I Have A Cunning Plan M'Lud

The Making Of Time Team's Carsington Pasture Cave Epic

At the end of May this year, the Nottingham based caving club Pegasus, was approached by a television production company with a view to making an episode for the Channel 4’s Time Team series. The proposed subject for this particular programme was to be the club’s recent archaeological finds at Carsington Pasture Cave, Derbyshire. Shooting for this episode was carried out over the 6th, 7th and 8th of June, the programme is provisionally scheduled for television airing in February 2003.

The following article details the events leading up to and including the actual filming of the episode. The observations made and the opinions expressed are those of myself and my fellow diggers in the Pegasus club, they are intended to give an insight into the wonderful world of the square goggle-box as seen through a caver’s eyes. I have not seen any of the finished product yet, nor do I know whether the episode has in fact been finished at the time of writing, but my gut feeling is that it should turn out to be an extremely entertaining piece of television. If this turns out to be the case then our endeavours will all have been worthwhile.

I came home from work on the evening of the 8th of May, to be told by my wife that a very excited Malc Scothon had been on the phone wanting to speak to me urgently. Now Malc, fine fellow that he is, is not particularly coherent when he’s excited, but the gist of the conversation that my wife gleaned from him, was that channel 4’s Time Team wanted to film us and our cave. The enticing carrot of Nationwide TV exposure was being dangled before our very noses, Andy Warhol’s famous quote that everyone is famous for 15 minutes sprang very much to mind.

I rang Malc back, he confirmed this unlikely scenario and stated that the person to whom he’d spoken, had intimated that things needed to be put into operation with more or less immediate effect. Since Malc was due to go on holiday that very weekend he asked me if I could try and get the ball rolling, so to speak, Malc was well pissed off.

Over the course of the next few days, cyberspace was awash with a plethora of mobile phone calls, text messages, e-mails and the like, between members of the Pegasus, Time Team, Production Companies, Farmers, Landowners, Archaeologists, D.C.R.O and any other interested parties. At one stage 4 different Pegasus diggers were in separate contact with 4 different Television personnel, it was an absolute miracle that any concrete or coherent arrangements were made. However arrangements were indeed made, and made very quickly. During the following week, week commencing 13th of May, no less that 4 underground site meetings were undertaken, giving guided tours to TV researchers, producers, cameramen, sound engineers, artistic technicians (?), and safety personnel co-opted from D.C.R.O. The idea that cavers hailed from the real world, and all held down regular daytime jobs, thus prohibiting swanning off up to Derbyshire at the drop of a hat, was a concept totally lost on the TV crew. Fortunately a couple of the diggers had understanding, or perhaps unknowing bosses, and we were able somehow to meet the quite demanding schedule of the TV research team (Special thanks to Andy Walchester and Mick Pritchard ). At the end of the week, the producer was favourably convinced that the site was ideally suited for the proposed TV programme, All that now remained to be done, was for Nick, the producer to sell the idea to his bosses in London. This was duly achieved and we were given the green light to proceed.

By the time Malc had returned from his week long diving jaunt in Scotland, the initial preparations were all but done and dusted. In order that Malc didn’t feel completely left out of things one small task was left in his capable hands. It was decided that as Malc was probably our most diplomatically gifted member, he was allocated the delicate task of negotiating the clubs expenses with the person controlling the Time Team purse strings.

The following two weeks were spent in assembling the caving team, organising clothing and lighting for the TV people, printing commemorative Tee-Shirts, and ensuring that the cave itself met with the requirements of the Health and Safety executive. Mark Noble and Wendy Joule from the D.C.R.O advised us on this aspect and effectively became honorary members of the Pegasus team for the duration of the project. Apparently this type of thing features in Mark’s everyday job, although quite how a cave-dig environment can ever hope to comply fully with Health and Safety requirements is beyond me. Finally all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed, we were ready for action.

As the date for shooting approached ever nearer, I couldn’t help wondering how a group of hairy-arsed cavers was going to get on with a bunch of theatrical luvvies over a period of three days. A meeting of minds perhaps, a marriage made in heaven? I doubt it.

