Dick and Dom reveal the genius of engineer extraordinaire Isambard Kingdom Brunel and are inspired to come up with their own genius idea.
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This is Absolute Genius.
So, sit down, buckle up and get ready for take-off.
Each show will introduce you to a different genius.
An amazing person who had a genius idea which shaped the world.
And they will inspire us
to come up with our own genius idea at the end of each show.
-But will it be any good?
-Will it be any good?
It will be...
On today's show, we will be going deep underground.
And facing our fears. Look behind you.
-Don't wobble it!
-I'm not doing anything!
Today we're going to introduce you to a truly great man
-and a Great Briton.
-One of the best engineers this world has ever seen.
-He could build and design pretty much anything.
-Ladies and gentlemen, we give you...
-Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
-Where's my hat?
-It must have blown off.
A genius engineer with a genius name.
Inspired by Brunel here, we are going to be coming up with our own
genius challenge later on in the show.
Showing our usual kindness and consideration to each other.
-Don't wobble it.
-I'm not doing anything.
-Just stand still, then.
But first, let's find out
a little bit more about the great man himself.
Isambard was born in 1806 in Portsmouth, England.
His dad, Mark, was a very good engineer
and taught his son everything he knew about the job.
Isambard's genius as an engineer was focused on transport -
whether it was railways, bridges, tunnels or ships,
he wanted to build them better, bigger
and in ways that had never been done before.
In the 1820s, Isambard and his dad were working
together on the banks of the River Thames in London.
They were attempting what no engineer had previously achieved.
They're incredibly ambitious plan was
to dig the world's first ever tunnel under a river.
And here, in the streets of Rotherhithe east London
is where it all started.
What a lot of people don't know is that Brunel
and his dad had a very unique way of digging a tunnel.
But it was a lot cleverer than using a bucket and spade.
Until then, engineers if they wanted to dig a tunnel,
would just dig a big trench and stick a roof on top.
But of course you couldn't do that for a tunnel under the Thames,
cos if you did, the river would flood in
and everyone would get wet, very wet.
So they needed to dig down, right underneath the riverbed.
In order to do this, they had to burrow a really massively long hole.
The Brunels took their inspiration
from a creature that's very good at burrowing.
And I'm not talking about a rabbit.
No, believe it or not, it was a worm.
Meet genius helper and top marine biology dude, the Blowfish.
He's into heavy metal music and stuff that lives in the sea.
He's brought along something called a ship worm,
a creature that likes eating its way through the wooden bottoms of boats.
Mr Blowfish, apparently you've got an example of a ship worm.
-What does it do?
-It's technically not actually a worm.
He is in fact a mollusc.
He is more closely related to things like snails, mussels, cockles.
He does have a shell.
It's with the shell that he does all this fantastic handling.
He looks all smooth and squishy inside there.
He's actually surrounded by shell?
No, he uses that shell like a battering ram.
Like a shield at the front of his burrow.
He jams his head into the end of wood and twists left and right,
left and right burrowing away making a fantastic tunnel
and munching the wood that comes back.
Its shell is working in the same way that when you see
the drill bit on the end of your dad's drill
that goes into the wall. Is it working the same way?
Absolutely, but having a soft, squishy body,
digging tunnels could cause a problem. Cave-ins.
So, the ship worm lines his burrow with calcium,
and this is the same stuff you've got in your bones.
So he's digging a hole and lining it with protection at the same time?
I'm not surprised that the Brunels found inspiration from this.
-I think it's time we give it a go ourselves.
-In what way?
-Follow the Blowfish.
-I've never followed a blowfish before.
Right, then, gentlemen.
It's time to get you two into the mind and body of the ship worm.
We're going to use these shovels to mimic the digging
-shells on the ship worm.
-Got to use them for something.
-I need a young apprentice.
-You could show us first. Then we can...
No, no, no, I think it would be much better if you learned on the job.
-He'd like to do it.
-Dom, are you going to take over?
-He loves it.
-Come on, then, my proud beauty.
-Ah, my back.
Get down on the floor.
-Get down on the floor.
-If you'd like to lie on this. There we go.
Right, these are your shell valves.
No, they're not, they're spades.
"Look at that Brunel," they said.
