Rory McGrath’s Pub Dig

"Can I have a beer now please?"

According to the blurb, Rory McGrath’s Pub Dig is ‘two blokes and a digger’ (they forgot the entourage of skivvies helping out) exploring the history of some of Britain’s oldest public houses.

If you’re thinking it sounds a bit like Time Team with a remit of pubs alone, then you’d be right. Despite Channel Five’s best efforts to repackage this as something other than a Time Team rip off, it’s still…..well, a Time Team rip off, frankly.

‘Time Gentleman Please’ Team might have been a better name.

Now there’s nothing specifically wrong with Rory McGrath as a presenter – he seems a likeable enough chap – but as the show unfolds you can’t help but wonder whether he signed up for this gig purely on the strength of the extra-curricular activities it afforded.

‘I know nothing about archaeology or history!’ he proudly exclaims to his archaeologist companion on this adventure, (Paul Blinkhorn) so why he’s presenting it is a bit of a mystery. He has none of Tony Robinson’s geeky, barely-contained enthusiasm for heritage and is blissfully ignorant about it to boot. But he does like going to pubs, apparently.

If that’s all the job spec stated then he must be good, as he’d have had to beat approximately 62,218,760 million other applicants.

Despite this handicap, the boys kick off their first episode in Chatham, giving the front of a boozer called The Command House a good going over with a radar to see if there is anything worth digging up other than eighties crisp packets and Grolsh bottle tops.

When the radar shows up something lurking beneath the mud that might possibly be a wall, it’s in with the rotivators and student archaeologists, as the team of researchers are hoping it might be the remains of a Tudor dockyard.

In order to disguise the fact that the series is quite clearly plagarising Time Team, and to remind us that it’s on Channel Five, every so often an opportunity to talk about and/or consume booze is sheepishly crowbarred in. This conceit sits so awkwardly that Paul is forced to wear a hoodie saying ‘pint’ on it all the way through the show just to show that there is a viable link between archaeology and booze, honest.

But there isn’t really enough boozing to justify the rationale that this is a series devoted to pubs, possibly due to the health and safety hazards of drunken archaeology, or possibly because the theme itself just doesn’t really work.

This means that when Rory isn’t presenting vaguely interesting historical insights into his surroundings by meeting various boffins, he’s spoiling it by getting in the way a bit and doing his best to Channel Five it up a bit, just in case we’ve been pulled too far out of our comfort zone by learning actual stuff.

For instance, he introduces the first ad break with the unsavoury and unnecessary revelation that ‘coming up – I fire a few blanks and catch something nasty!’, and ‘I’ve got GUNarrhea!’ (cue shot of a canon going off). There really is no place for rubbish innuendo if a show like this wants to be taken remotely seriously – you may as well get out your history books and write ‘LOL’ after all of the vaguely saucy bits.

Perhaps Rory just got a bit bored of all the facts he was learning and fed up with all of the pints he wasn’t drinking, as he also seems determined to take the show as far as possible into Top Gear territory by trying to fit in as many ‘Boy’s Own’ experiences as he can.

At one point when a boat appears to illustrate the way that the Tudor dockyard (that has so far eluded the archaeologists) was used, Rory gets to have a go on it. When they bring in the aforementioned canon, he excitedly shouts ‘can we have a go at firing one of the guns?’

Alright then Rory, and if you’re very good you can have a pint at the end.


Rory McGrath’s Pub Dig is on Tuesdays at 8pm on Channel 5. You can catch up on Demand 5 here


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