BM Confirms PAS Not Involved in Design of Ch5 #DIGGING FOR TREASURE-Tonight

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As part of our series #WeNeedToTalkAboutMetalDetecting thePipeLine looks at questions around the involvement of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Channel 5’s new metal detecting series, Digging for Treasure-Tonight, fronted by 5’s new signing Dan Walker, Michaela Strachen and archaeologist and CBA President Raksha Dave.

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Ahead of its first broadcast on 26 August [2022] the new series, #DiggingForTreasure-Tonight, commissioned by Channel 5 from Yorkshire based independent production company Daisybeck Studios, has already proved controversial among some archaeologists, and, perhaps more surprisingly, also among some metal detectorists. Both groups seem to fear that, by using the word “Treasure” in the title, the new series will only reinforce the impression that metal detecting is about finding shiny stuff worth lots of money and historical knowledge also has a cash value. Perhaps adding to the concern thePipeLine can now reveal that, contrary to suggestions, the Portable Antiquities Scheme was not involved in designing the format of the controversial first episode of Channel 5’s new metal detecting show. Not only that, far from the series focussing on metal detecting clubs, as the British Museum suggested to us, it is understood that, at least in the case of the first programme, the metal detecting portrayed was facilitated by a new limited company which usually organises the kind of pay to detect events more usually described as “rallies”. Rallies being a form of the hobby which the PAS does not routinely support and which the head of the scheme, Professor Michael Lewis, has gone on record as suggesting damages archaeology and should be avoided by detectorists.

The disquiet ahead of the series has been compounded by a short trailer for the first episode, issued by Channel 5, in which the phrase “an army of experts” is placed over images of metal detectorists, not archaeologists, with lead presenter Dan Walker shown calling out,

“Bring your coin!” to the accompaniment of the kind of whoops and claps from an audience of detectorists which are more usually associated with a gameshow.

In pushing back against the criticism, much as been made of the involvement of expert Finds Liaison Officers [FLO’s] from the Portable Antiquities Scheme in recording the show, with some suggesting the PAS was actually involved in designing the show’s format.

According to the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme this is not the case.

Asked to explain how the Portable Antiquities Scheme came to be involved at all in a programme which appears to be centred on what was, to all intents and purposes, a metal detecting rally organised for a commercial television production company, the head of the PAS, Professor Michael Lewis, told thePipeLine [our italics],

“Daisybeck contacted us once they had a commission, so we were not part of the series design. However we have agree[d] to participate to highlight the role of PAS and the importance of best practice and finds recording as best we can (in the context of above). Hopefully that will come across for viewers.” 

The comment of Professor Lewis begs the question how an experienced TV production company, Daisybeck Studios, could pitch for and win a commission to make a series about metal detecting for a major TV network without at least consulting with the national body which supports metal detecting in the community and records the finds members of the public, including detectorists, report voluntarily?

Indeed, the tone of Professor Lewis’s comment is that when Daisybeck Studios eventually made contact the Portable Antiquities Scheme was faced with options of either doing the best it could with a format it implicitly finds uncomfortable [if not why did Professor Lewis use the words “as best we can”, “in the light of the above” and “Hopefully”; or let the series go ahead without its support and deal with the consequences?

Asked if there was concern that at least some of the “experts” billed as taking part in “Digging For Treasure-Tonight” might come from the commercial auction trade, as was the case in another Channel 5 commission, Henry Cole’s Great British Treasure Hunt” [which wasn’t], and that commercial valuations might be included in the broadcast, a spokesperson for the British Museum, which hosts the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the related Treasure Valuation Committee, told thePipeLine [our italics],

As far as we’re aware, the ‘experts’ involved in the programme are not drawn from the trade in antiquities (auctioneers, valuers, etc.) and are being called upon for their archaeological/historic knowledge [NB: in fact, most of the experts are from the PAS]”

The phrase “as far as we are aware” suggests that the PAS and the press office at the British Museum, may not be fully aware of quite what it is they have got into.

This suggestion is compounded by another comment from the British Museum press office.

Asked about the background to the series the spokesperson added [our italics],

As far as we’re aware, the events being featured in this series are digs by specific metal-detecting clubs who have a good knowledge of the local landscape, not rallies.

