Britain’s Secret Treasures – A Review

Opening Scene:

Tower Bridge from the air, a castle, some other old things. That’s enough of the stupid context business – cut to footage of gold jewelry, and a stack of gold coins. Cut to a man talking. Almost instantly he is replaced with footage of a gold thing, which is replaced by footage of a hand. It is holding another gold thing. Cut to a spade entering some soil, and another man talking very briefly, then some footage of a gold thing. Follow this with a sequence of more gold things. There is, I think, a couple of non-gold things included in that sequence, presumably to build a little tension before seeing another gold thing, but it’s all done so quickly that by the time you realise you are looking at a not gold thing, it has already been replaced by a gold thing. Now we have spinning gold things, gold things in the shapes of rings, and gold things encrusted with garnets. Then there’s a gold thing with a word printed on it. We are 32 seconds in.

Cue Main Titles.

An Gold Thing.
Courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

These open with a shot of a gigantic bronze head lying in some idyllic part of the British Countryside. Thankfully this scene lasts only a few seconds before it is replaced with an equally idyllic country scene, only this time instead of a stupid bronze head, it’s got sodding great chunks of gold sticking in it. This is followed by an urban rooftop shot, but instead of the sun setting over the chimney tops, it’s an enormous gold coin. Then we’re back in the countryside, and there’s some boring chess piece or sculpture of a man on horseback or something. But of course this is a tease, because as the view drops downwards we see that the field on which this horseman sits has a foundation of pure gold coins. This gives way to an image of a rocky outcrop, and a huge silver coin sticking out of the ground. Silver? WTF? Oh it’s ok, because now the main title is displayed in huge letters hovering over more countryside. Guess what colour they are? Oh yes.

Cut to: The British Museum Forecourt, Daytime.

Bettany Hughes and James Buerk (we’ll call them Buerk and Hughes from here on in – no cheap graverobbing jokes please) stroll across an empty forecourt, which has been ruthlessly cleared of people who aren’t celebrities or don’t have any gold.

///Imagined Crowd Control Techique

Burly security guard bellows down loud hailer “Right you lot, if you aren’t Bettany Hughes or James Buerk and you haven’t got any gold you can f**k off out of it. We’re trying to engage the public here, you ****s!”

Cut to British Museum interior.

A group of experts (and Michael Buerk) stroll up to a couple of trestle tables smothered in photos of gold things. There are some non-gold things too, but they’re not going to get much of a look in, so we’ll just ignore them. Everyone else does. Immediately we have a close up of some gold things, and we cut to Brian Blessed showing us what gold looks like when it’s being shouted at. Actually it’s not a gold thing he’s shouting at, it’s bronze thing, but it looked like gold because I’ve now got gold afterburn. To make up for another non-gold thing being shown, however briefly, we are treated to another sequence of gold things being shown in rapid succession. Now there’s a gold thing through a magnifying glass. We are being shown what gold looks like when some funny glass has made it a bit larger, but not really. Then we cut to a field – a presenter is talking to a man who has something in his hand. His hand is closed – it could be a gold thing. He uncurls his fingers – it’s not a gold thing, it’s stupid toy cannon. It’s old apparently, which is supposed to make it interesting. Hang on though! They’ve made a replica, and fire it at a water filled balloon, which bursts and splashes water around a bit. The water isn’t gold, but something that goes bang and splashes water around a bit is almost as good. The noises and the splashing water have taken my mind off it not being gold.

We’re back outside the BM. In the distance, behind Buerk and Hughes, we can see commoners dashing up the stairs, shouldering old ladies and security guards out of the way. There’s gold inside, and they need to see it. Buerk and Hughes start the count down of the 50 best treasures inside. To emphasise this a picture of a huge number 50 is shown. It’s in a field. Guess what colour it is?

Big Gold 50

John Macarthy, a journalist, introduces his pick. It’s a shitty old iron thing. I can’t even tell what it is. He’s very earnest but seriously, who cares? What is he even doing on this show? He doesn’t like gold. He’s explaining, but I’ve noticed there’s a woodburner in the background. Some of the flames are a little yellow. I’m pretending they’re gold. There’s some footage of some guys with Kalashnikovs in a desert somewhere, I don’t know why. The iron thing is a Roman slave shackle, found nearish Silchester. He drives to Silchester amphitheatre and exclaims that it’s much bigger than he expected “Oh wow!’ he says, as if he hadn’t already got bored wandering around in the mud, waiting two hours for the crew to set the shot up. There’s a neat graphical reconstruction of the amphitheatre. He makes up a stupid-ass story about his slave shackle maybe belonging to someone who was marched there and executed. That’s almost probably absolutely certainly what happened.

