BBC 2005
Episode 1
TX : 30th October 2005
Director : Ferdinand Fairfax
Script : Tony Mulholland

Cast : Howard Carter (Stuart Graham); Lord Carnarvon (Julian Wadham); Lady Carnarvon (Caroline Langrishe); Evelyn Carnarvon (Alexandra Weaver); Leonard (Laurence Fox); Theodore Davis (William Hope); Pierre Lacau (Valentine Pelka); Anton Badrutt (Nickolas Grace); Carter's Reiss (Ali Halifa); Tutankhamun (Arkin Chardaril); Ay (Neji Nejah); Ankhesamun (Nicola Liberos).

Publicity : Raiders of the Lost Ark made archaeology look so darned exciting, what with all that derring-do in the desert and the hurtling around on horseback. There's none of that here in a handsome but ponderous dramatic exploration of the relationship between archaeologist Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon that led to the unearthing of Tutankhamun's tomb. It's a ripping yarn, of course, what with all those suggestions of a curse (we get to that next week). Meantime, we slog with Carter (Stuart Graham) in the baking heat of the Valley of the Kings as he becomes obsessed with unearthing the tomb of the boy king, whose story is told in narrated flashbacks. The suave Carnarvon, and English gent with money to burn, backs Carter's quest while looking inscrutable in a hat. It's a good tale, even if we have to wait an awfully long tome till that fabulous moment when Carter looks upon unimaginable treasures. As a companion piece to Egypt, the indomitable Dan Cruickshank dons his Panama hat and yomps off into the Valley of the Kings for his Egyptian Journeys (10.00pm BBC2) to find out more about the highly skilled artists and craftsmen who built and decorated the Pharoah's tombs. There's breathtaking photography and some remarkable shots from the fabulous 150-room necropolis built for the sons of Rameses II. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Synopsis :
The Search for Tutankhamun. The obsession of painter-turned-archaeologist Howard Carter and his patron Lord Carnarvon is interwoven with the story of the boy king.

Notes :
Laurence Fox would later star as Inspector Lewis's sidekick, DS Hathaway in the Inspector Morse spin-off.

* Caroline Langrishe appeared as a regular character in the latter seasons of Lovejoy.

* Nickolas Grace's most famous role was of that of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin of Sherwood

* Valentine Pelka has also appeared in Robin of Sherwood, as well as Bugs, Ivanhoe, Cadfael, Heartbeat, First Knight, Casualty, Campion and Boon.

* The magnificently-monikered Ferdinand Fairfax has directed on a number of series over the years including The Last Detective, Trial and Retribution, Murder in Mind, Wycliffe, Jeeves and Wooster, Danger UXB and The Professionals.

Episode 2
TX : 6th November 2005
Director :
Ferdinand Fairfax
Script : Tony Mulholland

Cast : Howard Carter (Stuart Graham); Lord Carnarvon (Julian Wadham); Lady Carnarvon (Caroline Langrishe); Evelyn Carnarvon (Alexandra Weaver); Pierre Lacau (Valentine Pelka); Arthur Mace (Neil Dalglish); Sgt Adamson (Chris Newland); Pecky Callender (Barry Woolgar); Alan Gardiner (Mahmoud Sabit); Harry Burton (Andrew Montgomery); Mohammed Ibrahim (Ramadan Hassan); Carter's Reiss (Ali Halifa); Tutankhamun [age 9] (Arkin Chardaril); Tutankhamun [age 14] (Angelo Andreou); Tutankhamun [age 18] (Alton Letto); Ay (Neji Nejah); Ankhesamun [age 14] (Nicola Liberos).

