In a head to head battle between history programmes on essentially at the same time and purporting to appeal to the same viewership, it is fair to compare the two episodes I had to watch this week. Keeping in mind I had just watched 24 hours straight of Chilean miners being rescued in a TARDIS like pill. BBC coverage of which I wrote about here, and in which I praise the trio of BBC reporters who for all intents purposes won the world cup of special coverage. It's important to note that they did it by making the miners real and constructing a well connected narrative you could follow and care about. Remember this when I compare the two programmes, it's mightily important.
Michael Wood's Story of England. In case you've missed this so far, the acclaimed Michael Wood proposes to tell the story of England entirely from the perspective of one town. The Village of Kibworth in Leicester. In this week's instalment, Peasants' Revolt to Tudors
, he takes us from post plague peasant revolt ( say that ten times fast) to Tudor stability. Yet again he guides us through a series of important document with the occasional scattered mention of prominent local families. The story is of Poll taxes which apparently have never gone down well, that lead to revolt and peasant reform. It's the less discussed rise of education through the increasingly self taught lower classes. By self taught, I of course mean they were given lessons by locals who gave of their time and made sure they created a large pool of educated, literate potential merchant class citizens of the future. I'll admit the information about the Lollard rebellion that prepared the way for the reformation was important and well presented.
As tired, sleepy and bored Michael Wood left me, the next programme woke me up like a cappuccino and biscotti served by a sexy waitress wanting my number.
The Real Vikings, a Time Team special. presents us with a big question. Tony Robinson asks who were the real Vikings. Were they the cruel blood thirsty rapists or some kind of misunderstood farmers? Then they do a radical thing, they take the collected wisdom of recent digs and research and construct a new better more realistic picture of the real Vikings. Bereft of nobles and kings, this new version of history paints a picture of a mercantile people with far reaching commercial links as far as Russia,Afghanistan, Egypt and as close as Ireland. From the brutal and tragic attack on Lindisfarne in 793 to the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. The Vikings ran the Danelaw bringing in thousands of settlers, farmers, craftsmen and metallurgists. Tony and company , via a new dig in the Hungate area of York, show us the mercantile side of the Vikings. Through it, we find a well organized group that urban plan a residential district and a warehouse district that separates the production, storage and merchandising of posh advanced goods as well as ivory and furs. Property and ownership are not alien notions. They do however prefer arcs over the Roman grid system in new developments. Just how good at trade were they? A chalice from France filled with coins from around the known world of the day, shows they were masters of the sea long before Nelson and his mates built an Empire.
The culture that Vikings brought to England was poetic and epic, in the sort of prideful way all warrior cultures do but hardly Vogon bad, They bring us at least 2000 words we still use today and they did in short order accept Christianity. Going from burning Churches to building them and attending older ones they had left standing. According to the Domesday book, in parts of the North of England, 9 out of 10 people still living there were of Scandinavian origin.
There is a lovely bit when one of the regular loonies from Time Time, visits the Orkneys to show us a selection of manky Viking graffiti. " so and so was here with a maiden and showed her a good time " But not in those words. These were normal people like you and me, except that some of them were fierce warriors, but back then who wasn't? I can watch stuff like this all day long. And before I forget, they didn't wear those silly horned hats.
The Battle for Middle Earth. A dramatisation in not quite ye olde English of the three major battles that changed the face of English history. A fresh view told in the words and traditions of the people of the time. You will gain a deeper understanding of the time and you'll never again read Lord of the Rings in the same way ever again. It's one thing to be aware of the inspirations of Tolkien, but to live them like this is a perspective changer. Must watch telly.
In case you're interested, mate of mine Mr Keith Topping has done a canny interview with Tony Robinson.