 in 1980.
Published under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence, courtesy of Matt Biddulph

In the context of the news stories, it is important to note that Moore is one of Northampton’s most famous sons. He is known for his work as a comic book/graphic novel writer. ‘V for Vendetta’? That was his idea. ‘Watchmen’ too. Also ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, and so on. FYI, he really hates the film adaptations of his work, and refuses to watch some of them. He’s also a wizard, and has written books on the subject. He’s also a pagan, and an anarchist, and lived with two wives for a bit, but none of this is important. What is important is that he only really surfaces when he is riled. Personally, I wouldn’t get him riled if I was you. He knows more about Cthulu than you do. Right now, he is riled. Let’s have a look at what has got him into this state.

Selling off the treasures

I’ll be honest, I can’t completely see what all the fuss is about here. The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is trying to raise money to build a new wing, and in order to do so, it is auctioning off a single part of its collection. The item in question is a statuette of Sekhemka, a royal inspector of scribes during the fifth dynasty. It was given to the museum as a private donation, so they do own it. But there are museums that simply cannot afford to store all of the artefacts they receive, much less display them. Alan Moore’s objection seems to be based on the fact that he has donated some of his own possessions to the museum, and that he doesn’t like the idea that they could just be flogged off by the council with little-to-no notice.

Maybe it’s a fair point; if you give someone a present, there is an expectation that they won’t re-gift it. If an artefact is donated to a museum, there is an assumption that they won’t just flog it off to raise more money. But Moore has displayed this kind of naivety before. When he sold off the film rights for some of his graphic novels, he claims that he had no expectation that they would actually be turned into movies. So maybe Moore should have been a bit wiser to the ugly realities of the world. His graphic novels have no problem depicting the darker side of life, but it seems to be something he doesn’t expect IRL.

But he’s not the only one who’s got beef here. Arts Council England has also piped up. The Arts Council has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Museum over the last couple of years. I guess if I’d given someone that much I would be pretty pissed that they had flogged one thing and raised over ten times that amount. But it also turns out that this contravenes some of their stricter ethical guidelines to do with preserving the past for future generations. So the Arts Council are now looking at retracting the museum’s accreditation, which would mean that it would receive fewer grants in future and have to sell more stuff; spiral of destruction etc. etc.

But the sale is also now being challenged by the Antiquities Ministry of Egypt. TBH, if this challenge is anything like any of the related cases, where countries try to reclaim ancient objects that were removed centuries ago, then I don’t hold out a lot of hope. If Sekhemka wants to go home, he’s going to have to hope for an Egyptian-sympathetic bidder to beat the odds. However, all this attention won’t be doing the museum any good. The loss of accreditation could be devastating, and altruistic rivals with positive uses for Arts Council grants will gladly oust the Northampton Museum from the queue. The dread lord works in mysterious ways.

Boycotting Hercules

Confusingly, there are three Hercules films coming out this year. The Legend of Hercules has already come out, and Hercules Reborn will be out in Hungary later this year. Neither stars anyone I’ve ever heard of, and both look like a poor man’s rehash of all the more memorable swords-and-sandals blockbusters of the century. This seems to happen a lot in Hollywood but, ultimately, they aren’t important. The one we’re talking about is just Hercules, but it’s an adaptation of the comic book ‘Hercules: The Thracian Wars’, which was written by Steve Moore, who is a friend, but not a relation, of Alan Moore. He was also one of the founders of the Fortean Times, so he was a pretty cool bloke.

If you want all the salacious dirt, check out the Bleeding Cool interview with Alan, but to cut a long story short, Steve got screwed over by the industry, and didn’t get a penny from the movie. He wasn’t happy about that, but accepted that the screwing-over was legally sound, and simply asked to have his name removed from the film. Except he had a terminal illness and has since passed away. However, when the obituaries started pouring in, the film’s marketing people took notice, and started trying to use it to drum up attention for the film. Real classy, guys. Oh, and then they claimed that it was the film that was paying for his medical care during the last few years of his life. Despite the fact that that wasn’t a true fact in any way. And that’s why Alan is trying to raise a boycott of the film.

Steve Moore’s name is used prominently in the poster.

I couldn’t find any of the obituaries that really stretch that last point, and they may have been taken down by now. However, most of the news stories abut Steve do mention the upcoming film and the posters all seem to use Moore’s name. This post particularly seems to sum up the hype. So I can definitely see Alan’s point on this one. I had half considered going to see this movie. It does have some really good actors in it, even if they are only going to be people for The Rock to fight/hate/rescue/watch die etc. But really, I could probably save the inevitable £12 it will cost to get into the film and buy myself three or four very nice pints of beer instead, and that will be just as memorable.

Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

The French craftsmen who are building a castle

I was planning to post a blog about fantasy tourism, which is something that both New Zealand and Ireland have tried to harness recent years.  However, I’m trying to steer away from the fantasy genre because, for all its swords and chivalry, it ain’t history. But then I remembered this place. It is a castle, at a place called Guédelon, to the South of Paris, in France.

It’s not exactly a “building a classroom in Africa” deal, but there are opportunities for visitors and students to take part in the building process. Tourists can learn about the medieval techniques and materials being used, and the 300,000 annual visitors support the costs, which includes the employment of 55 workers and other permanent members of staff.

“La Voûte” © Guédelon, used for educational purposes

Work began in 1997, and isn’t scheduled to be complete until the 2020’s. One of the main guys behind the project is one of France’s leading chief architects of historical monuments, Mr Jacques Moulin. He’s kind-of a big deal, but he’s also pretty controversial. As a restorer, not everyone digs his style, and this may have cost him important jobs in the past. That may be part of the reason why he is running this project. And let’s be honest here, if you had the chance to prove yourself to your doubters by building a dirty great castle, you would, wouldn’t you?

The other positive side of the project is that it can be used as an educational tool both for people who want to learn how castles were built, and for more experienced professionals who want to test their own theories out. It is very much a centre for experimental archaeology, which is a discipline that sounds more fun the more I hear about it.

So I guess the question that arises is this: How valuable to our understanding of history is work like this? For the people who actually get involved in the building it could be a formative process; something that really makes them think about life in 13th-Century France. it’s certainly something that I would like to try out. I can imagine that when the project reaches its conclusion, the project organisers will want to start anew. In terms of tourism, I reckon it’s much better than traipsing around New Zealand or Ireland, trying to see whether you recognise any film sets.

Urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers

National Geographic’s ‘Nazi War Diggers’ has stirred up a lot of anger today. I have already tweeted archaeologist Annelise Baer’s impassioned condemnation of the show, but here is a series of serious ethical questions that many feel must be answered for National Geographic to maintain any credibility:

Urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers.

Edit 31/3/2014

National Geographic’s response can be found here.