Documentary which takes a fantastic voyage through the rich heritage of science TV in the UK, from the real science of The Sky at Night to the science fiction of Doctor Who.
Browse content similar to Mad and Bad: 60 Years of Science on TV. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
We are going to test this with live ammunition. We're doing the experiment live,
obviously we can't do this in the studio.
In your own time.
From Raymond Baxter live on Tomorrow's World testing a new-fangled bullet-proof vest
on a nervous inventor...
to Brian Cox racking up more Air Miles than an overworked flight attendant.
From Professor Quatermass' Cold War scariness...
I've been afraid something would happen we couldn't deal with.
-..to Dr Who's new spin on gender politics.
-Was someone kissing me?
British television, and, it's hoped,
the great British public have been fascinated with the brave new world
offered up by science and scientists since John Logie Baird first thought
of sending a bicircular electron field through a vacuumated glass cylinder.
This is transmission studio number three.
I think the UK probably leads the world in science communication.
British television does science better than anybody else
in making it accessible and appealing but still in a complicated way.
Lift off. We have lift off on Apollo 11.
We take a fantastic voyage through six decades of British TV science,
from real science programmes to science fiction.
I'm a scientist. It doesn't matter what you've been told about this thing. It is NOT harmless.
What does it tell us about Britain over the last 60 years?
How much has science on TV shaped our view of the world?
You may get some idea
of the frustration and the excitement of scientific research.
Or has it, in fact, turned us off science,
made us more fearful of what scientists get up to in their labs?
When the cat is taken aside and exposed to the hallucinogenic gas,
the tables are turned.
This is a cat on, well, acid, LSD.
It featured in the '60s science programme Horizon,
and is a reasonable scientific experiment to show how psychotic drugs could be used in warfare.
Perhaps it now sees the mice as terrifying monsters.
Or you could say it's the kind of tactic TV producers will resort to
to make science entertaining to grab the audience.
The role of a producer
is to think of an imaginative way of grabbing the audience by the throat,
and then imparting information almost subliminally.
The most important thing
about television - it should always be entertaining.
You want people to turn on, and stay tuned to the end of the programme.
And if it's not entertaining they'll turn it off.
But using science for entertainment has often annoyed the scientific community.
It's a battle that goes right back to the beginning of motion pictures itself.
At the beginning of science film-making
there's this idea that science can provide a type of spectacle.
They weren't adverse to showing anything
that was fringe scientific and entertaining. For example,
in 1908, a guy called Percy Smith
makes a film called The Acrobatic Fly.
He puts a macro lens onto his cine-camera.
He ties down a fly with a piece of silk and passes it various things to juggle.
It's an absolute sensation.
The scientific establishment is really rather disdainful of this.
They say, "It's quite an interesting piece of science,
"but, really, you shouldn't lower yourself by going to see it, fellow scientists."
But as film then TV became more pervasive,
the scientists knew they couldn't keep away.
Scientists recognised television
was going to be a powerful influence and a way in which
their views could be heard
and their attitudes towards life could be heard.
Scientists wanted to control the way science was communicated.
It has a North pole. It has a South pole. It has an equator.
And it spins about its axis.
But scientists aren't always the best communicators.
The atmosphere is extraordinarily interesting at heights very much above
that which we've accustomed to think there is no atmosphere.
A lot of scientists are arguably on the autistic spectrum,
and not necessarily great in front of a camera, and that's just true.
So over the past 60 years, science on TV has been a battleground
between scientists and TV makers over how science should look on the box.
Should information come before entertainment?
Should presenters be real scientists?
Popular science or niche science? Science lectures or spectacle?
It was in the start-up years of TV, the 1950s,
that the battle over TV science was at its most heated.
Science has been expanding so violently into our civilisation
that 90% of all the scientists that have ever been are alive right now.
In the 1950s, the scientific establishment battled with the BBC
to make science look like a force for good.
Serious, proper, and certainly not controversial.
I think there were a number of well-established institutions and learned bodies,
like the Royal Society and other bodies,
and yes, to some extent, there was some resistance from them,
in the same way there was resistance from the academic community itself,
about whether science on TV was dumbing down.
Time and time again we find scientists beating a path to the BBC
and saying, "You're not doing science properly,
"you're not doing science well enough. You've got to improve science broadcasting."
It often looked like the scientists had got their way,
as reflected in programmes like The Smoking Habit.
Tonight's programme is about the smoking habit.
I'd like to say straightaway that it isn't designed to urge you to give up smoking
or to cut down smoking or change your smoking habits in any way at all.
That's none of our business.
Science programmes were usually
started with a stirring classical music-led title-sequence
and populated by scientists who were bringing us one step closer to a better future,
whether we liked it or not.
To do these projects, you've got to have an emotional drive to do them.
In a sense, they're things of the spirit
that you've got to feel that you want to do them. It's rather like the Egyptians building the pyramids.
The pyramids were obviously no good but they built them, and this may be our pyramid.
'It's good for scientists'
there are scientists on the screen.
It's good for the public to see real scientists standing up
and talking with enthusiasm and engagement about their work.
The problem, of course, is squaring the circle,
the balance between the essential demand of the broadcasters for entertainment.
It is the audience that matters. What's the point in making a programme no-one watches?
Science was often presented by scientists in suits,
very high-brow types that looked like bank managers
talking to other scientists that looked like bank managers, such as in Science Is News.
How do you go about detecting a bomb?
Well, there are several methods and the success of them naturally
depends on the conditions under which the bomb is let off.
When a bomb goes off it makes a large bang.
Here goes a bomb and here's the wave coming across.
-The line coming towards us?
-Yes, that's it.
Despite the slight stiffness, the programmes were still considered exciting.
Television at the beginning of the 1950s was really just seen as radio's
younger sibling, a bit troublesome. It didn't have much money going into it,
and they'd scarcely started thinking what a programme should be like.
What they did think was that there was something really fantastic
about the immediacy of television.
The fact that you were seeing things that were happening at that moment
and they really, really liked that sense of danger.
Now, the first experiment that we're going to conduct
is to take these men, effectively, up six miles
and we do this with a compression chamber.
This compression chamber was much too big to bring into the studio
and we have it parked downstairs in the garage.
It was so big, we more or less blocked the whole of Lime Grove this morning when we were getting it in.
And live broadcasting meant that experiments had to be demonstrated in the studio
along with live graphics.
These are special animated diagrams which are operated in front of the camera.
So there's levers that are pulled and discs that are rotated.
A throat surgeon makes a small cut in the windpipe,
so that a special type of tube can be inserted, and is put in like this.
And here you can see in detail how the tube lies in the windpipe.
They were big on props. They loved to have dramatic props
that people could point to. So in Frontiers Of Science
when they're talking about the Sputnik satellite,
they've got a huge great globe of the earth, and they were pointing out how the whole thing would work.
On the scale of the size of the earth,
I have here five little pins.
The smallest of them,
about a 20th of an inch long,
represents Mount Everest.
5.5 miles high, the highest point on the earth,
which man succeeded in climbing after many failures.
Programmes were the science lecture, effectively,
given by scientists who were used to talking to nervous students keen to pass their degree.
Their tone reflected this.
They didn't realise people watching were looking for enjoyment and interest, not to pass their finals.
And the scientists were also happy to bring their lab work to the studio,
oblivious to how the TV audience might feel.
And so here you have six very newborn little mice.
-They look normal enough. Are they perfectly normal?
-Yes, quite normal.
In other words, your experiment has succeeded in achieving normal mice.
Well, then, why did you do it?
We wanted to do this experiment just to show that the technique was all right -
that you could keep mice in a test tube for two days and that they would develop normally.
You could see things you just don't see today, unfortunately.
Science was rarely questioned, whether it was vivisection
or former Nazi Wernher von Braun's work for the US space programme.
You can orbit approximately 2,500 pounds of payload,
which means that we can fire
good busloads full of astronauts into low orbit...
The tone was always optimistic and upbeat.
