DigVentures Field School Manager and Time Team archaeologist Raksha Dave advises us all to switch off the remote and make our own adventure…
It’s the end of an era, a watershed, a seminal moment for TV archaeology: Time Team has finally ended.
I know I’ve been remarkably quiet (for once) about the whole thing, and there’s a reason for that. At DigVentures, we want to support public archaeology as much as possible, and not jump on the usual bandwagon of cutting every programme to shreds. However, upon reflection, it’s time for me to let rip on Time Team’s last-ever programme. And to share a few other things about my ten-year journey as one of the Time Team archaeologists, why I’m glad it’s over, and what I hope will happen next for everyone who loved the show.
But first, the final programme. It was meant to be a compilation, a snapshot of what we had achieved over two decades. I expected to feel a little bit sad and nostalgic about the job that took over my life for 10 years, but instead I felt angry and short-changed: where was ‘The Team’?
I wanted to be taken on a lovely trip down memory lane and to be reminded of the people who I know and love, and have shared some fantastic moments with. Instead we got a quick one-hour bundle through 20 years and a rather unceremonious send-off. Yes, yes, yes we had the same old interviews with Tony, Phil, Mick and Francis, but what about the rest of us? The plethora of field archaeologists, landscape/survey, geophys, film crew, graphics, numerous experts and endless people who made the show happen?
The whole reason why Time Team worked was because it wasn’t just about the stars. Every single person on screen or off played a crucial part in the delivery of the show – we really only had three days and we stuck to it and we, (and I mean all of us) worked bloody hard to make this happen. After the on-screen talent left, our dedicated post-ex/reinstatement team stayed extra days, sometimes working through weekends, to ensure the archaeology was recorded to a high standard. This was how we rolled. Sadly, the final programme did not reflect this at all.
It was also a shock that the programme did not acknowledge the women in the team. All of the ‘talking heads’ were men! What about Carenza, Jenny, Katie, Helen, Bridget and all the other females that contributed? Every one of us are highly regarded in our profession – so what happened?
I wasn’t really surprised though, as there was always an underlying current of uncertainty to how women should be portrayed on Time Team, which you would only know if you had been a part of it. Bottom line, we had as much right to be there as the boys – and sometimes it really didn’t feel like that. There was always a constant change of female cast – one minute they were there, and the next they were ‘let go’.
In my early years, I was constantly looking over my shoulder: am I too fat, boring, sexy, girly or informative enough? One year I had suffered extreme weight loss due to work-related stress and the loss of my father, and quite sadly at least two TV execs congratulated me on losing a few pounds. I can also relay stories of how one of the females on Time Team was given money and told to have a ‘good hair cut’, whilst another was told that it was a shame because she ‘looked good but didn’t have a personality’.
I know that TV is not the real world, and one thing we should all have is perspective. At the end of the day I am an archaeologist – the TV bit is just the means to communicate my work to a larger audience. But it does make me reflect on the sometimes uncomfortable gender issues in being a female archaeologist, down to things like comfort facilities on site or having to put up with nudie calendars in site huts. I’m not going on a feminist rant by any means, but it does make you think.
It was really weird being an archaeologist for Time Team. Whilst millions of people loved the show and took us into their homes every Sunday, the profession gave us a luke-warm reception at best. Time Team was a bit like Marmite – you either loved us, or you hated us. Many still think we don’t do ‘proper’ archaeology – conveniently forgetting that three-day evaluations are standard in the commercial sector. In fact, many major commercial projects are currently being squeezed by developers to work within even smaller timeframes.
I’d like to see any archaeologist at the age of 25 manage a different team of rolling staff on a multitude of sites with different time periods and geology, and then deliver a comprehensive interpretation that is understood by a non-professional. I was but 25 when I started on Time Team, and this was the norm. I was digging at breakneck speed for 12 hours a day, encouraging and motivating new staff whilst dealing with stakeholders on a daily basis to deliver the archaeology.
Maybe there was something to be said in the beginning of the show about how we did things, but that changed radically for the better in 2003 when we sub-contracted Wessex Archaeology to act as the ‘back office’ to our excavations. Our beloved small Wessex team followed us around dealing with on site and post-ex functions such as recording, planning and report writing. Slowly but surely, we proved the strength of our work, and we were almost accepted as part of the establishment when we started to gain permission to excavate Scheduled Ancient Monuments. By the time the show ended, Time Team had grown to become the biggest private research funder in UK archaeology – and most importantly, we were having fun too.
The Cardiff move and other disasters
Nothing stays the same, however, and in 2010 we were given the fateful news that the London office was to pack up and move to Cardiff. Unfortunately, for a lot of reasons, this was the death knell for Time Team. The 200th episode for us was bittersweet; we had reached a milestone, but had lost the collective expertise of our production team. I vaguely remember clinging onto a wine bottle at the wrap party, as huge tears rolled down my face. Things were never going to be the same – Time Team was a family, and when you lose 20 people in one fell swoop, it’s really tough to bounce back.