Publicity : The action cranks up a notch after last week's leisurely opener, as Howard Carter and his team prepare to enter the burial chamber of Tutankhamun. But crotchety Carter (Stuart Graham) quickly tires of being the centre of the world' attention. Papers across the globe are full of his amazing find and the possible Curse of Tutankhamun, and thousands of onlookers turn up at the Valley of the Kings every day. Even his relationship with his backer, Lord Carnarvon, is strained, because Carter and Carnarvon's daughter are casting loving glances at each other. Tutankhamun's story is once more told in flashback, and though the whole thing looks like a B-movie, if you like your history delivered without any nonsense, then this is for you. Straight afterwards on BBC2, Dan Cruickshank looks at the sad life of Carter who's received no official recognition from his country, and is buried in a simple grave. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Synopsis :
The Curse of Tutankhamun. The excitement surrounding the discovery of the young pharaoh's tomb contrasts with his tragic life story.

Episode 3
TX : 13th November 2005
Director :
Ferdinand Fairfax
Script : Ferdinand Fairfax

Cast : Giovanni Belzoni (Matthew Kelly); Sarah Belzoni (Lynsey Baxter); James Curtin (Nevan Finegan); Bernard Drovetti (Joseph Long); Caimakan (Badi Uzzaman); Henry Salt (Robert Portal); John Lewis Burckhardt (Thomas Lockyer); Hamer the Reiss (Hagag Youssef Hagag); Henchman (Hamdy Heikal); Ramessess II (Fuam Dar).

Synopsis :
The Pharaoh and the Showman. An eccentric adventurer puts his engineering skills to good use when he is asked to recover a huge statue of Ramesses the Great. It is an experience that will change his life forever.

Notes : Lynsey Baxter has appeared in Tales of the Unexpected, Bergerac, Chancer, Boon, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Bugs and Dangerfield amongst other things.

* Badi Uzzaman has a long list of credits to his name, although he is very often cast as a corner shop owner, or as a victim of racial abuse. Amongst the most famous series that he has appeared in are, Boon, G.B.H., Between the Lines, Prime Suspect, Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Clocking Off.

Episode 4
TX : 21st November 2005
Director :
Ferdinand Fairfax
Script : Ferdinand Fairfax

Cast : Giovanni Belzoni (Matthew Kelly); Sarah Belzoni (Lynsey Baxter); James Curtin (Nevan Finegan); Bernard Drovetti (Joseph Long); Caimakan (Badi Uzzaman); Henry Salt (Robert Portal); William Beechy (Richard Dempsey); Yannu Athanasiou (Kevork Mailkyan); Charles Irby (Joseph Beatty); James Mangles (Gyuri Sarossy); Hamer the Reiss (Hagag Youssef Hagag); Henchman (Hamdy Heikal); Henchman (Ahmad Elnabolsy); Ramessess II (Fuam Dar).

Synopsis :
The Temple of the Sands. The story of 19th century Egypt explorer Giovanni Belzoni concludes with his two major discoveries that stunned the world.

Notes : Richard Dempsey was a child actor, and appeared as Peter Pevensie in the BBCs 1988 adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and its sequel Prince Caspian.

Episode 5
TX : 27th November 2005
Director :
Ferdinand Fairfax
Script :
Jonathan Rich

Cast : Jean-Francois Champollion (Elliot Cowan); Jacques-Joseph Champollion (Stuart Bunce); Jean Letronne (Louis Waymouth); Thomas Young (Christopher Good); Hudson Gurney (Patrick Ryecart); Sir William Boughton (David Quilter); Silvestre de Sacy (Hugh Ross); Rosine Blanc (Tania Emery); Zoë (Catherine Bailey); General Hely-Hutchinson (Mahmoud Sabit); General Menou (Ikram Zalat).

Synopsis :
The Mystery of the Rosetta Stone. The marathon duel between two geniuses to crack Egypt's ancient hieroglyphs.

Notes : Jonathan Rich has written for Wycliffe, Bramwell, London's Burning, Casualty and The Bill.

Episode 6
TX : 4th December 2005
Director : Ferdinand Fairfax
Script :
Jonathan Rich

Cast : Jean-Francois Champollion (Elliot Cowan); Jacques-Joseph Champollion (Stuart Bunce); Silvestre de Sacy (Hugh Ross); Rosine Blanc (Tania Emery); Duc de Blacas (Clive Merrison); Ippolito Rosellini (Jalaal Hartley).

