One Night in the Museum

BBC Scotland, 8pm ****

IN the movie Night at the Museum, the exhibits, including a T-Rex, came to life after dark. In new BBC Scotland documentary series One Night in the Museum, there were infinitely more terrifying prowlers on the loose during closing hours – a gaggle of Scottish schoolchildren.

The youngsters had travelled from Inverurie to Edinburgh to visit The National Museum of Scotland. The idea was that they could explore on their own, save for an accompanying camera crew, while behind the scenes, museum curators, and viewers at home, would be able to watch the children’s reactions to the exhibits they encountered.

So a little bit Antiques Roadshow, a lot Kids Say the Funniest Things, plus Mark Bonnar, the Sundance Kid to David Tennant’s Butch Cassidy in the narrating world, providing the commentary.

The first items to bring on a Minions-like “Whoooooah!” from the youngsters were the dinosaurs, the big show-offs of the museum world.

Talk turned to what the children would do if a T-Rex was chasing them. Caley was certain she would run rings round it till it was dizzy.

Later, she conceded that she wouldn’t really be able to fight an adult or a kid dinosaur “but I’d probably be able to fight a baby one”. Atta girl.

Nicole, 10, was hoping to see unicorns “if they are real”. In the meantime she was busy learning that humans were descended from apes. Judging by the monkey impersonation she launched into she was not unduly bothered by the news.

At each exhibit the children had a tendency to start reading the information cards then fill in the rest from their imaginations.

There was a lot of winging it going on, as when one boy informed the others that a brooch had been made by someone called “Angelo Saxo”. The curators had a good old giggle at that.

Gazing at some Pictish stones dating from the fifth century, one of the junior Indiana Jones thought she recognised something familiar among the symbols. “Is that a bike?” Everyone agreed that it certainly was.

The nine-strong gang had the sort of energy that made you very grateful you were not running after them.

One of the exhibits did bring them skidding to a halt – a skeleton in a grave. Nicole was not keen. “I thought it was going to be a unicorn,” she said forlornly. The next item they saw was an Iron Maiden, a forerunner to the guillotine. Hope they all slept well in Inverurie that night.

The script could have done with an extra polish to get rid of the repetition. One minute we were being told (unnecessarily) that museums were “treasure troves of historical artefacts”, only to hear later that a gallery was “a treasure trove of amazing artefacts”. A running time of 30 minutes would have made for a sharper film.

Watching from afar, the experts were delighted to see their world through such fresh eyes. One of them had not known there was a button you could press to see an illustrated Iron Maiden in action. She was off to try it right away (the button, not the Iron Maiden, that would be well in contravention of health and safety regulations).

In their own way the experts were still just as enthusiastic about their specialisms as the children.

Dr Daniel Potter, curator of ancient Mediterranean, said: “I’m a little bit jealous of them to be honest, because when I was a kid I would have wanted nothing more than the opportunity that they’ve had to run around a museum and look at everything.”

The next destinations in the four-part series are Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, The National Maritime Museum in London, and The Royal Armouries in Leeds.

The best ideas in television are usually the simple ones. This series looks a winner, in large part due to the children, and I can see network interest in the format.

Never mind the Hollywood movie and its multi-million dollar special effects. These youngsters, smart as carrots, naturally funny, each a jumping bean of enthusiasm, were better value any day.