"Look at his tunnels," they said. "Come and see his ships," they said.
-He loves it.
-This is your calcium cocoon.
-No, it's a sheet.
It's a sheet of calcium.
-Let the tunnelling begin.
-Go. That's it, go on, son.
-Dig that earth, go on.
-He's doing well.
-Left and right.
-It's a bit weird.
-I don't actually know what's going on.
Left and right, you're doing well, worm. Come on.
This is stupid.
This means nothing, it's achieving nothing, no-one's learning from this.
-Well, I'm learning a lot, Dom.
My shoes are covered in mud, this is pointless. What's going on?
Now, Dom may struggle to dig like a ship worm,
but the tunnelling technique of that creature is very similar
to what the Brunels used for their Thames Tunnel.
Like the ship worm's shell,
they used a kind of shield to protect the men digging underground.
They also shored up the tunnel behind them to stop it falling in.
-And now the big question.
-Does the tunnel still exist?
Well, of course it does.
So we called on the services
of Brunel genius expert Robert Hulse to show us inside.
Meet Robert Hulse. He runs the Brunel Museum in London
which sits right on top of the entrance to the Thames Tunnel.
-Hello, gentlemen. Follow me.
It's time to go underground,
because this is where the Thames Tunnel begins.
This is incredible.
It's beautiful. Wow!
So, where exactly are we?
We're here, this is the level we're standing at now,
and the tunnels are beneath our feet.
Is this the first tunnel that went underneath a river ever?
Yes, the first in the world.
That must have been a massive feat of engineering at the time.
They began by building a tower.
They built a tower 50-feet tall
and they sunk it into the soft earth.
Once the Brunels had sunk their tower down
to the level of the bottom of the Thames,
they started digging sideways
tunnelling just beneath the riverbed.
To a lot of people working here,
it must have been quite a dangerous project.
Very dangerous. They dug in cages.
The men working in the cages are showered
with Thames water, which is sewage.
There were five floods, and in one flood, six men died in here.
Despite the dangers, the Brunels were determined to finish the job.
They even had dinner in the tunnel and invited all their friends.
And when it was finally finished in 1843, there was great excitement.
..Because in 1843, the idea of walking under a river
the size of the Thames is like walking on the moon.
50,000 people on the first day filed down that wooden staircase -
-you can still see the line of it.
-That's a phenomenal amount.
That's the trains beneath our feet.
Beneath this entrance shaft, there are two working train tunnels.
The Thames Tunnel is still there, under the river today.
Here at Wapping station on the London Underground is the Brunels'
genius, as impressive now as it was 170 years ago.
These two tunnels were the start of the London Underground,
and any underground transport system in the world.
Well, that really was absolute genius.
-But Brunel didn't stop with the Thames Tunnel.
Here's another five of Brunel's belters.
It's the Genius Top Five.
Five, Brunel's Great Western Railway.
The first railway line from London to the south-west of England.
Four, Paddington station where the Great Western Railway began.
-Passengers please move to number...
-Three. The Box Tunnel.
When opened it was the longest railway tunnel in the world.
Two, Bristol Docks where Brunel built great ships.
One, the Great Western paddle steamship.
When finished in 1838, it was the largest ship in the world.
Later on, we'll be coming up
with our own genius-ly big Brunel challenge.
Dick's fear of heights is going to be tested to the limit.
-Don't wobble it!
-I'm not doing anything!
-Just stand still, then!
In an ideal world, it would be great to jump inside Isambard's brain
and have a good root around, see what he was thinking.
We can't do that, obviously,
but the next best thing is to go from his brain to paper.
Meet genius expert Eleni Papvasileiou.
She looks after lots of the actual drawings,
designs and writing done by Brunel himself all those years ago.
-What have we got here?
It's quite a wide and varied selection of items beginning,
with a lovely drawing we have in our collection of a rocking horse.
This is a drawing that Isambard drew in 1812
when he was only six years old.
-Six years old!
-Look at it.
Most kids can only just draw a person and it doesn't look like a person.
Brunel has got all the muscle shape, the face, it's incredible.
Brunel never stopped working.
It looks here like he has done a self-portrait.
And these notebooks are the proof of that.
