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.
“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.