Mick Aston: Time Team remembers

11 mins read

When we invited Mick’s Time Team colleagues to contribute to our commemorative article, we were inundated with warm words and loving memories.  

TimTim Taylor

Time Team Series Producer and creator

After 23 years of friendship and working with Mick, it is hard to summarise my thoughts about the lovely man, but I will give some snapshots:

That early discussion in a café on the edge of Dartmoor, sometime in the 80’s.   We had been working for 3 months going up and down the valley that would become Roadford Reservoir, to film Timesigns,  a documentary I had written for Channel 4.   After a hard day we sat together and Mick recounted his adventures of the previous weekend. ‘We’d missed a bus [I hear it with Mick’s Brummie twang, which on occasion I share , so it sounds like ‘buzz’] and so, with a couple of hours to spare, we wandered around and sorted out the Medieval plan of the village.’  I replied: ‘You mean you did all that in two hours and we’ve been going up and down the valley for three months — what could you do in a weekend if I gave you all the diggers and kit you needed?’ And that was it, the rest is history.   Mick finished the conversation with a note of typical Brummie pessimism: ‘It’ll never happen Tim!’

A memory of Mick’s magic with kids on the Ribchester shoot in Time Team‘s first series: a young lad brought in a bit of old ivory toothbrush and Mick – who had the ability to treat the young as equals – fascinated the boy with the story of this simple artefact, its use, and who made it — he always made ordinary objects of life come alive.

mick series 3
Mick had a way of inspiring the young – and the young at heart.

Mick’s fierce and wonderful anger, on a shoot in Somerset at Templecombe, where he forgot to refer to a tythe map — a string of expletives came streaming out and required official sanction from Channel 4 to use in the final edit!   He was, as always, splendidly angry because he cared.

At Buckingham Palace, hidden in the bushes, I remember waling with Mick across the Queen’s pristine front lawn – in which we would be sticking a large trench – and saying to each other : ‘well, we have come a long way!’

And of course all the lovely personnel memories. Just one of many: sitting up late at night and playing for him Cohen’s Faded blue raincoat.  I think he liked Cohen’s pessimism!

He always loved to be involved with the reconstructions. I remember watching Mick and Phil Harding with their shoes off, warming their toes on a re constructed hypocaust.   And of course, the Mick lines that he would issue in my general direction when I got a bit over enthusiastic with the trenches, but I always knew that he would let me go that bit further if I’d made my case well . He got that it was important for the TV, as he put it, to ‘get it out there.’

I was, and remain glad that I was able to put what I knew about film and media to such a good purpose and it was Mick’s inspiring magic that was at the heart of that but mostly I am glad to have know him as a friend, mentor and unique human being.

A final note received from Mick a few months ago was written on a letter from a viewer exulting us to   take Time Team to the BBC or anywhere that would appreciate us.   Mick’s note simply said: ‘What a good idea! Over to you, Tim.’ Mick’s legacy is something we will hopefully all carry forward.   It is a unique contribution to archaeology, a living thing that will continue to flourish and grow.



Time Team presenter

Mick was a glorious bundle of contradictions. He was as fit as a fiddle but with crippling asthma, an incurable optimist who never stopped moaning, he was deeply moral but for much of his life was a rascal and a libertine, a passionate environmentalist who drove at least twenty thousand miles a year in a series of ancient camper vans.

He was also highly political, believing deeply in human equality, and the right of everyone to access the very best that education had to offer. And because, for him, archaeology epitomised that very best, he wanted to share it with everyone. Consequently he was far happier giving talks in village halls than locked away in the ivory towers of academe. There were howls of outrage from some of his contemporaries when he sank to fronting a popular television series, but he produced a stream of books and magazine articles every year in addition to his voluminous work on Shapwick (see CA 272), and the thousands who took up archaeology because of his influence demonstrate how misguided his critics were.

My abiding memory of him is when the two of us climbed to the top of a church tower one sunny summer’s day somewhere in the Marches, and looked at the little town below us. He showed me its relationship to the fords and bridges of the nearby river, he pointed out the remains of the monastic enclosure, the ancient lanes, the pattern of the Norman new town, the Victorian redevelopment and the post war expansion. With a few deft flicks of his wrist he made sense of this palimpsest, a supreme story-teller lifting the scales from my eyes and helping me comprehend a little more about the country of my birth. That was what he did best, and it will be remembered for a long time by all those who came under his spell.


