Talking Archaeology

It’s good to talk – isn’t it?

In days long past, while working as archaeologists in London and Surrey, we were regularly asked to give talks, sometimes as the main entertainment or as part of a programme of talks with several speakers. Rather than simply describe our discoveries, we had to illustrate them with 35mm slides, so there was a lot to prepare, especially if we had to take our own projector equipment, such as screen, projector, projector stand and extension leads. The talks were hosted mainly by local and county archaeology societies, most of whose members enjoyed archaeology as a hobby and quite often worked as volunteers on excavations. Because archaeologists were public servants (and therefore poorly paid!), we were expected to give talks as part of the job, usually with no remuneration, but we did enjoy doing them. The most memorable one was to a packed hall somewhere in the City of London, and afterwards they took us off to an old pub, leading us down dark alleyways and pointing out parts of the city that we never knew existed. That was quite magical.

A comedy of errors

Most people’s first efforts at public speaking are nerve-racking and not quite up to standard, and we were no exception. Over time, we hope that we showed improvement. We certainly became aware of the failings of other speakers and what errors to avoid. We also encountered a good number of poor organisers, who had perhaps been roped into the role of arranging a programme of talks for their society without realising what was involved. Keeping their members happy was more important than the welfare of individual speakers. The Council for British Archaeology agreed with our idea for a booklet to act as an aide-memoire for speakers and organisers to help raise standards, which they published in their ‘practical handbooks’ series as Talking Archaeology (ISBN 090678087X). If we were writing it today, we might not be so didactic and patronising – and yet everything really needed to be said.
Talking Archaeology jacket

The booklet was 42 pages in length, and it was enlivened by ten wonderful cartoons by Bill Tidy. This brilliant cartoonist has over the years illustrated many Council for British Archaeology publications, but he is best known for cartoon strips such as ‘The Fosdyke Saga’ that ran in the Daily Mirror. His autobiography is well worth reading. Published in 1995, it is called Is There Any News of the Iceberg? An Illustrated Autobiography.

A cartoon review

Once Talking Archaeology was published, we were not asked to give any talks for a few years. This may be a coincidence or was possibly because we had by then moved away from London. The handbook has been out-of-print for a few years now, and we suspect it had no effect on the performance of speakers or the organisation of lecture programmes within societies. Sorting through paperwork recently, we came across a review by Richard J. Brewer in volume 25 of the journal Post-Medieval Archaeology. This is the only review we have ever had that was illustrated with a cartoon. It was drawn by Tom Daly of the National Museum of Wales and is reproduced here, showing an audience of one man and his dog, a hapless speaker causing chaos and two organisers consulting our book. The cartoon reflected Richard Brewer’s own experience of being at a seminar that was scheduled to last two hours but came to a halt after 25 minutes – and in that short time the speaker managed to knock over the lectern, scattering his notes, and also bring the projector tumbling to the floor.

Cartoon from a review in Post-Medieval Archaeology vol. 25

Our forthcoming talks

Nowadays, we mainly give talks that are connected to the themes of our books. Most of these talks are to literary festivals, libraries and bookstores, but we always consider other venues. As we are busy writing, it is likely that the only talks we will do in 2016 are the ones given on our Events page.