Science, whatever it did, was good.
One of the most popular exponents
of optimistic science on TV in the '50s was Eye On Research,
presented by someone who could look a camera square in the eye without flinching,
former Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter.
And to give you an idea of just how cold it is,
if I shake away the surplus oxygen,
you can see that the water is turned into solid ice.
Tonight you join us in the Clarendon Laboratory in Oxford
for a programme on low temperature physics.
The whole series of Eye On Research
was done in conjunction with the Royal Society
as part of the celebrations of their 300th anniversary.
This was very much the image of science that the high-ups in the Royal Society wanted to put across.
If this is successful, then I think, for a short time at least,
the inside of this apparatus will be the coldest place
in perhaps the whole of the universe.
This is a most dramatic introduction to our programme.
Can we go and discuss this major point somewhere more quiet?
Well, good luck, John.
But while scientists and TV producers argued over the look of real science on TV,
the people down the hall in the drama department
realised they could use science too... To frighten people.
A writer called Nigel Kneale
was turning science into a nightmare vision in The Quatermass Experiment!
One morning, two hours after dawn,
the first manned rocket in the history of the world takes off
from the Woomera Range, Australia.
I suppose the earliest scientific thing I remember on the telly has got to be Quatermass.
I used to sit under the kitchen table and watch it
with one finger in my mouth
and the other hand clutching nervously at my trousers,
watching this tiny little telly
with all these weird spaceships and old scrunched up aliens in.
The Quatermass Experiment follows a British space rocket - well, it is science fiction -
that returns to Earth minus all but one of the crew,
who's infected by an alien life-form that wants to destroy the world. Don't they always?
The Quatermass Experiment
really changed the image of science fiction on television.
Everything depends on that curve being confirmed.
-If it is, they may have a chance.
That may bring them right round the Earth instead of smack into it.
It's all right, I'm not letting myself go.
'Quatermass was a success'
because it wasn't like anything else.
This was a grown-up science-fiction drama.
-What is it?
'Ere, get her somewhere safe. I got to report this.
'It's about science. It's also cleverly structured.
'It's a mystery.'
It wasn't until you got into it you realised, "Oh, wait a minute, this is rocket ships and monster stuff,"
and by then people were following the story, it was too late
'to turn off and say, "We don't watch nonsense like that."
Quatermass got everyone tuning in.
I think people watched it because they didn't have a choice. There was only one channel in those days.
If you watched television last night, that's what you saw,
and if you were on the bus or the tube of wherever you were,
you would all have seen Quatermass.
And so there was a kind of national sort of mania.
"Oh, my God, what's going on? What IS that thing that's going to come out of the pit? Eurgh!"
-They're not inside.
-They must be! Unless they got swept away.
I checked - that door hasn't been opened till now.
Victor, where are the others?
Victor, what happened?
I'm pretty sure it was live,
and so trying to do effects
of ectoplasmic ghastly things coming out and strangling you
is jolly difficult if you're doing it live.
It tapped into specific concerns to do with the paranoias of the time,
the politics of the time, there's a lot of Cold War stuff in there.
There's also a lot of lingering World War Two material.
I mean, the image of the rocket scientists,
particularly for London audiences,
wasn't that hot because they thought of Wernher von Braun,
the man who had invented things that had rained from the sky,
killing their neighbours and knocking their streets down.
-Well, I seen this great blare of light...
-He was out of the house in a flash.
-Ah, Mrs Matthews.
Not a moment's hesitation - just as he was through the Blitz.
But although space travel was seen as something that could destroy the world,
the hero who saves our bacon is in fact a scientist - Professor Bernard Quatermass.
That may mean nothing. The main thing is to get control.
He's described as British television's first hero.
Yes, TV's first heartthrob, a scientist.
The writer modelled him on real-life astronomer Bernard Lovell -
a science geek no less.
Quatermass is a maverick scientist taking on the Establishment.
Sort of a science version of James Dean's Rebel Without A Cause.
Rebel with a PhD.
'There's something comforting and paternal about Quatermass.
'That's who we'd like to think was doing science,
'even though in all of the serials what he's doing turns out to be really dangerous.'
30 years ago I'd almost decided to devote my life to land surveying in the Tropics.
That at least would have harmed only myself.
Alas, most of the first Quatermass series doesn't exist today
due to another technological breakthrough, the BBC's tape erasing machine.
While Quatermass traded on our fears,
it was down to the BBC science department
to take a more user-friendly approach to space.
What science programming needed in the '50s was an eccentric-looking boffin-type
who had lots of passion, lots of knowledge and a sense of fun about space.
No, too old.
Oh, hang on. Go back. No, go back.
Ah! That's the fella.
In 1957, they found him.
All the indications are that the Russians
are making such immense progress
that almost anything may happen at any moment.
I am very anxious to see what it is.
He was the first person to permanently pilot a non-fiction astronomy series on TV.
What do you think are the prospects at the moment?
I think we're nearly totally obscured, Patrick.
He pointed his telescope towards TV's longest-running solo-manned show in any genre,
The Sky At Night.
Obviously, Patrick Moore was the reason why it was so successful.
He had this blazing enthusiasm, which came right through your television set.
When I was young I loved Patrick Moore, and one of my real thrills
when I started work for the BBC was when I got to meet Patrick Moore.
Moore is in fact an amateur astronomer, but he showed that passion and enthusiasm
could achieve more than knowledge.
Plus a bit of English eccentricity helps.
It's PG Wodehouse in space.
I believed that Patrick Moore,
when he wasn't on the telly doing Sky At Night,
was looking at the stars every other moment.
And then, when it was too light, you know, to be looking at the stars,
he would be reading every available book on them.
The diamond ring will be appearing in a minute. We've got...
And there's the diamond ring. An incredible sight!
'I've always been just myself on television.'
I've never cultivated anything.
I just talk as I always do.
There it is. The ring has appeared. The corolla has vanished.
And that is the end of this eclipse of the century,
and, by jove, was it worth seeing.
'The idea was to put it on the air once every four weeks'
for three months see how it went. That was 53 years ago and we're still going.
-Do you think it's any good turning it to moon?
-Frankly I don't think it is.
-I can't see a single star at the moment.
-It's totally obscured.
In the early days, everything was live and things could go wrong.
I remember once we went down to see George Hole's telescope for the first time.
We could see Saturn and Jupiter live through a telescope, and five minutes
before the programme and five minutes after, the sky was clear.
There's definitely a lightening there. Can you see it?
It's coming out. There is the moon. I can see it for the moment.
No, it's gone again.
In a way, The Sky At Night was Britain's small contribution to the post-war space race.
A much cheaper budget and we didn't have to start with dogs or monkeys,
we had Patrick Moore right from the start.
Sky At Night got a huge boost when it started
because of when it started. 1957 - it was before Sputnik.
If I'd come on air in 1957 when we did the first of these Sky At Night programmes,
and said that within five years I'd be showing you pictures of the first man to go round the earth in orbit
in a space ship... Well, I think you'd have regarded me as mad.
The show has racked up nearly 1,000 episodes.
The look has changed over that time. Well, Moore has changed his ties, occasionally.
I think Sky At Night works and has a sort of unique place in the ecology of television
because it's one of the few programmes that still has space to sit the scientist down and say,
"What's new? Tell us what you're excited by," and so we get these stories.
Patrick Moore's programme reflected the optimism of the space race.
You're one of the very few people who's appeared saying this is really worth having.
In fact, there's only four of you. Do you think, from your knowledge of the moon, having been there,
it's going to be possible in the foreseeable future
to set up scientific bases there on anything like a large scale?
Oh, I'm quite certain that we'll have such bases in our lifetime.
Yes, Cold War rockets could have nuclear warheads on them, but they could also carry people to the moon.
Hopefully not the ones with nuclear warheads.
While The Sky At Night celebrated the space race, at the start of the '60s,
the BBC drama-makers in the next-door studio wanted to build on the success of Quatermass
and carry on scaring people about space, with A For Andromeda.
