Celebrities choose the TV moments that have shaped their lives. Johnny Ball tells how he got his name from a football game, and talks about the TV ad that kept his teeth white.
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TV - the magic box of delights.
As kids, it showed us
a million different worlds, all from our living room.
-That was state-of-the-art.
-I loved this.
Each day, I'm going
to journey through the wonderful world of telly...
-..with one of our favourite celebrities...
We're going into Space.
-It's just so silly.
-..as they select the iconic TV moments...
-My God, this is the scene!
..that tell us the stories of their lives.
I absolutely adored this.
'Some will make you laugh...'
Don't watch the telly, Esther, watch me!
'..some will surprise...'
No way! Where did you find this?
..many will inspire...
It used to transport us to places that we could only dream about.
..and others will move us.
I am emotional now.
Today we look even more deeply.
Why wouldn't you want to watch this?
So come watch with us as we rewind to the classic telly that
helped shape those wide-eyed youngsters into the much-loved
stars they are today.
Welcome to The TV That Made Me. My guest today is a national treasure.
It can only be the one and only Mr Johnny Ball!
-John. Come and sit yourself down.
Welcome to my humble abode.
Johnny Ball is a national treasure.
He may have started life as a stand-up comedian,
but we all know him as a children's television presenter.
The show that made him a household name was Play School, which he
presented for 16 years.
But he's fronted over 20 series since then,
from Think Of A Number to Johnny Ball Reveals All.
The TV that made him includes
one of the most famous FA Cup finals...
Bolton have drawn first blood within 90 seconds.
..a landmark series on science...
And it was instantly made a sensation.
..and the show that launched his TV career.
Could be seaweed, couldn't it?
-How are you?
-I'm very well. This is very nice.
Well, today's a look back at, you know, your favourite TV highlights.
-But first we're going to delve into your past
and find out a little bit more about the young Johnny Ball.
Johnny Ball was born Graham Ball in Bristol in 1938.
His father Daniel worked at an iron foundry,
whilst mum Martha-Ann worked in a factory making boots during the war.
The family moved to Bolton when he was 11.
He left school at 16 with just two O Levels
and a few years later signed on with the Royal Air Force.
It was here that he learned his craft,
entertaining his colleagues with his funny routines.
After three years, he left to pursue a career in comedy,
first becoming a Butlins Redcoat, then launching
himself as a stand up comedian on the tough Northern club circuit.
But it wasn't long before he was spotted by the BBC,
and his long career in children's TV began.
Lovely memories there.
Yeah. Yeah, they were. My childhood was lovely.
I was born in Bristol. Until I was 11, I was there.
Passed my 11 Plus there.
It was blissful. It was absolutely wonderful.
Then we moved to Bolton and we were 200 yards from a Satanic mill.
You know, and the railway shunting yards were across the road,
where they used to drop coal into wagons.
And everything was covered in dirt and soot and everything.
So an incredible change.
And it was a terrible change, but I came through that.
My parents were so disappointed when I only got two O Levels.
They were heartbroken.
Cos I'd done very well.
In the first year at that school, I got the maths prize
and a chess prize.
I'd never played chess in my life,
and I got the chess prize for the year, you see.
But I was in form 2B.
But because I came from Bristol with a Bristol accent,
and really before television,
in Bolton it was like a foreign accent.
It really was. And so I went from form 2B to 3C
to 4D, to lower 5E,
and the last year I was in 5E cos they didn't have
It's time for your first choice, Johnny.
This was Sunday Night At The London Palladium.
So your dad liked watching this?
Yeah, we all watched it.
And, of course, we watched the famous Brucie.
Oh, here he is. Look.
# Ladies and gentlemen
# Welcome to Sunday Night At The London Palladium... #
When ITV launched in 1955, it needed some big shows to bring
an audience and advertisers to the new network.
Few shows were bigger
and glitzier than Sunday Night At The London Palladium.
You see, it's pure Butlin Redcoat.
It's all smiles, all friendly, all nice and jolly, "I love you all."
And you've also been a Redcoat.
Oh, yeah. That was the university of comedy.
When I was 14, I went to Filey,
and our Redcoat captain for our house
was a guy called Des O'Connor.
Really? Des O'Connor?
And he was magic.
He'd do gags like "This here is the Pig
"And Whistle where the pigs get a whistle.
"Over here we have the Palm Court,
"so called because it's got a door with a strong spring,
"and if you're not careful, you'll get your palm caught."
