Television

Fellow saddoes rejoice: BBC4 has made a comedy-drama about metal detecting

Plus: James Delingpole has spotted some eco propaganda on BBC2

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

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.

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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’.

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

And the jeopardy doesn’t end there. There’s also a romantic subplot in the form of a pretty young thing called Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) who has failed to get the memo that detecting is solely a hobby for middle-aged saddoes and wants to have a go herself. This causes some awkward moments for Andy who already has an implausibly nice, well-balanced, educated, attractive, patient, reasonable long-term girlfriend called Becky (Rachael Stirling).

When long-lens photos appear of Sophie kissing Andy while out on a treasure hunt, Becky is simply not wired to understand that this is perfectly normal behaviour when you’ve just found your first gold stater. (Staters, for the uninitiated, being one of the holy grails of metal detecting because they’re always old and valuable and are only made of gold or silver, which unlike lower denomination alloy coins do not corrode. I’d still rather find a torque, though.)

But enough digressions about metal detecting — or before you know it, I’ll be telling you about the fibula brooch I found the other day, and maybe even the crotal bell, and don’t get me started on the strange crescent bronze thing with pockmarks on one side. What you’ll want to know is: is the series worth catching up with on iPlayer?

Well, yes and no. On the plus side, it’s the kind of gentle, mildly whimsical, rustic, undemanding, charmingly acted, chamber-ensemble-type comedy drama you’re in the mood for on a Sunday evening. And on the minus side, it’s so blandly inoffensive you do want to give it a bit of a slap sometimes.

For example, there’s a scene where Andy unearths, of all things, an original Jim’ll Fix It badge. ‘What you got?’ calls out Lance. Andy studies the badge in embarrassment and disgust. ‘Nothing,’ he says, chucking it away — which no real person would. Rather you’d be amazed at having found such a fantastic piece of sicko 1970s retro. And it would be the cue for hours and hours of bad taste Jimmy Savile jokes.

One other thing that annoyed me this week: BBC2’s Wonders of the Monsoon series (Sundays). The photography is just fantastic — epic thunderstorms; red crabs being speared by even bigger crabs; mosquitos in ultra close-up emerging from their larval stage — but I’d advise watching with the sound turned down to avoid irritations such as the use of the word ‘she’ to describe both a mosquito and a river. This creeping anthropomorphisation of everything by BBC nature documentaries is not an innocent trend. The sane pronouns you were looking for, Mr Dangerous Eco Loon propagandist, were ‘it’ and ‘it’.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • mach-1mustang

    And I think the adjective you were looking for is eccentric, not eclectic. lol just messin with ya. Thanks for the great article, I’m loving the show so far. Keep on diggin! (LordofTheZincs,FMDF member) 🙂

  • Mr Grumpy

    I’m a bit of an eco loon myself so I don’t really approve of Mr Delingpole. Furthermore, if he brings his damned metal detector anywhere near Grumpy Towers I’ll set the hamster on him.

    Interesting though that rivers and mosquitoes are going in the opposite direction from countries and boats. I’ve always assumed that in the latter cases the Illuminated Ones have detected a whiff of sexism in the use of “she”. Though what should be sexist about feminizing something on whose solidity your life depends is not altogether clear.

    • Medusa Jordan

      I think the objection to boats being referred to as she is the idea that a man controls his boat, and therefore the boat should be referred to as she, because he would be ‘homo’ and ‘it’ for some reason just doesn’t do at all.

  • Terence Wilkinson

    I would just like to remind James that there is life beyond the BBC and on channels that do not criminalise people who do not want to pay for their services. I have boycotted the BBC and although I miss the £12 a month I need to pay the Licence Fee but I do not miss the self-congratulatory attitude of the BBC, the insufferably twee range of shows and the fact that the only show I wanted to watch, Dr Who, is basically the same every week. So come James, take a stand and review more shows from commercial channels.

    • goatmince

      It is true: since 2008, over 2 million additional households in Britain are not no longer willing, they are no longer able to pay their licence. To save face they now boast that:

      a- the BBC’s offerings were below standard
      b- they didn’t watch it (yet comment on it)
      c- others should not pay either

      That is so so sad really. Instead of fixing what is wrong here you and others choose to dig an even deeper hole. Why?

    • Jon Jones.

      “on channels that do not criminalise people who do not want to pay for their services” You do not have to pay for BBC services, you do not even have to pay to watch video broadcasts. All BBC TV news, radio and TV programming is free. You just have to use the internet and not watch TV “as it is broadcast”

  • Picquet

    Other than Attenborough’s output, I stopped watching any of the tripey ‘wildlife’ programmes at the instant it became clear that to the presenters, all animals had first names. Watching Jemima Lion and her sisters Mabel and Julia crawling throught the long grass toward the wildebeest was an anthropomorphism too far.

  • Gwangi

    I borrowed a metal detector from the caravan in front of ours when on holiday as a 12 years old. My first time on the beach I found a silver ring! Later I got my own (very cheap) metal detector but never found anything much then lost interest aged 14.

    However, I am seriously considering getting a metal detector and starting again – though this time I’d be going to more historic items (I hope). I am hoping this will provide relaxation and exercise too! I think I have to buy a metal detector magazine to check about how to do that legally with land ownership etc. I have no interest in joining others, however – for me, it has to be a solitary thing.

    • Al Bowlly

      I am thinking of doing the same. It sounds like a lot of fun apart from the making it a communal activity aspect and dressing up in pseudo-military garb that some people seem to go in for.

      • Gwangi

        I haven’t seen the TV series (which the BBC in its infinite wisdom chose to bury in a late night BBC4 slot) but I think the military garb things is more an invention than anything else. The people I see metal detecting on the beaches round here are usually in woolly jumpers and look like retired males really (no women doing it, from what I see…)
        I am research magazines now. I shall read one or two before buying a ‘thing’/ But it does appeal to me, so maybe a New Year’s Resolution 2015 – to become a metal detectorist… Looks nice n relaxing… all that fresh air etc

  • Al Bowlly

    I am watching an episode now. It seems on a par with Doc Martin (phony accents, feeble humour, clunking dialogue) so I will be giving it a miss in future. Still, good article.

  • Malcolm Clark

    If the BBC anthropomorphised a river that’s silly….but if a mosquito not necessarily. If “it” is sucking blood then it IS a she…since only female mosquitoes suck blood.

  • jazz606

    I have a metal detector. It is a ‘Lone Star Bounty Hunter’ manufactured in El Paso Texas. Bought it in Costco 12 or 13 years ago. On its first and (so far) only outing I located a metal table fork with a bent tine.
    Does this qualify me as a detectorist ?

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  • Andy Spragg

    I don’t think James can be much of a detectorist in reality, else he would surely have known that the preferred spelling is torc not torque (which has a specific technical meaning in physics). The series was great though.

  • Geoffrey Mackrill

    “Detectorists” really, really enjoyed this six part series….if you go metal detecting you know exactly whats going on……if you are a member of a metal detecting club then it’s on the money 100%……while watching I felt that I had been spied on over the last 30 or more years while enjoying the hobby…….yes why do Dinky toy cars turn up in the middle of a field……it just happens…..this series could only have been written by an insider….. and my name sake falling off Beachyhead……that’s me alright…..except I survived the fall…….but please the final scene…… walking away from all that Treasure…..how many times must we all have done that…..let’s please have more……..even if the only people who understand it are detectorists

    • Patrick Clement

      I am not a detectorist, never have been and probably never will but I enjoyed the series more than anything I’ve seen in ages. Well done Mackenzie Crook for a superb script and well done to all the characters and all involved in it’s production – absolutely superb!

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