The plot sees a group of scientists detect a radio signal
from another galaxy in which are embedded instructions
for creating a computer,
which then gives them further instructions on how to build Julie Christie.
Well, Julie Christie playing an alien called Andromeda.
Nice or nasty?
But what they've done is build an alien
whose mission is to take over Earth. D'oh!
The interesting thing about science fiction is...
this view of a dystopia.
A lot of science fiction has a vision of the future which is essentially negative.
And interestingly, that's not really reflected in science documentary.
Most science documentary is actually quite positive about science.
Science documentary-makers are not that fond of criticising...
Interestingly, it was penned by a real scientist,
world-renowned cosmologist Fred Hoyle. Perhaps using science fiction to express his fears
about man's advancement into space.
-You're like children with your missiles and rockets.
-Don't count me in on that.
This was different to the kind of science fiction done
on the other side of the Atlantic in the '60s, like Star Trek.
American science fiction,
which was sort of invented at the period
where America was attaining world hegemony as a superpower,
saw the future as wonderful because they saw the future as being great.
British science fiction has been written by a culture
that knows it used to have an empire and doesn't any more.
Like Quatermass, Andromeda was hugely popular.
It got viewing figures of 12 million.
It struck a chord - that the ordinary British public were fearful of the future
and afraid of the progress of science.
In our culture, of course, we have a fear of science.
On the whole, we don't understand it and what we don't understand we don't much like.
But we do like scaring ourselves silly.
Do I smell nasty?
You'll have to find that out for yourself, won't you?
When you look at the representations of science, scientists in fiction,
all the way back to Frankenstein,
apart from anything else, fiction is created by artists, and naturally
they look upon scientists with a certain amount of suspicion.
Plus, in the 20th century,
we'd seen our fair share of scary ideas and scary scientists,
from the atom bomb
to the experiments carried out by Nazi scientists.
Add to this the public image
of wild-eyed, crazy-haired boffins like Einstein,
it's hardly surprising that British audiences were worried about what scientists got up.
So if you can't find a scientist you can trust on Earth, who you going to call?
In 1963, the BBC looked to the planet Gallifrey
and found an alien scientist who might be able to save the image of scientists.
Have you ever thought what it's like
to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you?
I remember the first Dr Who.
'The moment I saw that police box land in that junkyard
'and William Hartnell get out and bumble away,
'I was absolutely, completely hooked.'
I know this is absurd, but...
The series was created with the full intention of bringing science to family drama,
fulfilling the old BBC code - entertain, inform, educate...
'The idea was, you'd have science-based programmes which illustrated physics or whatever.'
But what the kids liked, what the audience liked,
and I speak as one of the kids who actually watched this show when it first went out,
what we liked were the monsters or the weird stuff
or the things like bigger on the inside than the outside, the concepts there.
I hated at school the idea of science. Science was boring.
But this thing on the telly
which was all about light bending and time only being pretend,
that was wonderful. I wanted to be right at the heart of that.
The series brought, er... quantum mechanics to a family audience.
Science was key.
The Doctor's good science versus evil alien bad science.
Like the Daleks, bent on universal domination through science.
You poor pathetic creatures, don't you realise before you attempt to conquer the Earth
you will have to destroy all living matter?
Take them, take them.
We are the masters of Earth.
William Hartnell plays Dr Who as the eccentric scientist.
The idea of the eccentric scientist has been around since the 19th century,
but perhaps it was a boffin closer to the BBC studio that inspired the writers.
Well, of course, space travel lies in the future yet but I think the explorers may have some surprises.
The series marked another unique difference between US and British science fiction.
I think in Britain, we're not afraid to make a scientist a hero.
I think in America, the really clever guy will be the number two
or the assistant, someone like Mr Spock
who helps out, but he's not the hero. He's not Captain Kirk.
Captain Kirk's off getting the girl and doing all the fighting and being the leader.
We've got the characters like the Doctor, or Quatermass,
who are always the cleverest men in the room, who sort it out,
but they do it by using their brain rather than their fists.
They dare to tamper with the forces of creation?
Yes, they dare.
And we have got to dare to stop them.
Science has given the nation the longest running sci-fi series ever.
Loved by everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
This is going to get me into trouble with the BBC again
because I'm probably the only person who doesn't get Doctor Who.
I'm really sorry. I just don't get it.
I've never watched an episode.
Is that really bad?
Yes, it is. Your P45 is in the post.
While the Dr Who creatives were busy scaring up to 15 million viewers a week,
ten million hiding behind the sofa,
real science programmes were still in need of a facelift.
..But there are 20 amino acids.
It simply isn't enough.
So in 1964, the science producers brought out Horizon,
a series of science documentaries,
each one focusing on a different science topic.
Its aim was to make science cool,
as the programme stated itself.
'Horizon aims to present science
'as an essential part of our 20th century culture.
'A continuing growth of thought that cannot be sub-divided.
It was started on the trendy new channel, BBC2,
by David Attenborough, when he used to have a desk-job.
The fashion in the mid '60s was for magazine programmes.
But doing news about science required you to know the basics before you got to the news
and it's difficult to do that in a seven-minute item, for example.
So doing a 50-minute programme about one particular subject
gave you a chance to do it in a more satisfying way.
It did without a regular presenter to focus more on the science.
Scientists got a voice.
Horizon, I think,
was at one time,
the sort of landmark keystone of science on television
and was an example held around the world for the best of what factual television should be about.
Horizon was avidly watched by the scientific community,
subject of discussion in the coffee room, in the lab.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays
it would always be discussed. Very influential.
This was hip science, social, cultural.
The very first Horizon featured Buckminster Fuller,
the inspiration for the Eden Project.
These are what we call geodesic ray domes
and they are designed to protect the very powerful and important apparatus
from the great storms of nature.
I just remember the range of topics that they chose.
One week it would be maths, the next, biology,
and then something closer to my heart, astronomy.
The dimension of the programme was take a difficult issue,
whether it's popular or not
and make it interesting.
The only thing we can sure about the future is that it will be fantastic.
The real concern was, is it possible to express the idea? Horizon,
if you like, looked across the field of science and said,
"What are the things that are the most interesting
"in the world of science at that time?"
Whether they were, if you like, generally popular,
or in any way pictorial,
or easy to tell, that wasn't the issue. "Is this important in the world of science?"
TV science producers had at last found a platform for showing hard science at the cutting edge.
COMMENTATOR: What kind of industry employs 3,000 workers
but apparently produces nothing?
The work - high-energy physics.
The name - European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN for short.
After nearly 50 years, Horizon is still on the air.
It's covered everything from, well, cats on acid
to black holes with Stephen Hawking.
Many believe it's continued success is down to being at the forefront
of every key scientific revolution that's captivated and worried the public over the decades.
Nuclear science and space exploration in the '60s...
computing and molecular biology in the '70s and '80s...
..and environmental concerns
in the '90s and noughties.
It's been on the frontline of science, and so has sometimes had its critics.
Horizon gets criticised for being elitist, I think, because the topics they choose are often right
from the cutting edge of science, and they're not things that you know you're going to be interested in.
If somebody said to you, "Do you want to hear about carbon in space?"
The odds are that the answer is no.
But what they were actually telling was stories.
The successful Horizon programmes are seen as the ones
that bring science alive by humanizing the scientist.
One programme that sticks in my head
was about Fermat's Last Theorem,
which is this mathematical proof that for a couple of centuries
mathematicians struggled to find out whether the theorem was true or not
and how on earth Fermat proved it, and eventually somebody did.
This tiny note is the world's hardest mathematical problem.
It's been unsolved for centuries, yet it begins with an equation so simple
that children know it off by heart.
I give my students the choice of three Horizons - Mega-Tsunami,
Supervolcano and Fermat's Last Theorum,
a story of a branch of mathematics only a handful of people understand,
and they all, of course, vote for one of the first two.
And then I show them the pre-title, the first few minutes of Fermat's Last Theorum
and most of them want to watch it.