And that was the gags he was doing.
I thought he was wonderful, and I said, "I'm going to do that."
Oh, really? So Des played a big influence on your career?
And eight years later, I followed him and became a Redcoat.
But I felt so good, you know, in those few days.
I went to the south of France. Always wanted to go there.
What a place! Cyril, isn't it marvellous there? He lives there.
He lives there, that boy.
He's a great presenter, isn't he?
Oh, he was lovely.
Oh, Beat The Clock.
The show included the popular game Beat The Clock,
where two contestants would take on a series of challenges.
Bruce's commentary and helpful suggestions and the imposing
sound of the ticking clock had viewers on the edge of their seats.
We want you to get one ball in that pocket, one ball in that pocket,
one ball in that pocket, and the other ball in that, in that order.
One, two, three, four.
-That is impossible!
-No, it's not. No, they'll do this.
-I mean, it is big money. I mean, for its day.
You have 40 seconds to the beat the clock, starting from now.
They ain't going to do it, are they?
-Oh, that is nice.
-Oh, that's one in!
Two, good, good.
How that working?
-That is really good going.
-Why are the other two not moving?
It's a bit like The Cube.
-Oh, and this one's easy. This one's easy. How long to go?
How long to go? Get in there, get in there, get in there!
Oh! I mean, it really feels like event telly, doesn't it?
Oh, it does, it does, and the Palladium's such a wonderful,
How much did you admire Bruce?
Brucie I loved.
And, you know, when you become a comedian,
the first way to become a comedian is to watch everybody else,
and it's not stealing the jokes - you steal inflection,
you steal ideas of how to present yourself and all those things
become... It slowly becomes you. Pieces of everybody else.
So I used to do Brucie's walk
and I'd come down the stairs like Brucie. I couldn't help it.
And I was showing off, really.
So can you still do that walk?
No. No! Are you expecting me to do it. I don't know if I can.
Go on, we'll try, we'll try.
-Are you coming in?
-I'm coming in.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would now like to present for your pleasure
and entertainment, Johnny Ball doing the Bruce Forsyth walk.
..to see you nice. Nice to see you. Oh, something like that.
-The Bruce Forsyth walk, ladies and gentlemen!
-I tell you what...
..I did Strictly a couple of years ago and I only...
Cos I was out first, I only did three shows with Brucie and,
oh, I got on so well with him, you know. And his wife...
We occasionally meet his wife in Windsor when we go for lunch
and as soon as we walk in, if she's there, she goes,
"You should never have gone out." When I was thrown out of Strictly.
"You should never have gone out." The first thing she ever says.
Did you enjoy it?
-Oh, I loved it. I loved it.
Cos my wife's a dancer, you see.
So every time I came home she would correct anything I was doing
and hadn't got right yet, so it should have worked very well.
It should have.
Bruce Forsyth holds the Guinness World Record for the longest
TV career of any male entertainer.
After Sunday Night At The London Palladium,
he went on to launch the legendary Generation Game on the BBC.
He gave ITV a Brucie bonus with Play Your Cards Right.
And he went back to the Beeb to present Brucie's Guest Night,
an all-singing and all-dancing music and chat show.
Most recently, he reclaimed his crown as king of Saturday Night TV
with the incredibly successful Strictly Come Dancing.
Well, as your next choice we've got a sketch.
Here's a little clip here.
The legendary Mr Robb Wilton.
'Robb Wilton became famous in the 1930s and '40s for his stage
'and screen monologues, in which he played workshy authority
'figures with little time for the public.'
-What is it you've done?
-I've poisoned him.
Poisoned him? Poisoned who?
'In this famous police sketch,
'he encounters a lady who is trying to confess
'to murdering her husband.'
Give me some particulars, will you? Just a few particulars.
Is... Is your husband with you?
Oh, no! You've poisoned him.
Just give me a description and we'll see if we can get at it that way.
He was 4'2".
Only one half of that frame...
Won't want so much ink for that.
You were in a hurry to get married, weren't you?
-Isn't he wonderful?
It's just such, you know, like you - gentle humour.
My dad used to love all the old comics, and Robb especially.
You didn't see them much on television but I heard them
on radio and radio was great.
Robb used to come on and it was so laconic and so quiet.
And, of course, he was Liverpool, a Liverpool comic.