Unless, possibly, nothing like that happened at all. Yes, that’s it – perhaps something completely other than that happened, and that story was a sack of horse shit. I think you can probably sell horse shit for gold. I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I haven’t seen anything shiny for about a minute and all I know is I don’t like old things unless they are gold things. Oh. . . his slave is a woman, dressed in a tartan blanket, because British natives loved tartan blankets as much as we like gold. She’s being menaced by a wolf. John’s explaining how there might be a bear too, and how horrific that would be. But the woman’s not really being menaced, and there isn’t a bear, and so when John explains why he thinks it’s a brilliant lump of iron and how he got captured in the Lebanon (oh – that was probably the Lebanon then. Remember? The guys with guns?) all I can think of is that the leaves on the trees behind him, if it were autumn, would be gold. It isn’t autumn though, it’s summer – you can tell this because the Silchester amphitheatre has people fishing in it.

Big Gold 49

But next, as B&H inform us, at number 49, is the story of a little boy who couldn’t believe his luck when he struck gold. Hoo fucking ray! We haven’t seen the gold yet, but someone said it, which is the next best thing. We see some gold, in the shape of a huge gold 49, and then we hear of how the youngster was playing with his dad’s metal detector and found a lump of Tudor gold. The shape and design is probably significant but what with it being gold and everything, the words just wash over me as I look at Bettany looking at some gold. You could probably sell it for more gold than it is made of. Gold can be magic, as well as brilliant and fantastic. Bettany says it contains mud or earth, and says someone is going to explain to us about things which aren’t made from gold. But then they show us lots of other things which are made of gold and I feel better again. One of the gold things contains the breast milk of the Virgin Mary. I can see gold things and hear the word ‘breast’. I feel even more better. The man who knows about things which are not gold explains that Bettany’s gold thing probably contained part of the true cross, which is wooden and not interesting. The little boy is going to receive a lot of money, which is interesting, because you can use money to buy gold. Better still, you can use money to buy a metal detector and just find gold. It looks really easy. It’s everywhere – you can even find it by accident.

Big Gold 48

Michael Buerk is talking about a horse brass. Brass is not gold, but the giant 48 is gold coloured, so I watch for a little longer. Helen Geeke is talking to the man who found the thing that is not gold. He is talking, but I hear nothing until he says the word ‘gold’. He better not be fucking with me. He is. It is gold coloured. Helen has gone to London, and is explaining something. She stands in front of some green gates, which have gold things on them. This keeps me going a little longer. But blah blah history, not gold. Saved by some adverts. Lots of shiny things.

Part Two – Big gold 47.

Oh no – it’s the toy cannon thing. We saw that already. They’re just going to talk about things now. If they don’t fire it at a balloon filled with water soon I’m going to lose interest. Oh good, they get on with it – it goes bang just like it did 12 minutes ago. One of the men says he wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of that. I don’t know why he says this. Maybe earlier, the other man had asked him, off camera, if he’d like to be on the receiving end of that, and he’s just got round to answering. I can’t think of any other reason why someone would point out that being blasted with a miniature cannon ball is something they wouldn’t like to happen. Unless they’re fed up with not seeing gold and would rather die.

Big gold 46.

Back in the BM, and Michael is standing behind what looks like a whole lot of gold things. Fucking yes. It’s the Sedgeford Torc. It’s broken, but it’s gold, so who cares. He explains that it’s something to do with the Iceni (which he pronounces wrongly, using a soft instead of a hard ‘c’) a tribe led by none other than the flame haired (I like to think golden) Boudica, or Bodicea, as he used to say (also wrongly). He tells us how the torc was found in two parts, with decades passing between the discoveries. But when he talks the camera looks at him instead of the gold, and therefore I cannot concentrate.

Big gold 45.

It is a medal made out of metal which is not made of gold. I cannot concentrate at all. There is no balloons and water. I don’t know what is happening. I stamp my feet and chant the words ‘gold gold gold gold gold gold’ until someone says ‘gold’, but no-one does.

The program is over. There will be more gold next week. Until then I will buy a metal detector and start looking for my own gold. If I find some, maybe one day I can watch Betanny looking at it on my television.

You can see gold here –

Staffordshire Hoard Image courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme do tremendous work, often on a shoestring, and is run by a group of dedicated individuals, all of whom give far more than is reflected by their wage packet. Between them they have changed the archaeological map of Britain, and essentially shown everyone how it should be done.

There were a million interesting tales to choose from, but the people who live in tv world decided we are all stupid and only like shiny expensive things. If you want to see what the PAS really get up to, please visit their website. Additionally, if you’ve you’ve found something that needs to be identified, have a look through this list of Finds Liaison Officers and contact the one who is nearest to you.

And for a sober view, the Council for British Archaeology have responded with Archaeology is about knowledge, not treasure.

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2 Responses

  1. Dawn K says:

    Thanks for laughs!

  2. Strangeface says:

    That was the funniest thing I have read in ages. Great article. Unfortunately I am not able to pay you as I have no gold at the moment. Sorry. I would if I could, though.

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