Nic Flemming’s Channel 4 Encounter

Nic Flemming has contacted me concerning Graham Hancock’s comments about his review of Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, and Mr. Hancock’s statements about Nic’s invited contribution to that programme.

Dr. Flemming has no desire to get into an undignified personalized slanging match. He has therefore authorized me to relate for the board what actually happened with the Channel 4 producers on his behalf.

He has no intention of engaging in any tit-for-tat exchange hereafter.

Please note, for the record, that Dr. Flemming does this in response to Graham Hancock raising this issue on his website. As a marine geo-archaeologist with 42 years experience in the field, he feels it was not out of place for him to review Mr. Hancock’s programme, which dealt with his area of expertise.

On a broad perspective, Dr. Flemming’s encounter with the producers of Mr. Hancock’s TV programme is a very instructive episode.

Here are the details of the encounter, as Nic related it to me.

A junior staff person from the film company which is called Diverse Productions, telephoned Dr. Flemming during summer 2000 at the Southampton Oceanography Centre and said they were making a film on underwater cities. From Nic’s records the date of first telephone call is not on file, but it was a few weeks before the meeting took place, which was during the first week of June 2000.

The spokesperson asked Dr. Flemming to help with planning and focusing the film series. Dr. Flemming has frequently acted as consultant for other technical and scientific productions concerning the sea and/or archaeology, and agreed to assist the film company. He suggested that they meet at his office at home.

The film team, led by Stefan Wickham, arrived at his house, and explained that they wanted to make a general film about underwater archaeology, underwater cities, and changing sea level. Since this has been the mainstay of Dr. Flemming’s research for the last 42 years, he had prepared many documents in advance of the meeting.

For the first 20-30 minutes or so the Mr. Wickham and his assistants spoke in very general terms about the film they were planning. At the start of the discussion they presented it as if that they wanted Nic’s advice in making a film, sites to visit, scientific balance, and so on. He thought they were planning a broad synopsis with no preconceptions and was happy to oblige.

There was no mention of Mr. Hancock.

In preparation for the meeting — which took place at his home, not in his office — Nic had readied stacks of relevant books and publications, as well as pertinent maps and lists of sites. He naturally expected the producers to ask to see this reference material he had made available on submarine prehistoric sites all over the world, since that was the topic of their film. As the discussion advanced Nic became more and more puzzled that they showed no interest at all in gaining any facts. They never asked to see any dates, maps of caves, drawings of underwater ruins, photographs, or anything else that seemed pertinent to the supposed topic of their film.

As Nic became more puzzled and suspicious he pulled the piles of documents back from them, and edged them towards the back of his desk, as the producers were so obviously not interested in anything of his expertise. He became more exasperated, and pressed to know what they really wanted. Only then did it emerge that they wanted Nic to appear in the next Graham Hancock film, seemingly to support his ideas.

By this time the producers had blown it, in Nic’s eyes. If they were not interested at all in the hundred or so prehistoric sites in the database assembled by many dozens of experts all over the world, then it was obvious to Nic that the programme they were planning would be absurdly biased and incorrect. So far as he could tell, they did not intend to film any known underwater prehistoric site in the world!

At this stage of their case they had not suggested visiting any site which, so far as Nic was concerned, exhibited any known man-made artefacts. The sites they wanted to visit were all natural geology. The film was therefore going to be a complete waste of time and money. They had made it clear that the film would be silly, so far as Nic was concerned.

Indeed they did then plead with Nic to take part in the film, but there was no specific offer of veto rights of the kind suggested in Mr. Hancock’s comments. Nic pointed out that they were about to embark on a biased and unsound analysis of a very important scientific subject, and that the course which they were taking would be seriously misleading to the general public. He commented that the major vehicles of the big media machines such as the BBC, the big commercial channels, and Channel 4, had a moral, intellectual, and ethical responsibility to obtain balanced material for their films (which they had already refused to do), and that he was horrified by the half-baked, biased, and negligent attitude which they were taking toward the truth.

At first they were somewhat baffled by Nic’s position, wriggled and ducked a bit, but then joined the argument with gusto. They explained that Mr. Hancock was a very respectable journalist. Anyone was entitled to their views. Nic replied that views which were patently absurd should not be given hours and hours of projection to the public on primetime TV, when they clearly had no intention of devoting the same number of hours to filming the research data which had been acquired by dozens of independent researchers working separately and with no bias in many different countries.

Throughout, Nic made repeated mention of specific sites of great importance, where he knows the chief researchers personally, but there was not a flicker of interest from the film team. He offered to provide them with introductions to get world-class movie material of real and important sites. Absolutely no interest!

A long debate about the responsibility of the media followed, and although one or two of their team seemed to partially understand what Nic was getting at, the general position which they all took was that if the public would pay to see it, then they would make the movie. From Nic’s point of view, it was clear that the whole purpose of their plan was to make a movie promoting one man’s peculiar and untenable ideas, not promoting good science or good archaeology. Why should he waste his time taking part in such a travesty?

At that point, they invited Nic to debate Hancock in the programme. They actually used the word “debate.” Of course they implied “What are you afraid of?” There was no reference to any conditions of non-interference in post-production, non-editing, etc. So Nic figured it would be pointless to have 5-10 minutes of him criticizing the film as part of the film — what he wanted to see was a fair and balanced visual and geographical treatment of the real and fascinating prehistoric world under the sea.

And this they refused to consider.

Once more, he offered to provide them with introductions to people responsible for major underwater sites. They simply were not interested. Nic was utterly astonished — he had never met people who took such a strange view of the scientific method and the nature of evidence.

Seeing that a complete impasse had been reached, and everyone was getting rather annoyed and exhausted, he eventually suggested that they leave his house. The level of incomprehension on their part was almost exactly like the phrase in Robert Hanks’ review of Underworld-1:

… it was deeply depressing because (they) couldn’t grasp what the problem was. (Independent, 12 Feb. 02)

After they had left the house, Nic told me, “my children said they had never seen me so angry.”

He continues:

Looking back on it, the depth of the mutual incomprehension between myself and the film crew now looks funny. Like something out of a sitcom. At the time I had no idea how the Hancock operation worked, and I honestly thought that the film crew would be delighted to visit the best submarine archaeological sites in the world, with introductions to the top working archaeologists. My role was that of a consultant. Archaeology is not a popularity contest between debaters, but the consideration of the evidence on the ground or under the sea. When I offered this approach to the film crew they rejected it because, I presume now, they were afraid that real data from real archaeological sites would contradict their objectives.

I hope this clears some things up for everyone. It also speaks volumes about the ethics of people involved in making pseudo-documentaries — the real evidence is of no interest to them.