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In praising Simon Schama The Observer falsely portrays Mary Beard as bitter and ‘cheap’

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IN 2010, Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, said of Simon Schama, the BBC’s go-to history man:

Declaration of interest: I dont know Prof Schama well, but what I know I like a lot. He is smart, clever, engaging and not — so far as I have any experience — remotely ill-willed. A great cook, a great dinner companion, a wonderful writer and an acute historian.

True. But do we want him advising Mr Gove on the History Curriculum in British schools?

She goes on:

I think not. Actually, what we really need is a group of intelligent British school teachers, calling on all kinds of historical talent outside school, wherever it may be found.

So what’s wrong with Schama?

Well, this is celebrity culture at its most meretricious — Gove playing to the populist gallery. The fact that Schama is smart and has made some good television programmes does not mean that he is the best person (if reports are right) to head up the new drive to revitalise British history.

Schama long ago decided to make his (day job) career in the United States — which gives him maybe a usefully external perspective on the British system, but also means that he is necessarily out of touch with the stresses, strains and demands of what is going on in British schools right now. That makes him an excellent person to consult, but not to head up the new policy.

.. I dont know how much Prof S is getting paid, if at all (and for his sake I hope he has a nice fee). But whatever it is, I am sure that it is less than what it would cost to bring 15 History teachers, plus a few outside “experts”, together for a couple of days… costing up the travel, board and lodging, etc.

Prof Schama is not only glitzy, but also cheap. And appointing him to whatever “job” he now has is also an insult to History teachers here.

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Posted: 29th, September 2013 | In: Reviews | Comment


Mary Beard: My kind of Roman and AA Gill’s wrong kind of Blonde

MARY Beard tweets: “@Madame_Arcati going to print out your blog and keep it for when I might be feeling low!”

This blog, about Sunday Times TV critic AA Gill calling Mary Beard too ugly for the telly:

I LEARN that a middle-aged man, who resembles a homophobe’s idea of what a homosexual man looks like, has been very rude about Prof Mary Beard – the writer and presenter of BBC2’s Meet The Romans. If you’ve given up on TV and have an interest in Roman antiquity then I strongly advise you to re-new your TV licence just to watch this series.

Ingeniously, Beard has discovered the voices of the Ancient Roman dead – not of the emperors or their spin doctors – but of the ordinary people: the butchers, the ex-slaves, the woman who loved wine, the shitters and the bathers, the parents of the boy brained by a falling roof tile, and so on. She channels their words to us from their stone memorials chiselled in Latin which lay about under other historians’ noses for two millennia; awaiting Mary Beard’s exquisite TV seances. These dead people were like us live people, desperate to be heard and remembered. Just like the TV critic with his funny matchstick legs, his ageing male model face, his dyslexia and other sob story details (a mother complex, for instance, and a love life I cannot repeat here).

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Posted: 28th, April 2012 | In: Key Posts, TV & Radio | Comments (56)