On the Monday of the week when it was all due to kick off, Nick the producer rang to say that the lighting and sound engineers would need access to the cave on the Wednesday. Could we arrange to take down the original walled up entrance and also unlock the shaft entrance to facilitate easier entry for the TV personnel? This in itself was no problem, Tuesday was the Queen’s Jubilee Bank-Holiday and no-one would have the problem of skiving of work yet again. The problem was that of leaving an 80ft deep, loose cave full of archaeological relics open overnight, bearing in mind the fact that the village of Brassington was rife with rumours relating to the Time Team’s imminent invasion of their community. We felt that the possibility of unwanted visitors was a real threat. Mac, the T.V Company’s Mr Fix-it came up with an obvious but somewhat bizarre solution. Mac’s answer was to hire a security firm to stand guard over the cave entrance at all times when no-one else was on site. We were asked to await the arrival of the security guard on Tuesday night and brief him on his duties. Now given the fact that Carsington Pasture Cave is notoriously difficult to find in the daytime by people who have a vague idea of where to look, it was hardly surprising that the security officer had fun and games trying to locate us. He eventually turned up, all 25 stone of him, fitting somewhat snugly behind the wheel of an all-terrain 4 wheel drive vehicle. He declined our offer of a preliminary tour inside the cave entrance chamber, and flatly refused to leave the comfort of his wagon. This was a shame really, because if he could have been persuaded to sit in the entrance, he would have sealed it off completely without a doubt. We bid him farewell and left him shaking his head and mumbling something to the effect that this was the strangest job he’d ever been assigned to. When we spoke to him the following day, he confirmed that although he’d had no inquisitive visitors, a lone jogger passed by the cave at about 4 O’clock in the morning. This just goes to prove that there are stranger sportsmen on this planet than cavers.

Our nine man digging team was picked up from the Red Lion hotel in Wirksworth where Time Team were generously putting us up. Although we were all told to be there for 0830 at the latest, the minibus arrived at 0915. No big deal, but a sure indication of how things were to pan out. The television peoples’ interpretation of the abstract concept of time certainly differed from ours, as Nick the producer was later to succinctly put it, a half an hour in TV parlance can mean up to two hours real time.

By the time we had completed the 20 minute drive to the cave, things had already swung into action. I spotted Tony Robinson, the show’s figurehead, standing alone in a pensive mood on a solitary hillock some distance from the cave entrance. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to introduce myself and strolled over for a chat. A short conversation briefly ensued before Nick shouted over to me that Tony was in camera shot and was about to begin shooting the opening sequence to the show, he politely requested that I hauled my ass elsewhere P.D.Q.

Considering myself suitable reprimanded, I skulked off to join the rest of the lads well out of range of the camera. Not wishing to alienate us at such an early stage of the proceedings, the director subsequently called over to us and asked us not to worry, but to mingle in with the background and generally become part of the scenery, I suppose this is what Extras are meant to do. Quite a magnanimous gesture I thought, after all we were only the people that had discovered the cave’s extension and archaeological contents in the first place. We declined the invitation to merge into the background and instead chose to watch the opening sequence being filmed. From his starting point over on the isolated hillock, Tony bounded over to the cave entrance with youthful enthusiasm and launched into his narrative, explaining how a group of cavers from Nottingham had stumbled across the human skulls inside the cavern. On the Nth take, he was still bounding across with an undiminished appetite for the forthcoming project. On the Nth plus 1 take our leading man got it absolutely word perfect until he got to the bit describing the artefacts found at the site. After picking up the bone needle fashioned from a Deer’s antler and describing it as a wooden needle, our Tony momentarily lost it and let rip with a few choice expletives. It was good to see the mere mortal side of such a consummate professional. At this we had a good laugh and finally decided to get changed and busy ourselves underground, it seemed futile just to hang around on the surface waiting for things to happen, already we were becoming acclimatised to TV time. We split into two teams, Malc and Mick directing operations in FLASID Chamber, with Andy and myself organising things from Yoricks Chamber, the nerve centre of the cave.

When we arrived in Yoricks to start digging, Clive North, the cameraman and Steve Shearn the sound engineer, were safely ensconced in the safest part of the chamber and were setting up their gear in readiness for the first underground footage to be shot. I’d already met Clive the day before. Clive had kindly collected a state of the art caving lamp for me from Bat Products and had delivered it personally to me by hand. This was the most expensive piece of caving kit I’ve ever owned, and I made a mental note to pay Jarrett as soon as I’d received my expenses from the TV’s purser. It was good to chat to Clive and Steve, both were freelance operators and were both long-time cavers of the Mendip vintage, it was comforting to be in the company of like minded souls.

Clive had rigged up a audio and video link with a PC monitor positioned immediately inside the cave entrance. From this easily accessible point Nick, the producer could keep in touch with Clive and Steve and also view the live footage as it was being shot, and sort of carry out an on site edit as things went along. This was an excellent innovation, which managed to speed up the filming process at the same time as slowing it down.

