It all began with an unexpected phone call from a film company asking me if I would like to try and explain the ‘impossible’ cutting and carving of hard stones in Ancient Egypt – “oh yes” was my reply. I have appeared on BBC TV before when giving technical advice, so the time-consuming and frustrating process of the numerous ‘takes’ to produce a few minutes of air time came as no surprise.
We did the filming in two different locations – an old boat yard in Cornwall and a stone quarry in Somerset. The principal focus was on cutting granite, but unfortunately, the stone quarry was a sandstone quarry – a very much softer material. Not only that, but we were not allowed to use the saw we wanted, that would give us the very important 45 degree compound cut we needed to demonstrate. “Don’t worry about that – CGI (computer generated imagery) will cover that”, was the producer’s response.
The producer already had a solid idea of what he wanted to capture well before filming even started; but I did not. So there I was with flood lights in my eyes and a sound boom just over my forehead (just out of camera shot) and a sea of faces looking at me. The camera began to roll and the producer asks “so why are we here Peter? He expects me to tell him the reason he has set up this scene and the carefully-thought out rationale of the whole programme – but in his own mind. I just want to say, “Because you asked me, and you are paying me”! Oh, No! Without any rehearsal, I gave it my best shot.
“Good, but could you mention the word “impossible” somewhere because that is in the programme’s title”? “Again – from the top”!, and off you go again frantically trying to remember what you said last time, but including “impossible” somewhere. “Good, but can you leave out the word ‘sandstone’ this time? …. Again, from the top…. Two days later, “it’s a wrap”!
After all this effort, a few months later, the two programmes air in the USA in the History Channel’s “Ancient Impossible” series. As a scientist, most of the carefully-sequenced logic has been subjugated to the more important imperative of crowd-pleasing tantalizing graphics and the lingering unanswered questions. So it certainly raises the issues I wanted to raise, it also leaves one slightly in the “nutter” camp, because they want to show the “mystery” of the problem, not the science. When questioning this, I got the reply “Peter, we are not that sort of programme”; i.e. not a serious BBC Horizon or Panorama, so I am talking to the BBC – wish me luck!
Extreme Engineering……..my tv debut exploring the possibility of giant circular saws being used….