JAG with Geoscan Resistance MeterJohn Gater

GSB Prospection Ltd, Time Team geophysicist

I knew Mick for probably the best part of 30 years; he was one of the most inspirational people I have worked with during my career. Mick always encouraged the use of scientific techniques in archaeology and in particular he saw the huge potential of geophysics. I had worked with him before  Time Team  and he recognised that we could play a pivotal role in the television investigations. He always defended us both on and off screen, even on the very rare occasions we made mistakes(!). Although he claimed to know little about the science, he understood the difficulties and pressures involved when interpreting datasets in very short periods of time (with Phil Harding breathing down our necks…). After almost 20 years on television he still referred to our work as being a ‘black art’ or ‘magic’. In my eyes Mick was the closest you could get to being a consumate professional; his one failing was his preference for Merlot over a pint of Real Ale. As Phil used to say: ‘How can you call yourself an Archaeologist when you drink that stuff?’. I’ll continue to remind Mick of that fact each time I drink a toast in his memory.


StewartStewart Ainsworth

University of Chester, Time Team landscape archaeologist

Mick started off his academic training as a geographer not an archaeologist, although it is as the latter that most people, particularly watchers of Time Team, that he will mostly be remembered. In reality, he was an archaeologist and historical geographer combined, and he was one of a select few who genuinely understood the complex relationship between archaeological sites and the geography of the landscapes of which they were part.

Over the years as he became a scholar of note, particularly on the subject of monasteries, he never abandoned his foundations as geographer in his pursuit to understand the past. Nobody, in my opinion, has surpassed Mick in his ability to communicate to the widest possible audience that the modern landscape is full of a wide variety of clues which could lead   the way to understanding the archaeology and history of the past – earthworks, patterns of streets in towns, maps, aerial photographs, buildings, and topography and geology – as well as many other things such as trees and hedgerows – and that sometimes all you have to do to understand that is to ‘Go out and look’, a favourite phrase of Mick’s. He often also said that some of his best discoveries were made popping over a hedge for a pee, and that by looking away from a site you actually started to understand it more. Thus spoke a true geographer.

As a result of Mick’s knowledge and enthusiasm for all aspects of landscape, not just archaeology, he helped educate a multitude of professionals, academics, students, children and adult-learners alike to appreciate the value of multi-disciplinary investigation – that all the things we see may have a story to tell about the past and that excavation was only another tool in the archaeologists’ armoury.

Doing what he loved: flying over archaeological sites in the Time Team helicopter. Photo courtesy Stewart Ainsworth
Doing what he loved: flying over archaeological sites in the Time Team helicopter. Photo courtesy Stewart Ainsworth

Mick and I shared this love of ‘decoding’ the clues in the landscape in the hunt for the past. Many happy hours were spent pouring over OS maps, marking the clues with coloured highlighters. We shared two other passions. Firstly, a hatred of sat navs – ‘Give me grid reference and an OS map and I’ll find anywhere’ was usually muttered when anyone dared to use a sat nav in Mick’s presence – and secondly, an unbridled love of seeing the landscape from the air. Time Team allowed us to indulge the latter by letting us fly together regularly in helicopters to help communicate the landscape context of sites we were investigating. Just as the helicopter would lift off, Mick would comment without fail: ‘I still don’t know how it does that’ – despite the number of conversations we had about lift, power to weight ratios and the dynamics of flight, Emeritus Prof Aston always mischievously argued that it was simply ‘magic’, in the same scientific way that he articulated that sat navs were ‘black magic’.

In flight we would enthuse about earthwork patterns and crop marks for the programme, but off camera many an unscheduled detour was taken to allow Mick to photograph a monastery or church (or anything else that took his fancy just as a true geographer would – he could get just as excited by a market-garden or a bog) and the enthusiasm just kept coming. Deep down we were big kids who just loved flying – with archaeology and landscapes to talk about while we were doing it, it was just paradise for both of us. How I used to love discussions with Mick about the landscapes we saw from the air (or on the ground) – it was like finding someone who speaks your language in a foreign country – but much better than you do.

I know that Mick was very proud of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 2010, and it as a geographer of the past that I remember him with great respect and fondness. I feel enriched both as a person and a field archaeologist to have known and learned from Mick – except the science bit.


CarenzaCarenza Lewis

University of Cambridge, Time Team archaeologist

Mick was already well-known and well-respected when I started my career in the late 1980s.   Never too grand to talk to anyone, he was characteristically enthusiastic and encouraging when I approached him at a conference to enquire tentatively if he would be interested in putting together a set of papers with me on Wessex’s Medieval landscape. I learnt so much from working with him on this, and have fond memories of assembling the index in his bungalow with the aid of a very rudimentary computer and several bottles of wine.

