Wednesday 9 December 2020

Kazakh TV: "Henry Cole's Great British Treasure Hunt" [UPDATED]


Henry Cole seems to be a low-brow Bri'ish TV micro-celebrity. I'd never come across him before - can't say I am impressed. He seems to do deals and things with motorbikes and seems to think he's funny, and  that seems to be enough to entertain part of the Bri'ish public. Probably the same ones that voted for the Brexit they will be getting in three weeks ("we won, you lost, get over it!"). 

Anyway, a generation of Portable Antiquities Scheme plugging of treasure hunting as a good hobby has convinced a TV production company that ripping up the buried past is not only an easy but profitable and entertaining way to make TV-money, but also an entirely ethical one. So we end up with this on UK TV at 9pm on a Wednesday evening: 

Henry Cole TV 8,705 views 30 Nov 2020

I watched it. Quite irrespective of the subject matter (below), that was undoubtedly some of the worst TV I have seen in my life, possible the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has better television.  It was schematic, unoriginal, lacking in content, with wooden dialogues, and was mind-numbingly repetitive. The programme (and the adverts that bulked it out) both seem to be made with the picture of the viewers having a mental age of eight. Camerawork was passable, but predictable. Where would we be without drones, eh? Casting was pathetic. Henry Cole's jokes, wardrobe and antics were pathetic. 

Basically the programme was just an overlong detecting video. We cut rapidly from successive pairs of finders, there's minimal character development, and the main joke is they are not finding much of interest. Basically the "wotyagot? - ah, another ringpull" running gag was done (better) in "Detectorists". At the end we see a table-full of 'junk' and on another table a meagre assortment of finds. One of these is a 1936-45 Verwundetenabzeichen  (wound badge) that was narrativised by being associated with a 1942-45 POW camp near the castle. The problem with this is that most of the time, the Sudeley camp was occupied by Italian and Austrian soldiers (Germans only at the end), and in any case POWs did not go out in the fields to work dressed in full military uniform with medals attached. It looks to me as if the finding of that badge may have been staged.  

The detector users were assigned areas of the estate with imaginative labels such as "Lower Anglo-Saxon settlement", "Roman vineyard" (sic) and started randomly wandering about digging holes all over the place. None of them was filmed using a GPS to plot the finds. There was no individual bagging of finds shown, let alone labelling. No scene at the end when the landowner was shown the objects and signed any documentation assigning title. 

Most of the artefact hunting is shown taking place on grassland, apparently at least some of it permanent. There is no mention of the ethical issues here, just that its harder to dig than ploughsoil. The FLO that appears at the end stays silent about this - and the existence of a Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales that the PAS privately frets they are unable to make more than a handful of artefact hunters aware of. Here was an opportunity. Missed. 

There was some blondie lady from the NCMD showing some finds she'd brought along, but we learn nothing much from the interview. All through the programme (to make up for the lack of anything interesting happening in the field) we saw the detectorists' previous finds, or they told stories about what they'd found elsewhere. That is, basically what you can find on any metal detecting forum in the country. But at the end, the finds were "judged" by two folk. An auctioneer did what auctioneers do and talked about how much (or here, how little) the objects were worth. Then the local FLO (Susheela Burford from Worcester) came on and smiled. She has a very nice smile, but I did not see her doing much to promote best practice on this farcical programme. I think she was ill advised to agree to appear. 

The programme depicts zero effort being made to actually use this 'liaison' opportunity to do any meaningful archaeological liaison here. Ms Burford judges the 'most historically significant find' on the finds table as a mid third century radiate coin. But in the programme she does not explain to the viewers why. So, why? Is it because it was nicely preserved, in a collectable condition? (the other coins were in a worse state). But what does it mean and how do we know? 

And of course, despite this being filmed masklessly some time in midsummer, and the PAS FLO being on site, it seems none of the items shown on the finds table made it to the PAS database. At the time of writing, the latest finds from Sudeley on the database come from 2011. That should have been written into the contract with Ms Burford. 

The PAS needs to react to this. Of course it does not help that the PAS itself not so long ago was guilty of taking part in the notorious "Britain's Secret Treasures" fiasco. All in all, I hope the PAS steps in and asks ITV four not to broadcast any more of this damaging series, that is giving out all of the wrong messages. And in future the PAS should dissuade its employees (representatives) from taking part in such programmes, without first drawing up a proper contract setting out precisely the way the work of the PAS is represented in the public sphere. PAS is doing precious little real outreach to the wider public (as opposed to artefact hunters) and when an opportunity like this comes when they art last are in the public eye, it is especially important that they don't fluff it up. This time they did. Cringeworthily so.

UPDATE 9th December 2020

I was aware that Andy Brockman was writing a review of this pilot episode, but chose not to look at it until I'd set down my thoughts. He wrote a longer and more lyrical piece, and goes into more detail about some aspects that I passed over (so, please read it). I will however highlight this piece about the final scene with the auctioneer's involvement. 

It is a scene which seems to sum up the fatal contradiction in the concept of The Great British Treasure Hunt, and which critics argue lies also at the heart of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. that is the claim that metal detecting is all to do with finding history, except that everyone knows that for many people it isn’t. It’s about the dosh.

More disturbing is that it reveals that the Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure appears to have been less than truthful to me when I wrote to him about the trailer of this programme. Professor Lewis pretended that this was news to him.... What I had written to him on Tuesday 1st December was:

Dear Mike, [link to trailer] Can we assume that the PAS will in the public interest this time be taking a FIRM stand on this and the way it is being promoted? This is what I sent the NCMD. They’ll do nothing, will the PAS? [TEXT sent to NCMD and PAS]
The British Museum employee answered:
Thanks for sharing this Paul, which I agree (from the clip) does not appear to promote best practice. I will discuss with colleagues. Michael
And of course the sad old men of the NCMD did not get back to me still less issue any kind of statement. But what we learn from Mr Brockman is pretty shocking:
Professor Lewis confirmed that the PAS had advised Mr Cole’s production company on procedure and the legal ownership of finds, but the organisation was not aware of how closely their advice had been followed, if it was followed at all. But he also expressed surprise that the pilot, which he had seen, had actually been broadcast.
But he will at some unspecified time in the future be discussing with colleagues. Though I doubt that under his leadership, the PAS can take a FIRM stand on anything involving the use of metal detectors. One wonders about the wisdom of allowing oneself to get involved in a project where you have no control over the way that is used or leave yourself with no means of verifying it. That is not promoting best practice. That is not very professional. Neither is not being truthful to colleagues.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I thought it was alright. Better than your blog .

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