Posts Tagged ‘Beat the Ancestors’

Channel 5’s Latest Attack on the Poor: On Benefits and Proud

October 12, 2013

In my last blog post I recommended anyone with an interest in historic technology to watch Beat the Ancestors, a programme on Channel 5 on Mondays, in which a team of engineers, craftsmen and film special effects technicians attempt to recreate and improve upon a device from history. This could be a weapon, such as a cannon, or, as in Monday’s programme, a machine such as the 13th century crane used to build Salisbury Cathedral. It’s an example of the often excellent archaeology and history programmes, which the fifth channel is capable of making, and often does far better than the BBC or Channel 4.

Unfortunately, the Channel is owned by the pornographer and right-wing proprietor of the Daily Express, Richard Desmond. Thus, an hour after this foray into industrial history and experimental archaeology, comes another attack on the unemployed. At 9 o’clock is the documentary On Benefits and Proud. According to the Radio Times, this is about

‘The lifestyles of some of those living off the state who are not currently seeking employment, including of a mother of 11 whose benefits are double the average wage in Britain’.

Now Mike, over at Vox Political, Johnny Void and any number of other left-wing blogs, like Diary of a Benefit Scrounger are doing their level best to disabuse the electorate of the Tory notion that there are people on benefits living good lives at the public expense. One of the guests launched a splenetic, and hilarious diatribe sending up these kinds of stories last night on the long-running satirical quiz show, Have I Got News For You. Nevertheless, they get recycled in order to support the Tory policy of re-introducing grinding, Third-World poverty to this country to punish those unfortunate enough not to be working. Not that Channel 5 is alone in this. The Beeb did something similar a few months ago with Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer in We All Pay Your Benefits. Spamfish over at Oprichnik Rising launched a blistering attack on that one, because of the way it misrepresented one of his friends. I’ve reblogged the story, so it’s over here as well as on his site. Go and look at it to see for yourself how disgracefully manipulative these shows are.

This programme will be broadcast following the story on yesterday’s news that the Red Cross are having to deal with grinding poverty in this country. Millions of people in Britain are, according to yesterday’s edition of the Express, faced with the choice of ‘heat or eat’. They can either buy food, or pay their heating bills, but they can’t do both. Meanwhile the electricity companies, already making vast profits, are raising their bills by another ten per cent and running scare stories about Labour’s plans to cap them. As for higher executives at the Beeb, these are on multi-million pound salaries, as shown by the various golden handshakes given to the Beeb’s Director-Generals, who have been forced to resign following the Jimmy Saville scandal. A casual glance at the ‘Media News’ section in Private Eye will actually tell you just how bloated some of these executives’ salaries are. Now I’ve no doubt that, if confronted about these stories of benefit scroungers and welfare queens the same broadcasting executive would probably try to justify themselves by talking about how they were trying to preserve broadcasting neutrality, and presenting the other side of the argument, in contrast to the stories they’ve run about rising poverty on the news. They have not, to my knowledge, actually presented in documentary form the opposing viewpoint that most people on benefits don’t want to be there, and, in contrast to these highly biased documentaries, are not living at all. It’s about time they did. We, the general public, pay their wages, either directly through the license fee, or indirectly by watching their programmes and forming a demographic for their advertisers. The public may pay for the benefits supporting the unemployed, but the unemployed also pay the salaries of the TV executives. They are responsible to them, and so should make programmes revealing how the real poor live, not the minority that are constantly cited to support the Neo-Liberal fantasies of Right-wing politicos.

Beat The Ancestors on Medieval Cranes

October 12, 2013

On Monday the team on Channel 5’s Beat the Ancestors will attempt to build and improve upon the design for a medieval crane. According to the blurb in the Radio Times

‘Dick Strawbridge challenges a team of engineers to re-create a vast crane of the kind used to build Salisbury Cathedral in the 13th Century’.

Beat the Ancestors is a strange mixture of Scrapheap Challenge and the living history experiments from Time Team. Every week a team of engineers, including a lady special effects technician, are given the task of recreating an historical machine, and then improving the design. In one of the earliest programmes they were required to build a piece of late medieval artillery. This consisted of a number of small cannons fixed into a single gun carriage. These were all fired at once to create a lethal barrage. The crane was invented in ancient Greece in the 3rd century BC, and was introduced into medieval Europe from Egypt in the 12th century during the Crusades. The example in Salisbury Cathedral has survived because its physically built into the structure of the Cathedral itself. It’s hidden in the roof.

The programme should be worth watching. It never ceases to amaze me how technologically advanced the Middle Ages were. I’ve blogged before about how medieval scholars, such as Roger Bacon, knew about diving helmets, and these may even have been used by medieval divers on the bottoms of rivers. Windmills were used not only to grind corn, but also to forge metal, full cloth, and pump out mines and drain marshy land. Spectacles were invented in the last decades of the thirteenth century, and printing was used to decorate cloth in Provence as early as the 12th century. It was also used to print the capital letters in manuscripts produced at the monastery in Regensburg. There is therefore plenty of material for the team to explore in future episodes.

Channel 5 has produced some very good programmes on archaeology and history, which is surprising given how the channel is owned by the pornographer Richard Desmond, and how much of it really is aimed at the lowest common denominator. If you have an interest in historic technology and industrial history and archaeology, Beat the Ancestors can be interesting viewing. The programme’s on Mondays, Channel 5, at seven o’clock in the evening.