However, checks by thePipeLine have confirmed that, while it is based in the region where recording took place, far from being a club in the traditional sense of being a group of like minded individuals coming together collectively to pursue a hobby, North Detecting Events, which facilitated the metal detecting for the recording of the first episode of Digging For Treasure, is in fact a Limited Company running pay to detect events.

That is, to all intents and purposes, the company organises and promotes metal detecting rallies.

Owned by Mr Anthony Pickering and with a registered office in Sunderland, North Detecting Events was registered with Companies House on 27 September 2021. Mr Pickering is the sole director and shareholder.

As a relatively new company North Detecting Events’ first accounts are not due until 2023.

Acknowledging the often opaque financial arrangements of many metal detecting Rally Co’s in a statement on the company website Mr Pickering writes,

“I’ve always wanted to be transparent about how the group is run as I’ve seen to many fraudsters and con men in the hobby, this is why I registered the company on Companies House as a ltd company, this means that anyone can see how I manage the funds year to year and the knowledge that tax is being paid.”

He adds that he has capped the group at five hundred participants, but has chosen not to collect an annual fee in the manner of a club subscription.

The definition of what the company actually does is important because, as far as the British Museum is concerned, and for many archaeologists, as well as some metal detectorists, the issue of rallies is a sensitive one.

The BM’s spokesperson told us,

“The PAS is clear that rallies do not provide ideal circumstances for the recording of finds and therefore could result in loss to the archaeological record, and our advice to organisers of such large-scale events is to make sure that they have employed the proper archaeological support to ensure this doesn’t happen. More information is available on our website: https://finds.org.uk/getinvolved/guides/rallycode.”

It is not clear if any of these issues will be discussed in the programme by either PAS staff taking part, or by the presenters.

While there is no suggestion, let alone evidence, to suggest that North Detecting Events and Daisybeck Studios have done anything unlawful, there are also questions to be asked over the relationship between two commercial entities, Daisybeck and North Detecting Events, making a TV programme for another commercial entity, Channel 5, with the support of a publicly funded body the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

For example; was the Portable Antiquities Scheme paid a full commercial rate for its participation [capacity is a reason the PAS gives for its FLO’s no longer supporting commercial metal detecting rallies routinely] and did the detectorists taking part pay to participate in the metal detecting event which is the focus of the programme?

Pay to detect would appear to be the normal business model for North Detecting Events and the company has run a number of such events in the Northallerton area of Yorkshire where the episode was recorded.

thePipeLine has put these questions to North Detecting Events, Daisybeck Studios, and the PAS at the British Museum.

On 25 August [2022] Mr Anthony Pickering of North Detecting Events commented on the video discussion of the new series on the Archaeosoup channel’s “Watching Brief“, stating,

“I will clarify that my members had a free day out and no commercial gain was made on the day of filming, I’ll also confirm that I received no payments or fee from Daisy Beck and none has been discussed, I took part in said show to hopefully promote metal detecting in responsible manner and give the guys in the hobby a different experience…”

We again approached Daisybeck Studios and asked them to confirm Mr Pickering’s statement and also to clarify if the PAS had been reimbursed for the time and resources committed to the programme. Up until the time of publication Daisybeck Studios has not responded to our request.

While there clearly are legitimate questions about the way the series came about it is only fair to wait for the broadcast of the programme to see whether the worst fears of the critics are realised.

Meanwhile, the criticism ahead of the broadcast of “Digging For Treasure” cannot be dismissed simply as the usual suspects in the archaeological community having another go at metal detectorists.

Writing on Facebook one member of a metal detecting forum wrote that such programmes are “…just an invitation to the get rich quick brigade.” and might even lead to an increase in illegal detecting by people new to the hobby who are not aware of the legal and ethical structures of the hobby, or, faced with a possible big pay day, simply don’t care, while a leading metal detectorist, John Maloney, has been reported as describing Digging For Treasure as “gameshowesque” drivel.” on the UK and European Metal Detecting Forum.

Commenting on Twitter, Mr Maloney added,

“If that is a highlight God help the hobby.”


Update: this article was amended at 15.54 on Friday 26 August 2022 to include comments from Mr Anthony Pickering stating that no payment from Daisybeck Studios had been received by him, or the metal detectorists taking part.

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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.
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