December 20, 2013
Today Channel Four announced that Time Team would cease to be broadcast after Series 20, which goes out early next year. So what went right? How come we managed to keep a big-budget TV series on the nation’s free-view screens for twenty years? That’s an extraordinary achievement. Time Team has been the longest-running archaeological series in the history of television. There’s going to be a documentary about the history of Time Team, which is currently being filmed, so I don’t want to pre-empt any of its conclusions, but it’s essentially a story of humble origins, steady growth, a huge flourishing – what could be bigger than a synchronised ‘live’ dig at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyrood House – and a rather sad, if mercifully short, decline, which reached its worst in Series 19. I’ll talk about the decline shortly, but first a few words about why I think Time Team worked so well for so long.I think the main reason is simple, like the idea at the programme’s heart. Time Team is a true reality show: it reflects the real world of a true-life excavation. Thousands of smaller versions of Time Team happen every year in the world of commercial archaeology. These rapid, often small-scale excavations are known as assessments and they’re the first stage that any developer has to go through ahead of a major scheme, such as a housing estate, new road or gravel pit. After that first investigation, there’s often a larger-scale rescue excavation which focuses on areas of interest revealed by the assessment. So, claims often made by some hostile academics, that our three-day format is somehow false, are simply not true. And for what it’s worth, I fear that already hard-pressed university archaeology departments will find fewer students enrolling for their courses, once Time Team is no longer on our screens.The simple three-day format worked well because it was conceived by an archaeologist (Mick Aston) and a film-maker (Tim Taylor) who had, and still has, a deep interest in archaeology. So its roots, its very heart and soul, lie within real-world, hands-on, practical archaeology. That’s the original format’s greatest strength. Then, in 1999, we were able to persuade Tim and Channel 4 to make the first of their documentaries (at the time they were known as ‘specials’), which departed from the strict 3-day format. This one was on the Early Bronze Age timber circle at Holme-next-the-Sea, in Norfolk, today known to the world as Seahenge. There have been many more made since then, but few have been bettered. I can’t think why my wife Maisie wasn’t offered a job in feature films by MGM. Trouble is, she’d have turned them down. But I digress.As the years rolled by, Time Team became bigger and bigger, with more people and personalities. In some respects this was good, as it meant we could take on more ambitious subjects and do them justice, but it also meant that each programme had to be more tightly scripted. So spontaneity, especially as regards what was happening hour-by-hour in the trenches, began to be lost. By Series 19 there was scarcely a scene shot of anything actually coming out of the ground. This so disgusted Mick Aston that he walked off. I should add that matters had not been improved by Channel 4 who made a number of inexplicable changes to transmission times and for two or three series failed to provide any advance publicity. All in all, the scheduling of the last few series was a mess.I would have walked off with Mick, as I still have sympathy with him, but I believed the assurances I was given by the Producers, that the prime focus would return to archaeology. I have to say I did have a few remaining doubts, but decided to give them one more chance. Thankfully, that first shoot – at a hillfort in Wales – was just like old times: lots of archaeology and no superfluous, silly ‘history’ scenes. And the remaining five episodes I filmed were, I think, first rate. And that was in great part due to the efforts of Jim Mower, the Development Producer (also an archaeologist), who arranged a great succession of sites for us. The Machine Gun Corps training camp, the copper mine in Cumbria and the Roman Saxon Shore Fort were outstanding. It’s a terrible shame that the programme rediscovered its roots too late. But at least we can say we sank with our heads held high. The orchestra was playing in the dining salon, as the waters lapped at our chins. I knew it was a mistake to trowel-through the hull.And the future – is there one? Channel Four have announced that they will commission 4 or 5 Time Team documentaries in 2013 and there are plans afoot to re-invent the format on a smaller scale on the internet. But unless something miraculous happens I’m afraid that’s it – certainly for the time-being.And what are my plans? With luck I’ll take part in one of the documentaries, but I’m being leant on by the nice people at Penguin to produce the book I should have delivered last May, were it not for Series 20. So I’ll be getting back to what I enjoy most of all: writing. And of course this blog will continue, getting ever-more testy, ill-considered and intemperate as the weeks, months and years roll by. I can hardly wait – can you?
