Britain’s Secret Treasures Review: Bettany Hughes and Michael Buerk try to make history fun!
It seems that one of the most difficult genres to get right is televised history, which the major networks have tried to jazz up in recent years. Obviously we still get the interesting, but fairly dry, programmes such as those on the Romans presented by Mary Beard, however the ratings winners are usually the ‘interactive’ shows such as BBC’s current project Turn Back Time: The Family. ITV1’s latest contribution to the historical show is Britain’s Secret Treasures; here the emphasis is on the word Britain as we are told that all these artefacts were found by the ‘Great British Public’ as a camera sores across our country accompanied by the strains of Coldplay’s Vida La Vida and the authoritative voice of Michael Buerk.
Buerk is the co-anchor of the series alongside funky historian Bettany Hughes who wears a cool little denim jacket over he puffy pink dress while the former news anchor is dressed in a rather snappy white jacket which unfortunately makes him look like a tour guide at the London Museum where the majority of the action takes place. Hughes was responsible for sifting through the large number of entries sent in by the ‘Great British Public’ who thought the items they found in their back garden or down by the beach were of importance or value. Hughes didn’t have to do this by herself however, as a team of experts help her decide on a final Top 50 which was then ranked to provide a viewer-friendly countdown of these items. I’m assuming those Hughes’ briefly-scene colleagues weren’t photogenic enough to warrant a part on Britain’s Secret Treasures, however at least they’ll have the footage of the back of their heads to be able to prove to their grandchildren they were once on primetime ITV.
This first half hour programme only dealt with the numbers 50 to 44 and it was an odd mix of poignancy, boys with toys and remembering war heroes. This odd tone was best witnessed in the first two pieces with the number fifty item being a rusty slave shackle found in Winchester by a landscape gardener called Jeremy. This piece was given an edge by the fact that former captive John McCarthy was dispatched to find out the history behind it, and linking the experiences these slaves went through to those of his in Lebanon. In an odd scene, we saw McCarthy view a reconstruction of a slave being killed by a bear in an amphitheatre, which was both haunting and slightly bizarre, though to his credit, he did give his piece the right amount of gravitas. In comparison, number 49 was a very light piece about how a five year old boy named James used his father’s metal detector in the back garden and uncovered a piece of gold which turned out to be a part of Tudor reliquary which may’ve contained part of the cross. Though Hughes’ historical dissection of the piece was pretty dull, this was mainly about how the selling of the piece to two museums would set James up for the future, and more importantly, how secretly upset his father was that he didn’t find it first, I’m guessing he’d had that metal detector for ages.
After historian Helen Geek met the wildly waist-coated Mark Jacobson, who had found a piece of horse brass belonging to the ‘party king’ Charles II, we saw two grown men playing with twos. In fact, it was military historian Saul David who was researching the background of a toy cannon from the 1700s, which shot out real mini cannonballs. As David told us about his past playing with stick guns, he got his explosives expert friend to make a new toy cannon for him, and they both used to make a water balloon pop.
Then Michael Buerk reappeared, I’m guessing he had to make a certain number of appearances due to his contract, to talk to us about the Sedgford necklace which to all accounts didn’t really have that much of an interesting backstory. Finally we got the bit of war history that we all love as the ubiquitous Anita Rani travelled to Slough to meet the very polite Manuel, who had dug up a first world war conduct medal that belonged to George Humber. Though he was long gone, Manuel was able to track down his grandson Mark, so then he and Anita had a chat about his grandfather and visited the battleground where they believed that he earned the medal. The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was Rani’s insistence in linking this to her own background, mainly that she had a grandfather that fought in the Second World War, however I think most of us can say that.
Overall I would say this was an odd attempt by ITV to tap into the TV history market, as we went from one man reliving his traumatic experiences in the Middle East, to a Who Do You Think You Are style moment in which we remember those who had died in the wars and this was all within the time of 24 minutes. In fact, I had to remind myself that on the same show that two men made a mini cannon to explode a water-balloon, John McCarthy told us the harrowing story of Roman slaves in Britain. It was obvious that Hughes was passionate about this project, however Buerk just seemed to be there as a living national treasure, although maybe not that secret, but he didn’t act any different than he did presenting 999 all those years ago. It’s true that there were certain interesting segments, the McCarthy one at the beginning was possibly the most powerful, however I can’t help thinking that most of the entries here bear massive similarities to a lot of filler pieces from The One Show.
What did you think to Britain’s Secret Treasures? Will you be watching all week? Leave Your Comments Below.