Having just recovered from the dreadful episode with the tedious Lucy Worsley, I dived recklessly into another attempt by those nice folk at the BBC to clarify historical events. I am sorry to say that this version was hardly an improvement on the previous disaster.
This time, via the medium of the electric television, I watched a program called “Henry VII : The Winter King”. It was presented by a chap called Thomas Penn, who, while not quite so irritating as Loopy Lucy, has probably emptied a few rooms and lecture theatres in his time.
Whoever is in charge of commissioning these historical documentaries at the Beeb, seems to be constricted by bizarre concepts of what said programs should contain.
For the most part, there is no film archive of anything more than about 100 years old. This is the fault of our ancestors who were so chronically stupid that they did not have the gumption to invent digital video cameras. (In my view, this is a much less serious oversight than the egregious criminality of not preserving “Not Only .. But Also” film archives but that is not the main thrust of this little essay.) Therefore, programs on this subject have to find something with which to fill the screen. Further, there seems to be a severe budgetary limit (good news for those of us who pay a licence fee and would object to financing 15,000 or so actors to realistically re-enact the Battle of Bosworth Field, for example) on what can be covered. To fill this vast void we have various shots of the presenter in several incongruous locations, some of which are without explanation and few of which add anything to the substance of the story, walking about staring vaguely at things that are not shown on camera. Lucy Worsley is an expert at this, and Thomas Penn has obviously been on the same course, but has not attended the Silly Walk tutorial. We also need some melodrama, as the audience is obviously going to be too thick to appreciate a factual narrative unless it is jazzed up and dumbed down.
Here are some of the highlights from H7:tWK:
Penn is shown at Milford Haven where Henry Tudor landed in his attempt to win the Royal Premiership, season 1484-85. He is seen travelling towards the coast in a motorised dinghy. I am fairly certain that no mention was made of motorised dinghies in the treatises of G. R. Elton, but it is more than a couple of years since I did my ‘A’ levels and so it may have escaped my memory, and to be fair, I did spend long periods of those lessons pre-occupied with lustful thoughts about some of my classmates (no, not you, silly boy). He is then seen walking onto the beach (I hope water got in his wellies) and announcing that “You can imagine what this looked like”. Indeed, we have to imagine, because no clues are given – all we can see is him and his bloody dinghy on an empty shoreline. The budget does stretch, however, to a sound clip that might have resembled an army arriving in Wales during the tourist season in 1485 but could equally have been a demonstration of coffee making equipment recorded in Debenham’s in Cirencester.
The melodrama is in the form of captions which echo the words just spoken by young Tommy; probably the most nonsensical one is the shibboleth “Our history is about to change forever”. I need not, I trust, go into all 597 reasons why that statement makes no sense, do I? (Probably. Ed.)
In a scene redolent of the one I complained about the other day, we then find Tom in a field someplace that he seems to think is Bosworth Field. It may or may not be the same field that Lucy was in (who cares? But it would have been more amusing had they crossed paths. They could even have had a fight about who was there first.), most fields have characteristics in common, and many fields that were carefully minding their own business over 500 years ago may have changed considerably or be no longer extant. Like Lucy, Thomas gives no indication of where Bosworth Field is or why the armies were there. But given the clue in his reporting that Tudor had landed in Wales, we can guess that it is somewhere on mainland Great Britain. (It is actually somewhere near the village of Stoke Golding in Leicestershire and the battle probably buggered up the school summer holidays of my ancestors in 1485).
Having covered the unpleasantness perpetrated on Richard of Gloucester, he then ponces off to Westminster Abbey, where he is seen taking his shoes off. “I’m taking off my shoes” he kindly informs us. He then commences to prance about the area of the Abbey where coronations occur. “It feels amazing to stand here”. I confess to being less than amazed by the spectacle and ponder the question as to whether, were there any amazingness at all, the amazingness of the place would be enhanced by having this prize gawdelpus stuck in the middle of it. He then tells us what King Henry VII must have felt like. (Just stop it – I am referring to his majesty's emotional state, not the contours of his corporeal being.)
During a section on the battle of Stoke Field, we are shown footage of the number 35 bus to Clapham in the centre of London. I really don’t know why, Clapham is nowhere near Stoke Field, and G. R. Elton made no reference (see above for disclaimer) to John de la Pole travelling to the battle by omnibus.
Later, at Hampton Court, Penn tells us that “It was what happened behind this door that would become synonymous with Henry VII’s reign”. I have no idea to what he was alluding and would suggest that the statement had as much value as the earlier one about history changing.
I am happy to report that I spent much of the day watching the re-enactment of the Battle of Bristol, in which Moeen Ali went from 50 to 100 in 12 balls, in much the same way that I watched Tom Graveney score 70 odd against the West Indies when I should have been revising for my exams. So bollocks to history.