I was working as the community technician at the sixth form college in Basingstoke, of all places, putting up lighting rigs for classical concerts (soft but plush) and the local Indian Society (lots of bright colours). The brief for the community wing of the college was basically "Make stuff happen" so we did: world music festivals, community Opera, international art exhibitions... and for every grand scheme we had the same resources: two quid, a piece of string and a handfull of student volunteers.
Cheap meeting rooms with overhead projectors were what first attracted the Basingstoke Archaeological and Historical Society to the college. Now, you could be forgiven for thinking of the Arch hist soc as a bit of an anachronism in Boringstoke but it is in these new urban environments that a sense of the past is most neccessary. There is, as it happens, plenty of history below the sixties housing estates and the concrete office blocks and the BAHS were on a mission to let the people of "The market place of the settlement of the followers of Basa" know about it.
So Barbara Applin and Mary Oliver of BAHS brought what was, in the pre Time Team early nineties, a fairly radical idea to the college: a video telling the story of 350,000 years of Basingstoke's history. Yes, I was fairly dubious at first too but as I read through the script they handed me, I was slowly sucked in by the tantalising questions and painstaking detective work so familiar to the field. Two things rapidly became apparent: the script would have to be re-written so that ordinary people could understand what was meant by lines such as "The snails tell us this was once grassland" and the domestic VHS camcorders owned by the college were not going to do justice to the moments when the veiwer would be asked to "Look at the fine detail on this flint arrowhead".
Fortunately Sony Broadcast are based in B'stoke and were happy to exchange broadcast quality video kit for a credit, I found funding to take the ubiqitous handfull of students on a training weekend, two weeks of the summer holidays were booked for shooting and the re-writes began. I repeatedly found myself asking for more demonstration to go with the explanation, more moving pictures to go with the words otherwise it would just be a slide show and not a true video at all. The flint knapping skills of Phil Harding, at that time working for the County Archaeology Service and happy to get out and bang rocks together for an afternoon, were called upon to add action to the stone ages. Relevant digs were found and visits arranged, the cardinal rule was broken and schoolchildren were brought in to ask questions. Everything was shaping up well except one sequence about the excavation of a Bronze Age round barrow. I cant remember who pushed us from fantasy to activity but a patch of councill land was made temporarily available; a digger with driver blagged off a local construction company and a host of volunteers aranged for a fabulous day filming a one third scale replica of the barrow going through all it's stages of construction.
Six weeks of editing, during which I learnt to drive Sony's three machine edit suite (BVE 910) without the aid of a manual, yeilded up a two hour epic which is still on sale over ten years later.
Bookings through Jo at Catspaw.uk.net