What happens is that the camera goes into this office and reveals
this mathematician working with paper everywhere,
and he's trying to explain this great discovery he's made, and he starts to cry.
The most important moment of my working life.
Nothing I ever do again will...
No-one who watched the programme
would have had any understanding of the solution,
but it was this story of a man trying to prove something,
and you came away with this sense of mathematics as an art form.
I think one of the most wonderful science programmes ever on TV
was Chris Sykes' interview with Richard Feynman.
I remember watching that as a student and just being blown away by it.
But I don't have to know an answer.
I don't feel frightened by not knowing things,
by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose,
which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me.
'The most courageous programme you could imagine. They took professor Richard Feynman,'
Nobel laureate, one of the greatest physicists
of the 20th century, and they just stuck him on a chair.
And it just goes on like that for a whole hour - one talking head.
Looking at a bird, he says, "Do you know what that is?
"It's a brown-throated thrush.
"But in Portuguese, it's a Bom da Peida,
"in Italian a Chutto Lapittida."
He says, "In Chinese, it's a Chung long-tah, in Japanese, a Katano Tekeda, et cetera.
"You know in all the languages you want to know what the name of that bird is,
"and when you've finished with all that, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird.
"You only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird.
"Let's look at the bird and what it's doing."
There is always something fantastic
about hearing a real expert explain what they know about,
if they really know about it, and if they are articulate and clear in their explanations.
It's no good having a sort of wild-eyed person just blather.
The same year Horizon started, TV went looking for another type of science programme,
born out of Britain's early '60s feeling of hope
that technological advancement was the answer.
APPLAUSE The Britain that is going to be forged
in the white heat of this revolution.
'This is the early '60s. This is the Wilson era.
'The era of the white heat of a technological revolution'
which is going to transform Britain.
That's the promise.
So they want to make an entertaining regular news programme about science.
That programme is Tomorrow's World.
Tomorrow's World began in 1965, a live, fun science and technology programme
showcasing the latest gadgets from the future.
Presenting it, that safe pair of hands with live TV,
ex-Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter and his clever sidekick James Burke.
Which is quite enough of dat.
He was like Sherlock Holmes, only of today.
What we were trying to say at the beginning of the programme
was "good evening" in Morse and get this machine to print it out.
'Somebody once described him'
when he walks across the floor as a formation dancer
who doesn't know yet that he's lost the rest of the team.
-Hello. Who dat?
You got the right number, cos you got James burke.
-Ring him off.
This is in fact the first prototype
and it goes on show for the first time next week at the Physics Exhibition at Alexandra Palace.
I don't think he wrote his scripts, but all he did was glance at what was needed, throw it away
and then ad-lib the whole thing,
but always the detail was there, always the essentials were there.
A deadly weapon at a much longer range than this.
At this range, totally terrifying.
In your own time, fire, Jim.
That made you jump a bit.
Phew, well, even from here, that was frightening!
I was ten when Tomorrow's World started
and I loved it.
I loved the technology. Everything seemed so exciting.
I remember watching a schoolboy having access to a computer and thinking,
"Gosh, we haven't got anything like that at Evington Hall Convent."
Like Horizon, Tomorrow's World remained popular throughout the '60s and beyond,
getting viewing figures of ten million plus every week.
It was pure celebration of science, as exemplified in the Tomorrow's World song
that played out the series in 1966.
With the accelerating pace of technological advance,
it's hard for a girl to keep up to date.
In tomorrow's world,
there a chance that technology will just have to wait.
JAZZ MUSIC PLAYS
# Tomorrow's world is coming
# Whether we like it or not... #
Tomorrow's World worked because it focused,
not so much on hard science, but on where science met technology.
And because of that it attracted an audience that wasn't initially interested, perhaps, in science,
but was interested in the kinds of things that were happening.
It was concerned with filming things that moved as opposed to stood still.
It was more concerned with things that changed our lives as opposed to pure scientific theories.
That doesn't mean it didn't touch pure scientific theories, but it was focused on hardware.
There comes a time in every demonstration when the talking has to stop and only actions will do.
It was a bunch of guys really enthusiastic about the science they were playing with
and really trying to make that interesting to a wider audience.
'There was a real competition for doing interesting stories. I got a reputation
'for doing all the kind of edgy stories that involved the kind of frisson of danger.
'I did stories like falling off a crane in the London Docks
'to demonstrate that this safety harness really worked.'
..And fall! Ugh.
Well, it works, doesn't it?
And a rather novel view of the London skyline.
It certainly inspired me and my decision to continue
with science after school. I remember religiously watching it.
It was Tomorrow's World and Top Of The Pops.
There was that hour of Tomorrow's World and Top Of The Pops,
-and they seemed to go together.
-Two ounces of explosive, that's all?
'It also, I think,'
was crucially important
that in its early days, the first 10 or 15 years, it was live.
Just look at that. Can you get me that piece...?
And because it was still done live right up until the 1990s,
whilst most other TV programmes were pre-recorded,
Tomorrow's World became infamous for the occasional failure of its studio demos.
Live Tomorrow's World was fabulous, because what you got was robots
'which did what they were absolutely not expected to do.'
Nothing appears to be happening.
Let me introduce first of all... Oh, wait a minute. Oh, God.
And the opponent's back at it...
For example, if a vehicle were a fork-lift truck
it could perform stacking...
Ah, he blew it at the 11th hour.
Now, Bill, of course, thinks he's picked up the light bulb.
He'll now go to the next bit of the proceedings,
which is to deliver it to me.
All right, here I am, now he delivers the non-existent light bulb
at my feet. Well, he blew that one.
You're going to get another chance now, Sid, so do it right.
And every single voice recognition system I can remember failed,
because we rehearsed it in the studio,
and then live on air the presenters' voices would tighten,
would go up an octave, and it would never work.
I feel like breaking it with an axe.
There was nothing worse than standing in the studio
with the Tomorrow's World music playing,
knowing that you were about to do a demonstration
that was not going to work. And, you would feel physically sick,
absolutely, physically sick.
I don't think it's going to do anything because
it was hit by a camera just a few minutes ago,
so it's now right up the creek.
But that was the moment that people really watched it
and loved it, because it was so honest.
It would have been very easy to pre-record the difficult bit,
the tricky bit, but we didn't.
God! Nobody told me it would do that!
In the show's first years the presenters were all men
and not a science degree between them.
Then, in 1974, they let a woman get her hands on their gadgets.
Not only that, she was a scientist.
Judith Hann was, with her fabulous hair,
she was so part of my childhood.
It's a personal radio which soaks up the sun while I do.
To the casual viewer, it might have seemed she always got
the stories that no-one else wanted.
Like this... Bark!
While the boys were off testing cars or planes,
Judith was stuck in the London studio
doing yet another story on another medical breakthrough.
Well, the reason is this new drug called Cyclosporin A.
This began to change with the arrival of women producers and Maggie Philbin.
Then Judith and Maggie were given all the blokey jobs.
See what they did there?
When I joined Tomorrow's World,
obviously Judith Hann was already there
and there were some terrific women producers and researchers.
But that hadn't always been the case.
They were very aware of the sexist past of Tomorrow's World,
and they were adamant that Judith and myself would get nowhere near
anything that had anything to do with kitchens.
Here we go.
Come on, ride. Go on, ride. There you go.
Ride. There you go, ride! Go on, go on! You're going to make it!
And so, in an almost perverse way, Judith and I found ourselves doing
some very, very dangerous - there's no other word for it - items.
And now you hang on for dear life.
There might be a story about soil compaction around a Great Oak in
Sherwood forest, and the challenge there was how do you make this live?
Is what remains of Sherwood Forest,
the stamping ground of Britain's most loved outlaw - Robin Hood.
This was done live, and it's by far the most dangerous thing
I have ever done in my life.
If it involved jumping out of a helicopter and being hurled into
the North Sea, then it would have mine or Judith's name on it.
