The BBC presenter bringing history alive from his garden shed in Devon
Updated: Jul 23
He’s a respected historian and archaeologist with a number of BBC shows and books to his name, yet when I caught up with him he was in his garden shed… which also turns out to be his office.
Dr Sam Willis will be a familiar face to many TV viewers but what they might not realise is that he lives in Exeter, not far from the football ground.
There are some exciting exhibits on display in the ‘office’ including a Cavalryman's sword and a Viking axe.
When lockdown happened Sam, and his colleague Professor James Daybell, were in the middle of a tour which was bringing to life a popular podcast series they had created.
“It had really just taken off,” he told me in our latest Astley Media Project Positivity webcast.
“We had just done sold out shows at a theatre in Maidenhead … we were doing theatres and cathedrals and churches and village halls all over the place, having a wonderful time.”
When that work stopped, Sam and James, like many of us in business, had to pivot, and fast.
Sam explained: “The Histories Of The Unexpected (tour) was born as a podcast and then that became a book and that became a series of books and then a live show and so we had that whole kind of thing set up.
“We were already catering for kids, but not consciously, and so we started doing some podcast episodes on the things that people were starting to think about and so we did the history of hands, we did the history of loneliness, the history of boredom, the history of soap…
“And then my colleague, James, said we needed to be doing some home schooling stuff. It took us a bit of time to work out how to do it… what we wanted to do was take history of things you think don’t have a history so, rather than doing a podcast on Henry VIII, we would do a podcast on history of courage, for example. So, you get the same stories but from a different direction.
“We then had to tie that into the curriculum, which did pose some problems, but once I’d worked out how to do it, it was fine.”
What Sam and James have achieved in a short period of time demonstrates quick-thinking, agility and bringing a product to market in record time.
There are lessons we can all learn from that!
CEO, Astley Media