Mick’s adamant insistence that Time Team should follow standard archaeological protocols extended to his demand that C4 should cover the costs of full archaeological reporting on all the digs.   This hard-won battle was a key factor in making the series acceptable to archaeologists in the early years when many doubted it.   For the first few years this caused endless headaches for him, but his dogged insistence means there are now a fantastic series of reports on scores of sites of all dates and types – more than many units achieve.

One of the great assets Mick brought to Time Team was its ability to convey an enjoyment of archaeology while still retaining a sense of serious commitment to getting the job in hand done properly – not an easy balance to achieve.   As important behind the scenes as in front of the camera, Mick was the one person without whom Time Team would have been impossible.

Home is where the heart is, and Mick’s archaeological heart was, perhaps more than anywhere else, in Shapwick, near his Somerset home. The final report on his Shapwick Project (written with Chris Gerrard) is a fitting testament to ten years of dedicated and innovative fieldwork away from the TV glare. It will stand the test of time, not only because Shapwick was one of the first projects to show the potential of excavating inhabited Medieval villages, but also because it explains how the various techniques he used — and invented — were carried out, in typically generous educational mode.

Mick had a wicked sense of humour: one very Mick-ish joke was his deliberate planting of over a dozen different plant species in his garden boundary, to confound anyone who might try to date it using hedgerow dating — a technique he did not rate in the slightest. He was also a very good artist, and I wish we had kept more of the napkins he would draw on over dinner to explain the day’s discoveries or his aims for the next stage of digging.

Mick was a giver, not a taker.   So many people get a lot out of archaeology because Mick put a lot into it.   He was a genuinely wonderful and wonderfully genuine man who inspired millions but never forgot individuals. Principled, intelligent, brave, loyal, warm, humorous and visionary, it was a privilege to have known him for as long as I did. If humanists had saints, he should be one.   I can’t believe I won’t see him again.

Paul Blinkhorn004Paul Blinkhorn

Time Team ceramics specialist

Whenever we had had a really good day on site, and nailed a difficult or important bit of archaeology,  after dinner, Mick  would rise to his feet with a big grin and shout across the assembled Time Team horde: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, a toast!’ With much laugher, we would all, archaeologists and TV people alike, roar along with him: ‘Death to all our enemies!’  He would then take a slug of red wine and sit down, beaming and happy beyond measure.  I think what we all loved was the preposterousness of the idea that Mick could have any enemies.

MattMatt Williams

L-P Archaeology, Time Team archaeologist

I did not meet Mick for quite a while after starting on Time Team, as he missed the first few shoots of my first series (10). Then, after turning up early at a rather posh hotel, I was ushered into the restaurant where the receptionist told me ‘some of my colleagues were sitting’. Mick and Teresa were at a table with a Roman pottery specialist. I was feeling pretty shy, but Mick hailed me like an old friend and invited me to join them. What struck me was that he seemed genuinely interested in my views on archaeology. I also remember showing him my first major publication (he was like that – you wanted him to appreciate your achievements, as if he was your personal mentor) and he seemed as pleased and proud of the report as I was, showing it off around the dining tent. Mick had a very basic enjoyment and interest in archaeology which touched everybody he met and will surely continue in the many people and projects he has influenced.


jimJim Mower

Time Team Development Producer

I was lucky enough to work with Mick Aston as part of Time Team for almost ten years. From my first role as a field archaeologist on series 11 to later work as Development Producer, Mick was a constant presence and an anchor for the programme. As with any long running project, Time Team became an extended family, and Mick was the Great Patriarch. He was always there for considered advice and was friendly, supportive and inclusive. In the fast paced world of television production Mick thought nothing of having a three-hour telephone conversation with a busy producer — especially if it was about archaeology.

At Time Team we fought an ongoing battle for acceptance from certain parts of the heritage sector and Mick was our standard bearer. He cared deeply about the integrity of Time Teams archaeological practice, and he made sure that, as media professionals, we understood that the archaeology came first. It was Mick who convinced a reluctant Channel 4 they should pay for post-excavation and reporting

Mick was on fine form when I last saw him a few months ago at a book launch in Oxford on behalf of his old friend Trevor Rowley. Mick gave a speech and couldn’t resist shaking up the slightly stuffy atmosphere by making a few cheeky comments. This anarchic streak, coupled with a sharp mind and a wicked sense of humour was one of the many things that made Mick so endearing to so many of us. I feel very lucky to have counted him as a friend.


  1. Mick Aston reminds me very much of Howard Florey. Howard Florey may not have ‘discovered’ penicillin but without him it may have taken many wasted years before penicillin was made accessible to humanity.

