The Funnier Side

Within a month of Centuries of Darkness's publication, the well-known humourist Bernard Levin took up the chronological challenge in the pages of the London Times (Monday, May 6, 1991). His comical review of CoD, together with two other books, was entitled "Tradition Round the Twist" and subtitled: "Bernard Levin finds the silly season already in spate with wild theories about Gioconda, Christ and time itself". It was accompanied by an amusing cartoon of a Christ-like, bearded Mona Lisa enjoying a pipe and a pint of beer. To quote Levin's words concerning CoD:

Still they come, not single spies but in battalions. Now we have an assault on history itself, mounted in a book called Centuries of Darkness, by a group of scientists who have been digging everything up and jeering at it. The theory, as far as I understand it (which is not very far), is that history has had a bad attack of the hiccups, the result of which is that everything happened 250 years later than you and I have always been taught to believe. For instance, it is still agreed that there was a Pharaoh called Tutankhamun, but he happened two or three hundred years later. (Look here, I am not saying this; it is these inquisitive archaeologists. I need that disclaimer because I'm damned if I am going to be done in by the Mummy's Curse, which, as you know, strikes anyone who lays a finger on King Tut or, presumably, his chronology.) This is unsettling. It is all very well to disturb Tut's remains and fall under a mis-dated chariot, or to shove the Trojan War onto the middle of the 10th century BC, or even bring King Solomon up to date; but are we now to refer to 1316 And all That? And what about "Please to remember, the Fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot"? It is true that nobody remembers the year of that celebrated event, but I don't like the thought of not remembering it 250 years later. And what about the Battle of Waterloo? Do you realise it hasn't happened, and won't until 2065? But now I come to think of it, if everything is pushed on that far, who am I talking to? None of you have been born yet, and I am wasting my breath. A Cambridge professor, who has written the foreword to the book about this business, says "a chronological revolution is on its way". He can say that again, and he will have plenty of time to, considering that the book will be published two and a half centuries from now.

We thought it would be appropriate to reply to Mr Levin in the same spirit, and on the same day we sent the following letter to the Times' Editor:

Sir, While fully expecting brick-bats from some experts in the academic community, we hope that your noted humourist Bernard Levin, in his "Tradition round the twist" (May 6), has not created unnecessary panic regarding time and dating among your readers. Before anyone begins resetting his or her clock to the year AD 2241, the authors of Centuries of Darkness would like to crawl out of their 'strait-jackets' to explain that the effect of their radical revision of archaeological chronology does not extend any later than 700 BC. Be reassured that AD 1066 will remain where it is. If Mr Levin, like us, was occasionally 'let out for the weekends', he may have had the opportunity to study our work (of which he says his understanding does not go "very far"). This might have spared him from the enormous strain placed on his imagination when he wrote his parody. We do sympathise with the frustration expressed in his remark: "I am wasting my breath". Yours sincerely (on behalf of the five authors), Peter James (UCL), Ian Thorpe (UCL), Nikos Kokkinos (St Hugh's College, Oxford).

On the 14th of May, the Editor of the Times replied that unfortunately he would not be publishing our letter. Perhaps it was not taken with the same dose of humour we had intended. We received this reply from his secretary:

Thank you for your recent letter to the editor about a recent Bernard Levin article, which was read with interest, although he regrets that he was unable to publish it. It has, however, been shown to Mr Levin and carefully noted by him.

There it all ended... until the Times displayed their good sense of humour again by recently refusing us permission to reproduce the cartoon from Levin's article without a fee.

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