Synopsis :
The Secrets of the Hieroglyphs. Code-cracker Jean-Francois Champollion vists Egypt's enigmatic tombs and temples, but faces opposition from the church, who fear that his findings may contradict Christian doctrine.

Notes : Clive Merrison has appeared in dozens of television shows over the years, but is also very famous to radio listeners, having played Sherlock Holmes in the complete Radio 4 adaptations of the Holmes stories.

The first episode was accompanied by the following Radio Times articles:


Heard the one about the set designer who ordered truckloads of sand for a scene to be filmed in the dustbowl heart of Egypt? Or the replica tomb so carefully crafted that it's now on show in a leading museum? Such was the quest for authenticity in the BBC's epic new series Egypt, that he absurd became reality… and the production team became masters of invention. The six-part series is a remarkable undertaking - in part because so many thousands of the props were specially made by Eyptian labour, but also because of its budget. One report suggests Egypt exceeded an original £6 million budget by a whopping £3 million - a claim denied by the BBC, though the corporation is unwilling to be drawn on issues of cost. But will we notice such extravagance? Happily, yes. The series was shot in Egypt against a range of stunning backdrops - a blessing in a cinematic world increasingly dependent on computerised mimicry. "It was essential for the look of the films to shoot them in Egypt, using real locations," says producer Paul Bradshaw.

Based on fact, but fully dramatised, the series tells the stories of three adventurers who have shaped our understanding of Ancient Egypt. There's Howard Carter (played by Stuart Graham) - the man who discovered the final resting place of the boy king Tutankhamun; Giovanni Belzoni (Matthew Kelly), a former circus strong man whose engineering brilliance helped uncover some of Egypt's finest treasures; and Jean-Francois Champollion (Elliot Cowan), the young Frenchman who cracked the hieroglyphic code, thus unravelling the meaning of 5000-year-old pharaonic inscriptions. While they are stories that excite the imagination, they tested the tenacity of the production team charged with bringing them to life. Bradshaw and a team of 200 - of whom about 60 were British were on location in Egypt for five months, filming for three between March and May. "When we were in the Valley of the Kings in March, the temperatures were getting up into the 40s (degrees Celsius). By the middle of April they hit the 50s. We were told to drink eight litres of water a day and adopted a buddy system to ensure that everyone got enough water". A doctor and three nurses were ever present - as was a censor working with the Egyptian government. "I think that she was just concerned that things didn't look too rough and ready", Bradshaw says generously. Though able to film at some of Egypt's most iconic places such as Karnak, the Great Pyramid and Abu Simbel, the film-makers were not allowed inside any of the tombs. So, what they couldn't film, they built.

The same was true of the thousands of props that were required. "We took out hand props, like canes and watches, but the bigger stuff was just too difficult to ship out". A real, but neglected, explorer's house near the Valley of the Kings was given a makeover to become the home of Howard Carter. The furniture was handmade and the house has now been taken over by the Egyptian tourist authorities. Elsewhere, teams of workers fashioned fabrics from both the old and new worlds, crafted replica artefacts and reproduced extensive tomb painting and hieroglyphics - "At one point we had 24 local art students painting reliefs on to the walls"", says set designer Maurice Cain. But inevitably there were hold-ups, as producer Paul Bradshaw explains. "One day the Egyptian assistant director told us he had problems because a number of his men were in jail. They'd been cooking using gas canisters, when one exploded. The police arrested the men, thinking that there had been some sort of attack!" (Radio Times article by Terry Payne).

