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Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Pitt-Rivers. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep.


It's rather unusual for me to dictate this from a phone in some obscure corner of the House of Lords.  Usually I do it when I'm walking down Regent Street, or mostly through St James's Park, but here we go. Below me is the red carpet which stretches a long way as I look until it meets the green carpet which announces the House of Commons, and to the right is the blue carpet which is the royal carpet on which only peers can talk and the Queen can tread.

This takes us to the Succession to the Crown Bill which I've just been listening to, where there has been a fascinating debate about Catholics in the realm. Still! Should the Crown be able to marry into the Catholic Church... if so, what ...?

Which takes me directly to Alfie Boe, with whom I had lunch the other day at his place in the Cotswolds.  The ninth son of a Catholic family, he has joined the pantheon of working class trajectories which have dominated – except for Eton of course – the last century. His rise from working in a factory spraying cars to singing La Boheme on Broadway and on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, and wowing millions with his rendition of Les Miserables at the O2, has been a lovely fairy tale to behold. He cooked Sunday lunch. The whole business, every bit of it. The beef, the Yorkshire puddings (which he made himself), the vegetables, the lot.

Then what? Well, after this morning's programme... ah! I didn't want to say in the programme, but it turns out, alas, that Pitt-Rivers was not a pleasant man. He whipped one of his daughters over the face – with a whip. One of the contributors told us that he had a very large collection of whips. He applied to be a Conservative MP but was considered to be too right-wing to be a Conservative MP ...I could go on, but he was a man of a fascinating obsession and, as Adam Kuper said, his museum in Oxford deserves to be – in its entirety – inside a museum.

And then back to the office to do some work on the South Bank Show Awards which are coming up, and then down to have my Thursday treat which is lunch with a pal, an old pal in this case, in a favourite restaurant in which other old pals turned up. Including the Poet Laureate, who is not an old pal, but I know her reasonably well, and in that very restaurant we had a lunch which I thought was the lunch celebrating the last ever programme for the South Bank Show (when I was at ITV), and so we became quite recklessly inebriated – Liverpool and Cumbria are closely connected in that regard – but of course it was not, thankfully for me, the last.

And then through the lovely St James's Park, to which I have become addicted, full yet again of French people. I can understand why they are attracted there. Why not? So am I. But French children speaking French in such a beautiful way makes me think they are so much more intelligent than us. Why is that? Is it because my French, having started off quite well, has now faltered and it is beginning to die away, or is it because of a trace memory of when they dominated us for three hundred years and tried to drive out the English language? Or is it because they are brighter, or because their articulation is so specific and clearer? Whatever it is, they are delightful company beside the pond. I waded through pigeons which did not budge an inch and came to the House of Lords, where – as I said at the beginning – I listened to the Succession to the Crown Bill, introduced by Lord Wallace of Tankerness.

So back to the office and then to see the play This House down at the National Theatre. Oh lucky Jim, as Kingsley Amis said.


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  • Comment number 3. Posted by This is a colleague announcement

    on 10 Mar 2013 11:13

    "But French children speaking French in such a beautiful way makes me think they are so much more intelligent than us"


    I think that's correct. You touched on this in one of your programmes in relation to the perception of colour, and the names for the different hues.

    French has a much more extensive grammar than our young creole, and implicit in this is a requirement for the speaker to understand its implicit reason. The same would be true for High German, Slavic tongues and many others.

    In that, apart from in a minority of exceptions, babies are born with similar innate wit, most of what turns out to be intelligence or stupidity is learnt, largely tribally, I'd say. So I think French kids do indeed need to learn to be somewhat smarter, just to speak their own tongue properly.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by John Thompson

    on 1 Mar 2013 16:47

    His contribution to archaeology was two fold.From his study of firearms he realized that an analogy to evolution can be traced in artefacts as well as living organisms,with the same gradual developments.He assembled an ethnographical collection arranged by use rather than provenance,and emphasising the ordinary as opposed to the rare,a practical example of typology.Inheriting Cranborne Chase in 1880,he applied to excavations there the experience gained in his military career and museum collections.The result was to advance excavation to a scientific technique, characterised by precise work,meticulous recording of all detail,emphasis on the apparently trivial,complete study(in contrast to the usual sampling of his time),and full and rapid publication.His example was hardly unequalled until the 1920s. A brilliant organiser and practical man he directly influenced Mortimer Wheeler,whof followed on with a lot of his methods,quoting Pitt-Rivers,” A discovery dates only from the time of the record of it,and not from the time of its being found in the soil”,from Wheeler’s Archaeology from the Earth.He emphasised systematization of techniques,the technology of the craft,in the practical recovery of the past.He attempted to prove and flesh out history,seeing it in terms of actors and battles, an intuitive approach,not concerned with raising questions at a higher level of theory.
    Both were diggers,romantic conservatives,not original thinkers.Practical men.

    We now know societies don’t evolve the way species evolve or evolution takes place in nature. That idea was used in the 19th century to support Social Darwinism,extreme forms of capitalism,later to support communism and later still to support democracy.In the case of the two men,typical of early archaeology,one was rich with great titles and estates, the other was an attractive media personality,attracting funding to archaeology.The speakers related the change of New Archaeology,the shift between looking at prehistory in global terms(the older typologies no longer useful)and looking at it nationally and locally,looking at cultural areas rather than universal typologies.Looking for the relationship between different technologies within a particular system people are using in the same area and the relationship of these technologies to their thinking,to their architecture,to the ecology.Pitt-Rivers,trained as a soldier,interested in typology,devised scientific methods of investigating remains,became the father of modern archaeological technique in Britain.For that he should be remembered.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by daniel cullen

    on 1 Mar 2013 16:21

    I never fail to enjoy reading your blog/newsletter, & would love to know the favourite restaurant mentioned here? Smiled at the thought of you becoming "recklessly inebriated".

    Thanks for an excellent programme, how about one discussing the subject of anthropogenic climate change?

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