Sex, Stratigraphy and Stripy Jumpers.
So an era ends for archaeology on television, and with it comes the demise of the much loved stripy jumpers made famous by Mick Aston. Yes, the bearded master of television archaeology is leaving Time Team, to be replaced by the breasts, errr, sorry, I meant to say ‘talents’ of Mary-Ann Ochota. With an impressive publishing track record comprising of opinion pieces on websites and exciting comments on reality TV shows, Ochota really brings a level of chest, errr, sorry again, extensive archaeological experience to, what was it again, ah yes, a show about field archaeology.
Now, it is worth stressing that Time Team has long had an issue with gender representation during its productions, with the female archaeology profession often being left as backdrop figures, there but not really there, doing something, but never anything terribly important. So perhaps it should be celebrated that we now have an exciting female presence at the heart of the programme. Except of course Channel 4 have gone down their now traditional route of ‘breasts makes best’, relying on the arbitrary notion of the ‘attractive’ ahead of any recognised credentials. British archaeology is jam packed with world leading female archaeologists with competent track records of to-camera work on television (and radio). Why then did a programme about field archaeology bring in someone with a highly limited background in field archaeology, to front a programme about field archaeology?
It goes much further than that, because in one fell swoop, Channel 4 are able to address both the gender imbalance of Time Team, and the ethnic imbalance present in Time Team’s ‘white apart from Raksha Dave’ team. All good things on paper perhaps, but one can’t help but be concerned with the way in which they have gone about it. Indeed, if you wanted to put a female, ethnic voice at the front of the show, backed up with some sense of experience, why not promote Raksha Dave to the front of the show? Well, perhaps Dave didn’t have quite the right shape, I, errr, of course mean, right credentials, to front the programme…
With a production commitment to reducing the screen time of the more established archaeologists , the real question that needs to be asked, is what is the future of Time Team after the current efforts to ‘sex-up’ the show? Well, the plans are already in place for future series.
Series 21: Time Team Eliminator
Over the space of three months, vote to save your favourite archaeologist from elimination. Who will be left to have the final honour of re-excavating Silbury Hill for no obvious archaeological merit!
Series 22: Time Team Extreme
In an attempt to tap into the underused potential of the briefly lived series ‘Extreme Archaeology’, the Time Team crew are dropped in to undertake rescue archaeology in war zones: who will find the best Babylonian burial site, who will survive, tune in and find out!
Series 23: Time Team Death Match
What do you do with a complete set of freshly excavated Roman military weapons, well put them to good use of course! The Time Team crew is split into regional teams and using their expertise and degraded Roman weapons, must fight for the ultimate prize, survival and a place in series 24!
Okay, so the reservations might be a little extreme, but the motivations behind the re-boot of Time Team are pretty transparent and ultimately disappointing. The supposed stated goals of the changes could have been achieved in a way that did not require the clear dumbing down of televisions only regular platform for British archaeology. We can hope that it works, because the field needs the coverage, but this direction may well do more to kill the show than give it a new lease of life.
Either way, Mick Aston will be missed from television screens, and his jumpers will, quite rightly, pass into legend.
*EyeOnWales would be happy to offer a full retraction should Mary-Ann Ochota present every episode in one of Mick’s jumpers, and never once find herself in need of a long, lopeing, bend forward Charlie Dimmock style to camera pout, if it happens even once, the deal is off!