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Vikings: Live

The British Museum has one of its so-called “Blockbuster” exhibitions on at the moment, about the Vikings. It’s had some pretty good write-ups in the press, all concentrating on the central exhibit, the remains of a full-sized Viking longship. My parents have both visited the exhibition, but were somewhat underwhelmed – they said that the longship is mostly a metal skeleton housing just a few surviving planks; some of the gold is exquisite but quite poorly displayed; and the exhibition is so crowded that it’s very difficult to see things properly.

I had intended to make a trip down to London to see it for myself, but their reports put me off and I decided to give it a miss. However, my mother then told me that she’d read that the museum was doing a special viewing of the exhibition that would be broadcast live in HD to theatres and cinemas all over the country. One of the selected locations was Malvern, so I bought myself a ticket for a virtual private viewing at the theatre. At only ¬£12 it was far cheaper than a train ticket to London, plus one was guaranteed a good view of the exhibits, with no need to queue, barge or use one’s elbows!

The screening was this evening, and was hosted by Michael Wood and Bettany Hughes, both professional broadcasters and historians, supported by a host of curators, academics and re-enactors. I used to have a real crush on Michael Wood when I was a teenager, but unfortunately age has overtaken him and he is no longer anywhere near as dishy as he used to be! I remember that one newspaper review back in the 1980’s described him as “callipygean”, but unfortunately his “beautiful buttocks” have become distinctly saggy over the intervening decades! The sex appeal mantle though was enthusiastically taken up by Bettany Hughes, all heaving d√©colletage, fluttering eyelashes, and knee-high boots.

I found the content of the broadcast to be disappointingly superficial. It was very professionally done, and I suppose they had to cater to a mass audience, but they spent far too much time re-enacting a Viking ship burial in the grounds of the museum, and not enough time actually showing us the objects in the exhibition. The Vikings aren’t really my period – I lose interest in history pretty much with the Fall of Rome – but even so I don’t think I actually learnt anything. Some of the gold and silver was absolutely beautiful, and it was really good to see it projected in HD, but I would have liked to have seen more of the artefacts and heard a bit more about their provenance and what they tell us about the Viking era.

All in all it was a good way to spend an evening, if only to confirm my view that it’s not worth making a special trip to London to see the exhibition for myself. I think it’s a very good idea for the British Museum to do outreach to the provinces, so that more people can get to appreciate the big exhibitions. It’s just a pity that the high-powered academics they had on-tap had to dumb their messages down so much for a mass audience.