Pompeii meets grey hair
You will probably think that I have been spending most of my time recently in front of a camera or a microphone, because next week I have a BBC1 documentary on Pompeii being shown on Thursday (at 9.00 pm) and a Radio4 documentary on grey hair on Friday morning at 11.00. In fact, both of these programmes had been more or less finished with my input months ago, but quite a huge of time is used up between finishing the shooting/recording and transmission (editing, music, voice over, capturing that one last sequence) ... and it is actually a complete coincidence that they end up getting their first outing within 24 hours of one another.
(It reminds me rather of when my book on Roman laughter came out very close to my Confronting the Classics. People thought i had been unbelievably productive in a very short time, but actually the timetable of my own completion was months and months apart and pure coincidence that they emerged into the world with a misleadingly short gap.)
Anyway, I do hope you will look and listen.
Pompeii: New Secrets Revealed (yes I know that the title is something of a tautology... 'secret' being, in a sense, by definition 'new') really does offer a new side of Pompeii, and some big questions. That's partly because an enormous amount of EU money has been ploughed into Pompeii recently and our team was the first to see some of the spectacular results, which will really be a huge boost to any visit to the site. People often complain that not enough houses are open -- well some more, freshly restored, will soon be on track, and our programme gives you a sneak preview. But we also get a chance to explore the "bio-archaeological deposit", where all the presered food stuffs, and various vegetable materials are stored. I felt like a kid in a candy store in there, with the dates and the olives, the paints and pigment, writing tablets and (very over-done) loaves of bread. And I have a memorable and slightly poignant visit to the brothel by night, and to the amphitheatre by day.
The headline, though, is the examination of the plaster casts with a team of scientists (and a CT scanner). These are in many ways the most famous, if ghoulish, attractions of the site (and you can see them in both the pictures above). They have been made since the mid nineteenth century, when archaeologists noticed that around many of the skeletons they unearthed there was a puzzling cavity in the volcanic debris. They worked out that it was where the clothes and flesh had disintegrated, leaving a hole; and they also saw that if they poured plaster into the cavity, they would end up with an exact image of the dead person in the position in which they died, with the traces of their clothes, shoes and sometimes their features. And so indeed they did.
Over the years, all kinds of stories have grown up around these casts and they have been given identities, roles and names: from 'the Moor" to 'the beggar' or 'the pregnant lady'. But noone has been able to take a look, certainly not inside the casts, to see just how plausible any of this is. That is what we were able to do with the scanner and some X-ray equipment, and we were able to think about their ages and state of health, and whether there was anything to back up the usual identifactions (was the person pregnant, for example, or was their clothing just bundled up around their middle?). You wont be surprised to learn that there were some surprises!
I do hope you'll watch and that we'll get a good audience... not just for M Beard's amour propre, but because if we want more of this kind of documentary, it has to get decent ratings! (Can't say I am over the moon to find it timed against Bear Grylls and a new series of Murder!)
Then if you havent had enough of me, you can tune in to Glad to be Grey, where we explore all kinds of aspects of greying, colouring, tinting and rinsing, from the glass ceiling of ageing to the commercial aspects of colouring (most likely it's what pays your salon's rent). And one of my dear, and sporting, male colleagues explains why he colours his hair (and we have a jolly good argument on the subject!). For me it's another programme full of surprises, from the wonderful Jo Hansford, colourist to the stars, who was endearingly frank about my mane, to the amazing Joan Burstein and her daughter Caroline, both at the heart of the fashion world, who thought colouring an ineffective and slightly embarrassing disguise. And the big one was how hard it is to get any man to open their mouth on the subject! For women, it's part of common talk, whether you colour or not, whether you feel ambivalent about it, forced into it or joyous, etc etc. For men it appears to be still largely closet.