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Thursday, 27th January 2011

Penrith's Rheged Centre was the venue for a double celebration W ITV's 50th birthday and the premiere of Border's latest series, revealing new insights into our Viking ancestors. An RTS group joined the party…

Stereotyped Viking… but they were pussycats really!

The location selected for this preview was especially apt W a chromosome survey shows Britain's highest concentration of Viking descendants is in Penrith.

But those ancestors were not the horn-helmeted pillagers of the stereotype. By contrast, this new ITV Border programme argued that they were probably a model of tolerance and multi faith inclusivity, from which we could learn vital lessons today.

It would be hard for the invaders to find a more eloquent advocate W presenter Eric Robson told his tale with typically superb scripting and delivery.

Eric (renamed Erik by Border MD Paddy Merrall) told the audience at Rheged, "They were an extraordinary people. They have endured in us today, but they were chameleons."

Their outlook was 'live and let live'. Local churches and villagers were often less at risk of aggression from the easy-going Vikings than from their acquisitive native neighbours.

One reason was that the settlers brought a pantheistic faith and found it easy to absorb local religions W Jesus simply joined the ranks of the Sky Gods.

This was most graphically illustrated by the astonishing Gosforth Cross. Tucked away without fanfare, its carved details drew on Christian and Viking religious histories. The varied influences were mingled with such sophistication that Eric felt the sculptor must have been an intellectual of his day.

What did Vikings do for us?
What did the Vikings do for us? (l to r) Charles Bowden, Denis & Margaret Wright and Olwyn Hocking pillage some champers with Border MD Paddy Merrall

The programme set out to break stereotypes and there was much originality in the production approach as well.

The sound showed particular imagination. Trevor Wonfor's soundtrack combined subtle natural sounds, recorded on location by Terry Black, with a repeated evocative foreboding special sound effect W a simple but powerful device that suggested local people might also have felt awe and intrigue about the newcomers.

This effect combined well with the graphic used for the titles W a simple "V" animating to create a symbolic outline of a longboat. It began as a sketch by the ubiquitous Eric (Erik the Graphik Artist?) which was finalised with the help of Border's Tony Sharpe.

The mood from Lindisfarne to the Cumbria coast of those early days of Viking settlement was conveyed through atmospheric camerawork shot by Jan Ostrowski, and Rheged's Giant Screen was a suitably grand setting for his sweeping landscapes and aerials.

** Vikings is transmitted on Thursdays 7.30pm on ITV1 Border. The final episode goes out on November 17th

Written and directed by Eric Robson

Edited by Trevor Wonfor

Executive Producer Samantha Kingsley

By Olwyn Hocking

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