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Ross Kemp: Deep Sea Treasure Hunter Review – Soap Star Swims Up To The Mark In Search Of Tudor Gems

Twelve metres beneath the surface of the Solent, Ross Kemp is excited. “Mallory! MALLORY!” he yells. Mallory Haas is a maritime archeologist, who I imagine got into this line of work precisely so she didn’t have to hear men shouting at her. “Mallory, look what I’ve found here!” Surely deep-sea diving comms come with off-switches these days.

Ross Kemp: Deep Sea Treasure Hunter is essentially submarine Detectorists, despite Kemp’s puppyish overcompensations: “I’ve found something. Mallory! I’ve found something!”

I’m not saying the underwater photography is woeful, but to my eyes, the debris Kemp dredges up – a piece of pottery – could have been anything. Henry VIII’s codpiece, nuclear waste, a vintage ring pull from a 1973 can of Lilt.

Being a trained actor, Kemp swims up to his mark in front of the camera with aplomb, and says: “It’s like touching hands with a ghost.” I can’t see inside Ross’s helmet but I feel sure one eyebrow is shooting up.

I’m very fond of Kemp – with his buff embonpoint and shaved head, it seems like his idea of fun would be a fight in an after-hours pub car park. But, behind the masculinist posturing and devotion to well-filled T-shirts is a sensitive soul, eternally calling out to his mum to stop texting and watch him on the swing.

Most likely, he doesn’t really want to tour the world interviewing unpleasantly violent men for Ross Kemp on Gangs. Nobody in their right mind does. Nor does he seemingly yearn to add to his already unrelentingly butch roster of docs, such as Ross Kemp in Afghanistan or Ross Kemp in Search of Pirates, or to make documentaries whose titles come with pretentious colons, such as Ross Kemp: Extreme World. But, until someone commissions him to film Ross Kemp on How to Draw Lovely Ponies or Ross Kemp: Flower Arranger, he’s stuck – like the last timbers of the Mary Rose in the submarine mud of the Solent – in a fate he didn’t choose, poor chap.

“This is a piece of glazed saltware,” says Haas indulgently, examining Kemp’s find. “You think that it could be Tudor pottery, do you?” says Kemp, breathless, but hopefully not out of tank oxygen.

Kemp is a resourceful actor, but in his diving helmet even he can’t convey by facial expression how exciting this is. So instead he makes a drinking gesture with one hand: “This could be from a jug that was drunk by Tudor chaps.”

“Chaps” – what an inspired word to use at that moment. I imagine the chaps of the Mary Rose on that fateful day of 19 July 1545, observed by Henry VIII from the ramparts of Southsea Castle, raising glazed jugs of Tudor booze to his majesty’s health before – for reasons uncertain – the flagship of the English fleet sank, along with most of the 200 sailors and 185 soldiers and 30 gunners aboard.

But then I realise I’ve got Haas all wrong. Far from being a submarine wet blanket, she is in her element, as much into this as Kemp. “Wow!” she exclaims, “This is touching history!”

And then, Haas finds something else. “What have you found, Mallory? MALLORY, what is it?”

“It’s an extremely compact artefact,” says Haas. What she has found is a piece of wood – but not any old piece of wood. “We seem to have hit the jackpot.”

Kemp and Haas are running out of oxygen, possibly because they’re hyperventilating. Back on dry land, fellow diving enthusiasts examine their haul. The shoe sole discovered by Haas is indeed a piece of history, but probably more Freeman Hardy & Willis than Tudor. That’s the problem with marine archaeology: the seas are full of rubbish, not all of it Tudor.

For all that, the piece of wood may – or may not – have once formed part of the bow of the Mary Rose, and, for that reason will be added to the Mary Rose Museum’s collection of 19,000 artefacts. That collection, Kemp explains, was assembled after most of the wreck was brought to the surface in 1982 – 437 years after she sank. What remains below is tantalising, or at least so we must suppose if we are to enjoy this show. The bow end of the ship that may – or may not – have collapsed under the weight of the big guns Henry insisted be installed is still there beneath the waves.

I don’t mean to be picky, but 12 metres isn’t really deep-sea treasure hunting, nor does diving in the Solent really justify the early parts of this episode in which Kemp learns how to dive at 40 metres. Happily, in future episodes he dives deeper. But if the tease for episode two is anything to go by, he faces some difficulties. Way to ramp up the jeopardy, Ross.

That said, given all the interviews he’s done to promote this series, I think we can safely say without any spoilers that he survives and that in years to come he will make Ross Kemp: Minstrel Flautist in Tights. Because, forget about treasure hunting, that’s the show I want to see.

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