Over it's near 40 years on the box, its entertaining presenters
offered the British public sensational visions of the future,
from Concorde's first flight, the first personal jet-pack,
laser-gun, compact disk, and even the future of German Electronica.
# Fun, fun, fun, autobahn...
Inventions that made us go 'gee-whiz', but some should
have, perhaps, never made it beyond the drawing board.
I don't remember a single thing from Tomorrow's World.
All I know is it showed me what the future would be.
Every single thing on it was actually going to be
how my world would be in ten years time.
And it was all complete bollocks.
But Tomorrow World's gee-whiz approach to science
has divided the scientific community.
I don't really agree with whiz bang science,
because I don't find whiz bang science very entertaining.
Because it's too whizzy and bangy.
I think there's a place for gee-whiz science.
I think science television should be entertaining.
Horses for courses, you know.
Some people will complain about the background music on a documentary.
I hate background music.
# Tomorrow's World... #
Whilst factual programmes celebrated science, drama TV tackled one of
the big techno-fears of the 60s with The War Game.
If you were expecting some fun quiz show, you'd be very disappointed.
It's a shocking 'what if' drama-documentary of
nuclear science gone wrong when there's a nuclear attack on Britain.
It was made for the 20th anniversary
of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima.
Move, hurry up, inside the house! Move, come on, come on!
The voice-over commentary and dramatic reconstructions were
based on real facts and evidence given by scientists
about what happens in a nuclear attack.
'At this distance, the heat wave is sufficient to cause
'melting of the upturned eyeball, third degree burning of the skin
'and ignition of furniture.'
It's direct and unemotional commentary plays against bleak
images of Britons surviving - or not - nuclear devastation,
with shocking effect.
It will be followed
by death, within three minutes.
The War Game was never broadcast in 1965. It wasn't shown until 1985.
This time not due to tape wiping or some terrible filing error, but TV
bosses refused to air it, deeming this science fiction too realistic.
'On almost the entire subject of thermonuclear weapons,
'there is now practically a total silence in the press,
'in official publications and on television.'
It was a frightening vision of how science can be misused.
Not the kind of science that will save us in Tomorrow's World.
Science ends with the bomb, doesn't it?
After the bomb there's no science any more,
there's no nothing any more.
That's the message of things like The War Game.
Fortunately, the world didn't end in '65, so the coming generations
could still find salvation in real science programmes.
In 1966, The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures started on the box.
'The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.'
They'd been going for nearly 150 years,
so they'd just about got it right when TV got in on the act.
Well, let us begin with an experiment.
Will you uncover the apparatus, please?
It was very demanding.
I gave a series myself in the lectures on animal behaviour,
and that was a nightmare.
The thing that scared you silly
was that it had to be live.
You got this huge bank of faces, eager faces around you,
and you start, you don't say, "My Lords, ladies and gentlemen",
or, "how lovely it is to be here,"
You say, "A equals whatever," you know,
or, "animals react to a noise," or something.
I've got a microphone inside his cage.
So, we'll see if he actually does anything.
And you had to go on, and there's a clock immediately facing you.
A bell rang at 60 minutes, and there you stop.
So, this was a nightmare for the lecturer.
He rattles, and that's a language.
Let's take him away before he gets too bad tempered.
Thank you, Mr Coats.
I love the Royal Institution Christmas lectures, just this
incredible, almost unique, I think, anywhere in the world,
platform for somebody to bring people into the heart of science.
But if you look at when the Royal Institution lectures work,
it's when they're about experiment,
it's when they're about demonstrating in a laboratory
like this, perhaps, to an audience sitting there and at home
what it is that tells you things about the world.
The lectures are still a TV event after 44 years.
Aimed primarily at young people, they've covered ideas such as
quantum mechanics and evolution with Richard Dawkins.
This is a stick insect.
It may look fairly conspicuous on my hand,
although I've made an effort to make it feel at home with my shirt.
I mean, it's one thing doing it in front of an audience just in a
theatre, but doing in front of millions is quite demanding, I can tell you.
I've never been so frightened about doing a programme in my life, really.
How can you tip a bucket of water upside down
without the water tipping out of it?
Consider the impossibility of this 'How'.
We have a bucket here, and it is virtually full of water.
The same year that the RI lectures started, another regular kids TV
science programme came along - How?, mixing science with, er...
native American Navajo.
What I liked about that programme was it was so grounded.
It would, it would take an example from, you know, your real life,
and it would just ask a question about it, you know.
How does an aeroplane fly?
It felt very accessible, and it also made science very real.
As TV non-fiction continued to explore science as a force for good
in the 60s, that started to change in the 70s.
The oil crisis gripped world affairs.
Britain went dark with strikes, and then a three day week.
Science, too, was under fire from the press and the media.
Popular TV news coverage of science changed from reverential
in the 50s to a more questioning approach in the 70s.
Can one little aerosol affect what happens 10 or 20 miles up in the sky?
Some scientists think it can.
So, in a 'misery' science face-off, science fiction went darker.
The 70s, obviously, in Britain were a very traumatic time,
and it's reflected in our TV science fiction at the time, which is
almost uniformly grim and down beat and miserabilist,
which may be why I kind of like it.
The 1970s saw the start of Doomwatch.
Doomwatch is a very down show.
It's all about everything going to hell.
With a very pessimistic view of science,
it followed an agency set up to preserve the world
from the dangers of unprincipled scientific research.
Surely they won't do a test until they can
kill the stuff off afterwards.
Put a scientist under political pressure
and he'll do anything you like. He'll even justify it. I know.
The programme was created by real scientist, Kit Pedler.
I think the public now is
inaccurately and incompletely informed.
Pedler had been the unofficial scientific adviser
on Dr Who in the 60s.
This was the first series to frequently focus on environmental issues.
You can tell what we, as a society, were worried about,
you know, whether it be, um, you know, pandemics or over population
or, you know, increasing de-humanisation of people
through over reliance on science and technology.
The series scared us with embryo research,
toxic waste and animal exploitation,
plus stuff that look borrowed from B-movie horrors,
such as genetically engineered killer rats.
A lot livelier than GM tomatoes, and a plastic-eating virus
that caused planes to fall out of the sky.
We maybe slightly mis-remember it as a show about bad science,
about how science was going to do terrible, terrible things.
If you look at it episode by episode, usually the problem
isn't the science - the heroes are scientists, you know,
but it's usually irresponsible science.
Oh, budget airlines.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, one of my staff is flying back with a
piece of that crashed aircraft, so unless action is taken now.
That plane is going to go down.
Ah, too late.
In 1971, more science crash-landed into the
nation's living rooms when The Open University
started broadcasting to help Britons get more cleverer.
What I'm going to do now is to try and shoot the pellet
into the tube thing on top of the glider,
which is there only to catch the pellets
so it doesn't go flying around the studio, slaughtering
everybody and sundry.
I was involved because I was controller of BBC Two.
One of the reasons that the BBC was given that third network,
as it was then, was that it would find a place for
the Open University programmes, and the Open University was a
very solid plank in the Labour Party's policy.
The P waves vibrate the Earth up and down, vibrate the surface of
the Earth up and down, whereas the S waves shake it from side to side.
The programmes had to be made quickly and cheaply,
so were presented by real scientists and academics.
TV science was, in fact, returned to the style of the 1950s - the TV lecture.
The scientists had finally got their own way
presenting their lectures pure and unadulterated by all that
TV filming nonsense, like grooming, style, clothes sense,
fashionable haircut, entertainment...
And I think you'll agree that's a pretty complicated motion.
I did watch Open University science broadcasting, partly because I'm a bit of a geek,
so I wanted to see how this go ahead, dynamic, new organisation
was revolutionising teaching.
So, I used to, sort of, turn it on at 11:30 in the evening
or whenever it came on then watch through some crazy programme
on the second law of thermodynamics or something, just for the pleasure
of seeing the academic science presented.
Yeah, OK, all right stop it.