After a short while Nick radioed down to say that the show’s female lead and supporting actress were ready to come down. I was asked by Clive to go up to the entrance chamber from which point I would be filmed escorting them down through the excavated crawls, squeezes and climbs past Yoricks calcified skull in the cave wall and thus into the chamber named in his memory. Katy was a regular member of the Time Team crew, she was an archaeologist and was standing in for the show’s first choice female star Carenza who at the time of filming was heavily pregnant and for obvious reasons not up to ‘extreme’ underground filming. You couldn’t help but get the impression that Katy was after making that spot her own. Alice was a doctor specialising in the study of bones, human or otherwise. Alice was, in our eyes, a star and endeared herself to the cavers straight away, on her visit to the lads in Flasid chamber she was greeted by a rousing chorus immortalised by Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown; “Alice,  Alice, who the heck is Alice”(or words to that effect). Such was the favourable impression that Alice made on the team that a section of the cave was named in her honour - Alice’s Back Passage.

Alice’s Back Passage was originally a flat out crawl at the far end of Yorick’s chamber, after a lot of fruitful excavation revealing more human skulls along with lots of bones from small rodents the crawl had enlarged to a wide walking/stooping sized passage. Viewers watching the reconstruction of this dig on the finished television programme, will no doubt be rather surprised to be informed by Katy that the tons of boulders moved were excavated by Katy and Alice. They might have expected them to have been shifted by 4 or 5 hard cavers working their nuts off for hours prior to the arrival of the girls. Eh bien ! C’est La Vie. As it happened both girls turned out to be willing, enthusiastic and keen diggers, both worked like dervishes with their little pick-axes. Katy in particular was an intrepid tiger in the Tony Jarrett mode. In her never ending quest to unearth further human skulls, Katy showed no trepidation in digging directly beneath the main chockstone holding up the dry-stone walled shoring, which in turn held up the roof of loose boulders. Andy Chamberlin, honorary Pegasus member and regularly invited Time-Team underground archaeology expert, suggested on a couple of occasions that it might have been a wise policy to stop digging in that spot and divert her well-meaning efforts elsewhere in the chamber, this advice went unheeded. Lee Hollis, showing a succinct knowledge of Anglo-Saxon terminology asked her to stop in his finest Ripley accent, this did the trick. Lee, I suspect never fully forgave Katy for inviting her large four-legged canine companion, complete with large muddy paws, into the front seat of his pick-up truck, earlier that morning. Later on that same day and also on the final day of digging a couple of dramatic sounding collapses did occur, fortunately the shoring was up to scratch and held firm. On both occasions Clive North put his caver’s intuitions and honed cameracraft to good effect and captured both instances ‘live’ on film. If these shots make the final TV programme, it should be obvious to see that both instances were completely unscripted, they should also make for extremely entertaining viewing.

At the end of the first day’s shooting Nick, the producer called a Rap (or is it a Wrap, I’m still not completely conversant with telly-speak) at about 1900hrs. Everybody retired to the pub. We needn’t have worried about how the respective camps of Cavers and TV personnel would get along, a common bonding factor was discovered. This bonding factor was brown in colour, liquid in form and was dispensed in large quantities in pint glasses from either the Miner’s Arms or The Gate Inn in Brassington. Timothy Taylor, the head honcho in the TV camp, normally put his name to a tab which accounted for the first few imbibations. ( Timothy Taylor- Quite an apt name really for the chief ale provider, I thought.)
The next two days followed a similar pattern, get up in the morning and have a hearty greasy spoon type breakfast, travel to the cave and get underground A.S.A.P, dig and dig some more, hopefully being filmed doing it  Break at lunch-time and travel to the catering van stationed in Brassington. The van was stocked with such an excellent variety of Cordon-Bleu culinary delights, it seemed rude not to sample them all. Return to the cave for more digging and filming before retiring to the evening’s chosen Alehouse for more beer and bonding. Halfway through day three (the final day), Tony Robinson eventually made it to Yorick’s chamber for some interactive filming with the lads and lasses ensconced down there. Tony on his maiden caving trip, hopped about the chamber like he’d been a caver all his life. Tony said that he thought that this was because he appeared to be the right shape and size for a caver, i.e. small and scrawny. Personally I think that all that time he spent grovelling around dark, wet, muddy trenches with Blackadder stood him in good stead for Derbyshire caving.

The time passed all too quickly, even the time spent hanging around waiting for the television time to catch up with the real world, and all too soon it was over. All in all thirty hours of underground and surface action was shot, more human skulls and more artefacts were found, and more new cave passage was discovered, so everybody was happy. The discovery of the additional human skulls now makes this site the largest of its kind in the U.K and as such it will be necessary for English Heritage to place certain access restrictions on the cave and the surrounding area. What form these restrictions take has yet to be decided, but we have been assured that the Pegasus Club will have some active involvement in the access procedures; we will have to wait and see.

All that remains to do is say thanks to Tony, Tim, Nick, Ben, Mac, Nicola, Natalie, Kate, Katy, Alice, Clive, Steve et al. Let’s do it again sometime.

 

Alan Steans

 
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