There was Tommy Handley was Liverpool,
-Arthur Askey was from Liverpool.
My dad loved Arthur Askey because he was the only
comedian, literally the only comedian in the early days,
-who came through the box.
-He knew how to work it.
-Yeah, did it straight to you.
The gags came straight to you and he took you with it.
My dad loved him.
So when I did television and my Think programmes,
it was all straight to the camera.
Although I had audience, it was really all camera to camera.
And it was all exactly the way my dad
had seen, you know, the great comics.
Wilton was one of the handful of comedians who made
the leap from music hall to screen.
Arthur Askey was one of the first.
Appearing as the TV comedian in the 1930s,
he went on to become one of the judges
in the 1970s talent show New Faces.
Flanagan and Allen's mix of comedy and music was hugely popular
during The Second World War, leading to roles in both film and TV.
Tommy Trinder was one of Britain's foremost wartime entertainers
and later became the first compere
of Sunday Night At The London Palladium.
Last, but not least,
ukelele-playing star George Formby's comedy films became major hits.
By the end of the '30s,
he was one of the UK's highest paid entertainers.
Who knew you could make so much money cleaning windows?
So we're going to move onto something that will bring
a lump to your throat.
I hope you're ready for this.
'100,000 people crammed into Wembley in 1953 to watch
'Bolton play Blackpool in the FA Cup Final.
'It was the first Cup Final to reach a live TV audience.
'As an avid Bolton supporter,
'it was nail-biting stuff for a young Johnny Ball.'
Now Bolton get going smoothly. Hassall collects and passes.
Isn't that Lofthouse? He was absolutely wonderful.
As the ball goes to Nat Lofthouse, he shoots.
Farm fumbles and it's a goal!
'After Bolton took a 3-1 lead, the cup seemed in their grasp
'but they then sustained injuries and Blackpool had Stanley Matthews.'
Oh, Mortensen scores from here.
Oh, me heart was breaking. Oh, no!
Mortensen takes it. Wham!
Oh, there you go!
Oh, and here he comes.
'Matthews' spectacular performance meant
'the match will be forever known as the Matthews Final.'
That was 3-3.
But our left-half and our left-back have both been injured.
-There were no substitutes in those days.
So he didn't have anybody to beat!
Blackpool 4, Bolton 3.
Matthews recently ignored by the England selectors,
is the Man Of The Match.
I watched this next door but one,
-and walked the 20 yards crying in the street.
-Absolutely crying in the street...
..because we'd lost.
But the right-back for Bolton who had nothing to do with Matthews,
he was on the other side and did not get beat by Matthews,
was Johnny Ball.
And because he was Johnny Ball,
all my mates called me Johnny Ball.
I loved that because it
was a nicer name than Graham,
I didn't like Graham...
But they made me play right-back but I wanted to be centre-forward.
So it ruined my football, but I've been called Johnny ever since.
-Isn't that amazing?
-That's when it started.
Yeah, just from that, that's amazing.
So even though you lost, does it still bring back good memories?
-It was terrible memories.
It was so sad but our whole left flank was depleted
and the left winger for Bolton was Bobby Langton,
who also played for England now and again.
Matthews, Finney and then Langton, they were really three left-wingers.
Let's just check if you were right. Was it Matthews...?
-This is a gift for you.
-It's a programme from that day.
To bring back all those happy memories.
It's made me shake.
Oh, this is wonderful! One shilling.
And we were robbed!
-And there's Johnny Ball, J Ball.
-There you are. Oh, that's fantastic.
-We'll give it to you later.
-Oh, that's tremendous.
-Oh, it's a pleasure.
Johnny is in good company when it comes to changing his name.
Slapstick comic Benny Hill was born Alfred Hill,
but changed his first name to the surname of his favourite
vaudeville comedian, Jack Benny.
Before going on to The Goon Show and greatness,
Spike Milligan was called Terence Milligan.
He created his stage name in homage to one of his favourite bands,
Spike Jones And The City Slickers.
Vic Reeves was born Jim Moir.
He created his new persona by supposedly combining
the names of his favourite singers, Vic Damone and Jim Reeves.
Well, now for your next choice, Johnny.
-This is Must See TV.
The Phil Silvers Show centred around our Ernest Bilko,
an unlikely sergeant in the US Army who spent most of his time
dreaming up a get-rich-quick scams.
It instantly appealed to the young Johnny Ball,
who had recently joined the Forces.
