Tony Robinson, who had made an indelible name for himself as Baldrick in Blackadder, was the front man. His enthusiasm for history oozed from the screen (the first time I'd seen him on TV was reciting a monologue for children, Odysseus, the Greatest Hero of Them All). He cheerfully admitted he didn't know a thing about archaeology ... but he knew a couple of people who did. They came in the form of the wild-haired, rainbow-jumpered Professor Mick Aston, and granite-jawed, beer-swilling digging machine Phil Harding. If I remember rightly, relations between them at the start were a bit stiff, but over the years Time Team turned into a sort of cheery archaeology-loving family who visited your living room on a Sunday night.
In those early years, the search for archaeological evidence and historical truth was the be all and end all of Time Team. It was a niche programme for history lovers who salivated over the churned up remains of Roman mosaics and the slightly darker stain in the earth that might be a Saxon post hole. Nobody was all that bothered about building a big viewing audience.
But that audience came, and with it came changes. Time Team turned a bit tabloid. The three day format remained, Phil got a bit more to say, the geo-phys team got better equipment, Stewart got to go up in a helicopter, but now they were expected to have revelations and come to conclusions. I began to get a bit annoyed when Guy de-la-very-posh-Roman-expert would look at a bit of pottery and tell the world that it changed our whole outlook on Roman history, when it patently didn't, or Francis Pryor studied a hole in the ground and turned it into a neolithic temple, despite there being no real evidence for the claim.
You could tell things were getting strained when Mick would tetchily turn to Robinson and say 'no, it doesn't mean that at all. It might mean it, but it might not'. And in the latest season, the straw that broke the Samian ware dish: Mary-Anne Ochota, a very scenic archaeologist and former model, with a nice smile, brought in to co-present with Tony and bring a bit of glamour, as the producers, in Aston's words as he announced his decision to quit the show, decided to 'cut down the informative stuff about archaeology'.
I don't like the new format as much. I know TV shows have to move on and do things differently, but it's all a bit too forced and there's a desperation to find things that aren't there. Earnest and often po-faced, Mick Aston brought the gravitas and genuine learning to the show that kept me and history lovers like me watching for almost twenty series. There have been other changes over the years, but without him I'm not sure Time Team will be Time Team. I met Tony Robinson once, when he opened a dinosaur exhibition, (don't ask!) and he seemed a very likeable, easy going chap. I have a feeling he might be thinking the same.