Recreating Egypt - both ancient and modern - meant set designers worked through the whole A-Z of the tricks of their trade. Take the temple at Abu Simbel, carved into the rock just over 3000 years ago and adorned with four 6-ft-high statues of Ramesses II. It's "restoration" wasn't so grand. The lower part of the temple was carved out of polystyrene blocks by a team of UK sculptors led by Derek Howarth, who started his career as an assistant to Henry Moore. Over the course of six weeks the set was constructed at the back of a bus garage in Luxor, but one vital ingredient was missing - the right kind of sand. To simulate the moment of discovery by Belzoni (featured in episode three of the series), tons of sand were used to half-bury the structure. "Unfortunately the sand in Luxor wasn't the same colour as that in Abu Simbel, so we had to bring in truckloads of sand from that area", says set designer Maurice Cain. Despite such attention to detail, nothing remains of the polystyrene temple. It spectacularly burnt to the ground after accidentally catching fire while being dismantled.

The Tomb of Tutankhamun: The underground passageway and burial chamber were built in the vast restaurant of a rundown hotel in Luxor (the same hotel doubled as the interior of the stately Winter Palace Hotel). The king's burial mask took ten weeks to make at a cost of some £3000. But like many original Egyptian antiquities, the mask went missing after filming ended!

The Tomb of Seti: Discovered in 1817 by Belzoni, the empty sarcophagus (it had been raided by tomb robbers) was brought to Britain and is now exhibited at the Sir John Soane's museum in London. It features detailed carvings on both the inner and outer walls. A craftsman in Cairo took two weeks to reproduce the sarcophagus, using a resin compound that was capable of being carved. The Egyptian authorities were so impressed with the outcome that the 7ft-ling casket is now on show in the Egyptian museum in Cairo.

The Bust of Ramesses II: The original is in the British Museum after being taken from the mortuary temple of Ramesses at Thebes by Belzoni. The 8ft-high replica was first modelled in clay and then a cast was made by pouring a resin and powdered-granite mixture into the mould. It's heavy, buy lighter than the 7.25 tons of the original!

A number of series that combined drama and documentary appeared on British television screens during 2005, and Egypt was promoted by the BBC as one of the biggest. Continuing the theme started in the 2002 BBC show Pyramid, which covered an attempt at a reconstruction of the Great Pyramid, Egypt was broadcast at 9.00pm on Sunday nights.

The trio of two-part stories covered possibly the three most significant events from the frenzied days of archaeological exploration. Lavishly made, the programmes were made up largely of dramatic recreations of major finds, with shorter segments containing flash backs to the time when the things that were being discovered actually happened. These sections were narrated by Andrew Sachs, and while they served to give the viewer further insight into the time of the pharaohs, they felt slightly jarring when viewed as part of the overall programmes and the series would probably have not lost a great deal had they not been included.

The production team spent a great deal of time in the sweltering heat of the Egyptian desert constructing huge replicas of Egyptian landmarks, attempting to make the series look as authentic as they possibly could, even going to the extreme of importing the right kind of sand for the time period. Huge numbers of local craftsmen were used to bring the world of ancient Egypt to life, and the quest for authenticity reportedly sent the finances soaring over the initial budget.

The opening story told the story of one of the most famous names in Egyptology: Howard Carter; the second of a much lesser-known explorer Giovanni Belzoni; while the third covered the discovery and cracking of the Rosetta Stone. All three stories had plenty to recommend them, but the middle one of the trilogy, featuring Matthew Kelly was particularly good. It told a remarkable tale of how a former circus strongman went on to make some of the most important archaeological discoveries in the history of man. Kelly was undergoing something of a re-emergence as an actor in 2005, with role in two other high-profile series during the year. The third story covered the cracking of the code contained on the Rosetta Stone, which had remained an enigma to man for 1,400 years.

Each episode was immediately followed by a complimentary factual series on BBC2, presented by the television historian Dan Cruickshank in which he visited Egypt to see the amazing sights covered in the drama for himself. The series has not yet been released on DVD, although a tie-in book, Egypt: How a Lost Civilisation Was Rediscovered was brought out in conjunction with the broadcast of the show.

The series was produced by Paul Bradshaw.

Text © Chris Orton, 2006.