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Professor Mick Aston quits Time Team over 'dumbing down' row

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: February 09, 2012

  • Professor Mick Aston, who lives near Cheddar, is leaving Time Team

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He’s the wild-haired stripey-jumpered academic who brought archaeology out of the shadows and into our homes, but now Professor Mick Aston has quit TV’s Time Team in a row over “dumbing down.”

Professor Aston, who lives near Cheddar in Somerset, said he is: “really really angry” that there is, “a lot less archaeological content and a lot more pratting about” in the current series.

Speaking at his home yesterday Prof Aston, who was based in the extra-mural department of Bristol University for 25 years, said he was dismayed that the input of some regular experts has been reduced.

Channel 4 bosses have also brought in a new co-presenter, Cambridge graduate Mary-Ann Ochota for the current series, but she will not return for the 20th anniversary series which begins filming in April for broadcast next year.

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“I’ve decided to quit Time Team because Channel 4 decided to alter the format. I was the archaeological consultant but they decided to get rid of half the archaeological team, without consulting me,” he said.

“Stuart Ainsworth, the surveyor is used a lot less in the current series. It is the same with Helen Geake who does history and finds, and with Victor Ambrus, the illustrator.

"Computer-generated images are fine and we can fly round buildings with it and go through arches but archaeologists have always taken the view that you need both illustrations and computer images.

“Almost immediately that we began to make the series we didn’t have Stuart and it made things difficult. We were filming at Clipstone in Nottinghamshire and we put a trench across what we thought was a big perimeter ditch but it turned out to be a field boundary.

"Stuart would have realised that within the first five minutes and we wouldn’t have wasted time digging the trench.

“We had a very embarrassing situation at Castle Hill, near Crewkerne, Somerset. They didn’t have Helen, the local portable antiquities lady was ill, so we had things coming out of the ground and not being able to say what they were and a volunteer member of the public actually identified finds.”

Prof Aston also objected to the presenters being filmed “capering about” with bows and arrows.

“I have left voluntarily,” he said. I shall miss all my friends there and the very interesting pieces of archaeology, and although we never got paid a fortune, I shall certainly miss the money.”

A Channel 4 spokesperson said: “We are saddened by Mick’s decision to leave, he has been a fantastic member of Time Team and we wish him well in the future.

“As we prepared for Time Team’s 19th series, we wanted to introduce new talent to complement the pre-existing line-up – Mary is a great addition bringing enthusiasm, expertise and a fresh voice.”

She said Professor Aston was one of a number of archaeological consultants who have appeared over the years but had never had any editorial control.

Accusations of ageism have blighted other broadcasters in the last few years. When veteran newsreader Moira Stuart left the BBC in 2007, claims of ageism were denied by Mark Thompson, the director general.

Weeks later, Nick Ross former Watchdog presenter said he believed his age played a major role in the BBC’s decision not to renew his contract.

In 2009 BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing was tarred with the same brush when dancer Arlene Phillips, 68, was traded in for Alesha Dixon. Recently Miriam O’reilly won her case for age discrimination against the BBC, after she was dropped from Countryfile in 2009.

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  • peglynn  |  June 08 2012, 4:58PM

    Many thanks Mick for you invaluable work on Time Team. I am a big fan living in Australia and was sad to learn that the BBC has changed the format of the show. All I can say is the BBC is a mob of bloody idiots. What were they thinking??? Maybe Mick you should take over as head of the BBC and do some changes there. I'm sure they would appreciate that. I wish you well in your next venture what ever that may be. I think that you should be made a National Living Treasure.

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  • IRosie  |  April 21 2012, 1:20PM

    By6 Rosie-N If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Time Team was never broke so why mess around with a formula that has been a winner from the start. Bring back Helen,bring back Stuart and Victor. Bring back Bridgid the digger! I really like her pieces to camera. Thank goodness Phil, Rac sha and Mqtt seem to be safe.

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  • Malcolm12  |  February 18 2012, 3:23AM

    Amazing. I thought it was odd that John, Stuart, Victor and Helen weren't at the forefront of the first few episodes. It took the series quite a long time to mature from it's original "jump in the ditch, we've found some treasure" format to the fantastic contribution to our archeological heritage that it became, it's almost unbelievable that Channel Four now think we should move on to another series of Bonekickers. We love Phil and Tony, but Time Team's impact relys on more than simple presentation skills.

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  • rogerh3  |  February 16 2012, 9:51AM

    How can they have an archaeology presenter without a beard?

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  • SteveAllenby6  |  February 11 2012, 4:22PM

    Still in a state of shock at the departure of Mick Aston from Time Team. To me Mick is Time Team. The first episode of this year left me feeling something was amiss and gave me an uneasy feeling, but I couldn't put my finger on the cause. Time Team without Mick is like the story of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, without Mark Antony it just won't work. The appeal of the show was the profesional, ****itical and practical approach to archaeology that gave the show its appeal, without this the show is dead and buried. Yes its an old format but it works, now with Mick the main componant missing it won't work for long. Look forward to Mick appearing on any new future shows, you can't keep a good man down. Expect me to watch future episodes of Time Team, but only to confirm the rise and fall.

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  • siarad2  |  February 09 2012, 7:18PM

    Probably for the limited concentration span of the 160 letter SMS generation

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  • Markr_whittle  |  February 09 2012, 2:08PM

    Another example of production management flexing it's muscles, it's complete madness! Everytime Mick has been missing from an episode it has been found lacking! Yes there are others to stand in but it is just not the same. Time-team without Mick Aston will never have the same following. You have to question Channel 4 and ask why break up a winning team? These new people will not fit in and definitely not replace the oringinal members. The team should stick together, I just hope that Tony Robinson, Phil Harding and the others follow suit and leave, I'm sure bbc2 or any of the other channels would leap at the chance of launching a new version of Time-team! Many thanks Mick for all your work on and off set. Hopefully we will see you again on another channel!

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  • johnskipper  |  February 09 2012, 1:29PM

    I agree completely Dave. Sadly it's the same everywhere these days. You even listen to football on the radio these days... it seems the fact they are terrible talkers and possess bland cliched opinions doesn't matter at all, as long they're an ex-pro who used to be famous. As for Time Team, Professor Mick will indeed be a huge loss to the programme, it won't be the same without him.

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  • DaveStuttle  |  February 09 2012, 11:54AM

    This is just another case of media moguls not understanding the content of their own productions. Prof Aston has been a key part of Time Team, his wealth of knowledge and expertise are unsurpassed. The whole pint of the programme is to help discover our national history and heritage in order to understand who and what we are today. The use of Stuart and Victor were inspired choices and I wholeheartedly agree with Mick that reducing their input will have a detrimental effect on the series. Time Team has been a wonderful experience to watch, enjoy and learn from over 18 excellent series, Chanel 4 has really shot itself in the foot by changing things so much that they have now lost a key member of the team. If something isn't broke, don't fix it! My partner and I shall still watch Time Team but it will not be the same and will have to get our fix of Mick and those wonderful jumpers by watching the repeats on the obsure channels. Thank you Mick Aston for brining archaeology and history alive for us, we wish you every success for the future, we are saddened by your departure from Time Team, but fully understand, respect and support your reasons for doing so. Our televisual experiences will now be greatly reduced in quality and enjoyment with out you.

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