Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? was a popular television game show which ran from 1952 to 1959.[1] In the show, a panel of archeologists, art historians, and natural history experts were asked to identify interesting objects or artifacts from museums from Britain and abroad, and other faculties, including university collections.[2][3]

The quiz show was presented by the BBC, continuing a long history of bringing contributors to archaeology into the media limelight. Writing in 1953, the critic C.A. Lejeune described the show as having "a sound, full-bodied, vintage flavour".[4]


The UK television show was modelled on an American TV show called What in the World? that was developed by Froelich Rainey.[5] The first episode of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? was broadcast in October 1952[6] and was hosted by Lionel Hale and produced by Paul Johnstone.[3][7] Hale soon stood down as chairman, after an early episode in which he was challenged by Thomas Bodkin about the age of one of the objects shown, in favour of the archaeologist Glyn Daniel, who continued as the regular chairman and scorer for the next seven years.[8]

The most frequent member of the discussion panel was the renowned archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who was voted TV personality of the year in 1954, providing the world of archaeology with its first media star.[9] Daniel won the award the following year.[10]

The last episode of original series was broadcast in 1959, after which the programme was cancelled, partly because of Daniel's association with Anglia Television.[8] It was briefly, and unsuccessfully, revived as A.V.M? in 1971, directed by Bob Toner, with Barry Cunliffe as the chairman.[11]

Programme informationEdit

The person responsible for choosing the artefact for each episode was Sir David Attenborough,[12] who was also the camera director. However, on the Christmas special in 1956, Glyn Daniel and Sir Mortimer Wheeler selected items for Attenborough and other production staff to examine.

Inauthentic items were occasionally included: for example, a stone axe made by the forger 'Flint Jack'[12] or fake Crown Derby ware.[3] On one occasion, Sir Julian Huxley was unable to identify a modern mock-up of a stuffed great auk as a fake,[13] and on another Huxley lost a £1 bet after failing to recognise the egg of the African giant snail.[8] Occasionally the presenter would try to fool the panel with a corroded modern artefact e.g. a part of a pram or a bicycle.[citation needed]

The signature music for the series was the prelude to Partita No. 3 in E major by Johann Sebastian Bach.[14]


Wheeler often "cheated" by investigating beforehand which objects had been removed from their next location, and looking up the relevant information about the corresponding items in catalogues.[15] Nevertheless, Wheeler once stormed off set after taking offence when a junior producer offered to show him the planned items before an episode was filmed.[8]

In 1957, an episode was broadcast in which the panel were asked to identify the ethnic origins of a selection of human volunteers.[16][17] The anthropologist Margaret Mead disrupted the episode by repeatedly claiming that examples of each ethnic group could be seen at Grand Central Station in New York City. Mead was not invited to take part in the show again.[8]

On one occasion, a BBC spokesman stated that Glyn Daniel presented the show while suffering from influenza, as during a discussion about a sheaf of poisoned arrows from the Sarawak State Museum he said on air that "there are a few million people I would like to kill - mostly viewers".[18][19] Attenborough explained in his autobiography that Daniel had presented the programme while drunk.[20] On another occasion, Leigh Ashton, the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, also appeared while drunk, and fell asleep after incorrectly stating the first three objects shown to be fakes.[8]

On one of the show's overseas visits, an episode had to be re-located to the Musée de l'Homme in Paris after the National Archaeological Museum refused permission to film.[8]


The show was the forerunner of other popular BBC archaeology programmes, such as Buried Treasure and Chronicle.[6] It was credited with contributing to the rise in popularity of archaeology in Britain in the 1950s, which resulted in increased museum attendance and library use. On several occasions it caused museums' identifications of objects to be amended based on information provided by the panel or by the viewing public.[21]

Its format was often referenced in comedy shows: Not Only...But Also, At Last the 1948 Show, Do Not Adjust Your Set and The Complete and Utter History of Britain each contained sketches with experts analyzing a "mystery object", often resulting in totally wrong conclusions or, in At Last the 1948 Show, in the items getting destroyed.[22] Even in the 21st century, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? was still referenced in the second episode of The Armstrong & Miller Show: Its simple set-up was parodied with a fictional black & white program called "How many hats?".[23]

In September 2011, University College London performed a one-off revival of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?. The panel of experts included Claire Thomson (Scandinavian Studies), Ryan Nichol (Physics and Astronomy), Tom Stern (Philosophy) and Sam Turvey (Institute of Zoology). It was hosted by Joe Flatman (Institute of Archaeology) and consisted of a visit to the UCL museum.[2][24]


Only four episodes exist in the BBC's archives,[2] three of which are available to watch from the BBC iPlayer.[25] The fourth one is mute, because its audio track has been lost.[26]

Some (incomplete) episode information follows:

Date Host Challenger Panel Notes
23 October 1952[27] Lionel Hale
6 November 1952[28] Glyn Daniel Pitt Rivers Museum Sir Julian Huxley, T. C. Lethbridge, Sir Mortimer Wheeler
30 April 1953[29][30] Glyn Daniel Thomas Bodkin, W.E. Swinton, Sir Mortimer Wheeler
21 January 1954[31] University College Museum, Bangor University Sir Mortimer Wheeler
4 March 1954[32] Ashmolean Museum
29 April 1954[33] British Museum
14 October 1954[34] Thomas Bodkin, Johannes Brøndsted, Sir Mortimer Wheeler
28 October 1954 Glyn Daniel, Froelich Rainey Manchester Museum Geoffrey Bushnell, Froelich Rainey, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Glyn Daniel Available in BBC archive. Daniel and Rainey swapped roles for part of the show. Final score 14/20.
11 November 1954 Glyn Daniel Sheffield City Museum Adrian Digby, Hugh Shortt, Edward Wenham
24 December 1954[35] Glyn Daniel Thomas Bodkin, Hugh Shortt, Sir Mortimer Wheeler
27 January 1955[36] Glyn Daniel Grosvenor Museum Sir Mortimer Wheeler
21 April 1955[37] Glyn Daniel Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Thomas Bodkin, Adrian Digby, Sir Mortimer Wheeler Fiftieth episode
3 May 1956 Glyn Daniel National Museum of Prague V. Gordon Childe, Seán P. Ó Ríordáin, Sir Mortimer Wheeler Available in BBC archive. Final score 22/20.
17 May 1956 John Betjeman Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Stephen Bone, Sir Gerald Kelly, Mary Woodall
1 October 1958 Glyn Daniel Victoria and Albert Museum Thomas Bodkin, Hugh Shortt, Sir Mortimer Wheeler Available in BBC archive. Final score 19/20.
15 October 1958 Glyn Daniel Imperial War Museum Charles Appleby, Charles Thomas, Sir Mortimer Wheeler
30 May 1971[38] Barry Cunliffe Roman occupation of Britain Tony Birley, Kate Pretty, John Wild
6 June 1971[39] Barry Cunliffe Early Celtic Britain Kate Pretty, Leo Rivet, John Wild
13 June 1971[40] Barry Cunliffe Neolithic and Bronze Age Humphrey Case, Kate Pretty, Colin Renfrew
20 June 1971[41] Barry Cunliffe Development sites Phil Barker, Peter Fowler, Kate Pretty
27 June 1971[42] Barry Cunliffe Britain 500 to 1066 Peter Fowler, Kate Pretty, Charles Thomas
4 July 1971[43] Barry Cunliffe Middle America Phil Barker, Martin Biddle, Kate Pretty
11 July 1971[44] Barry Cunliffe New and Old World civilisations Norman Hammond, Kate Pretty, Colin Renfrew
18 July 1971[37] Barry Cunliffe Britain in the Middle Ages Norman Hammond, Kate Pretty, Eric Thompson
25 July 1971[45] Barry Cunliffe Fishbourne Roman Palace Tony Birley, Kate Pretty, John Wild
1 August 1971[46] Barry Cunliffe Civilisations of the Eastern Mediterranean Warwick Bray, Norman Hammond, Colin Renfrew
8 August 1971[47] Barry Cunliffe Viking Age Martin Biddle, Kate Pretty, Anna Ritchie
15 August 1971[48] Barry Cunliffe Fishbourne Roman Palace Ken Hawley, Hugh Shortt, John Wild
22 August 1971[49] Barry Cunliffe Beamish Museum Neil Cossons, Norman Hammond, Kenneth Hudson With Frank Atkinson.
29 August 1971[50] Barry Cunliffe Viewers requests Martin Biddle, Kate Pretty, Colin Renfrew

Cast and crewEdit

A partial cast list is available.[51]

Name Appeared As Episodes
Charles Appleby Panellist Unknown episodes
Frank Atkinson Challenger One episode, 1971
David Attenborough Producer Unknown episodes
John Betjeman Panellist & Chairman Unknown episodes[52][53]
Martin Biddle Panellist Three episodes, 1971
Tony Birley Panellist Two episodes, 1971
Anthony Blunt Panellist One episode, 1956[52]
Thomas Bodkin Panellist Unknown episodes
Stephen Bone Panellist Unknown episodes[54]
Warwick Bray Panellist One episode, 1971
Johannes Brøndsted Panellist One episode, 1954[3]
Geoffrey Bushnell Panellist Unknown episodes
Humphrey Case Panellist One episode, 1971
V. Gordon Childe Panellist Unknown episodes
Norman 'Bill' Cook[55] Panellist Unknown episodes
Neil Cossons Panellist One episode, 1971
Barry Cunliffe Chairman Fourteen episodes, 1971[56]
Glyn Daniel Chairman & Panellist Unknown episodes
Adrian Digby Panellist One episode, 1952
Lionel Hale Panellist Episode 1, 1952
Norman Hammond Panellist Four episodes, 1971
Ken Hawley Panellist One episode, 1971
Jacquetta Hawkes Panellist Unknown episodes
Kenneth Hudson Panellist One episode, 1971
Julian Huxley Panellist Unknown episodes
Paul Johnstone Producer Unknown episodes[3]
Gerald Kelly Panellist Unknown episodes
Kathleen Kenyon Panellist One episode, November 1955[57]
James Laver Panellist One episode, 1952
T. C. Lethbridge Panellist One episode, 1952[28]
Margaret Mead Panellist One episode, 1957[17]
Seán P. Ó Ríordáin[58][59] Panellist Unknown episodes
Stuart Piggott Panellist Unknown episodes[3]
Kate Pretty Panellist Ten episodes, 1971
Froelich Rainey Panellist & Chairman Unknown episodes
Colin Renfrew Panellist Four episodes, 1971
Anna Ritchie Panellist One episode, 1971
Leo Rivet Panellist One episode, 1971
Hugh Shortt Panellist Unknown episodes
John Summerson Panellist Unknown episodes[52]
W.E. Swinton Panellist Unknown episodes
Charles Thomas Panellist Unknown episodes
Nancy Thomas Presenter Episode 1, 1952
Eric Thompson Panellist One episode, 1971
Edward Wenham Panellist Unknown episodes
Mortimer Wheeler Panellist Unknown episodes
John Wild Panellist Four episodes, 1971
Mary Woodall Panellist Unknown episodes


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