In a week of primetime televisual archaeological glory, the likes of Brian Blessed, John Sergeant, Michael Portillo and Myleene Klass are about to tell us what the 50 finest finds in British history might be.
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
Experts from the British Museum and the Council for British Archaeology have included a Roman brothel token found on the River Thames and the enormous Silverdale Hoard of Viking Treasure, found in Lancashire last year, among their highlights in Britain’s Secret Treasures, a series of daily despatches on ITV between now and Sunday. But it’s the human stories which make for small screen gold.
In one scene, Mark Humber visits the exact spot in Belgium where his grandfather, a Sergeant in World War I, stood in battle in 1918. Humber owns the award his ancestor was given for continued bravery, having been given it by Manuel Nicdao, a 56-year-old who found it in a Surrey field and returned it to the family with the help of a local newspaper.
“Just to think of him as the little old man when I was a kid, to think he was here all those years ago…I’m incredibly proud,” says Humber. “It’s fantastic that Manuel found it and got it back to me.”
There’s even a glossy Royal twist. A silver cufflink, made for the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662 and found in a field in Rochester a decade ago, is a remnant with modern resonance which recalls a King of almost frenzied promiscuity.
“One of his mistresses was Louise de Kerouille,” says Portillo, reflecting on a monarch who fathered 12 illegitimate children.
“If we follow their issue down through the ages, through four Charles Lennoxes to John Spencer, the 8th Earl of Spencer, he was the father of the Princess of Wales. And she, of course, was the mother of Prince William.” All of which leaves William poised to become Charles II’s first direct descendent to reach the throne.
Journalist Michael Buerk and historian Bettany Hughes anchor the show, accompanied by an online appeal for viewers to send in photos of potential new objects. Submissions will be assessed by the British Museum throughout the week, and then revealed in the final episode.
- Britain's Secret Treasures is on ITV1. Starts 8pm (7.30pm Tuesday and Thursday, 7pm Sunday, no episode on Saturday).
- CBA Festival of British Archaeology 2012: until Sunday July 29 see the website for more details