'If anyone ever deserved an ASBO, it was the young emperor nero'

July 8, 2005

Ray Laurence, academic consultant to a Sky One drama on ancient Rome, brings the past to yobbish life

Ray Laurence will bring the drama of history bang up to date thanks to his work on a television series about ancient Rome that has all the hallmarks of a soap opera.

Dr Laurence, an adviser to the historical drama Life and Death in Rome , depicts young Roman men as yobs and adds dramatic twists, such as a catastrophic fire, to help the plot along.

Dr Laurence is the newly appointed research fellow at Birmingham University's Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity. His eye for up-to-date comparisons has made him a vital consultant on the six-part series, which began its run on Sky One on July 7.

"Lots of young men in Rome went around in a rather antisocial fashion. If anyone ever deserved an ASBO, it was the young Emperor Nero," he said.

"Helping with plot lines was great fun. I was thinking I should be paid as a writer, not a consultant."

Dr Laurence is co-author of Pompeii: The Living City , which he wrote with dramatist Alex Butterworth. " Pompeii was a popular book, not one for the academic buried in the library. Fictional scenes give readers an idea of a real moment in history."

But does academic research sit happily with a television dramatisation?

"I'm not that keen on presenters wearing ancient dress. But if you're being upfront about the fiction, then there shouldn't be a problem."

There are sound practical reasons for aiming such programmes at young people. He added: "If there are no new students, eventually there will be redundancies."

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