HELEN MOORHOUSE VOICEOVER ARTIST / AUTHOR
Samantha Brick and Mary Beard have something in common – they are each passionate about a special subject. Beard is an expert on that most influential of civilisations – Ancient Rome. And Brick? Well she's at it again. Banging on and on about her incomparable beauty. I'd actually love to tap her on the head to see if she makes a) a hollow clunk because she's just shallow or b) a dull thud because she's thick.
Brick has tottered in on her heels to the current controversy over Mary Beard's appearance. Beard, you see, is a history professor who looks a bit like, well, a history professor. In her TV series, Meet The Romans, she pedals around the Eternal City like a spider-legged Madame Arcati clambering overground and underground, sweeping things to get a better look at them, carting bits of ancient marble around – her intention, she said, was to make Rome speak and that's exactly what she's done, sweeping the viewer along on a tsunami of knowledge equalled only by infectious enthusiasm.
But why on earth am I talking about a TV show that could actually teach us something when the more pressing subject of Mary Beard's appearance is still of utmost importance? Her long unfettered grey hair, so-called 'tombstone teeth', the wild expressions. Beard's uniform is some sort of shapeless black shift worn over a pair of dusty leggings and accompanied by a crimson raincoat.
If someone hadn't pointed it out in the first place I wouldn't have blinked an eyelid at Mary Beard's appearance. She looks exactly like she should. Naturally, Brick has a problem with it. You see, it appears she had a Very Important Job once, in Television and that means she must know these things. She was even 'urged' once to have a career in front of the camera, apparently. Oh, how we have been denied. Poor appearance is a 'visual impediment' to a career apparently. Investing in your face is investing in your future. Such insight.
“While there is no denying that Ms Beard is a supremely intelligent and fiercely ambitious woman, there is absolutely no chance of her becoming a successful broadcaster in prime-time slots on flagship TV channels”, continues the oracle that is Brick. “The plain truth is that Ms Beard is too ugly for TV”.
She's absolutely right of course. There's no denying that the Professor of Classics at Cambridge and Classics Editor at the Times Literary Supplement would never get a job fronting something prime-time and educational like, say, Take Me Out or The Love Machine.
If Brick had her way, it seems, all TV presenters would be a composite of Cat Deely, Tess Daly and Holly Willoughby. Stunning, slim, well-dressed and perfectly turned out blondes. Just like.......
I'm not sure, however, if Meet the Romans with Samantha Brick would work very well. Ancient artefacts would just crumble when confronted with her assets. Frescoes would flake, the vomitorium would evaporate. Those Romans aren't prepared for such radiance you know. You didn't see that particular ancient civilisation getting into a tussle over Helen of Troy.
Best to get rid of all non-amazing TV presenters then. In that case, most of RTE could just clear their desks. Marty Morrissey would probably be imprisoned under the Brick regime. Perhaps she'd let some people stay? Bryan Dobson maybe, but only if he agreed to be filmed in silhouette with a distorted voice. Like a terrorist. Or someone who's given all his friends food poisoning at his barbeque.
It's such a shame to write about Mary Beard in the context of her appearance and because Brick has been goaded into passing her vapid, attention-seeking 'judgement' on a woman who has more appeal in her gnarled, dusty, broken-nailed little finger than Brick has in her entire body. If we're going to judge books by covers then I know who I'd rather see striding into the lecture hall on Day One of my history degree. And I certainly know who'd be more fun on a night out. In Episode Two of Meet The Romans, Beard quotes Tiberius Claudius Secundus who says that “Baths, wine and sex ruin your body”. She turns to the camera with a grin and continues; “But they're what makes life really worth living”. It's unclear whether or not she's still quoting old Tiberius but her filthy snigger definitely shows that she agrees.
Brick's not an original of course. Women with overinflated opinions of themselves have existed even in ancient Roman times. The irony of Beard reading from another of her dusty marble slabs about a character who called herself 'Madame Gorgeous' doesn't go unnoticed.
And she's gracious too. Beard has continued to urge viewers to simply watch the show – after all it's her passion and she's put time, effort and real love into making it. And as for the comments about her appearance? Beard says she's not going to lose any sleep over what she's deemed a 'silly fuss'. Clever lady.