Magazine article The Spectator

Television: James Delingpole

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: James Delingpole

Article excerpt

Detectorists (BBC4) is a sad git's niche comedy that would never have been commissioned if it hadn't been written and directed by Mackenzie Crook (who sort of counts as a Hollywood star, now, because after making his name in The Office he went on to appear in the Pirates of the Caribbean series). But I'm glad it was because I'm one of the sad gits it's targeting: desperate blokes who spend their every spare weekend at this time of year scouring ploughed fields for non-existent treasure.

We're a fairly eclectic bunch, we detectorists. Simon Heffer is one; Rolling Stone Bill Wyman is another; so, too, is Mackenzie Crook himself, which is why the details in his charming comedy series are often so right: the silly camouflage outfits adorned with webbing; the trainspotterish obsession with metal detector brands (mine's an XP Deus, by the way: just thought you ought to know); the tragic delusion we all nurture that somewhere out there is the hoard with our name on it; the even more tragic reality that what detecting is really about is hours and hours of bugger-all punctuated by brief twinges of RSI, ring pulls and chunks of rusted metal.

Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones)

Sometimes the desperation can get so intense that even when your detector gives you the warning signal for iron (as opposed to non-ferrous, which is all you're really after) you still dig it up just for the thrill of finding something, anything, even if it's just an old nail or one of those ancient coins so ubiquitous and corroded beyond recognition they're known dismissively in the trade as 'Roman grot'.

Still, though, you keep going because like our detectorist heroes Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones) you imagine that any second now your luck is going to change. The deal with finding a hoard is this: you get to keep half its value; the landowner gets the other half -- all paid for by the government according to a fair price decided by a Treasure Valuation Committee. It's one of those rare corners of the English legal system where things still actually work.

Andy and Lance are in search of the lost, Sutton-Hoo-style treasure of Sexred, 7th-century king of the East Saxons. Unfortunately the man on whose land it may lie is as mad as a box of frogs. Furthermore, members of a rival metal-detecting club have got wind of the rumoured treasure, thus injecting into the sitcom scenario the vital ingredient known in TV land as 'jeopardy'.

Becky (Rachael Stirling), and Andy (Mackenzie Crook)

And the jeopardy doesn't end there. …

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