It was that kind of, in the middle of the night
if you were drunk and you came back after a few beers,
you'd put it on and you'd learn about,
how many dimensions there were, and you probably were in a different one, anyway.
So, over to Mick to explain how these waves
tie in with functions of two variables.
We need to be clearer about what's going on in Graeme's tank.
The OU paid for the programmes, but the BBC called the shots.
Cue lots of battles between science academics,
who merely wanted to reproduce their lectures,
and producers who had to turn them into TV presenters,
as this behind the scenes footage captured.
There is only one student, he's never heard the story before
and he's on his own, and he's sitting there with the telly.
The telly's only eight feet away. There's you and there's him.
Take three, go on let's do it again. Much easier to do it now.
TV science producers had spent two decades trying to get away from the
science lecture, and now they were filling hundreds of hours of screen-time with the stuff.
The low-fi look led to frequent parodies
over it's 30 years plus on the box.
Giving us a resultant modular quantity of 0.567359.
Now this should begin to give us some clues as to whether...
I'm sorry, Brian, I'm sorry.
What? What's happened?
You said 0.567359.
-Oh, no, I didn't, did I?
It should 0.567395!
I don't believe it! Oh no!
I think there was something endearing
about the undiluted geekiness about the Open University programmes.
There was no compromise, there was no dumbing down, there was no simplifying.
Of course, we've done our best to make these look as simple as possible.
Yet despite their cheap, simple presentation
the OU could easily get late-night viewing figures of up to 1 million,
which programme-makers today would kill their own channel boss for.
The low-budget look never bothered their audience,
but it did bother the drama-makers.
Arriving on TV screens the same year as Star Wars,
Blake's 7 tried to give Hollywood a run for its money.
It follows the authorities and rebels battling for control
of technology, er, just like Star Wars.
Reflecting 1970s concerns about who was going to be
in control of the new computer revolution.
-This is Orac?
-100 million for that?
Is it a computer?
It most certainly is not.
It is a brain, a genius.
It has a mind that can draw information
from every computer containing one of my cells.
Orac has access to the sum total
of all the knowledge of all the known worlds.
Oh, I liked Blake's 7 because it was funny.
It was sort of a British version of Star Wars.
I liked the fact that they were fighting against the evil empire and stuff like that.
I've never seen anything like that before.
The production limitations were obvious,
but, you know, if you've got good characters and some good ideas and,
you know, just this idea of freedom fighters, fighting against
this oppressive regime, which has been fooling drama for years.
And Blake's 7 was much more downbeat than Star Wars.
Star Wars doesn't kill off its main characters in the final episode.
It's me Blake.
I was waiting for you.
Sorry about that if you've just bought the box-set.
But, despite the doom, sci-fi TV got high viewing figures.
Blake's 7 often got over 10 million per episode.
70s TV audiences had a big appetite for science, fiction and fact.
This was reflected in the rise of the landmark science series.
The cornerstone to this was Jacob Bronowski's epic The Ascent of Man,
tracing the development of society through our understanding of science.
Bronowski's Ascent of Man really changed my life.
It was the only series I ever bought a book of.
And when I started writing my own shows, the book became my bible.
I had not been long back from Hiroshima, when I heard someone say,
in Zillard's presence, that it was the tragedy of scientists
that their discoveries were used for destruction.
Zillard replied, as he more than anyone else had the right to reply,
that it was not the tragedy of scientists,
it is the tragedy of mankind.
He was an incredible presenter. He worked because
of his belief in both science and technology and humanity.
He really did believe that people can achieve incredible things.
We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power.
We have to close the distance between the push button order.
And there were moments, of course, in The Ascent Of Man,
which were extraordinary moments of television, knelt down at Auschwitz
and picked up the ashes out of the mud, and talked about the Holocaust,
and how, if you like, the implication was
that technology had destroyed human life.
That's one of the great moments of television.
This was big science presented by big brains.
The trend continued with James Burke's highly successful
Connections, travelling the globe to trace the historical developments
of technology and science.
Would you do me a favour?
I'd like to stop talking for a minute, and when I do
take a look at the room you're in, and above all the man-made objects
in that room that surround you -
the television set, the lights, the phone, and so on - and ask yourself
what those objects do to your life just because they're there.
One of my fondest memories of watching TV as a child was watching Connections.
He would show how science and history are intimately related,
and how a scientific breakthrough leads to
a historical development, how that leads to more scientific breakthroughs.
Why does a modern invention, that fundamentally affects
the lives of every single human being on this planet,
begin 2,600 years ago with somebody doing this?
It was an amazing story that he would tell you,
and at the heart of that story would be science.
Later in the seventies, it was the turn of human sciences to get the
big brain treatment with Jonathan Miller's The Body in Question.
This version of me is being moved by this version of me.
And this version is being moved by this version.
But who moves me?
Well, I suppose I do...
I remember Jonathan Miller, The Body In Question...
But who moves I?
..was massively received.
I'm told that it's my brain, but I'm not immediately aware of having one.
You have to watch this programme, because at the end of it
Jonathan Miller does something so dramatic, he almost dies on screen.
It's one of the most amazing pieces of television I've seen.
In the final programme about respiration,
Miller tested his own bodily limits by cutting off his oxygen supply.
102 take one, end board..
Give me the second mark.
There are a few other TV presenters I could recommend try this.
And finally, David Attenborough brought the epic science treatment to natural history,
exploring in detail the evolutionary process
in the landmark science series, Life on Earth.
There are some four million different kinds of animals and plants
in the world, four million different solutions
to the problems of staying alive.
Once we had seen that things like Ascent Of Man were a success,
it was obvious to anybody with any particle of programme imagination
that the history of life and natural history was bound to be a winner.
The South American rainforests
are the richest and most varied assemblage of life in the world.
Those are howler monkeys up there.
There are around 50 different kinds of monkeys in these forests.
I'd done eight years in administration, I wanted to get back
to making programmes, and I was terrified that someone was going to come along and say,
"I've got this great idea, it's about the history of life".
And, sitting there, in my edit controller's chair, I wouldn't have been able to turn him down.
But, fortunately, nobody did.
The 70s were a good time for science programmes.
Science even crept into popular entertainment with the rise of the semi-comic boffin.
Astronomer-boffin, Patrick Moore, was still going strong in the 70s,
and taken into the nation's heart by being mocked by the Two Ronnies.
Hello, good evening, and welcome to this special edition...
Moore had competition, though, when TV discovered Magnus Pyke,
a gangly wild boffin, to present the series Don't Ask Me on ITV.
The follicles in the top of... in the scalp, if they're flat,
the hair comes out flat and you get curly hair.
If they're round your hair tends to be straight.
He played up to the mad scientist stereotype, although he was actually a top food scientist.
You enjoyed his character and that enthusiasm.
He couldn't speak without his arms coming up and the whole thing.
He never learnt a script, but he got the gist of it, and so it
had to come out because he squeezed part of his body with his arms.
She blinded me with science!
Pyke became so popular he appeared in a pop video where he shouts...
After the video was released,
he was said to be annoyed by people coming up and shouting "Science!" at him.
And no 70s TV schedule was complete without the mad inventor boffin
in the guise of Professor Heinz Wolf.
This appears to be a very good time.
But we have no standards of comparison.
Let's see how the other teams do.
I think one of the greatest boffins was Heinz Wolff.
First of all he's got a very attractive Middle Eastern European
accent, which is very interesting, it obviously means he's very clever.
Wolff was a German-British bioengineer,
who fronted the TV series The Great Egg Race.
It was compelling, it was a race, it was a competition, it was a
competition between people who could fail dismally
or succeed wonderfully doing trivial, silly things.
It was a cross between the Generation Game meets Horizon, I suppose.
Running the whole thing was Professor Heinz Wolff,
who brought that enthusiasm and excitement to it.
And last but not least, the maths boffin,
Johnny Ball in Think Of A Number.
You see it had been my hobby, maths, all the way through.
Help me unveil this.
It's one of the oldest computers, or the oldest computer known to man.
Take the cloth off.
