Tag Archives: television

Professor Mick Aston: Why I quit Time Team, and the danger of losing touch with our history | This is Somerset

I’ve decided to quit Time Team because Channel 4 decided to alter the format. There is a lot less archaeological content and a lot more pratting about. I was the archaeological consultant but they decided to get rid of half the archaeological team, without consulting me.

I think it has dumbed down. Let me explain why that is bad for archaeology in general.

This is sad, but inevitable unfortunately. The latest series of Time Team is currently airing on Channel 4, and while I’ve watched each show I can’t help feeling there’s something gone awry. Team changes have happened over years, but the core members have been there almost since the beginning to provide some kind of continuity. Once the new faces have bedded in, it’s been more or less business as usual.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, I don’t seem to be engaged by the current series in the same way I have been for most of the previous ones. I’ll still watch them, but I can’t help feeling that perhaps the changes this time round have gone too far. Perhaps, after 20 years, it’s time to let the show rest.

Race to the Bottom?


Once again it is that time of year. I don’t mean the changing of the seasons, the nights getting longer, the onrush of winter and that Christmas thing. No, I mean it’s X Factor/Strictly Come Dancing time again. Which one will you be watching?

Oh, please. This morning’s BBC Breakfast was full of it. Endless froth about X Factor (ITV, blue corner) and Strictly Come Dancing (BBC, red corner), with added excitement in the form of whether Spooks (BBC) and Downton Abbey (ITV) will also pull in the punters.

My jaw almost hit the floor, which would have been inconvenient since I was eating toast and supping tea at the time. 

Why, I wondered, does the BBC, a publicly-funded broadcaster through the television licence, feel the need to fight for ratings with an advertising-funded network? I fail to see the point in these ratings “wars”. Who wins in the end? 

My contention is no-one wins in the end. Everyone’s a loser.

Let’s leave aside the Spooks vs Downton Abbey thing, because as far as I can tell (I don’t watch either show, I freely admit) they are both well-written, well-made examples of their breed. Pitting them against each other in the same time slot seems pointless, since anyone who cares enough will simply record one of them to watch later, or catch up online—this in itself negates the whole “X million people watched it last night, so our show is bigger than your show, yah boo sucks” shenanigans, but there you go.

No-one wins in the end when two celebrity-obsessed “reality” shows are pitched at each other. Everyone is a net loser, even those of us who don’t watch them. Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor: celebrities making fools of themselves versus members of the public making fools of themselves. The latter I find particularly irksome as it feeds on sad peoples’ need to “be famous”, without needing to do any of the hard work to earn the fame. The goggle-eyed sofa-bound point and laugh. It’s gladiatorial combat, only lacking the blood and gore. In fact, I’m sure there’ll be blood and gore in a future series of X Factor. They need to keep the ratings, after all.

No-one wins because both are really just for those who enjoy air-head television. It’s style over substance. Both shows encourage viewers to phone in and “vote” for a winner, at vast expense mind you. Both are fixed, there is no real competition at all. Why viewers aren’t intelligent enough to see through this manufactured charade is beyond me, but perhaps it’s the chance of seeing a famous person making a fool of themselves, or a fool making themselves momentarily famous. I don’t really know.

All of which still fails to answer my question: why does a publicly-funded broadcaster feel the need to follow another channel down the plughole? 

ITV needs people to watch the shows so they can be advertised at. It’s a commercial broadcaster. X Factor is funded by sponsorship and advertising, aimed at the goggle-eyed and sofa-bound. The entertainment is to keep you watching so you can be advertised at. That’s all it is. You are the product, not the end user.

The BBC, however, doesn’t need to appease advertisers. Who are they trying to fool? Ratings mean nothing to the BBC. They don’t need to compete, so why do they bother? I have no idea.

What I’d like to see is the BBC realising it really doesn’t have to chase ratings. I’d like to see Auntie concentrating on making the best programmes it can, without continually dumbing down to appease the stupid. There are plenty of smart people out there who enjoy a challenge in their entertainment. Stupid people have ITV, Five or anything from Sky to watch if they feel challenged by anything made for intelligent people. Make excellent programmes and smart people will watch them, I can guarantee it. Earn the television licence instead of continually underestimating the intelligence of your viewers. We’re not stupid, so please don’t assume we are.

Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t scrap BBC Four. It’s one of the few places where we smart people can still watch intelligent programming.


Save BBC Four!

They’re at it again. By “they” I mean the bean counters at the BBC.

Told that the Corporation must save money in these times of austerity, they’ve cast their beady eyes in the direction of the free-to-air digital channels, and BBC Four in particular.

You may well be thinking “so what?”.

Well, a quick glance at the schedules of the other BBC television channels will reveal in the main a wasteland of commercialised populist tat. BBC Four, alone, seems to be a haven for intellectual broadcasting, where you can find documentaries and strands that cover the arts, culture, foreign films, the sciences and humanities. In recent years, BBC Four has also been home to quality US imports, before the avaricial commercial channels topped the bids for new seasons.

In short, BBC Four is what BBC Two once was. It is almost a last bastion of free-to-air quality television broadcasting, and as such must be saved from closure that seems to be based on spite or to salve the consciences of BBC executives. The BBC is more important and better than merely ratings figures, and it’s time the BBC management realised this. The Corporation doesn’t have to compete with the commercial sector. It should concentrate on producing quality programming, on not dumbing everything down to appease the stupid and indolent.

A couple of years ago, the BBC also mooted the idea of closing the digital-only radio stations BBC 6 Music and BBC Asian Network. A spirited defence of both channels, which resulted in increased audience figures, saved both channels because the voice of the listener was heard. A petition has been set up for BBC Four. I encourage you to voice your opinion, and add your name to save the channel so we viewers who still care can still find programmes that educate and entertain, instead of just anæsthetising our brains.



BBC remasters Civilisation for HD | Media | guardian.co.uk

It was a landmark documentary series that is still discussed in hushed tones today. Now Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, the acclaimed BBC2 series from 1969 that traced the history of western art and philosophy, is to be remastered in high definition for a new generation of television viewers.

The 13-part series will be repeated in full from next month on the BBC‘s high definition channel, part of what the corporation called its “wider commitment to the arts through showcasing the jewels of its arts archive”.

I am very much looking forward to 9 February.


Can you imagine the scene today? An eager, thrusting television executive attends a meeting with their bosses to discuss a proposal for a new television show…

“It’s set in 16th century Japan, during a period of political upheaval between warring feudal lords. A European sailor is shipwrecked in the country, but is unable to speak a word of the language. We follow the journey of our shipwrecked sailor as he discovers more about this alien new country, and learns the customs and language to eventually become an important person in Japanese society.

“Most of the cast will be Japanese, and won’t speak English. The only English dialogue will be between our hero and various interpreters. There won’t be any subtitles or dubbing of the Japanese into English. We will be in much the same situation as our hero, as we begin to learn and understand.

“The plot evolves slowly, there is a little action, a little nudity and scenes of a sexual nature, and most will be shot on location in Japan.

”The show will air in two-hour episodes over five consecutive nights on a national US broadcast network.”

Do you think it would be commissioned today? I don’t think so. Who would want to sit through 10 hours of foreign language dialog without any subtitles? 

Back in the late 1970s, however, the show was commissioned. I remember watching it on the BBC in the early 1980s, and being utterly enthralled. I got the DVD box set a while ago, and while we’ve been suffering snow and illness I’ve been treating myself to a Shōgun marathon. 

I have to say, it holds up well for being over 30 years old. Being a period drama helps, I suppose. The acting is good, with an adequate smattering of famous actors, and the transcription to DVD (not high definition, mind) is startlingly good. The only thing I dislike is the episodes are munged together, so you either sit through an entire disc at a time, or have to locate the scene where you left off.

I don’t mind. I have been watching a disc at a sitting, cuddling the cat, drinking in the sumptuous costumes, exquisite sets and the attention to detail of everyday mediaeval Japanese life, and picking up a smattering of conversational Japanese. If you’ve never seen Shōgun before, I highly recommend it.

Rippa na riidaa, watashino kji wo yon de kure te arigatou.

(Apologies to native Japanese speakers. The interwebz are only so good at helping non-speakers with such translations!)