Walking and Talking

I still have to tell you about our bread making exploits, and our trip to the food festival, but my mind has been distracted by other things, well one other thing in particular, and I need to share it with you.

Recently, Matilda and I have watched quite a lot of history programmes.  We are watching the excellent series on The Normans, by the BBC.  There are only three episodes, but we have other things to fit in between the episodes and lots of film making to do, so we like to take things at a leisurely pace.  We are also fitting in programmes on Rome in between our English history. It’s all go here at the coal face of home education.

Last night we also watched a fascinating programme on BBC4 about Anglo Saxon treasures, which was presented by an art historian.  She showed how the decoration on the treasures changed as England evolved under different cultures and leaders, from Roman influences, through the beliefs of the Danes and Vikings and on into the early Christian church, both with input from the Irish church, and the early church in Rome.  It was wonderful, and there were lots of sparkly bling things to delight the heart.

What I have noticed in both these programmes though is a new fashion in the world of presenting historical information.  It seems that it is very important, while you are telling your public about Dane Law, or the Book of Kells or William the Conqueror, that you stride about purposefully.  It is not the done thing anymore to sit down and look earnest.  You must keep moving. 

I wonder why this is?

Perhaps it is so that you are not an easy target for the anti-history documentary brigade.  Those guerilla groups who think that there should be more current affairs programmes on the telly, and that tax payers money is being wasted with all this nonsense about the past, and glorified field trips to Normandy?

Perhaps the blame should be laid at Simon Schama’s door?  He has been responsible for revolutionising the world of the historical television programming after all.  No more the balding man with the crazy  comb over and leather look patches on his tweed blazer.  No more pointing at photographs of a series of low walls in the drizzle at three in the morning while the Open University theme tune bongs away in the background.

No, Simon has made history sexy.  With his tousled, come hither hair, his focus on sex, scandal and all that is salacious, and his leather jackets flying in the wind as he strides purposefully across a windswept beach.

Well, I don’t mind when Simon does it.  He makes it look easy.  But that must be the touch of a true master.  Because it really isn’t easy.  I watched the poor Professor Robert Bartlett,  talking about the Normans whilst huffing and puffing up hill and down dale.  He looked knackered.  When he was manfully slogging through the fen lands, up to his ankles in cold, boggy water, you could tell his mind wasn’t on Hereward the Wake, it was on the fact that his socks were sopping, and what he really wanted was to sit down and have a cup of tea and a towel down in front of a roaring log fire.

Similarly Dr. Nina Ramirez, who we watched last night was toiling away, mostly marching through the highways and byways of Kent whilst expounding the glories of this belt buckle and that sword, all the time wearing three inch high stiletto, winkle picker boots, and looking extraordinarily uncomfortable.

I found it very distracting if I’m honest.  I kept thinking: ‘Oh lovey.  Just sit down for a minute.  Your feet must be killing you. Surely you should have picked a more sensible shoe, or possibly just taken a taxi?’

I have decided to found an anti-striding movement, solely for the world of history based television programmes.  I shall start with with a petition to the BBC.  I prefer my presenters sedentary, or at least more limber if they will insist on wandering about all the time.  Perhaps I could start a collection and use it to fund ‘The Simon Schama Historical Fitness Programme’?

Clearly anyone can find out about history, but it is a whole other ball game walking and talking about it at the same time.  It is something best left to the experts.

Simon, we salute you and your skilful perambulations.

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13 responses to “Walking and Talking

  1. I’ve had to do the walking and talking thing in history documentaries, and I think it’s really a lot harder than Simon makes it look. Even putting on white cotton gloves to pick up an artifact is hard to do when you’re trying to talk and sound sensible at the same time. It’s better than just talking standing in front of an old building, though–that always makes me think of the ending of “Holy Grail” when the historian in the tweed jacket gets mowed down by the battle, and I end up smirking when I’m supposed to be sort of serious.

  2. J.
    You just prove my point entirely. It is not easy is it? He makes it look effortless, but he’s either been to historical etiquette school or it’s an inbuilt skill. My admiration for him grows on a daily basis.

  3. I felt throughly uncomfortable with the Ramirez boots – as if she were stamping on my face all the time. While it did give me a better understanding of why in some cultures it is a mortal insult to show someone the sole of your foot, it didn’t half get in the way of my appreciation of Anglo-Saxon art and craft (harumph).

    It was probably the producer’s idea, and it can be curiously difficult to refuse them when they make these daft suggestions!

  4. No, no, no… you’re very much mistaken. It was Michael Wood (he of the tight jeans) who started the mobile trend… he was very much the action-historian: even Simon Schemata looks wooden by comparison. If I was gay, I might have quite fancied Michael Wood. As it was, I studied Anglo-Saxon history instead!

  5. It is very exhausting to watch all that activity whilst trying to pay attention to the narrative and artifacts. I would be happier if they just did a voice over really, far less strain on my poor addled brain at the end of the day (which is the only time I watch TV).

  6. I thought the Anglo-Saxons programme was actually more about Ramirez and her boots showing off how tarty they are. Her delivery, being peripatetic and the boots were all very irritating. By comparison a few days later we watched something presented by Dr Alice Roberts (she of the red hair, ex-Time Team, medic and ferociously bright). The presenting was done quietly; she dresses normally – jeans, sweater, walking boots, lots of silver (never gold); she’s less perambulatory but still goes looking at things; and she actually engages with the people she talks to and with the viewer. But then she’s 10 times more attractive and sexier than Ramirez so doesn’t need tarting up and showing off. A total contrast and much more effective.

  7. Whilst you’re at it, would you mind complaining about people being filmed whilst driving? I cannot bear watching earnest presenters talk to their “passenger” camera: they should be paying attention to the road, and anyway it doesn’t make for great TV. Wait till you get there and THEN talk!

  8. Richard Taylor also looks mighty uncomfortable scrabbling around fonts etc.Perhaps they should all be carried around in a palanquin and point at things with a long stick-they just can’t compete with Simon.

  9. Noreen
    Yes. It was the boots that were the main problem. They were so damn spiky and the cameraman would focus on them.

    My passion for Michael Woods as a teenager led me to take history for A level and decide I would be an archivist when I grew up. He ages well too!
    Thanks for reminding me.

    Maybe I’ll get everyone but Michael and Simon to do voice overs. I like your thinking.

    am off to look her up right now.

    I can do that. I am an excellent complainer.

    That’s a fantastic idea too. Between us i think we’ve come up with a whole new fashion in history programmes.

  10. The thing that really annoys me is the patronising recap of the previous section after the adverts. It implies that they think their viewers are half wits with a 3 second memory, when if we were we most assuredly would not be watching documentaries.

  11. Alienne
    I know, and it eats into so much of the programme time too.

  12. Totally spoiled by, certainly the boots and the tottering, but the ridiculous nail extensions and lousy diction! Oh and the ‘oh my gods’ and ‘wows’ at Garrads when looking at jewellery-making techniques. And do we need to know that she is feeling all hot and excited at the wonderful belt buckle? All very irritating and distracting from such an interesting subject. BBC4 please spare us all this when choosing presenters for future history programmes.

  13. Pippa
    It reminds me of the spate of sociology teachers we had in the mid Eighties who were all ‘call me Ken’ and swearing. Terrifying.

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