A History of the World is A Travesty of the Wireless.
Radio 4 has resumed its second tranche of A History of the World in 100 Objects, written and presented by the British Museum’s euphonious director, Neil MacGregor, and sadly the show is as misguided as ever. You’d think that with the two-month break they’d figure out how it went wrong in its first incarnation.
To start at the beginning – or nearly at the beginning, since the very beginning wastefully features an expert’s quotation used again later in the programme (despite the slot only being 15 minutes long) – there is the theme tune. It sounds like they took it from the score of the Lion King, spookily numinous and wailing.
It is the sort of thing Channel Five uses to accompany one of its cheap documentaries on prehistoric man. It also goes on forever, using up valuable time. Most Radio 4 shows don’t have a theme – why does this need one?
Next are the expert interviewees. I can accept that academics – i.e. authorities – are perhaps dull of voice or not able to be concise or generally not fit for radio. (Although In Our Time would contradict that.) But each episode features one contemporary guest with some experience in the field, say, Grayson Perry on Peruvian jugs or Anthony Gormley on ancient sculpture. </p>
No-one doubts that they are experts, but not on the precise subject under discussion. For example, Perry said that the Peruvian jugs, which MacGregor reveal afterwards were associated with violent human sacrifices, were cheerful and jolly pots, like Toby Jugs.
Worse, MacGregor had Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, talking about Mesopotamian governmental administration! It makes a mockery of the subject. It’s not a contemporary perspective, since one can’t have contemporary perspectives on ancient history – contextual understanding is all. That’s why historians don’t make judgments based on our morals but through careful study of contemporary sources, trying to recreate what it the mindsets of then.
It’s unnecessary dumbing-down.
And their website is feeble too – impossible to find anything, despite it encouraging us to delve through the collection.
Despite great promise and a fascinating subject matter – all of humanity – A History of the World is A Travesty of the Wireless.