Minor British Institutions: The television historian

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The Independent Online

This country counts itself unimpressed by intellectuals. How, then, to explain the continuing popularity of The Television Historian?

The first Great TVH was AJP Taylor, whose lectures without notes or props set the high tone and were said to empty the pubs (mind you, they also said that about the first ever night of Hamlet).

Today, we have the titanic trio: Simon Schama, excitingly jerky, clever use of the demotic; David Starkey, a certain lurking menace, never happier than when describing an execution; and Michael Wood, keeningly enthralled.

Pretenders include Dan Snow's loping macho and Bettany Hughes, the Past's Nigella. None is so puritan as Prof Taylor. The best also eschew the irritatingly "accessible" historic present tense – "Caesar is now faced", etc.

Extras brooding as silent monarchs or imitating whole armies with the help of mist are now out of vogue. A pity, as I miss the portly out-of-breath ones, often with pikes.

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