Time meddlers: anachronisms in print and on film

There's nothing like a blooper to make the blood boil


An eagle-eyed reader recently wrote us a letter about a photo-layout of the drama Christopher and His Kind that appeared in Radio Times magazine:


“With semi-naked men (actors Matt Smith and Douglas Booth) spread across pages 12 and 13 of this week’s issue I couldn’t take my eyes off the photo. The more I ogled the more disappointed I became. Designed by Henry F Phillips, Pozidriv decking screws in a drama set up until 1933? Strange, as the screw type was not available until 1937 (even then its first use was in the manufacture of USA General Motors’ Cadillac vehicles). Perhaps, Smith has absorbed too much Tardis time energy and created a temporal anomaly.”

Well, indeed.

But this got us thinking about anachronisms in films and on TV. It’s long been the habit of blooper-spotters to point out howlers, like the appearance of 1970s-style hippie extras in 40s/50s-set The Godfather, or the very existence of a movie called A Flintstones Christmas Carol that takes place several hundred years BC…

Similarly, Back to the Future III’s assumption that fax machines would become the dominant means of communication by 2015 looks increasingly unlikely in a world now in thrall to email and SMS, and the presence of a watch on the wrist of a Zulu warrior in the film Zulu raised eyebrows on its release.

However, some anachronisms are so oft-repeated on screen that they’ve become the norm. For instance, the idea that Roman legionnaires wore leather armour is a cliché that originated with the sword-and-sandal epics of the 1950s, and bands of marauding Injuns never “circled the wagons” in the old west.


Still, it’s not worth getting too upset by these sorts of slips in continuity. After all, film and TV require some suspension of disbelief. I suppose the thing to remember about anachronisms is that everybody makes mistakes…