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Seeing the world thanks to making TV programmes


The benefits of TV work: My first visit to China
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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I think making television programmes has really, for me, been a very broadening experience in the geographical sense, that was what took me to Orkney for the first time and led partly to that excavation in Orkney which was very rewarding, and then following that to the Pacific, to Easter Island and Tonga to make the programme, "Islands Out Of Time", which was a wonderful experience to see those things at first hand and then I went to - to China, partly with a television mission, it was partly at the behest of Thames and Hudson, I was editing a series, "New Aspects of Antiquity", and they were hoping for some Chinese publications which I'm sure ever ensued, but I went out and visited various places in China; Kunming in the South West and Xian and the Great Wall and so the people at Chronicle were making a programme on the great discoveries that Xian, the terracotta warriors, and they had brought in a whole lot of Chinese film, quite good quality Chinese film, showing the terracotta warriors, but they needed a presenter, somebody who could put the thing together but they'd already bought the film and I don't think they were allowed to film there but they thought it would be good if I would do most of the talking about the warriors in the studio with back projection of the - the terracotta warriors, but it would be nice if I could be established, as it were, in China, so they thought the right place would be the Great Wall of China. So when I got to Peking, I'd arranged, or they'd arranged, that I should go and call on the Chinese Television Corporation, and they said, yes, it would be possible to film the Great Wall of China, and they provided me with a cameraman and a sound recordist and would I kindly negotiate the price. So I was a little unexpected - it was a little unexpected, to have to sign these papers. I said, oh, surely we can use cheaper transport than this, and picked - chose one or two things, and then went to the Great Wall where I was introduced to Madam Woo the cameraman, and Madam Woo had a handheld camera, which wasn't surprising, but what was more surprising was that it was a camera that wound up manually and there seemed to be no connection between the camera and sound recording devices whereas usually with synchronisation you're familiar with some connection between the two. So I started my spiel, here we are on the Great Wall of China and there are the barriers, the Barbarians, I should say, on that side, and here is the safety induced by the rule of the Great Chinese Emperor. And then the camera stopped and it became clear that because it was a wind-up camera, you had about two minutes so you had to do your pieces to camera in two minute bursts which I therefore tried to adapt myself to. But when the film and the tape was sent back to the BBC, the first reaction of the technicians was unusable Mickey Mouse stuff, because the - there was no synch. And so it started off together and then progressively, over the two minutes, became completely displaced. But they did some very clever things technically, whether they made new frames or speeded up the sound machine, so this was actually used in the end for the programme on the Emperor's Immortal Army. But that gave me the experience of seeing these things and seeing more of earlier periods in Chinese archaeology.

Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn is a British archaeologist known for his work on the dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the prehistory of PIE languages. He has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge as well as Master of Jesus College and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Listeners: Paul Bahn

Paul Bahn studied archaeology at Cambridge where he did his doctoral thesis on the prehistory of the French Pyrenees. He is now Britain's foremost specialist on Ice Age art and on Easter Island, and led the team which discovered Britain's first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, in 2003. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Journey Through the Ice Age, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Mammoths, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, and, with Colin Renfrew, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice which was published in its 5th edition in 2008.

Duration: 3 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009