Ten years ago, Dr. Simon Elliott was a living embodiment of the modern age. A senior manager at a host of leading public affairs and public relations firms in London, he has advised high-level clients on how to navigate the world of politics and the media.
Today, he spends much of his time peering into the mists of time a period nearly 2,000 years ago.
Because he traded the cut and thrust of financial institutions for the swords and intrigue of the Roman Empire.
And now he’s presenting his very first TV show – airing on the increasingly popular History Hit TV – a Netflix for history buffs.
Created in 2018 by popular historian Dan Snow, the service now has over 100,000 viewers, all paying a monthly subscription allowing them to gorge on a mix of original and purchased programming that delves into the history books of everything and anything. ; from the sinking of the Titanic to world conflicts.
For Simon Elliott, who lives in Mereworth, near Maidstone, it provided the perfect opportunity to grow from casual expert in Roman history to leader.
“I used to run big PR firms in the city and the West End before doing my PhD in 2014,” he explains. He obtained his PhD at the University of Kent in Classical Studies and Archaeology, building on his MA in Classical History.
“Now I’ve gotten to a point where I can start living off my knowledge of the Roman Empire, which is lovely.”
He went on to write a host of books and organize tours of both Kent and Pompeii for a travel agency.
And he has to work alongside plenty of TV personalities – including Tony Robinson, with whom he appeared on Channel 5 on his History of Britain show earlier this month, Hugh Dennis on the Great British Dig and even comedian Phil Wang in his tribute to video game Rome Total War.
“They’re all exactly as you’d expect when you see them on TV,” he says of famous people, “no one had a hidden personality.
“And when you work with real pros, you learn from them all the time.
“You realize that their success is due to hard work and you have to follow their lead.
“When you’re the expert, you know what your brief is, you show up and then go home. But when you’re the presenter, you’re there all the time. It’s really long days. You start shooting at 7:30 a.m. and you You are always aware that you are in an urban setting so you have traffic, helicopters, sirens, planes and like everything else in life, time is money so you don’t want waste it.
“So you have to be able to switch on right away and go fast.
“I hope this leads to me doing presentations on other things, not just History Hit. As you can tell, I have a real passion for it and love doing it.”
He’s certainly getting used to appearing in front of the cameras and has more work lined up.
As we speak, he’s filming a show that will air on the Discovery Channel and admits he works on TV “about once a week.”
Hit TV has certainly proven a perhaps unlikely streaming success.
Started by Dan Snow – son of Channel 4 news presenter Jon – its name derives from the series he presented for Channel 4.
Released in 2018, it was acquired just two years later by production powerhouse All3Media and now generates over 60 hours of original programming.
Simon Elliott adds: “I often introduce myself as their expert on Roman stuff. There are two shows with Ray Mears where I talk with him about the Roman invasions of Kent.
“There’s a scene, at the start of one of the shows, filmed last June, where he and I were on Sandwich beach, in scorching heat, with our boots paddling.
“We were literally paddling where the Romans were landing.
“They do a great job. And I can come to them with ideas too.”
This is where his most recent two-part series comes from: Life and Death in Roman London.
“I do tours where you spend the day taking people through Roman London and there’s plenty to see,” he explains.
“London is a Roman city, and there’s still a lot there if you’re in the City of London, in particular.
“One of my contacts is Dr Rebecca Redfern from the Museum of London who, among other things, is in charge of the skeleton collections. So we did indeed do some autopsies on a stretcher in what is called the bone room where all skeletons are dropped outside.
“All the Roman skeletons I have seen have terrible teeth because of the way the grain is ground in the millstones to make flour for bread. A lot of sand gets in there and so when they eat bread they So by the time you reach your twenties or thirties, you start to get cusps on your teeth, which has left you with a mouthful of abscess.
“I asked Rebecca what they would have taken as they would have been in pain all the time. She said it was a variety of remedies like poppy seed juice, which is an opiate.”
He jokes: “So they already drink diluted wine or beer for their normal drink instead of water because it’s safer, but then they get a toothache, so they drink poppy juice. So that would have led to a lot of very relaxed romance with Londoners.”
“We were literally paddling where the Romans landed…”
Life and Death in Roman London is available now on History Hit TV – it costs £7.99 a month to subscribe.