    Without Mick Ashton one wonders how many wasted years would have elapsed before appreciation of archaeology breathed new life into humanities appreciation of where they have come from and where they are going to.

    I wonder if there should be a Nobel Prize for simply being Noble.

    • Such incredible and warm memories. Mick was truly an irascible personality; Time Team would never have been the success it was without him.

  2. A great mark of respect to Mick Aston.
    I have an interest in war history,but Time team open my eyes to the past.
    “Bring back TIME TEAM as a mark total respect/memory of Mick Aston.
    TIME TEAM should go to BBC. Maybe BBC Three or Four.

  3. I was a fan of Time Team from practically its beginnings. But, I joined the Time Team club too late, and never got a chance to go on a dig with them. After reading the warm recollections above about Mick Aston and the great experiences over the years, I really wish I could have taken part once and met Mick (and the full team, of course). I would have toasted with Mick,‘Death to all our enemies!’ – and, John Gater, I admit, I would have also preferred to have a merlot in my hand! – Jeff R.

  4. I have always been interested in the past . When I went back to uk in 1976 with my family of 4 and my wife ellen, I was born in smethwick just off south rd there was the ruins of a castle the old cricket ground where a king hid in the tree it sparked my interest time facinated me to get the boxed section from the abc here in brisbane where we live and have for the last 50 yrs .
    we look over the ranges and I wonder what is out there.
    Peter J Hassall

  5. Mick Aston will be sorely missed. He had the ability to present a serious subject in a way that appealed to a wide cross section of the public.

  6. Mick has evolved myself into the greatest armchair archaeologist of all time.Goodnight Mick and thank you.

  7. Mick Aston to me was an absolute delight to both watch and listen to. That cheeky smile,stripey pullover and hair flying in all directions just drew you to his wisdom and great breadth of knowledge-along with the banter between himself,Tony and Phil. They and he were as one family of knockabouts and highly entertaining.
    Mick Aston I will miss you. But as I like a drop of Merlot myself,every time I open up a bottle I will remember you mate!

    Gary Croft
    Melbourne Vic Aust

  8. Both my husband and I have watched Time Team from the beginning – and loved watching Mick in his jazzy jumpers. We started watching it in England and finished watching it in New Zealand. His reputation has gone far and wide. Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!!

  9. Time Team is very popular here in New Zealand and is shown on the History Channel five days a week – a double episode.
    Loved all the characters on the programme but Mick was special because he made sense of everything and was superb at explaining things. I loved is nutty professor look and his stripy jumpers. I nearly knitted a new one for him. Wish I had now ! RIP Mick NZ will mss you.

  10. What a great man. What great tributes. What a great show he was part of. I am watching a re run of time team right now, Its about 20 years old, i doubt I will be watching a re run of some of the crap that has replaced time team 20 years from now. You don’t know what you had till you have lost it.

  11. Down here in Australia I have followed Time Team ( still on TV now) for a few years now and still absolutely enthralled with the workings and digs.OK some may find finding bits of old pottery and ditches, ancient stone wall foundations a bit dull, but not me. I should have followed my first instinct on leaving school to study Archeology but was seduced elsewhere. I would have followed Mick and his honest persona on air . It is sad he is now not with us.
    I hope one day centuries later his own bones may be excavated by some future Archeologist. If only they would know who.

    Rest well Mick. Miss you

  12. From Harry Bartelink Australia.It is with deep sadness and inner pain to hear of Mick Astons death he was I believe a major contributor to the success of Time Team. I have watched and purched nearly every Time Team programe and by doing so I have formd an affection to each one of the persons in Time Team. But Mick Aston with his professional attitude and gentle humor his colourful jumpers and of cause his white hair blowing in the wind I think have drawn a lot of people to form a spiecial place in thier hearts for that most loved person thar we know as MICK ASTON rest in peace dear friend we all will miss you.

  13. Its easy to see by the previous posts that we Antipodeans are only now hearing of the death of Mick Aston and the high regard he was held in by everyone who has watched Time Team.
    Mick Aston and Time Team has given me an insight into my English ancestory in a way that was both informative and entertaining and I have enjoyed every episode and looked forward to the next one until now knowing that one of its most valued and colourfull members is with us no more.
    I can well understand how his family and friends felt on hearing of his death by the way I felt on reading he had passed away.
    The only consolation I can find is we are all the richer for having watched Mick present archaeology as only he could.

  14. I have loved Time Team and been an avid watcher for many years. Mick Aston was a wonderful man to listen to and I have learned how to look at buildings and the countryside because of him and the team. He is sorely missed, and his jumpers. I cannot believe that Channel 4 has abandoned the programme.

