Mud Men Review: Muddy Hell Johnny Vaughan!

MUD MEN: Monday 28th February, History Channel, 9.30pm

Mud Men might at first glance sound like a questionable spoof of the popular 1960s set drama that induced both retro and Hendricks boob mania – aka Mad Men - but it is in fact a hands on history adventures show, following the mudlarks who wade through the muddy river banks of the Thames in search of London’s lost history. The drawback being Johnny Vaughan’s loud and booming voice, which excitedly talks us through the action: “Coal! I found some coal!â€?

This history-programme-with-a-difference will divide opinion depending on whether you’re a Vaughan fan, or someone with a genuine interest in the activities of the mudlarkers. The latter will find themselves having to endure Vaughan’s slightly sarky, slightly mickey-taking style of presenting where he tries to fathom up blokey interest by saying such one liners as: “Join us, as we become [dramatic pause]… mud menâ€? and “every mud god needs his mud armyâ€?. Seems he just can’t resist a good radio style soundbite…

Besides Vaughan, there is expert Steve Brooker, who, armed with “nothing but a trowel and a little bit of patienceâ€? is one of 51 mudlarks licensed to dig up to one metre on the Thames. Reaching a particular site, Vaughn bellows, “this is the Wembley for mudlarkers!â€? which, to be fair it probably is, as Brooker makes an exciting discovery, coming across what looks like a gold horn. Washing it in a tub to get a better look, Vaughn jokes “has there ever been as much tension in an ice cream tub?â€?

Debate is sparked between the pair over the origins of the phrase “to bite the bulletâ€?. When David Hawkins of The Lanes Armoury in Brighton is inclined to agree with Vaughn’s theory (that people would bite into bullets to distract their pain while receiving nightmarish treatments such as amputation), Vaughn booms to camera “Yes. In your face Steve.â€?

The pair head off to discover more about their finds; Steve discovering the gold horn was in fact a Light Infantry cap badge, and Vaughn learning more about the musket balls found. Historical facts are thrown in throughout the programme with flashy graphics, and all in all it’s a light humoured factual programme that brings a slightly fresher take to history documentaries, even if Vaughan is slightly annoying in places.

The last 20 minutes or so of the first episode see Vaughan and Brooker go to a rifle range and try out varying types of guns, which sort of has nothing to do with the point of the show, but hey; they’re having a whale of a time. It may not be high-brow and serious, but if it’s blokey TV with slices of history that you’re after, then Mud Men is just the ticket.