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VMs: VMs BBC programme

I saw the BBC 4 program last night.

My initial impression is that the programme makers had struck
the right note in presenting the mystery of the Voynich
manuscript to the wider television audience.  It is always
a difficult task to present an incredibly complex story to
a general audience and TV programmes often fail to do 
justice to their subject.

There was  quite a  bit of dramatic reconstruction but there 
was sufficient "talking heads" communication by some
of the main contributors to this mailing list to give it some
basis in the world of ideas.  Gerry Kennedy who made the 
earlier BBC Radio 4 program  had a  substantial part in 
shaping the themes of the programme but Jim Reeds, 
Nick Pelling, Rene Zandbergen and Gabriel Landini among others
were  able to rehearse some of theories, and give their impressions 
of how the Voynich  manuscript had captured their curiosity. 

Voynich himself was presented in a multifaceted way. The
programme could not settle on a clear image of Voynich and 
instead presented multiple views. One theme the programme
focussed on towards the close was the possibility that
Voynich had being instrumental in forging the manuscript
possibly in order to make some money, rather than to 
confound scholars for nearly a century. This was dismissed
by the finding of the letter to Kircher in the Italian archive 
requesting his help in reading a manuscript which is described 
in the letter as fitting the Voynich, but the image of Voynich 
as possible forger was still given a strong focus by the programme.

Dee, Kelly, and Emperor Rudolf were of course given a substantial
segment of the programme, theirs being such an interesting story. The
angelic communications or seances with Kelly and Dee were to my
mind rather poorly re-enacted, and the director relied on smeary
image processing to try to make this seem a  bit more mysterious.
Kelly was seen as a possible creator of the manuscript, but different
views on this were articulated by the contributors.

Big Jim was able to point to the image which he (and some others) 
believe to be a representation of our galaxy.  Robert Brumbaugh's
son and daughter, demonstrated their father's method of deciphering,
applying this to the "Pepper" label.

Two herbalists in London gave their impressions of the plant images.
They made the interesting observation that the distortions of the 
plant forms may be an aide memoire to remind the reader of the 
distinguishing features of a particular plant.

The poor old Beinecke came out of this programme badly. They were
repeatedly presented as standing in the way of allowing scholars and
other enthusiasts ready access to the manuscript and of being
unwilling to allow the manuscript to be dated through radio carbon 
dating the parchment or analysing the inks and pigments.

Happily, the Beinecke had allowed the crew to film the manuscript
and the programme was a delight in that it continually returned to 
showing pages of the manuscript in close up, focussing in on the 
details of the plants, the astronomical diagrams and the 'female
bathers'.  I found this especially valuable as this is the best viewing
I have yet had of the manuscript.

One always criticises television documentaries. By the very nature
of the medium they must simplify and often caricature, or give the
programme over to a one sided view.  Here the production has, I
think, genuinely tried to show the mystery of this remarkable
manuscript. It certainly allowed the manuscript to speak for itself.  
I am not sure if the various contributors felt happy with the way 
their contributions were edited, but the programme did seem to
present them all in a favourable light. A more insensitive producer
could easily have  taken the view that many of the people immersed
in the Voynich mystery were fair game to be labelled as cracks or
at least people who had wasted their lives on this enigma. This
was, happily, not the approach of the programme makers, and 
I think this programme does give a positive view of the Voynich
community. Hopefully it may inspire others to investigate and
in time bring other expertise to bear on this document.

These are just my initial impressions on a first viewing of the
programme. Hopefully it will eventually be sold on to some
of the US and European television companies so that it can 
receive a wider audience. I dont believe it will do any harm to 
the investigation of the Voynich manuscript and may have
some positive benefits.

Adam McLean

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