Time Team Series 20, my third episode: Personality vs Plastic

On most Time Team shoots we get a number of visitors, official and unauthorised. It’s the latter I tend to prefer: they’re less deferential and tend to be a bit more cheeky. One young woman came up to me and whispered in my ear, while pointing vaguely towards a crew filming a scene with Tony and Phil:

‘What’s he really like?’

I wasn’t sure who she meant.

‘Who, Tony?’

‘No, Phil, of course.’

It was as if everyone knew what Tony was like (which I very much doubt).

‘Is he really like that?’

I knew what she meant, and yes, Phil is a bit larger than life.

‘Yes, he is. All the time. The Phil you see on the screen is the Phil you meet in the pub…’

‘So he’s not acting?’ She broke in.

‘No, he never acts. That’s the way he is. He’s himself.’

We then got to chatting about current TV personalities. She wasn’t that keen on most of them – even the younger ones. She thought many of them a bit bland, a bit manufactured – created by the media luvvies who play such a big part in today’s television.  I don’t know how old she was – you can’t ask such things if you’re my age – but I’d guess somewhere around 18-20. But it was good to see she hadn’t been duped by the manipulators and opinion-shapers. It came as something of a relief, as I have to admit I thought that many of the younger generation had been taken in by the image-conscious operators who run our various broadcasting networks. So it was nice to see she hadn’t joined them.

‘So you like archaeology?’ I asked.

Her reply surprised me:

‘Sort of…’

‘But you like Time Team?’

‘Yes I do, but it’s not the digging I like: it’s the way you all seem to be having…’ She was groping for the right words, ‘fun – having a good time. But it’s relaxed. Yes,’ she paused briefly,’ that’s why I like it: it’s relaxed and real…’

‘But didn’t you think Phil was acting?’

It was mischievous of me, but I couldn’t resist.

‘Not really. It’s like…’ again she was fishing for words, ‘it’s like I wanted someone to tell me he was real. And he is. So that’s good.’

I looked towards Phil and Tony who were just finishing the wide (distant) shot at the end of their short scene. I looked to my left where she’d been standing a few moments earlier. But she’d gone. Vanished.

Anyhow, for her and all those who think like her, I’ve included a photo I took accidentally while checking the focus ring on my camera. I was going to delete it, but decided not to. It’s a shot of the back of Phil’s Land-Rover, while Phil is lacing up his boots ready to go on site in the morning. Note his distinctive tool-box, and ignore my thumb top left. Also don’t pay too much attention to the sharpness. But the thing is: it’s real. It’s a moment in real time. If this were the Beeb, Phil would be coming out of the make-up tent, after having had mud tastefully applied to his boots. But this is Time Team – and our budget doesn’t stretch to such things. If you needed more proof, I could show you the passenger seat of his Land-Rover, but it’s too deeply hidden under a thick layer of old Time Team Call Sheets, fish-and-chip wrappers, fruit drink bottles and old newspapers. Again, it’s not very pretty, but it’s real.

In a world where so much seems to be manufactured and manipulated, let’s be thankful that a few things are still truthful. They tried to make Time Team zappy and like Countryfile, but it didn’t really work. No, like Phil, I prefer the truth straight and unadorned, and if that young woman was right, I think we may not be completely alone. So far this has been a cracking good Series. I’ve already seen the rough edit of the hillfort film we did back in April and it’s superb: with loads of good actuality shots from the trenches. You get a great feel for the dig and the people doing the work. When it finished, I sat back in my chair and clapped. It’s a corker.

Phil's boots

A picture I should have deleted? Good taste snap of the year? Phil puts on his boots.

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