  15. Mick amazed me with his knowledge. He was extremely interesting and never sounded as if he was talking to anyone but the average person. He will really be missed on the Time Team program. I do hope there is no intention of ending this program for it is one of the most interesting and intelligent programs on television. May Mick rest in the Arms of our Saviour.

  16. I have watch Time Team and all the repeats with my husband and the wealth of knowledge that we have gained from Mick Aston was immense we have learned to look at thing in a different way on buildings and the countryside. He will be sorely missed,,by everyone.

  17. We receive broadcasts of Time Team episodes on Canadian television. What a wonderful series it is! Archaeological teams working at major sites around the world — here I will mention, offhand, Göbekli Tepe and Göbekli Tepe — would do well to adapt, insofar as possible, the Time Team format to their own efforts at publicity and popular information.

  18. He was a one off and will be sadly missed. The people who caused him to leave time team should be bitterly ashamed for what they did. Time team was mick Aston.

  19. Watched Time Team from the beginning. Mick and all the team were great. A real bunch of knowledgeable characters with occasional pleasant banter. Miss the programme but all things eventually pass leaving sadness for a while. Cheerio Time Team. Cheerio Mick. RIP

  20. Thank you Mick for making my life richer because of your lovely nature and your incredible knowledge… I will always remember you. xx

  21. British history needs to be seen and respected I believe TV in Britain does not explore this subject enough and scarping programmes as good as time team wont help at all.
    in mick Aston we had a master of archaeology who’s love passion and enthusiasm of this science we all admired.
    all those digs all those highs and lows what a programme what a team and what a time to enjoy it all god bless mick and thank you time team so many happy years watching this unfold you all did us proud.
    children need teaching our unique history and adults learn events from our past in a way that intrigues the mind brings a smile of pride and encourages to read.
    we have a wonderful past I feel we have a duty to explore this and feel proud of what our ancestors gave us.

  22. I have been a fan of Time Team for a number of years and for me Mick was Time Team. He was the link between me and the archaeologists. His warmth and passion for the subject was so engaging. He will be sorely missed. RIP Mick

  23. I have only watched Time Team for the past 12 or more months, but Mick was an inspiration. His knowledge, banter with other TT members, wonderfully coloured jumpers and hats – there are no words to describe these. I was sorry to hear of Mick’s passing, but have little doubt he is watching his team very carefully and if they feel a pat on the shoulder, they can be certain it came from Mick. R.I.P. Mick and get yourself a Heavenly Time Team.

  24. Mick Aston was to Archaeology as Patrick Moore was to Astronomy. He had a great knowledge of his subject and made it interesting and entertaining to the “ordinary” viewer. He and the rest of the Team must have inspired many individuals to take up Archaeology as their study subject. He, like Patrick, will be greatly missed.

  25. I look at my surroundings in a different way because of Time Team. Mick was a great communicator and made the subject matter understandable to laymen like myself. Mick will be sadly missed

  26. I’m a bit late to the tributes as I only just learned of Mick Aston’s death. The embracing joy and consumate professionalism he had for his work always ignited my curiosity and made me feel as if I were right beside the team as they dug. He was the kind of teacher I admire: knowledgable, passionate, opinionated and open-minded at once. While my only experience of him is through his books or in those glorious slices of television, I am grateful for having glimsped his vivid personality and infectious energy. He made history come alive for millions, and he will be sorely missed. Thank you, Mick. I believe we are better for your having been here.

  27. it is late but i have only just heard of micks passing. in australia we lost steve irwin the crocdile man and i can honestly say i have never felt so much saddness and loss for someone i didn’t know personally since then and didnt think i could. but just as with steve, mick aston bought his passion and interest in his subject to millions in such an enthusiastic and caring way that you couldnt help but care too. i have always been interested in history and love researching but it wasnt until time team that i actually realised that that was it thats what i wanted to do, to discover our history and share that knowledge with people. mick aston and time team got millions interested in a subject that until then many thought of as boring and uninteresting, mick and time team showed the world just how interesting history is and also just how many choices you have when considering a job in history, all the different areas and experts. time team will be missed and i hope that they bring it back but mick aston will be very very missed and if you can hear me now mick you did leave a legacy and your time was not wasted millions the world over will remember your love and dedication and contribution to history and be inspired by you and your love and passion for history and even now when uni gets hard and i wonder why i study so much i just put on an episode of time team and you manage to still fill me with insipation to continue and remind me of my own love for history i really wish i had finished my studies earlier so i might have got the chance to meet you. lasting thanks and RIP MICK ASTON A HISTORY HERO

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