In the very back of this book, he has drawn all these lovely
drawings of plants and trees.
Different measurements and everything.
He couldn't just do a bit of gardening, he had
to measure them all, create scale diagrams of them all, list them all.
I mean, there's gardening and there's this.
This is like the behaviour of a madman.
I think what it is, is a demonstration of his genius.
At least I wasn't rolling around with spades on my legs.
Yeah, all right.
And in this sketch book,
Brunel has drawn his design for one of his most famous ships.
The SS Great Britain.
And here it is in all its glory on the dockside in Bristol
where Brunel built it all those years ago.
-Wow. That is impressive.
-That is a big ship.
This is Brunel's SS Great Britain.
When it was built, it was the biggest ship in the world.
Let's go and have a look around it.
This ship really is a monster at 98-metres long.
But back when it was being built, there was plenty of people
who thought it would sink, because it was made of iron, not wood.
But Brunel was a risk-taker, and in 1843,
150,000 people gathered in Bristol docks to watch her being launched.
This was a ship of the future. As well as being made of iron,
not wood, she was powered by an engine rather than wind or ores.
This seriously is genius engineering.
I mean, look at those slabs of iron.
There's wheels, arms, pistons, bolts and nuts. It's 150 tonnes' worth.
Yes, it's going to generate a serious amount of power,
but you're going to need that much power to try
and plough a 3,500-tonne ship through the Atlantic.
A lot of power.
And all that power drove this,
the SS Great Britain's enormous propeller.
It measures nearly five metres across.
This was the first passenger ship in the world
to be driven by a propeller.
In 1845, Brunel's world-beating ship made her first crossing
of the Atlantic Ocean.
Yeah, very impressive, but I bet Brunel couldn't walk on water.
Yeah, maybe. Look, just put the mop down. Silly man.
Brunel was obviously a genius engineer,
sometimes though his ideas did not go quite according to plan.
It's The Not So Genius Idea.
While performing a magic trick for his children,
Brunel accidentally swallowed a coin. It became stuck in his throat.
A special pair of forceps couldn't get it out.
In the end, he had to be strapped to a board,
turned upside-down and shaken.
This did the trick, and the coin was jerked free.
A lucky escape for the great man.
Alla-kazaam, piff, paff, poof! Rabbit!
So, Brunel built great tunnels.
Amazing railways that are still in use today, fantastic ships,
-but what's missing from all of this?
-Patio, yes, no.
Not patios, there was no great need for patios
in the 19th century, was there?
I'm talking about his most incredible
constructions of all time, his bridges.
Oh, yes, like this one.
The Maidenhead Bridge otherwise known as The Sounding Arch.
Let's find out why.
Have a go.
Bet that's never been played under here before. BOGIES!
I want one.
-That's a new one - Echo Bogies. Think I won that with a 8.5.
When that's all said and done, though,
I mean, most people just think that that is a bridge
built out of bricks.
It is, but there's something really weird that I can't work out.
The bridge has got no support underneath,
yet the bricks are still there.
If only Fran, our resident scientist, was here to tell us why.
This is Fran! She just loves experimenting...
..to help explain the ideas of our geniuses,
and she's sure to pop up just when you really need her.
-Were you talking about Brunel's beautiful bridge?
It's lovely. We were admiring yet wondering at the same time,
wondering why the bricks at the bottom of the bridge,
cos without any support under them,
-why don't they just fall into the water?
-It's a good question.
Is it because of the cement?
Is the cement holding the bricks in place so they don't fall down?
No, cos you can actually have an arch bridge
without cement between the bricks, and it still stays up.
Hang on a minute, are you telling me that you can build a bridge like that
with no cement, no bonding?
Exactly. And we're going to do that,
because you don't need cement for an arch bridge to work,
but you need a few other things.
You need two supports at the end of an arch to keep it up,
and they are called abutments.
And you two are going to be my two abutments.
-Oh, nice, I've always wanted to be one of those.
-I can imagine.
But you also need some bricks in between the arch to form it,
but we don't have any bricks, but we do have some toilet roll.
Toilet roll holder.
So, here are my bricks, and you two are my abutments.
You could say that.
So, if you take that brick and pop it next to your head.
