the time team pilot episode

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This pilot episode of Time Team was made in October 1992 after an idea emulating from a series called Time Signs. The presenter of Time Signs was Mick Aston. Mick had been toying with an idea of a popular archaeology programme with Tony Robinson. So when the pilot episode for Time Team was given the go ahead it was his suggestion that Tony present it.

This pilot episode was never screened, but Channel 4 were impressed with the pilot episode and were persuaded to fund the first series of Time Team which would contain four episodes.

Tony Robinson:

We made the pilot, we rowed an awful lot about what should be in the pilot. The pilot didn't look all that much like Time Team is now.

There were lots of clues everywhere. Everytime an archaeologist went to a different site, they would have to open a chest and inside there would be a picture of a find, or they would put their hands in someone else's barber, and inside there would be a Roman coin or something like that, it was much more game showy. And at the end there was ten minutes in which I had to summarise everything in a magnificent tour-de-force.

There was also an item in it. In each one of the both the pilot and in the first series, called Tony's tale, where suddenly, the pace would become slightly less frantic and I would wander off to a nearby field and regale viewers with a piece of narrative history about the particular site.

Phil Harding:

"The pilot was used to test drive the idea. It was not representative of what the programme became. Following the pilot, the format was totally revamped, so i'm not sorry it was never shown".

Three people of Dorchester in Oxfordshire address the camera

Dorothy Godfrey: Dear Tony and the Time Team. For years, members of our allotment association have been unearthing bits of pots and the odd human bone. We’d like to know more about what’s going on underneath our allotments. Yours truly, Dorothy Godfrey, allotment owner.

Roy Bowles: Dear Time Team. 1,350 years ago St Birinius built a cathedral on a site in Dorchester. I think we might be able to find it. Can you help? Roy Bowles, church warden.

Jerry Nudd: Dear Mick and co. Whilst putting in a fence post for my son, I found some rather unusual remains. Can you tell us what lies under the rest of the field?

Episode Location

George Hotel

Doncaster is situated 10 miles south of Oxford on a historical crossing point of the River Thames. So Time Team had the weekend to answer the three questions. They stayed at the George Hotel and the headquarters for this episode was at the Abbey Guesthouse.

<---- The George Hotel. [Visit their site]
Abbey Guest House
<---- The Abbey Guest House.
The Abbey Guest House.
Episode guide:

Explaining that archaeology starts with some little fragment, Tony hands Mick a piece of glass and a plan of the present church. Tony gives Phil a little piece of bone. Tony gives Toni a map reference.

Phil Harding heads of to site 1, the allotments. Toni Pearson heads of to site 2, Jerry Nudd’s field. Mick Aston heads off to site 3, Dorchester Abbey.

With the items at hand, Mick goes to Dorchester Abbey and believes it to be 12th century by the rounded top to it.

Phil goes to Dorothy Godfrey’s house and gets invited to enter and look at the pots that have been found. Whilst entering, Phil says “It’s a cracking knocker, that is, innit, eh?” Dorothy explains that it’s not just her finding things, but people from all over the allotments.

At the Abbey, Mick explains that he doesn’t want to start digging and that geophysics will be used the next day to try and find lines from a previous building or something. He believes the earlier church to be under the existing church.

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Dorchester Abbey.

Toni thinks there’s not a lot at Nudd’s field, a couple of interesting lumps and bumps, but a lot of it looks modern. Toni suggests they will investigate what might be an old river channel the next day.

Phil comments that the bone he was given by Tony looks like a humans lower armbone. Robin asks if this is some kind of cemetery.

Tony points out that other than the three clues they have, Victor has created another clue, a drawing done on a computer of a young Saxon woman. Tony then explains that the woman in the picture links all three clues that the Time Team were given.

Toni starts to do an auger survey in the field next to Nudd’s field. Phil is finding bagfuls of stuff after being in the allotment for just an hour, which gets Tony excited and he rushes over to the allotments.

Being told that they have found Roman coins and Victorian claypipes, Tony mentions that he is really after early Saxon habitation.

At Dorchester Abbey, Mick explains that geophysics returned the results and have shown where the monastic buildings were in place with the abbey. He also mentioned that it was a big church, and all the magnificent architecture didn’t help because it was created too recently and there was nothing obvious before the 12th century. He goes on to say that they are looking for something to do with Birinius in the 7th century. Maybe Robin could help.

Back in the incident room, Mick is talking with Robin. Robin explains that quite near to where they are is Abingdon Abbey and there is an early description of what the abbey may have looked like in the 7th century, indicating that it could be compared to Dorchester Abbey.

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Mick is up in the helicopter and is more or less looking down the line of the Roman road.

Although obscured, it was pointing out to the hills in the background. Explaining that they can pick out the topography of the Roman and Medieval town.

He points out the allotments and the dyke hills of the Iron Age settlement behind them.

The road running along the side of the allotments shows the alignment of the Roman defences.

<---- Dyke Hills.

At a fence Toni is pointing out a depression which would possibly be the old river channel. Tony asks why rivers are so important and Toni replies that they often preserve organic material.

Back on the ground Mick shows Victor some images taken from the helicopter. He gives one image to Victor and asks him to draw some Medieval buildings on the side of it.

The radar results of Nudd’s field are being processed and Toni is eager to see them as having washed the samples from the river channel, it doesn’t seem to be pushing back the dates.

Back in the incident room a man is showing Tony his finds:

Man: These are coins down here. Oh, not that one, that’s a shirt button.

Mick explains that the coins can be dated by specialists and if the context is right, they can give you the date for the pottery and other objects.

Tony asks what conclusions have been drawn?

Mick goes on to say that Dorchester has been occupied for a very long time, but cannot say anymore than that.

Alison suggests that some pottery looks very much like its grass-tempered, meaning that when the clay was originally mixed, it was mixed with grass. When it expanded and contracted during firing the pot wouldn’t crack. The Saxons often used grass.

At the end of the second day the radar results had been processed. The survey shows some kind of disturbance.

Mick suggests that there may be a burial underneath Nudd’s field.
Toni asks if it could be a cemetery and the radar surveyors said yes.

Time Team for this episode were:

Mick Aston: Bristol University Landscape Archaeologist.
Alison Hopper: Exeter Museum conservator.
Phil Harding: Wessex Trust for Archaeology field archaeologist.
Toni Pearson: English Heritage environmental archaeologist.
Robin Bush: Somerset County Records Office documents expert.
Victor Ambrus: Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, historical illustrator.

Guide info:

There is 24 hours left of this episode I have not covered. If I can find it, I will add to this quick guide. Every mention of the pilot by a Time Team member brings a similar quote of “I’m glad it was never shown”. Well so far I enjoyed it.

Image credits:
Many thanks to Dorothy & Ian Hart for their kind permission to use the images of: The George Hotel, The Abbey Guest House and the Dyke Hills. Check out their two sites: River Thames and Boaty Things - Exploring Europe by Boat.
Many thanks also, go to the copyright owners for the image of Dorchester Abbey: Nash Ford Publishing. This image of Dorchester Abbey is part of the Nash Ford Photo Library. More images can be seen on their site.