It is the night before the birth of my daughter. The crickets are singing, there is a cool breeze moving through the trees and the sky is backlit canopy of blue. Graci is tucked into bed. Kate is packing her hospital bag and I am taking a break from performing odd jobs around the house. It has been a busy time for us this past month. Kate worked nearly five days a week up until the first day of August. I’ve been working incredibly hard at the Zoo and picking up archaeology jobs where I can all the while remaining incredibly anxious to hold my little girl. We’ve settled on a list of names: Hero, Harper, Finnly, Scarlett, and Sawyer. Hero and Harper are my two favorites. We’re not going to settle on a name until we see her, but it will be one of those two. There is no doubt that these next few days, much like this entire pregnancy, will be filled with memorable moments. I will miss feeling the baby move, watching her roll around inside, and feel her pressing against my skin when I talk to her. I will miss Kate’s beautiful pregnant belly, but I know that she will be much more comfortable without it. This entire experience has had such amazing bits and pieces it already has me anxious for the next pregnancy. Though I suppose we should get through this one first. Tomorrow, the most important adventure ever begins: I become a dad.
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.” – Greg Glassman / Founder of CrossFit
“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” –Dr. Seuss
Mark Twain Autobiography (Vol. 1)
The Grand Design
I have to admit, I pulled a portion of this from a journal entry I wrote last year. Regardless, its been fun pointing a critical eye at my naive former self.
Sprawled out on the plush blue carpet of his bedroom floor is seventeen year old Kurt. He’s awash in the warm glow of Christmas lights that dangle from the loft above akin to some colorful cosmic galaxy. He breathes a frustrated puff of air and tosses the Latin text book on to the floor beside him. Dead languages are the absolute last thing on his mind right now. He looks to the ceiling and it isn't long before he's lost in his imagination. It’s late and he can’t help it.
While his mind is far away, we’ll get to know a little bit about him. The boy is wearing his trademark khaki pants and white dress shirt; he’s been on the move since 6:15am and hasn’t had time to change out of his catholic school uniform. His tie vanished with the ring of the final bell, revealing a silver cross around his neck; more a decoration than a symbol of faith. In fact his faith is waning in the advent of new thoughts and ideas, though he’s unsure if he’s ready to share this with the world. He’s afraid of what they may think.
Strength is something the boy has yet to find. Every so often he makes his way down into the bowels of the unfinished basement and pumps iron. His wiry frame is beginning to show some signs of growth, but chances are he’d probably get pummeled in a fight. Not that it matters, he’d be the last person to start anything anyway. He’s rather timid, a self-proclaimed lover not a fighter, though he still has much to learn about love.
He’s a total geek through and through. Every Tuesday he tunes in for the newest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he’s grown quite fond of multiplayer gaming with his best friend Anthony over their dial-up modem connections. The boy also has a running countdown for the new Star Wars movie; he’s positive it will be the greatest film ever. He’s social, but the party scene is decidedly unappealing. He’d rather watch a movie or concoct some hare-brained scheme with his closest friends than spend the night getting blasted with the people in his class.
In the past few years he’s picked up on a new hobby: writing. He’s created a character that symbolizes everything he could ever hope to be. The boy spends his study halls filling his notebooks with story ideas that could fill volumes. Despite his penchant for writing, he still can’t pull himself above a D in English. He’s not sure if there is a future in writing, or even if it’s any good, but for now he enjoys it and keeps it close to his heart.
The boy has a weak spot for blonds, one in particular. She’s sat behind him the last few years of high school. Despite years of infatuation, he’s far too timid to make a move. He spends his day trying his damnedest to make her smile. The boy wishes she could see him the way he sees her. Everything about the girl is perfect and it crushes him to be just good friends. She's the closest thing to a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
Aside from her, the boy lives for summer; taking the boat out, swimming in the lake, spending night after night at the cottage. The warmer months just can’t come fast enough. When the snow falls a part of him shrivels up and dies. He'd do anything to be where it’s warm. He dreams of living in California someday; happy and rich, sunning and surfing.
His home life is sound and he has a great family. He’s avoided any major teen blowouts with his parents, but his sister is another story. She’s the epitome of annoying. The two of them are like dynamite and matches and can barely pass each other in the hall without a throw down. The final member of the family is a plump young golden retriever named Charlie. He enjoys chasing the Frisbee and going for rides in the boy’s 1983 Mercury Zephyr. The car is falling apart, but being his first vehicle the boy has grown fond of it and sees the car as a shinning bastion of freedom, despite its rust brown color. He happily quotes Han Solo in saying, “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.”
All in all, he lives a pretty good life and he’s excited about the possibilities the future holds. He’ll be starting college soon, majoring in archaeology. When he looks at himself in the mirror he can’t imagine himself getting old, but it will come in time. Just not tonight.
The boy is asleep now, snoring soundly on the floor. Latin homework will have to be hastily done in the morning before first period.