The advantages of being at the end of a camera
I hope my last post didn't sound too down on the whole filming process. It is really hard work (that was the point) but it is also huge fun, or a large part of it is . . . right down to thinking about how you get your ideas over to a big audience that you can't see, and who are mostly sitting in their living rooms watching TV.
I remember that when I did "Pompeii" (that's the picture at the top) I said to the people making it, 'Why couldn't one just make a TV programme like a radio programme, like (say) "In Our Time". Why do we need to go up Vesuvius and jump in and out of boats around the Bay of Naples, when we are talking about everyday life in Pompeii?" Their reply was spot on, I think. "Most people listen to the radio while they are doing something else, whether driving, cooking or ironing. You expect them to flash in and out of what you are saying. On the other hand, most people do not much else when they are watching telly. So you HAVE to engage them with some visual variety, else they will switch off."
So that's one really fun challenge: interest people, engage their senses AND get your big point across about the ancient world.
But there are other pleasures...
One of the least honourable is that if you are the thinker-presenter like me, you get nicely looked after. I dont mean that I have been living the life of Riley at the expense of the poor bloody licence payer. Far from it. In fact I spent out my living expenses allowance days ago... and NOT on extravagant restaurants or fine wine, just the basics. I mean, that while everyone else humps vast amount of equipment about, I am definitely not allowed to. As soon as I pick up a tripod to carry it into the hotel, it is taken from me. (The truth I suspect is that I am not insured to carry the tripod... and if I drop it, that's expensive. Or if I drop it on my toe and cant hop around from place to place, we're all in trouble.)
So I walk round, unencumbered .. ferried from location to location, not carrying a 15 kilo camera. OK, I do have my little travelling library, and I am allowed to carry that!
But more to the point is the amazing wealth of stuff I get to see this way. Sure, there are some places that just don't want the television cameras in (maybe for Beard-like reasons). But many sites and museums are very keen. So I have seen things on these shoots that I would, I suspect, have taken me a long time to get access to as an academic.
I'm not going to spoil the surprise of what's in this new series. But for the Pompeii programme I was allowed to get up close and personal to some amazing gold jewelry that it would have taken a lifetime of (possibly fruitless) requests to see, as an ordinary professor of classics.
I feel hugely grateful, privileged and (to be honest) lucky, and have really enriched my own academic work this way (I'm giving a seminar in Texas next week on one of the things I've been looking at in Rome). And I'm looking forward to making it a treat for people to watch.
All the same I cant help wondering whether there isn't something a bit topsy turvy here...about who gets to see what, and how easily, in some museums in the world, when a camera isn't around.