Detecting a lost gem… and hunters accidentally fooled…


This morning one tale twinkles in the inky undergrowth, catching the eye of this ledge-bound skimmer of headlines. May’s no quitter, Trump’s ‘new American moment’ and a ‘secret plot to derail Brexit’… thank you, but no.

Instead, here is a story about metal detectorists that sounds like the plot of the BBC4 comedy Detectorists – and turns out to be tied to that sweetest of series.

Paul Adams and Andy Sampson thought they had found a true treasure trove – a discovery celebrated ‘with a little jig of delight and a cry of “Roman gold! Roman gold!”,’ according to the Daily Telegraph.

They calculated that their discovery could be worth as much as £250,000. Sadly, the 54 coins they had uncovered were not gold, but props left behind by the makers of Detectorists.

“I think we are officially the world’s unluckiest metal detectorists,” Mr Sampson tells the Telegraph. “Our story would make a TV series of its own. After we found them I was paying off my mortgage and buying a sports car in my head.”

As it happens, a sports car has a role in Detectorists, old and not exactly a classic, but somehow perfect for this series – a 1977 Triumph TR7. The car is noisy and doesn’t run very well, unlike the series: a lovely thing written by the actor Mackenzie Crook, and starring him and Toby Jones as hapless friends dedicated to the search for buried treasure.

Detectorists ran quietly on BBC4 and ended its third and last series just before Christmas, with Crook insisting he wouldn’t write another.

Sometimes it is good to know when to stop, and Crook is probably right, but I will miss his series, a study in friendship and footsore hope and, more than that, a sweet sketch of ordinariness in the best possible sense.

Detectorists is set in Suffolk, mostly in and around Framlingham; a bashful English sun always shines, the fields stretch into more fields; and two serious friends tramp the crusted earth, hoping to unearth buried treasure, but often finding only the discarded detritus of modern life.

They belong to a gang of detectorists and are at war with a rival group (what might the collective noun be: a murmuration – if the starlings hadn’t got there first?). It’s wistful rather than hilarious, but true and touching and low-key funny, and sure of its identity, even though it’s hard to say exactly what that might be.

You have a sense that Mackenzie Crook managed to write exactly what he wanted to, without interference or being buggered around by BBC committees.

Crook was mortified to hear of the treasure-hunters who’d been foiled by props for his series, telling the Telegraph: “As a detectorist myself, I’d like to assure these gentlemen that I was gutted that I might have contributed to their disappointment. I hope they continue searching and I hope they find their real gold soon.”

And in that quote, you can hear the voice of his character Andy, and that adds to the honesty of it all: he truly does sound upset at a trick accidentally played on fellow detectorists.

Incidentally, Crook was inspired to write Detectorists by the haunting song Magpie by The Unthanks. Folk music has a gentle role in his series, with a lovely tune by Johnny Flynn acting as its theme.

Anyway, I can’t recommend Detectorists highly enough. This is not an especially helpful recommendation as the last series has almost petered out on iPlayer, but you’d need to watch all three to appreciate the series fully. Do seek it out.

Leave a Reply