Professor Mary Beard: Why I find historical reconstructions excruciating

The broadcaster and classicist said she insisted before signing up for presenting roles that there would be no re-enactments.

Professor Mary Beard says she finds historical reconstructions “excruciating”, and she only agrees to front TV documentaries if there is a ban on anyone dressing up in period costume.

The broadcaster and classicist, 63, said she had always insisted before signing up for presenting roles that there would be no re-enactments and says her request has always been honoured.

She said she always demanded that there would be “no drama reconstructions in any programme made by me, no B-list actors dressed up in sheets, saying ‘do pass the grapes Marcus’.”

“I insisted… there should be none of those awful scenes where some none-too-good actors pretend to be Romans at a banquet or recreate the scene of the death of Socrates or whatever”, Prof Beard will say in a speech to the Voice Of The Listener And Viewer.

“I’m not talking about the excellent (fellow broadcaster) Lucy Worsley here, Lucy trying clothes on is rather different I think.”

Historian Lucy Worsley. Mary Beard said that 'Lucy trying clothes on is rather different I think'
Historian Lucy Worsley has won Mary Beard’s approval (Chris Radburn/PA)

Prof Beard will say she finds drama reconstruction “excruciating to watch”, but that there is also a “bigger historical issue at stake” telling the audience: “It can show you that rich Romans sometimes had posh dinners lying down.

“But it does so at a great historical cost. Because it simply offers the viewer a version of the past that is ready made for them.”

She will also speak about how she was edited out of more of the US broadcast of BBC series Civilisations, compared to the two men who fronted other episodes.

“What they were really doing was removing the argument, and as almost all my pieces to camera were driven by the argument, they just went,” she says.

Professor Mary Beard delivers the Jocelyn Hay Lecture 2018 at 6.30pm on Tuesday October 23 to The Voice Of The Listener And Viewer conference. Information can be found at www.vlv.org.uk.

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