Points for getting it all in the title: Stuff The British Stole, the new podcast by Marc Fennell, tells the story behind some of the weirdest and most egregious stuff pilfered by the Brits. And guess what: the Brits just bloody loved to steal stuff.
The British Museum in London alone is home to some eight million artifacts. Stuff The British Stole explores the stories behind those objects (and in some cases, human remains), going to some weird, dark and funny places.
“I’m a nerd, I love museums, but every time you go they always have these plaques that tell a really polite version of history,” Fennell told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“And the reality is, for most of these objects, the real history is not that polite. It’s also not that simple.”
You’ve probably heard about the Elgin Marbles, which the Brits swiped from the Greeks in the 19th Century and are refusing to give back.
But have you heard about Tipu’s Tiger, an 18th Century wooden toy that depicts a tiger mauling a soldier? Probably not.
It was seeing this utterly bizarre object in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum that prompted Fennell to create the podcast.
“I realised these objects were a great doorway into our history, my history, Australia’s history, and the history of dozens of countries,” Fennell said.
“That’s what we’re talking about – it’s in excess of 40 different countries that have been touched by the British Empire. That’s a lot of us that have some sort of link back to it in one way, shape or form.”
He said he’s not interested in making some “boring, worthy series”, but about unravelling a mystery.
“There was something in just staring at this ridiculous tiger, it was just like… how does this thing exist?” Fennell said.
“Who made this? Why? The moment you look at these objects, you have to ask these questions.”
Agreed. I have questions:
Tipu’s Tiger makes up episode one (out now), but Fennell tracks objects stolen from India, China, Nigeria, New Zealand, and Australia.
“One disconcerting thing that was said to me repeatedly was: ‘The British were bad here, but they were nowhere near as bad as they were in Australia’,” Fennell said.
“I heard that like a dozen times.”
Despite what the podcast title might make you think, Fennell doesn’t make a judgement on the net good or bad of the British Empire.
Instead, he plonks you in a time in history, arms you with the facts, tells you about the conflicts, and hopes you have enough by the end to make up your own mind.
“There is stuff that was stolen, that is not a contested fact,” he said.
“But whether or not it should have been, whether or not it should be returned, whether or not what happens around it is necessarily good or bad, that’s the journey, that’s why you do a series like this.”
Stuff The British Stole, an ABC production, shot to #1 on Apple’s podcast charts on its first day of release. Fennell said they’re definitely doing a season two, but this time he’s asking for the public’s help.
“If you’ve ever walked past an object in a museum – it doesn’t have to be the British Museum, it could be any museum anywhere – and looked and it and gone, how the fuck did that get there? – I would like to hear from you.” (And you can get in touch with Fennell here: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Stuff The British Stole is available now wherever podcasts are, so get it in your earbuds.