Why preening hosts have the ability to ruin what should be a great show
HOW many historians does it take to change a light bulb?
I don’t know. One, probably. Unless the historian in question is David Irving, who might deny that electricity even exists and leave the job to some other historian who believes that six million light bulbs a year are exterminated in the cause of illuminating people’s homes.
When it comes to archaeologist, the number of light bulb changers is more likely to be three: one to change the light bulb and two to examine the box the bulb came in and authenticate, beyond doubt, its provenance.
Anyway, we should be grateful that BBC2’s massive new series (and by massive I mean big, not great, as in old Dublin parlance) The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice gets by with just one historian and one archaeologist.
Can you imagine what it would be like if there was a whole army of them, roaming across the screen, waving their arms and trying to talk over one another, like the Alan Whickers in the Monty Python sketch?
We should be sorry, however, that one historian and one archaeologist turns out to be two too many of anything. The BBC, in what is arguably its most bizarre presenting decision since BBC3 gave Lily Allen her own chat show and then tried to smother it with a pillow, The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice features Alice Roberts (the historian) and Neil Oliver (the archaeologist) on joint talking, walking, hand-waving-against-picturesque-bakckground duties.
Whoever thought this was a good idea in the first place (and I can’t think why anyone would) immediately scuppers their own boat by keeping the two of them apart, like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleeping in Seattle.
So we get Neil wandering around ancient ruins in one part of the world, while Alice snaps the latex gloves on and pokes around ancient manuscripts and ancient fellow historians with dust for dandruff somewhere else.
Every once in a while each of them will intrude on what the other is saying, like a couple of old marrieds interrupting one another’s sentences.
It’s a crying shame that they’re separated, because they’d make a lovely couple. Neil, with his dark, flowing locks and casual scarf thrown around his neck, looks a lot like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights might look if someone had taken him shopping in Topman or River Island.
Alice (at least from my heterosexual point of view) is blonde and winsome and lovely. Especially with those latex gloves on.
But what slips through the cracks between all this long-distance tomfoolery and cheap, crappy dramatised sequences of extras bashing other extras over the head is the history. Remember that? HIS-TO-RY. It’s what this three-part series is supposed to be about.
It’s pretty fascinating history too, worlds apart from the stuff you learned in school, all about the how the Celts, who might well have sprung into life in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy — although the first episode was frustratingly non-committal about this — weren’t the uncouth, cudgel-wielding yobs you might expect them to have been, but a cultured people who took great pride in their appearance, made beautiful things and imparted a language to Ireland and Britain while trading along the Atlantic coast.
Yes, they liked to crack a few heads here and there, but then so did their mortal enemies, the Romans. It was the Celts that indirectly caused the rise of the Roman Empire by kicking Italian arse.
By the end of the programme, it was Alice and Neil’s arses you felt like kicking.