To make a sweeping generalisation- feel free to disagree with me in the comments- ITV doesn’t really have the intellectual pedigree you’d associate with a programme about archaeological finds, and while this makes it a cheap target, it’s, er, the only really target I’ve got.
Britain’s Secret Treasures is a primetime ITV show, which means it’s about lists, the man in the street and generally not thinking too much. And it does it with easy, superficial charm, if a bit too much over-reliance on the tropes of the modern popular documentary: poor CGI, multi-purpose animation and the painstaking recreation of some ancient artifact – in this case, a tiny toy cannon and it’s tiny, tiny balls.
The central premise is picking ’the top 50 archaeological finds discovered by the general public’.
I’m not sure what order they’re supposed to be in, if any. Is a Roman slave shackle (no. 50) objectively less interesting than the Carolingian cufflink at no. 42? Will no. 1 be the skull of Boudicca, unearthed from a cave, or a tyrannosaur with a detectable heartbeat?
The killer concept – high risk but it might just work – is that by the final show on Sunday, ITV hope to have inspired their loyal viewerage to root around in their back gardens and unearth some crown jewels, missing links and other artefacts.
I have to admit – and this is true – while watching yesterday’s show, I found myself looking at metal detectors on the internet (fans of my column, please send a Garrett Ace 250 to TV Jam Towers, thanks). So I reckon they’ve got a chance.
By necessity, I suppose, some of the explanations of the finds are on the simplistic side, and alarmingly misleading at times (“so this Henrician reliquary actually contains a fragment of the true cross? Wow!”), but for fans of finding old crap in soil, the objects themselves are enough.
We’re only up to no. 38 – a hoard of doubloons, found in a field in Lincolnshire and thought to be have been the prize in an early version of The X Factor for pirates. However, my favourites so far are a smuggler’s false nose (no-one’ll ever guess you have syphilis!) and the coin found in my old manor of Putney – an ancient Roman brothel token.
More than enough to keep me watching, though learning? I’m not so sure.