You have got to clown it up here and there.
You have got to colour it.
You have got to lighten up the dark, the heavy bits.
Give her a round of computers.
Just as there's so much variety in life, all that variety's in science.
Tiptoe through the tulips...
TV was up to it's neck in comedy boffins in the 70s,
but what affect has this really had on the image of scientists?
Well, starting with the great Sir Patrick himself,
TV has frequently shown scientists as eccentric,
overly enthusiastic men with strange accents, haircuts and wardrobes.
# With a locket in the cause of science
# Perhaps you'll share a capsule with me... #
I think Magnus Pyke and Heinz Wolff had that boffin mentality
or maybe created it, you know, I think you know maybe
that's who've we relate it back to, and I think that is sustained,
the sheer success of those guys is that that has sustained today,
so the rest of us are always having to fight off this idea that we are these boffins.
So any adolescent puzzling over which career path to take
only needed to switch on the box to realise that a science vocation
would be a lonely unhip path, probably one that didn't involve girlfriends.
But have they really been so uncool?
Let's take a scientific look.
The regular attire of scientists had been a tweed suit and tie in the 50s.
The lab coat was often de rigueur.
That went to a shirt and beard in the 60s and 70s.
But there has always been a thing for the bow-tie.
And the er...comb-over.
Over 50 years of television, the comb-over
has proudly warmed the eggheads of TV boffins.
So which career path are you going to take,
young aspiring astrophysics student, Brian May?
Astronomy or Glam Rock?
Ah, wrong choice, Brian.
That won't get you a senior lecture post with protected pension plan.
Finally, after three decades of pessimistic science fiction, the drama-makers decided
science might be a good thing and took a more celebratory look at science in the 80s.
The Voyage of Charles Darwin was a major six-part dramatization
of Darwin's voyage on the Beagle and how he developed his theory of evolution.
Its large viewing figures reflected the public's appetite for science.
It never occurred to me that islands in sight of each other could have such different fauna.
Don't let it worry you, philosopher. And if I might venture a suggestion,
in future, observe the mysteries of nature
rather more closely and theorise about them rather less.
The series kicked off a spate of dramas
about real life scientists throughout the 80s.
The series Oppenheimer explored the project to put together
the atom bomb through the eyes of the master-builder.
What captured my imagination in terms of the Oppenheimer series
was it was grown up science, so it wasn't the whiz bang of The Great Egg Race.
It wasn't the whiz bang of Tomorrow's World.
It was men and women who'd built this bomb that could potentially
today destroy the world and the decisions that they faced.
Life Story also captured the public's imagination,
telling the story of how the scientists discovered the structure of DNA, starring Jeff Goldblum.
No-one knows anything. This is off the map. Somebody has to guess right.
Chapter one, page one. Once, life reproduced life. How?
Secret of creation. Worth the Nobel prize.
I really enjoyed Life Story. I mean, not everybody I know did,
but I was captivated by it,
by the story, by the drama, by the portrayals of the individuals.
So we got it 2400% wrong. Anybody can make a mistake.
I thought it was a very moving programme,
especially at the end when Rosalind Franklin comes in and says,
"Oh, my God, it's so beautiful."
When you see how things really are,
all the hurt and the waste falls away.
What's left is the beauty.
The dramas captured British audiences' need to celebrate pioneering Brits
like Chariots of Fire, sort of Chariots of the Bunsen Burner.
The success of these dramas in the '80s also showed
that we wanted to watch real scientists at work and see them as real people.
Well, really, really, really clever real people.
Life Story also showed how genetic science was capturing the public's imagination in the '80s.
A concern that had been around since Frankenstein first shot 2,000 volts through his monster,
but molecular biology was now prominent in the public's mind.
Recently, the first test-tube baby had been born,
and scientists were developing genetically modified foods that would feed the world.
And would also feed sci-fi writers' imaginations.
In Day Of The Triffids,
John Wyndham's 1950s novel is re-imagined as giant mutant plants,
bio-engineered by military scientists, start to take over the world.
Fears about genetic engineering against a backdrop of continuing Cold War paranoia.
For the drama-makers, addicted to dystopia, this was perfect. Two fears for the price of one.
Again, scientists were meddling, and it touched a raw nerve.
Later in the decade, TV delivered First Born.
Charles Dance mixes his own sperm with that of a gorilla,
no, not like that, in a lab to form a new species.
Gor, stay where you are. We'll get you down.
The disastrous consequences were all too predictable,
but what was clear to those of us watching at home was that the scientists were at it again,
no longer giving the solutions to the world's problems, but creating them.
No! GORILLA ROARS
Monkey see, monkey do.
But the big scientific revolution of the '80s was the microchip explosion.
Although computers had been muttered about since the '50s,
the '80s saw them come into people's homes and become part of the public consciousness.
But this scientific revolution didn't seem as scary as genetic engineering,
space rockets or nuclear science. Geeks made us laugh.
Dit. Da. Da. Dit.
Then, they seemed OK. Maybe because we knew soon we'd all be geeks sat at computers.
To help us cope with the new revolution in computers,
real science programming was on hand to make sense of the digital age.
With all these new light systems, the information explosion is now upon us.
A new science series, QED, was started up,
a kind of Horizon for the non-geek audience,
playing on 1980s technological wonders.
It's called virtual reality.
A three-dimensional place that exists
only inside the brain of the simulator.
Can you pick things up?
OK, pick the teapot up.
I can attempt to pick the teapot up.
Not to be outdone, Equinox started up on Channel 4,
bringing its own science to a new audience.
Artificial intelligence, fact or fantasy?
I just remember the title sequence very well.
It was almost frightening for a child.
Our attitude to outer space began to change in the '80s.
After decades of being addicted to dystopian drama,
along came Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
Six pints of bitter, and quickly, please, the world's about to end.
Uniquely, British science fiction found a new friend in comedy.
We might not have been able to compete with Star Wars, but British TV can do Carry On in space.
It is quintessentially British, your hero being in a dressing gown,
or a spaceship that's fuelled by a cup of tea,
or a race, like the Vogons, who was obsessed with bureaucracy.
You can't imagine that in America.
I'm sorry, but if you can't be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that's your own lookout.
Energise the demolition beam.
I think Douglas Adams was incredibly interested in science.
He invented some amazing stuff in there.
The iPad looks like the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
Wonder if there's a free app?
"Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon.
And Red Dwarf was another sci-fi comedy that responded to the attitudes of the '80s.
Again, it was very British, but this time with a laddish take on space and science.
Dear, oh, dear. It's horrible down there. There's a big hole.
It's an unbelievable view.
The comedy played on toilet humour, with characters bumbling through
time and space, with little understanding of technology or the laws of the universe.
The best Red Dwarfs for me were where the writing was really good and complicated.
I loved all the time-travel storylines they had when you had to bend your mind around it
to figure out how it worked.
As outer space comedy became popular in the '80s, serious outer space drama was being shot down.
The biggest casualty was Dr Who, axed in '89.
You stupid, stubborn, pig-headed numbskull!
Its effects just couldn't keep up with Hollywood,
and British sci-fi drama ran out of steam, for the time being.
Come along, my dear. It's time we were off.
The upcoming '90s would be a fallow time for serious sci-fi.
Big changes came to science on TV in the '90s.
The driving force behind this new look was computers, revolutionising TV graphics.
There's always the question of how you show, visually,
it's television, after all, some difficult concept,
and, you know, naff graphics, or simply people talking to camera
might achieve something,
but a really compelling, exciting, visual representation can be much more dramatic.
We'd got used to bad graphics in science TV over the decades,
with drawings, ropey models and cartoon-style animations.
It was all done by hand, so often costly and time-consuming.
Cool graphics were something Hollywood did best,
until the boffins came up with computer graphics illustration - CGI.
They opened up possibilities.
TV makers could now film, and afford to film, the impossible.
Programmes like The Planets proved that now science TV could boldly go where no science TV had gone before.
But when the first probe got there,
it found the conditions were atrocious.