But we all knew we had to suck it up and give the Cardiff staff a chance, and support them, so that the show could continue. But then it came anyway, out of the blue, the bleak January phone call spelling out the changes to the show for the upcoming season.
It was awful. It reminded me when Carenza left – a bit unceremonious, a ‘thanks but no thanks’. We were told that Helen and Stewart would no longer play integral roles, and Faye was let go. Instead we were to have a new female co-presenter, new landscape expert-cum-presenter, and a new archaeologist. As well as a change of on-screen personnel, the format was also to change. Suddenly the established staff had to cope with new production, new team, and new format – all in all, too much change for one year!
But we only fought back once it became clear that the emphasis of the programme was shifting away from the actual archaeology. Archaeologists can be a bloody-minded bunch, but we knew that they were turning something we had all nurtured into a second-rate entertainment show. The people I really felt for were Mary-Ann and Alex – what an awful atmosphere to have entered. These poor lovely people were caught in the crossfire and it must have been bewildering. Worse than that, It was blatantly obvious that there was no real plan for what they were supposed to do, and how they were supposed to fit in with the rest of us.
The worst was to come with ‘Mary-Ann Gate’. There’s no need to rehash the whole story, (and have a look at this too) but I will say that the backlash by the general public was unfair and unwarranted. Previously, no one seemed to care if on-screen personalities such as Alice Roberts were not archaeologists, (*newsflash* people she still isn’t!), so why was this so different for Mary-Ann? The manipulation of the story by certain journalists s unfairly put all of the blame for that terrible season, and Mick’s quitting, at Mary Ann’s feet. It’s rubbish.
Poor change management and the lack of sensitivity to how these upheavals would affect our work patterns had sown the seed of a deep unhappiness within the Team. We are all responsible for our actions, however, and I think some situations and personal reactions could have been dealt with more sensitively and with more professionalism. When passions run deep there is inevitably a watershed moment. For us, it was too little too late when management finally realized they had pushed people one step too far. We had lost Mick.
The End of an Era
But we soldiered on. We all knew going into the final season that it would be our last. Our commission was up, and why would a channel want to re-commission a show that they had blatantly been sabotaging for the past five years? The writing was on the wall with C4 continuously changing viewing schedules – without notice – so that it was increasingly difficult to find Time Team in the Sunday schedule. Not surprisingly, we started to lose viewers. The channel obviously wanted an excuse to get rid of us. Time Team was expensive, big-budget telly that cost nearly 75% more to make per hour than the churned-out, creatively bankrupt, trendy youth agenda programmes that now litter the C4 schedule.
Admittedly though, Time Team needed to change. Management never nurtured the younger archaeologists, and the programme format was quite limiting. It was getting monotonous and the sites we were digging were also a bit stale. We had forgotten our roots in finding archaeology in the most inconceivable and mundane places, giving the public a taste of the mystery that might just lie beneath their back garden. The recent success of finding Richard III in a car park suggests that this still whets the viewing public’s appetite: the extraordinary in the ordinary. So, by the time the final bell was rung, I already knew I would be leaving. I was bored. Nothing was a challenge anymore, and I had grown out of the role. I was quite relieved to hear the news when it finally came.
I’ve heard from so many viewers who are grieving the loss of Time Team. I have mixed emotions about this, because of course it’s hugely flattering – but it really was time to move on. The world is different, archaeology is different, there are so many amazing new ways of doing things and being involved, and that’s where I spend my energy now with my new project at DigVentures.
DV is all about the future – making the excitement, sense of discovery and magic of archaeology accessible, without the TV screen in between you and the archaeologists, so that in the end everyone can be a part of the team. We’re having so much fun already, and looking forward to an amazing dig this summer at Leiston Abbey!
The ‘Save Time Team’ petition is a nice effort, but I really wish that everyone would think about what they are actually supporting by signing: is it the programme itself, or is it the people who were on it, or the sense of discovery and amazement about this crazy island we live on? Because we’re all still here, we’re all still digging, and there are much more personal ways for viewers to follow us and learn about our exploits. There’s no need to Save Time Team, we’re all just fine!
Of course Time Team’s legacy should be celebrated.The show inspired an international community to become more deeply interested in its heritage, and inspired countless people to study and enter the profession. Being part of the show was a very special moment in time for me, and for everyone who loved it and watched us every week – but ultimately, Time Team’s legacy is about the people: the people of the past who make up the archaeology we unearth, the people of the present and most importantly, the people of the future who will take archaeology forward.
If you miss the show, be a part of this legacy and get involved – there are plenty of options out there such as local societies, archaeology groups, field schools and education of all levels. Check out the Council for British Archaeology’s website, it’s a one-stop shop for getting involved in archaeology.
Most importantly, switch off your remote and make your own adventure – I know I am this summer. Anyone fancy a trowel?
Dig with us at Lindisfarne in 2017
Join the search for the heart of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria