Who is Mr Moneybags in archaeology?

14 mins read

It is a common complaint today that our society has become too unequal. To an archaeologist, of course, the complaint is nonsense. Compare our society to the pharaohs of Egypt, or to most societies in the past – we are remarkably equal. No one is able to afford to build a pyramid today, and even a cat may look at a king. There is a big fallacy, I fear, in the belief that to make society more equal, you must take money from the rich and give it to the poor. In practice what happens is you take money from the rich and give it to the bureaucrats: it is the bureaucrats who have the money to spend. Who, then are the bureaucrats who are the moneybags in archaeology today?

Of all the big cheeses in archaeology, the biggest cheese is undoubtedly Bob Bewley, the director of operations for the Heritage Lottery Fund, who have somewhere in the region of £200 million a year to distribute. Bob Bewley is altogether a good egg. Bob is an aerial archaeology fanatic who learnt to fly at a young age and then organised aerial archaeology for both the Royal Commission and  English Heritage where he ended up as regional director for the South West before succeeding  Stephen Johnson at the Heritage Lottery Fund. The only trouble with the Heritage Lottery Fund is that although the HLF was set up by a Tory government,  it has been colonised by New Labour and still believes that New Labour is in office, and it speaks New Labour lingo. Thus if you want to get any money from them you must make certain that you bring in lots of provisions for the kiddies,  you must talk all about “access” and please, don’t say anything about scholarship.  But once you have got through all the piles of bumf they demand, the only problem is they will give you too much money so that your project,  which you hoped would have a certain amount of your own input, will end up being fully professionalised and New Labour.

(The Heritage Lottery Fund is likely to be very flush with money in the coming year, for in the past couple of years they have been spending enormous sums on the Olympics and thus heritage and the arts have been cut back. Now that the Olympics are over, expect the money really to start flowing.)

Turning to the academic world,  the biggest cheese I can find is another good egg, that is Mike Fulford (sorry to split my metaphors).  Mike is Mr Moneybags at the British Academy;  for six years he was chairman of ‘BASIS’ – the British Academy Special Institute and Societies (ugh) the body that gives out money to all the British Schools of Archaeology Abroad: his place is now taken by Martin Millett  (Prof of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge and a rising big cheese) but Mike has been promoted to being Treasurer of the British Academy and thus the big holder of the purse strings.  I never quite understand how Mike gets through all the things he does: he is Professor of Archaeology at Reading and I think largely responsible for their top rating; he directs the excavations at Silchester, probably the biggest single excavation in the country, and until quite recently he also did a second excavation at Pompeii — though he is busy writing this up. He has been pro-Vice Chancellor at Reading and does lots of administrative duties, as well as giving out all the money at the British Academy. He is well worth sucking up to, though he is so charming and modest that you will not be aware that you are actually sucking up to him.

(I would also like to find out who, if anyone, runs the Arts and Humanities Research Council archaeology grants,  and who is now doing the University Research Assessment exercises or whatever they now call them: in 2008 Mike Fulford was chairing the relevant committee – so you had better continue to be nice to him. But if anyone can spill the beans about the   AHRC, do let me know: discretion guaranteed).

(The other really big source of funds I would like to know more about is the EU. Their money is enormous and their budget increases steadily every year, come what may, but their bureaucracy is particularly impenetrable. Does anyone know where to start?)

And then there’s English Heritage. Well, what can you say about English Heritage?  The chairman is Baroness Andrews, a Labour Party stalwart, put in position in 2009 because she could pull all the right strings with all the right people in the Labour government. However the Labour government is temporarily in abeyance, and one suspects that Lady Andrews may no longer have the ability to pull the right strings with the present administration.

The real big cheese at English Heritage is of course Simon Thurley the chief executive who is altogether a good thing, as he knows his archaeology, he knows his historic buildings,  he is wonderful at television,  was curator of the Historic Royal Palaces and then director of the Museum of London before getting the top job at English Heritage. The trouble is I don’t think he actually gives out money:  he gets money in, he is in effect the big hooker for archaeology and a very good hooker too, for he has succeeded in reducing the cut in the English Heritage income to a mere 15%, to be spread over five years. And that’s a great achievement. (Actually I’m told that it is now over 30%. The government wanted to cut 15%  over the heritage sector as a whole but then realised that if the National Museums were to be kept ‘free’ they could not be cut, so all the other bodies have had to take their share of the National Museums non-cuts)

But who do you have to kowtow to among the other members of the Executive Board? The structure of English Heritage is ‘interesting’.  It starts with a “Director of Resources” Mr Keith Harrison. Mr Harrison  began in absolutely the right way by becoming a Chartered Accountant,  but his career since then has gone steadily downhill –  the NHS , the Arts Council and now English Heritage.

A better bet perhaps is Edward Impey, who is the Director of Heritage Protection and Planning — whatever that may mean. He is actually a proper archaeologist and has written a book about the Tower of London:    he came with Simon Thurley from the Historic Royal Palaces.   Then there is the Director of National Collections,  Mark Pemberton. He is, or was, a colleague   of Sir Neil Cossons, the previous chief executive: like him, he was at the Science Museum, and before that at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. English Heritage is rather like the Roman Empire, where each emperor brought his supporters with him. And then there is the Director of Propaganda, Deborah Lamb who came from central government where she was deputy director of the Women and Equality Unit. Enough said. (Actually, I have since met her, and she is very charming: she says her main job is to put the case for the heritage to the government: I shouldn’t be so rude as to call her Director of Propaganda – she is of course Director of   National Advice and Information).

Which of these should you kowtow to if you want some money?   In the old days, you went to the Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments who was then replaced by the Chief Archaeologist, in which post Geoffrey Wainwright was such a success. I suspect that one needs to look further down the organisation, and just as in the old days, you went to John Hurst, the best person to kowtow to these days is Barney Sloane, who rejoices in the title of Head of Strategic Management and Planning, and as such is responsible for the Historic Environment Enabling Program,   which for the last year for which I can find any figures, gives out around   £2 million a year.

Barney Sloane  is another good archaeologist,  coming from the Museum of London and a long string of excavations of monasteries. He has just written a splendid book on The Black Death in London.   He gives excellent lectures, and is a very good archaeologist — but don’t forget to use New Labour speak in any application — their latest report is entirely New Labour.

But the sad thing is, that we have no millionaires in archaeology today. I remember the late Robert Kiln, insurance whizzkid extraordinaire and wonderful friend to archaeology. He would periodically ring me up asking if I had 10 minutes   to spare and then go through a list of those wanting money: did I know this chap?  how much should we give him? If I said yes, good chap,  he would be given £5000.  If I said Hmmm, he would get £2000,  if I said I don’t know him,  he’d ask somebody else,  and suddenly at the end of 10 minutes,  I realised that I had spent £20,000. If you wrote a good letter and sounded OK, he would give you seed money. Mind you, if you wanted a second tranche, you would have to produce proper evidence.  But because he was prepared to give out money on his own judgement, – and to take risks – he was an enormous influence for the good in archaeology, and there are many projects in archaeology today which can look back at him as their first sponsor. Fortunately the Robert Kiln Trust still continues — see his son Steve Kiln at the office in Hertford for particulars.

But we get desperately need more Robert Kilns in archaeology, more people who will come in, and take an interest, be enthusiastic, make their own decisions and give support. That’s the big problem with archaeology today:  we are not attracting the millionaires to come and give us a helping hand. Archaeology has the wrong image and is not attracting millionaires: why?



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