Behind the Scenes at the Museum

This is a fantastic set of documentaries by Richard Macer which looks at three ailing British Museums: The National Waterways Museum, The Freud Museum and the Commercial Vehicles Museum, under the pretense of looking at why they are failing and how they are trying to reconnect with the visiting public.

I firstly love this set of programmes because I love museums- I've got a real thing for them. I love the processes of collecting, accumulating, storage and display (as friends know only too well). I love the feel of them- the museums documented here are the sort of museum my childhood was filled with- wooden cases with curios and engines and stuff and I personally think there's little more British than Leyland Lorries and Canal Boats.  There's a warmth and bored interest surrounding very specific information conveyed through plauqes and 'Authentic' surroundings.

So there were a few interesting bits and pieces about how the Museums faced a challenge in attracting new visitors without compromising the context and history of the space which the Museums inhabit- which are often the now disused housings of the exhibits at the museums- Boat sheds for the waterways, transport warehouses for the buses and lorrries, old mills for the Victorian industrial revolution that sort of thing. One poignant point from the now ex Director of the Waterways museum was that a few years ago visitors were visiting these places as there was a nostalgia for them. These visitors had canal boats and stuff when they were kids and so there was an interest in getting back to that. Now, however there was no such nostalgia. The canal boats were now an anachronism, and the museum's challenge was in making these almost alien artifacts relevant to an audience who felt no real affinity towards them.

All the documentaries though,  happily veered off towards the people who were within the museums- those working and volunteering to keep the place running, and the relationships and politics between them. Whilst there were some traditonalists who were stuck in the 'olden days' the most interesting thing for me was seeing the passion and enthusiasm which the volunteers put into their respective tasks and the camaraderie they found through it. The Commercial Vehicles Museum had a particularly endearing character called Errol (pictured) who had been an employee at Leyland and now worked in the cafe at the museum- he heated up mushroom soup, morrisons beans, and buttered baps for ham sandwhichs. He was so happy- and the friendship between these, almost exclusively, old men was quite touching to watch.

I'm sure to most it sounds like a rubbish watch but I think it's an important, interesting bit of social, anthropological history which most people will be able to relate to. Check them out here until 3rd June: BBC Behind the Scenes at the Museum