-Brick, all right.
-There you go, there you go.
-That one's a bit wet!
And we've got one final brick, which is a specially shaped one,
which scientists call the keystone,
and this should hold our bridge together.
-So, if you guys could come slightly closer together.
-Oh, you're slightly shorter, there, Dom.
-Yeah, all right, all right!
Slightly further apart. Ever so slightly. Oh!
Don't be quite so fast, abutments.
-There we go!
And it's staying up with no...just about staying up with no cement.
-Is it arched?
-It is arched. It's just about arched.
And the thing is, I can even push down here and it doesn't fall.
-We have our bridge, which is staying up with no cement.
-An actual bridge.
But Brunel didn't like simple - he wanted things to be perfect,
no matter how complicated they were.
So, when he was building this bridge, he built it wide and flat,
and it's record-breaking, this bridge - it's the widest,
flattest brick arch ever built, and when it was first built,
it's so wide and flat that people didn't think it would stay standing
when a train went across it, but it did and it still is.
Which makes me think, of all of his discoveries and creations...
you know, he was very good at the ships,
the tunnels and everything,
but I think his bridges are really inspiring, so I think our final
challenge should be on his tallest, most extravagant bridge.
Go right to the top. What do you reckon?
You know what the problem is here. I'm genuinely scared of heights.
-Oh, come on!
-Oh, it's quite a tall bridge, this, isn't it?
So, there is one you got in mind?
-Yeah, I've got one in mind.
-Where is it? Fiji?
-It's in Bristol.
Back to Bristol! I love Bristol!
Brunel loved building bridges, and here, in Bristol,
is his most famous one of all.
There's one Brunel bridge that stands
head and shoulders above all the others.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge.
When it was designed, it was the highest
and longest suspension bridge in the world.
End to end, it stretches 214 metres.
162 iron suspension rods hold the road deck
high above the Avon River Gorge.
Nearly 12,000 cars cross it every day.
We'll be climbing to the very highest point of this amazing bridge...
Look behind you.
..but first, we need to find out a bit more.
Meet Brunel genius expert Mike Rowland.
He knows every inch of Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The weirdest part for me, because I don't like heights anyway,
is that we're on this bridge, and it is moving slightly in the wind
or when cars go across as well.
-Is that normal for a bridge this high up?
-Of course it is.
It is a suspension bridge, it hangs,
and this is where I can show you where it moves.
-Oh, look at that!
-If you look down here, you see, the stone, here,
stays still, but can you see, the footpath goes up and down?
-And is it...it's meant to do that?
So, Mike, this was built 150 years ago,
and it's still looking really good -
obviously, they were built to last in those days?
That's right, but that means that we need to look after it,
that means we need to do things,
like changing lots of nuts and bolts all the time.
Right, OK. And how do you do the maintenance?
Well, what we do is we go up and over here and down into this,
we call it the cradle, that hangs beneath the bridge.
From there, we can look after things underneath.
You want us to stand in a cage that's hanging underneath?
Absolutely, done all the time.
-Why don't you come in and give me a hand?
From here, it looks like chicken wire
and some planks of wood on the bottom.
Is that the thing you're talking about?
That's what we're going to go down into, yes.
That cradle is scarily high.
It hangs 76 metres above the Avon River far below.
That's a very long way to fall!
Would you get in there, hm?
Look at it.
After you, come on.
No, don't you touch me! Get off! No!
-Right, are you going to wait up there for me?
-Don't mess about, mate.
-I'm only joking.
You see, the thing about, with a fear of heights
is when you see someone you know being in a situation
-of being that high up...
-Why are you standing like that?
Looks like you're doing this on your own, Dom!
Time for some suspension bridge maintenance.
Wow, this is awesome!
This is a whole new perspective of this bridge.
Wow! Look at this view!
Meanwhile, I've gone for a different perspective
on where Dom is standing.
At least he's having a lovely time!
OK, so here we are there, Dom,
and we need to move this cradle all the way along there.
So, what we have to do is put this little handle on here...
and then, ready...?
-OK, here we go.
-Here we go!
OK, we're going towards the slightly more scary bit in the middle.
Doesn't look very nice, does it?
Let alone being on there, but it moving as well...
