Trolling through Amazon the other day in search of research material for King’s Bane three, I stumbled across an item which I have looked for on and off for decades. The above dvd of the old 1980’s BBC series ‘In Search of the Dark Ages’ has been unavailable since that time, despite high demand. Apparently the problem lay with copyright issues for some of the incidental music used, which was a tragedy because this series really helped to spark my interest in the period. It is not an exaggeration to say that the programmes contained here were life changing for myself and, I now know, many others. Written and presented by a youthful Michael Wood, each individual programme dealt with an important name from the era. Among the more familiar Arthur, Boudicca, Offa and Ælfred stories, Michael also introduced men like Eric Bloodaxe and Æthelstan to a wider audience for the first time.
The enthusiasm for his subject is one of the standout features of the programmes. As a boy he had spent the summer holidays attempting to discover the site of the Battle of Brunanburh. For me personally, and quite a few others who are now household names in the field, it was the series which led me to search out and explore Anglo Saxon sites close to my own home. Mucking was little more than a windswept river terrace overlooking the Thames, but a bike ride allowed me to stand on the site where some of the very first English settlers lived and worked. A short train ride took me to Benfleet, the site of King Ælfred and the men of London’s great victory over the Danish vikings led by Hæsten in 894. The charred remains of Hæsten’s ships were unearthed during the construction of the station there in the mid 19th Century and the nearby church stands on the site of the Danish fortress which the Londoners stormed that day to win their famous victory.
As I got older and more mobile Ashingdon, the site of Edmund Ironside’s great battle with Cnut came within reach, as did the site of the Battle of Maldon outside the town itself. Sutton Hoo was then a collection of burial mounds at the end of a farmer’s track, unmarked on anything other than the ordinance survey map, a far cry from the World famous visitor centre of today.
In part thanks to these programmes, I have enjoyed a lifetime of study, entertainment and now employment within this far off period in our history. Although of its time, it remains a cracking series and is well worth a look.