Time Team began in 1994 attempting to bring archaeology to the masses. It did this superbly! The format was simple enough, Mick Aston led the 'dig,' Phil Harding, the one with the west country accent, silly hat and scraggy hair was usually the one in the muddy trench, Frances Pryor also leading on prehistory digs, and Tony Robinson with the job of explaining the experts findings to the layman.
The format was simple. The scene was set by Robinson, Mick, following discussions with the rest would decide on what lay before them and where to dig. Usually this depended on the results of the geophysics team led by John Gator. This revealed the many layers under the surface, indicating what possibilities lay there. Phil Harding and his fellow 'diggers' would then dig down, carefully noting the lie of the land and changes in soil colour. Sometimes they would dig deep before finding anything, if indeed anything was to be found, on occasions much was close to the surface thanks to regular farmers plowing. Tony would offer to the viewers an enthusiastic description of what was found, the experts would argue as to what this meant, discussions would continue as day ended, usually for this team, in a pub.
The programme would follow through the three days with expert analysis, many intriguing finds discovered and at the end Tony would narrate the results as a computer image gave a very real impression of what lay in a long barren field many years ago. All this was done in a cheery enthusiastic manner, the indications being that for the most part the team enjoyed making the programme and being together. Arguments there were but the impression was of a genuinely happy team.
The team investigated many parts of the British Isles, claiming also to have written more academic papers on their finds than all others put together, revealed to us what lies under our feet sometimes inches from our doors, in both town and countryside. Occasional use has been made of reenactment groups, with Matt Williams often participating as a slave, Roman soldier or railway navvy. This gave real insight into how the past was lived, revealing how hard life was for many in the past. How lucky are we today!
Although one or two specials have yet to come the series ended this year after a disagreement regarding the experts involved. The TV company, Channel 4, wished to 'liven up' the failing viewer ratings by bringing in 'experts' who were there for their looks, not their knowledge. Mick rightly opposed this and refused to participate. How right he was! The girls brought in did not convey any worthwhile information and were only there for their looks, and possibly they were keen to show them off. One even had the audacity to criticise 'sexism' in TV history programmes claiming men were preferred to women, yet she has already had series of her own. Mick was indeed correct in his approach, he left the programme. 'Time Team' concentrated on the story, not the personalities, even allowing for the mixture of genuine personalities found therein!
Mick Aston was famous for wearing multi-coloured jumpers and his flowing untidy white hair, his quiet thoughtful approach to the dig, his commanding knowledge, especially of the medieval period which was his subject after all, and a confident quiet manner with which he explained the setting that lay before the viewer. It is indeed people like him we need presenting history programmes, not those who present themselves. All university types are a wee bit 'liberal.' Mick was indeed like that. His own man, thoughtful, charitable yet a bit of a loner he did not relish being so much of a TV celebrity, who can blame him for that? He will be much missed by many both within his profession and those couch potatoes digging up the past at home.