Building the Ancient City: Athens, BBC2, TV review: Andrew Wallace-Hadrill is the perfect antithesis to David Starkey

It was hard to feel anything but warmth for the exuberant Cambridge Classicist
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The Independent Culture

This was the sort of 8pm BBC2 documentary that most people under the age of 45 would be forced to start second screening to within the first five minutes.

Cambridge Classicist Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill held forth in several ancient Athenian sites about the ways in which the Greeks gave birth to modern democracy as we know it. With the help from an inevitable appearance from the nation’s most famous Classicist, Boris Johnson, the documentary was at pains to point out just how ahead of their times the Greeks really were.

Imagine a world where the government offered a state subsidy for the theatre, where foreigners were welcomed across the border to do the menial jobs nobody else wanted to do and where building more houses actually became a reality. It sounds like an ideological fantasy dreamt up by Jeremy Corbyn, but the ancient Greeks proved it could become a reality. It certainly seems more civilised than Athens today.

An exuberant Wallace-Hadrill made the first of this two-part documentary watchable thanks to his passion for the subject. It was hard to feel anything but warmth for the antithesis of the typical Oxbridge academic presenter. His face lit up at the slightest discovery, “You have ancient coins! Brilliant!”, “I love the fact you know the guy who did the column fluting. Brilliant fluting!”. His eyebrows bounced up and down with mirth throughout, proving he is truly in another era to David Starkey.

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