Since 1989 I have regularly appeared on television commenting on history, heritage and the history of London. Since 1995 I have been presenting my own television programmes on history, archaeology and architecture.
Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s past
This was a three part series that I made with BBC4 in 2013 based on my book Men from the Ministry. Commissioned by Richard Kline and produced by the brilliant Basil Comley we got most of the key people in the heritage arena to speak about how heritage protection grew up since the nineteenth century. People seemed to like it and The Daily Telegraph called it ‘one of the most important BBC offerings of the year ‘
Houses of Power
A two hour documentary for Channel 4 comparing power, architecture and democracy at 10 Downing Street, The Kremlin, and the White House. It was filmed and screened in 2007. Victoria Segal in The Sunday Times (29:4:07) said it was ‘Intelligent, wide-ranging and detailed enough, Houses of Power leaves the viewer feeling cleverer than when they started’, David Chater in The Times (5:5:07) said ‘we need more of Thurley on television’
The Buildings that Shaped Britain
The Buildings that shaped Britain told the history of British architecture in eight one hour programmes. I wrote the series and was the lead presenter. Interviewees and other contributors added expert opinions on various aspects of architectural history. It was filmed in 2006 and first screened on Channel 5 that summer. Alison Graham in the Radio Times (27:5:06) said of the series ‘Now this is how I like Television to present History’; David Chater in The Times (2:6:06) said ‘Thurley is an exemplary TV presenter – knowledgeable, articulate, passionate and entirely devoid of irritating mannerisms’; in the Evening Standard (2:6:06) Ceri Thomas said ‘Simon Thurley isn’t afraid of making bold statements. Just as well then, that he’s got not only the credentials but the enthusiastic communication skills to back them up’.
A two hour special documentary arguing that British architecture is distinct from its continental neighbours. The programme looked at coastal defences, parish churches, country houses, the industrial revolution, the gothic revival and twentieth century high tech to make the argument. It was screened in April 2005 on Channel 4.
Lost Buildings of Britain
Six one hour programmes recreating some of the most important lost buildings in British architectural history. The series comprised interviews with experts and academics, visits to parallel surviving buildings and practical reconstructions on the site of the lost structures. Lost Buildings was first Screened in Summer 2004 on Channel 4 but has been repeated on Discovery UK several times.
The reviews were, on the whole rather flattering: ‘As a teacher, Dr. Thurley is a natural, continually clarifying and emphasising. Indeed his energy and confidence are fast making him televisions favourite pundit-for-hire in matters architectural’: Antony Woodward Country Life.
Now this is how I like television to present history. A man telling a story in front of and inside wonderful buildings, and no ropey reconstructions with hordes of badly dressed extras pretending to be in the Norman army. Radio Times
‘Thurley is a clear erudite and often very funny presenter’:The Times
‘He may be relentlessly jolly and camp, but he’s careful to sow a good deal of hard information amongst the frippery’: John Preston Sunday Telegraph
‘Tremendous things are happening over on five at the moment. Hot on the heels of Tony palmer’s outstanding film about the playwright John Osborne comes this new series covering a thousand years of British architecture presented by the chief executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley. Thurley is an exemplary TV presenter – knowledgeable, articulate, passionate and entirely devoid of irritating mannerisms’. The Times.
But Helen Stewart of the Sunday Times thought that while I had ‘the academic chops for such a project’ my ‘erratic presenting style and near-megalomaniacal commentary and a marked resemblance to Dr. Niles Crane make it tough going for an audience more used to seeing comedians fronting their popular history shows’. Oh well.
Flying Through Time
Flying through time was commissioned by Thames Television and screened on ITV 1 in the summer of 2003. It was a history of London from the air filmed by Skyworks with a gyroscopic camera. The approach was thematic rather than chronological and was shown in six half hours.
Britain’s Lost Roman Wonder
The lost wonder was Richborough Roman Fort in Kent, the Roman castle built immediately after the Roman invasion of Britain incorporating a great marble- clad triumphal arch. The two hour documentary for BBC 2 was an archaeological and historical search for the truth about Richborough and culminated in a CGI reconstruction of the arch in the middle of the fort.
One Foot in the Past
One Foot in the Past was BBC 2s history and architecture magazine programme, which ran for seven years in the 1990s. Between 1995 and 1999, when One Foot in the Past ceased to be made I had presented six twelve minute films on subjects as diverse as the history of royal bedchambers and the arguments for and against tall buildings. The first programme in 1995 included an early CGI sequence, one of the first to be used in TV historical reconstruction.
My films included: Tudor Sanitation, The Royal Bedchamber, The Lost Palace of Whitehall, Tall Buildings, The fleet River, Marlborough House and Lancaster House and The history of domes in Britain. Of my first film Matthew Bond of The Times wrote: ‘Undoubtedly the star of the show was Simon Thurley who. If he isn’t a celebrity already soon should be. His film about the plumbing arrangements for Tudor Monarchs was quite wonderful’