So this would have been on whilst you were in the RAF.
We used to watch...
An audience this big in a room this size,
and we used to watch Phil Silvers and just roar.
And then shut up to catch the next line.
-A buck and a half!
-A buck 60!
Stop it! Stop the sale Stop the sale!
What do you think of Phil Silvers' performance here?
It was just... It was made for him, he was made for it.
It was perfect.
He did A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, the film,
and he was fine, but this was the starring part.
A buck 60, a dollar 60 indeed for a television set?
'Fast-talking and irrepressible,
'Bilko was forever trying to
'persuade his men to part with their cash.'
Show them that.
A dollar 60 for this magic box
that brings you Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan, Janet Gleason?!
Yeah, it's only a 2" screen!
-Oh, he was a joy, he really was, wasn't he?
He was wonderful.
You know what it means to me to part with this after ten years?
-It's like a wrench out of my heart.
-Yeah, some wrench!
-It never once worked.
-I'm glad you brought that up.
We found out why, we've been plugging it into electricity.
We found out this work on gas.
They all hung onto him, you know? It's tremendous.
The series was filmed as live in front of an audience.
So, you know, I suppose he played off that.
That's right, that's right.
And that's why he couldn't be word perfect
because you can't do it, you know?
With comedy you've almost got to go with it, go with the flow.
Hit it in the moment, you know? Oh, he's tremendous.
So you were in the RAF while watching this.
The RAF, yeah, and I had a fabulous time.
All the mates who were coming out the RAF, out of National Service,
there were two kinds.
"Two years of wasted bloody time, waste of my life!"
You know, terribly grumpy.
And the others said, "Oh, get in there, John,
"volunteer for everything. Go for it."
And, of course, I took their advice and I had a fabulous time.
I was surrounded by boffins, people doing air-to-air missiles,
And I was with radar, lock-on radar,
radar that would lock onto the target.
Well, it was absolutely new when I was in the RAF.
So that's where all my experience with science and technology came in,
-through rubbing shoulders with all these boffins.
Oh, it was a great time.
After leaving the RAF, Johnny started on the road
to being a stand-up comedian, touring the north-east.
It's hard being a comedian anyway, but to be in the north-east.
-I mean, those clubs didn't suffer fools.
I was lucky cos I got it right.
There was a guy called Ricky McCabe helped me write my first act,
and it was very simple, and it worked.
I used to apologise to the audience.
I used to come on with a paper bag, inflated, and I'd go,
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I... I ... Before I start...
"What I want... "
"Bag of nerves."
-And I'd walk off.
And I'd walk off. And that gave them the time to laugh.
What era was this? Was this '60s?
This was '63 was when I was semipro.
Turned pro January '64.
And it worked. So Jerry Lewis I used to follow a great deal.
-Jerry Lewis, great slapstick comic.
And I learned to run down a corridor with a tiled floor,
and I could run down the corridor, and they'd go, "Now!"
And I would just go in a heap
-and finish up at the end.
And the next thing I learned to do was fall down the stairs,
and there were stone stairs.
And I could fall down the stairs,
and never hurt myself at all.
Taught myself all these things.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But I could fall down stone steps.
-So was you a fan of Buster Keaton and...?
-All of those, yeah.
All of those. And I loved those.
So I just had to perform.
But, oh, I loved it.
Now, Johnny, it's time for a commercial break.
Let's have a look at the advert that you picked.
-HE WOLF WHISTLES
-Hey, Hey, Suzy Q,
what's cooking with you?
-Your teeth look whiter than new, new, new.
-My teeth aren't...
This catchy ad was first screened in the 1950s.
It's animation style was similar to the Hanna-Barbera cartoons
that were hugely popular at the time.
# You'll wonder where the yellow went
# When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent. #
# Wonder where the yellow went
# When you brush your teeth with dry cement. #
Pepsodent was perhaps upping the ante in their advertising campaign
to combat falling sales.
And with what seemed like overkill, you were in no doubt
what brand of toothpaste you were being sold.
Pepsodent. Pepsodent. Pepsodent
Now, Johnny, we move on to the category where you can choose
anything you like, just because.
-Have a little look at this.
-Just because. Wow.
Yes, Tonight's off to sea.
This is the Tonight Show with Fyfe Robertson.
With his trademark tufty beard,
Fyfe Robertson cut a distinctive figure.
His popular roving reports eventually led to him
getting his own weekly series.
