Coast presenter Neil Oliver explores Happisburgh’s history in new tour

Neil Oliver Credit: Grant Beed/Supplied by Bennett PR

Neil Oliver Credit: Grant Beed/Supplied by Bennett PR - Credit: Archant

James Rampton spoke to Coast presenter and historian Neil Oliver as he brings his The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places tour to the region.

Neil Oliver Credit: Bill Osmond/Supplied by Bennett PR

Neil Oliver Credit: Bill Osmond/Supplied by Bennett PR - Credit: Archant

How did you go about selecting the 100 places for your new show?

Writing is 50pc of what I do and I'm always thinking about the next book. Over the last 20 years, TV has taken me on a very unusual tour of Britain. As well as iconic places such as the White Cliffs of Dover, Edinburgh and Cardiff, I've gone to unexpected, remote places that take quite a lot of getting to.

Can you expand on that?

I had seen everything from very early human settlements around Happisburgh, where there are footprints from 800,000 years ago, through the Stone and Metal Ages to sites connected to great moments from a more modern era.

I thought I could easily choose 100 places - in fact, I could have chosen 500. I realised there was a story to be told from very early to modern times by introducing people to these places.

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Are you looking forward to performing live?

Yes, although I am nervous about it. People make the assumption that if you're on television, you're used to being looked at.

Neil Oliver Credit: Supplied by Bennett PR

Neil Oliver Credit: Supplied by Bennett PR - Credit: Archant

I don't deal with an audience in my TV work. I'm just with a cameraman, a soundman and a director.

So the prospect of public speaking, always makes me nervous - just as you'd be nervous about making a best man's speech.

Are you passing on your passion to your three children?

As a family, we're always going to places of historical interest. We live in Stirling, the site of a great deal of history.

In Stirling, we had the Jacobite Rebellion, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots and James I of England. The kids hear a lot about all that.

Were your parents passionate about history?

Yes. My dad was a salesman, not a history teacher, but when we were children he loved taking us to historic sites.

Neil Oliver Credit: Grant Beed/Supplied by Bennett PR

Neil Oliver Credit: Grant Beed/Supplied by Bennett PR - Credit: Archant

He is a great lover of the West Highlands. We went to places like Glencoe and he was the first person to tell me about the Massacre of 1692. My dad's enthusiasm for those places was infectious. I now have the same love of the West Highlands, probably absorbed from him.

Was there one thing when you were a boy that influenced your passion for history?

Yes. I used to love watching the film Zulu when I was young. The story is so well told. It's very exciting and dramatic.

It portrays the bravery on both sides. The Zulus come out of it with nobility.

The film inspires a lot of emotions - it's uplifting, but also violent. That kind of thing is bound to leave a mark on a youngster.

What can we learn from the past?

Everything makes more sense when you study history.

Neil Oliver Credit: Grant Beed/Supplied by Bennett PR

Neil Oliver Credit: Grant Beed/Supplied by Bennett PR - Credit: Archant

The more history you read, the less judgemental you become. All the things that are happening now have happened before.

It's always been the case that people can't get on with each other.

If kids out there are worried about relations between the West and Russia, you can tell them that we've fallen out before. We've also been at war with America.

Countries reach a high point, and then they go through low points. That's all explained by history. Like everyone else, politicians can have a better understanding of what's happening by appreciating that there are patterns in history.

You have presented several series of Coast. Why has that programme struck such a chord?

I've now done series on the coasts of the British Isles, Brittany, Normandy, and Scandinavia, parts of the Baltic, Australia and New Zealand.

We haven't quite gone all over the world yet, but we'll keep trying!

The programme has a fairly simple premise. It invites people to remember and celebrate places close at hand that they might have forgotten about or not thought of since they were children.

People love to be shown their own country from a different angle. Coast has these amazing aerial shots, and people get a kick from seeing that in our show.

You are very recognisable with your long hair - would you ever think of cutting it?

No. It's just the way I look. It means I get recognised.

In my line of work, it's good to be recognisable, and with my hair people can recognise me from far-off!

Finally, what do you hope that audiences will take away from "The Story of The British Isles in 100 Places"?

I hope people will go away with the same passion for history that I have.

History can sometimes feel like a dry and dusty subject you studied at school. But I find it is as thrilling as any Marvel movie!

You can purchase tickets for Neil Oliver The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places tour at which comes to the University of East Anglia on October 30 and The Apex in Bury St Edmunds on October 31.

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