Perhaps the programme’s title was the main problem here, after all, what this series was really all about was celebrating the centenary of the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendments Act, we might write ‘English Heritage’ for shorthand. Quite right too, for one thing this series has been tremendously successful in achieving is highlighting just how precarious the condition of heritage in the British Isles was, coming out of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. The island would be culturally much poorer had such interventions not been made, but heritage diversity was certainly not the agenda of this production.
The contributors to the programme must not have been briefed about the programmes ultimate title, for throughout each episode the audience was reminded how England’s heritage was under threat, how England’s heritage would be preserved, all of which was illustrated by a fine selection of English stately homes. This may have been the fight for Britain’s heritage, but the production team clearly decided to talk at length about England’s heritage.
This was not just a matter of the stunning backdrops serving to set the scene, there was also the matter of people. Where for instance were the likes of Fox, Wheeler and Nash-Williams? What was made of the works of the Cambrian Archaeological Association? Did these individuals and organisations not matter, not contribute to this fight to save ‘British’ heritage? Many would argue that in stepping over the border, the story of this fight simply cannot be told without at some meaningful discussion of such figures. But then that was not really the agenda of ‘Heritage! The Battle for Britain's Past’. As is so often the case with BBC productions these days, a BBC Wales ‘edit’ could be filmed covering the same period in time, and tell a very different story.
I don’t want to be too grumpy about ‘Heritage! The Battle for Britain's Past’. After all, the programme content was (putting the above reservations to one side a moment) excellent and very interesting (awful voiceovers put to one side as well). However this was certainly not a programme about Britain’s Past, unless of course that past is exclusively illustrated by English architecture alone, which I certainly hope it is not. This programme celebrated English Heritage, and should have stated as much so on the tin. Equally, it was a programme that presented the very narrowest of definitions of the term ‘heritage’, and that troubled me as well. So perhaps a rebranding is in order, ‘The Battle for England’s Built Heritage (largely manifest in the form of stately homes from the last two hundred years)’, though that might have been less catchy, while altogether far more representative of content.