The British Museum has become the first national museum in the world to throw open its doors to a television gameshow. Codex is filmed in the museum's galleries and Great Court, with a code-breaking finale in the Round Room, the former British Library reading room where Karl Marx and George Bernard Shaw pored over their papers.
Already TV companies and museums around the world are watching with interest. The executive producer of the series, Roy Ackerman, said on Sunday: "Our dream is to move on to conquer the Louvre, the Cairo museum, the Smithsonian."
To the huge relief of the program makers and the British Museum's director, Neil McGregor, a screening of the pilot program for the staff proved a success.
"How shall I put this delicately?" said Patricia Wheatley, broadcast adviser to the museum. "Some of our curators and keepers, absolutely brilliant academically, don't actually have televisions at home, so they'd never seen anything like this before in their lives. But they were among the most enthusiastic."
The inspiration for the show came from the craze for puzzles following of the success of the novel The Da Vinci Code. Each episode of the show is built around a period of history, starting with ancient Mesopotamia, and the series uses some of the museum's most famous artefacts, including the 2,700-year-old Flood Tablet, a cuneiform-inscribed clay tablet with an Assyrian version of the Old Testament story of Noah's ark.
In the Assyrian text a raven, not a dove, fails to return to the great boat built by Utnapishtim. Museum archives record that when the tablet was deciphered in 1872 by George Smith, a relatively lowly museum assistant, his reaction was startling.
"He jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement and to the astonishment of those present began to undress himself," the records state.
In each episode contestants will study real objects for clues to breaking the code.
The show was devised by Justin Scroggie, who was behind the British TV hit Treasure Hunt and loves museums, but the idea came from the very different reactions of Roy Ackerman, the executive producer, who claims he hated museums.
"I just felt these were the junk shops of the ancient world ... this series is trying to see if we can push the buttons of an audience who couldn't normally be dragged across the threshold of a museum," he said.