..that's a whole new level.
This is hard work!
This is what it's like doing a proper job!
There are more than 5,000 bolts in the bridge superstructure,
and each one has to be replaced before it wears out.
OK, so what we do, then, Dom, is we take one of the sockets
and we need to replace this bolt here. That should sit in there.
-Might need a bit of help here.
-All right then. Ready? One, two, three.
-What are you guys made of, here?!
-Oh, yay, yes!
-There we are.
Now, this isn't the bolt that's going to make the bridge collapse, is it?
-Mind your toes!
All we need to do now is put a new bolt in to replace the old one.
Tell you what, got to be built like a brick layer to do this.
Argh, one more, one, two, three! Oh, my goodness! Thanks, Brunel.
That is seriously exhausting. Please, tell me that's it.
That's it, job done.
Now, as if this bridge wasn't tall enough -
it's, like, one of the tallest in the world -
we're also going to go even higher now.
Go right on the top of that tower. See that?
-You got your harness on?
-Yeah, all set. Sorted.
So, this is our genius idea.
Can we get Dick to conquer his fear of heights?
To do that, we're going to try to climb to the very top
of one of the towers at the end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Up there, it's a whopping 102 metres above the river below.
Going to the top of a tower
on top of one of the highest bridges in the world.
Yes, we are, that is correct. I'm doing this for you, OK?
So, if all goes wrong...your fault!
-All right so far?
The first stage of our climb
is up a series of ladders inside the tower structure.
-I've said to myself, "Whatever you do, don't look down."
This is where the fear of heights just starts kicking in, here!
Look behind you.
This is nuts.
Made it to the halfway point. Don't go right over there!
-No, don't go near the edge!
-Look, there's floor everywhere!
When you look down, and there's a bird flying beneath you,
you know you're high!
Now for the final part of the climb.
Right, come on, let's get in.
-Stop moving about like a grandad!
-Ha-ha-ha, I'm holding onto things!
Make it safer.
-Right. Oh, it's a bit wobbly, isn't it?
-It's a bit windy as well.
-I said it's a bit windy.
I couldn't hear you - the wind was in me ears!
-Don't... No! Don't wobble it!
-I'm not doing anything!
-Just stand still, then!
-Well, I AM standing still!
That's the view.
-No, stop shaking it!
There we go. It's like being born.
-Right, I'm getting out.
-Go on, then. DICK EXHALES
Oh, at last, we've made it! How high up are we now?
Well, we're about 26 metres up from the ground in this pier,
and then, from the bridge deck
to the high watermark of the River Avon,
it's another 76 metres.
So, that's 102 metres above the water,
which is about the length of a football pitch.
OK, so here we are.
What we've got here are these huge, big iron saddles,
-and you'll see the chains go all the way over the top.
And although you might not be able to see it just from here,
this actually just rocks that little bit.
This is the bit that is rocking!
Yeah, just that little bit, it rocks.
And underneath here, behind the Perspex, here, there are little
rollers, and so this actually just moves a little bit, sideways.
Just a tiny little bit.
Well, don't worry about it, it's supposed to do that.
And that's the brilliance of Brunel -
this whole bridge was designed to be flexible,
to move and to adapt to changing weather conditions.
Very kind of you to say so, boys.
Look at that view.
I mean, that is simply breathtaking, isn't it?
Yeah, it's a lovely view, that. It's my favourite view ever, that.
It's your favourite view ever, yeah?
The past few days have been... have been amazing. They really have.
We've got to see the Thames Tunnel.
These tunnels were the start of the London Underground.
-The ship one.
-Ah, yes, you loved the ship one.
-This is stupid!
-Then there was that fantastic ship, the SS Great Britain.
This seriously is genius engineering.
And now this, Brunel's highest, most successful bridge,
and 150 years later, it's still going strong.
-Can we get down now, please?
-Can we get down now?
Do you want the quick way or the slow way?
It went right through me!
-Don't wobble it!
I'm not doing anything!
Just stand still, then!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Dick and Dom reveal the genius of engineer extraordinaire Isambard Kingdom Brunel and are inspired to come up with their own genius idea, which involves climbing to the top of one of the tallest bridges in the world.