By making available in perpetuity programmes without too many rights issues, the online BBC archive collections are proving to be invaluable resources for researching television history. A parallel archive release from BBC Four (oddly unlisted on the main archive index page) is a treasure trove of early programmes about archaeology, most of them from the 1950s and ’60s. Many of the films in this new group star the avuncular and mustachioed Sir Mortimer Wheeler who in the 1920s and ’30s, long before he became a television pundit, was a key figure in establishing a scientific basis for archaeology. Wheeler’s post-war television tourism in the classical world appears disarmingly primitive when compared with the CGI-heavy pilgrimages of today. But it allows us to trace with striking clarity the emergence of the television form of the presenter-led journey. This would flower at the end of the 1960s in Kenneth Clark’s landmark Civilisation (1969) and more than forty years on from that series remains dominant in factual television today.
Read more »