Philippa Langley: Hero or Villain?


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The Independent Online

Now is the winter of our discontent/made glorious summer by the sound of Oxbridge types choking on their cornflakes.

You could hear the gasps of academic indignation from as far away as that windy Leicester car park beneath which Richard III's bones were finally dug up, five centuries after the last Plantagenet king got the chop at Bosworth Field.

Even as 3.7 million of us tuned in to last week's Channel 4 film about the search for his body, the great Mary Beard was tweeting, "Gt fun & a mystery solved... But does it have any HISTORICAL significance?" She was echoed by the eminent Neville Morley, professor of ancient history at the University of Bristol, who blogged: "Whoop-de-doo … Why is it that a skeleton is interesting only if it's that of a famous person?" Meanwhile, over at Sheffield Uni's History Matters blog, lecturer Catherine Fletcher observed: "Traditional 'kings and queens' history, so criticised over the decades by historians, still plays very well on TV."

But why so much heavyweight pooh-poohing of what, for most viewers, had been a discovery of genuine interest? Could it be – in part, at least – because it had been the work of, shock horror, an amateur? And worse, the kind of amateur who blubs to camera and prefaces her theories with: "I know how mad this sounds, but...."?

Step forward, an unlikely new TV hero, the redoubtable and avowedly emotional Philippa Langley, screenwriter and secretary of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society (yes, it exists). The 50-year-old may lack the gravitas of more established rivals. But you know what? She was right. It may all have started with a not-very-rigorous-sounding "odd feeling", but she really did find Dicky 3, the last English monarch to die on the battlefield.

This just in: Paddy Power has our Philippa down as 6/1 favourite to become the next presenter of Time Team, overtaking Mary Beard, who slips back to 8/1.