According to the proposal, the pair intend to use their “brotherly” bond to engage in a “breathtaking, intimate” adventure to the same sites that viewers see on similar shows past and present like Expedition Unknown, America Unearthed, Digging for the Truth, and others. The sites include the usual suspects—Rosslyn Chapel, Rennes-le-Chateau, Glastonbury. The topics are familiar from other shows—Robin Hood, King Arthur, Bible mysteries. Even Burrows Cave, discussed once on America Unearthed, makes an appearance.
But if the proposed list of subjects is overly familiar, the aesthetics of the proposal are unfortunate. As with the sizzle reel, the proposal leans heavily into the iconography of British colonialism, though they say they are going more for Indiana Jones. We know this because the cover page literally says they are striving for “an Indiana Jones sense of adventure.” The trouble is that the two men seem to have no idea how they look. One photograph literally features the two men sitting astride jackasses while Ward, dressed in ascot and scarf, holds an umbrella over his head in bright sunshine like a strange synthesis of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and Mary Poppins.
To be entirely honest—and I don’t mean this as a personal insult, only an observation—Roberts and Ward in their staged photographs look uncomfortably similar to Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as their characters from the ITV/PBS sitcom Vicious.
I also hate the title. “Tripper” is most common in British English and sounds odd to my American ears. In Britain, it may literally mean “one who takes a pleasure trip,” but this both suggests more of a vacation than an adventure and also has the unfortunate effect of trivializing the subject matter by making it seem unimportant, the subject for a right proper jaunt, but not an expedition or an adventure. What is the purpose of this show? To investigate history, or to provide a travelogue of a vacation? It doesn’t help that colloquially “tripper” carries the meaning of “using hallucinogenic drugs” or “acting crazy,” secondary meanings in Britain but often given first in American dictionaries.
The only word I can use to describe the aesthetics of the image they are projecting is “twee.” The look is just wrong for the content and purpose of the show because the connotations of fussiness and peacocking contrast markedly against the supposedly rough and ready adventure described in the text. Even Giorgio Tsoukalos—no stranger to absurd outfits and glittery scarves—knows (well, learned, anyway) that you can’t wear an ascot in the field and come across as a he-man adventurer.
I have a hard time believing that a TV network here in the United States would be able to find an audience for such iconography, but with the growing number of cable channels and their ever-smaller audiences, it isn’t as impossible as it might have been 10 or 15 years ago.
More troublesome is that pair’s plans to turn their history road trip into a supernatural quest for what they describe as “real” occult underworld forces. To that end, they plan to include Chris Conway, a self-proclaimed psychic medium from British TV, to provide a “spiritual” evaluation of historical sites. Their exploration will include an evaluation of what they somewhat ungrammatically call “esoterics, magicks, occultist and hermetic practices.”
The proposal also contains some deceptive descriptions of Roberts’s and Ward’s credentials. It says that Roberts had formal education in seminary, which is technically true though it is my understanding that he did not graduate. It also describes John Ward as “Dr.” even though his alleged doctorate came from a Knights Templar fan club in Great Britain and is not accredited. The proposal describes both men as historians, which is OK insofar as there is no formal qualification to take that label. Ward is described as an “Egyptologist, archaeologist and anthropologist,” though his claims to those titles are only through the work he does as an assistant to his wife, who holds those titles through formal education and training. I’m not sure why credential inflation is so prevalent among fringe historians, but such is life.