Gill vs. Beard: An Unkindest Cut
Twitter was humming with disgust yesterday. A.A. Gill, in his review of Meet the Romans, Mary Beard’s popular and well regarded BBC TV series on everyday life in Classical Rome, described the presenter as ‘this far from being the subject of a Channel 4 dating documentary’ (a reference to the broadcaster's show The Undateables) and said that she 'should be kept away from the cameras altogether'. It was a grotesque and indefensible piece of sexism, pure and simple.
The best history documentaries I have seen of late were, in ascending order: David Reynolds' Man of Steel; Jonathan Meades on France; and Robert Bartlett’s The Normans. All three of these men are of a certain age, and none has ever been mistaken for Johnny Depp, but in reviews of these programmes, their appearance was of no consequence.
Gill’s remarks, though, are not only regrettable because of their misogyny, but because they drew attention away from what might have been interesting criticisms. I would have liked him to develop his argument that Beard’s ‘take on the eternal city was another piece of self-serving social correctness’ and his assertion that Rome was not in reality ‘an international, homogenous funky berg’ – it is, after all, the curse of popular TV history to push relevance to the brink of anachronism.
But why bother to explore these fascinating issues when you can set Twitter alight with a cheap jibe?
Paul Lay is editor of History Today and author of History Today... And Tomorrow
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