The swirling clouds were made of superheated ammonia.
They could never support life.
And programmes like The Human Body, presented by scientist Robert Winston,
could now take us inside the most alien world imaginable - ourselves.
What worked about that was grand visual pictures,
but also often quite simple science,
always absolutely scrupulously explained.
'By putting the medical scans together, we've created a three-dimensional...'
Through breakthrough CGI, the series took viewers on the most incredible journey from birth to death.
Plus, its presenter was prepared to put his own body under the microscope.
These are my sperm.
Amazingly, about 500 million of them from a single ejaculation.
With just this one ejaculation it should be possible to impregnate all the fertile women of western Europe,
and I'm nothing special.
Today, new technology is letting us see the world of the unborn in a completely new way.
The ability to produce computer graphics at an affordable price
was a huge moment.
I remember when Tim Haines,
who was a producer in the science department,
came back from watching Jurassic Park, and said, "We can do that."
CGI allowed TV science producers to start thinking differently,
and it came into its own with Walking With Dinosaurs.
As much as I was really passionate about dinosaurs when I was a kid, as we all are,
I'm guilty to say that then you lose your passion along the way.
And Walking With Dinosaurs certainly reignited that.
This series turned out to be the most-watched science programme ever.
It showed the power of CGI, bringing alive a scientific study that was previously just a lot of fossils.
CGI changed our perception of what a science programme could be, and it also changed our expectations.
We started to expect spectacle.
We expected to see the inner workings of an ant's digestive tract,
or electrons spinning, or what the end of the world would look like if squirrels took over.
CGI also meant that science on TV could do without presenters.
More and more through the '90s, graphics increased and presenters got pushed out.
And science could go global, since all that was needed was to change the voice-over.
As more and more channels filled the airwaves in the noughties,
some appeared which were wholly devoted to science.
Filling a lot of this screen time in the 2000s was disaster science.
The science of environmental disaster captured the public's imagination,
and was explored to great effect thanks to CGI once again.
It allowed science to do disaster, where science had gone wrong, which included incredible volcanoes,
superstorms, and meteors hitting earth.
After just three weeks, aerosols would form a sulphurous cloak around the world.
After the millennium, environmental disaster was played out to epic proportions.
Dystopian visions, previously explored by drama-makers,
became the new addiction of real science TV producers.
Dystopia, fear, worries about science... For the sci-fi writers, that seemed too good to miss out on.
The noughties saw a rejuvenation of sci-fi, again helped by CGI.
Taking the lead was the resurrection of Dr Who in 2005.
I think people who would have perhaps dismissed it before as just this kids' show,
with the so-called wonky sets,
now they're sort of taking it as serious science fiction
that can compete with the big-budget stuff from America.
Don't blink. Blink and you're dead.
This has changed the landscape of TV again, just as it did in 1963.
Hello. I'm the Doctor.
It could be down to the scripts, the actors...
The effects are better than they were,
but it could also be down to the new fears of attack in the war on terror,
just like the old fears of attack in the Cold War.
I think that science fiction is back on television because we like it,
we've always liked it.
It was taken away from us, it wasn't something we rejected.
Now it's back, I think that if you look at the shape of it,
you look at the stories that are being done on Dr Who or the various other shows,
they all reflect our contemporary concerns, there they are, throbbing through the form.
But that's what science fiction always does.
New fears and new technology to play them out on on the small screen
saw the reigniting of old Cold War favourites.
Quatermass was back, and Day Of The Triffids returned,
thickly layered with 9/11 references.
And even A For Andromeda was remade to scare everyone all over again about aliens.
Again, all scientists at the core, but this time a lot cooler, sexier.
Professors Quatermass, Dawnay and the Doctor never looked this good in black and white.
Now everyone's easy on the eye, handy with a shotgun, and kicking alien butt.
WOMAN CRIES IN FEAR
As special effects got better and better,
science TV proved there was nowhere out of reach in the noughties.
We could go inside Animals In The Womb...
It's 13 months since conception.
..and even inside TV presenters.
After years in the wilderness, pushed out by CGI, the TV presenter was back fronting TV science.
Not only that, the scientist-presenter returned as the authorial voice of science.
But not like the '70s boffins. He's younger, beardless,
not a lab coat in sight, or a comb-over, or a tweed jacket.
And sometimes, he's a woman.
We're going nice and high.
My eyes started to go weird then.
Today the scientist is everywhere, even when they want to shock us.
Well, especially when they want to shock us.
How do you imagine your own death?
Will it be peaceful? Will it be quick? Will you be old?
'Our death is a mystery to us.'
Even popular primetime science programmes are led by scientists.
And perhaps the epitome of new science TV - Wonders Of The Solar System.
It's hard science presented by a real scientist, and it's popular.
We live on a world of wonders.
A place of astonishing beauty and complexity.
Very few scientists are good presenters,
and very few presenters happen to be scientists.
So when you get somebody like Brian Cox,
with his great, infectious enjoyment of what he does, it's so refreshing.
If you think that this is all there is,
that our planet exists in magnificent isolation, then you're wrong.
He's so popular even Jonathan Ross wants to meet him.
If the future hasn't happened yet... Or has it happened?
That's a really good question, because...
Hold on, that's a first. Let's enjoy that moment!
Science on TV has come a long way in the past 60 years.
It's played a schizophrenic role on the box.
In science fiction, the scientist has been decidedly downbeat,
foretelling a dark vision of the future.
You kill half the world.
And the other half cannot live without you.
In real science TV it's been a bit more hopeful, optimistic.
A bit. Yet, despite the overall pessimism,
we still continue to draw on science TV, ever hopeful for what it might bring.
We still look to TV to celebrate the transformational power of science and technology.
Some years ago, history documentaries were made cool
by a number of presenters who brought them to the masses,
and I think now it's the turn of science to be brought to the masses.
And it's only in the last year or two that people are starting to seriously think about science
as being embedded in popular culture.
It's not something just for the aficionados or the geeks who want to learn about something complicated.
So TV has got science just where it wants it, presented as a vital form of culture by hip, young scientists.
Well, the scientific community think there's always room for improvement.
Things are actually rather complicated.
And I don't think it always necessarily does to simplify things.
I think it's better to say, "Look, this is a difficult idea,
"and you probably won't get it the first time."
I think it would be terrible
if television decided that it wasn't going to make,
put programmes on that made demands on the audience,
or indeed that you always reduced it to a very basic level of understanding.
Like science, science TV can always be better.
It is an essential part of all of our lives.
Science and technology are increasingly dominating our lives, and more than that,
it is emblematic of the curiosity and the creative power of human beings.
It's something to celebrate,
so it shouldn't be hived off to specialised areas of broadcasting alone.
I think that science should permeate all of broadcasting.
But look how far we've come since the early days of TV science,
or the early years of science on film.
Now we have incredible CGI and sexy scientists telling us about how wonderful the world is.
Look how far. I mean, what would you prefer?
Yeah, me too. Cue the fly.
MUSIC: "Sexy Boy" By Air
# Sexy boy
# Sexy boy
# Sexy boy... #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
From Raymond Baxter live on Tomorrow's World testing a new-fangled bulletproof vest on a nervous inventor to Doctor Who's contemporary spin on the War on Terror, British television and the Great British public have been fascinated with the brave new world offered up by science on TV.
Narrated by Robert Webb, this documentary takes a fantastic, incisive and funny voyage through the rich heritage of science TV in the UK, from real science programmes (including The Sky At Night, Horizon, Tomorrow's World, The Ascent of Man) to science-fiction (such as The Quatermass Experiment, Doctor Who, Doomwatch, Blake's 7, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), to find out what it tells us about Britain over the last 60 years.
Important figures in science and TV science, including Sir David Attenborough, Robert Winston, Dr Tim Hunt, Professor Colin Blakemore, Tony Robinson, Sir Patrick Moore and Johnny Ball, comment on growing up with TV science and on how it has reflected - or led - our collective image of science and the scientist.