..Its 4,000 inhabitants,
a very special, tender affection.
The very name Islay warms the hearts of Inland Revenue men.
Just as no doubt, on occasions,
Islay's chief product warms their innards.
-He's in the Hebrides.
And look at the cable.
Yeah, yeah. Probably running back right the way to the studio.
Yes, this is powerful stuff, all right.
Powerful enough, they tell me, to loosen the tanks in your shoes.
I mean, what a character, wasn't he?
-I mean, he was a proper TV original.
His enthusiasm, I mean, it's boundless, isn't it,
-in these reports?
-Oh, yeah. He was wonderful.
By very special dispensation, arranged no doubt at the level
just below Whitehall, I'm going to taste is sip.
So here it goes.
-It's half a pint!
It's half a pint.
And he's probably done about eight shots before then, when he's had to sip along.
And this used to be seen at 6.30, which is the wonderful thing.
So why did you choose Fyfe Robertson?
I chose Fyfe because he was such an incredible character
and he epitomised...
He was the first one to really make a
little piece about absolutely anything...
mesmeric. You couldn't look away.
You had to follow Fyfe, you had to listen to him.
What the hell he was talking about you sometimes didn't know,
and then there's a twist to it. And he was just brilliant.
He could entertain with anything.
And that's what they learned.
So Michael Rodd later came up. and then all the people who did
Tomorrow's World, that all came from that and those presenters.
And it was a wonderful era.
And I learned a lot from them before I did my shows, you know?
Johnny, your next choice is very educational.
-Have a little peak at this.
The theory of evolution by natural selection was certainly
the most important single scientific innovation in the 19th century.
This is the Ascent Of Man.
And today we look even more deeply at the chemistry that we all share.
The Ascent Of Man was a personal view of the history of science
and technology through the eyes of historian Jacob Bronowski.
From the very first...
This book that he wrote with this series has been my Bible.
-It was commissioned by Sir David Attenborough, the series.
From that moment, it was no longer possible to believe any story which
supposed that at any time now there could be created
once again the beginning of life.
But it's sadly so pedantic and slow for today that it's never been...
It has been shown once and it didn't do particularly well.
He was wonderful, and it was the only series he ever did.
There's the lovely story when he was in Auschwitz,
and he bends down and he's talking about man's inhumanity to man.
I owe it as a human being
to the many members of my family who died here
to stand here as a survivor and a witness.
We have to cure ourselves
of the itch for absolute knowledge and power.
And he picks up the dust from the floor, and as he's doing it -
and he only did once take -
he realises this isn't earth,
this is ash.
We have to close the distance between the push-button order
and the human act.
We have to...touch people.
And he felt that as he did the piece.
And he held it, walked off-camera
and cried and cried and cried.
And that was him.
So you can do so much with television,
and if you time it right and if you edit it right,
the audience absolutely would be much more intelligent than
you give them credit for,
and will take it.
Bronowski, his book is my Bible.
The next show made you a favourite with kids across the country.
Let's have a look at your Big Break.
Of course it's Play School.
This, this is going to be a mountain. There you are, Hamble.
You can sit on top.
That's Sarah Long.
Well, no, that's a puppet. LAUGHTER
-It's a puppet!
-It is a puppet.
These are the pieces of material.
It can be fields and things on the lower slopes.
Play School was the first ever show to broadcast on BBC Two,
after the channel's grand opening plan for the previous night
was scuppered by a power cut.
Some light blue material here,
that can be the shallow water.
Who bought me purple trousers?
Johnny was one of the longest-serving presenters,
chalking up 545 episodes over 16 years.
At what sort of age what this aimed at?
It was definitely under fives.
-And it worked.
Now, they didn't do any fairy stories, no elves and pixies,
no fantasy. And nobody ever notices that.
It was all factual, it was all about life, really.
And this is darker blue, this could be the deepwater,
the deep sea further out.
And it can be all wavy.
HE IMITATES WAVES CRASHING
So how did you get the job on Play School?
Well, somebody said,
"We're looking for presenters for children's television."
And the producer rang my agent and said,
"Johnny would be perfect for this."
It must be Crackerjack.
So I go for an interview in Manchester
and I breeze in, and I've got the job in two minutes.
And he said, "Oh, you're going to be fabulous in Play School.
"What's Play School?"
He said, "It's for under fives, 11 o'clock in the morning, BBC Two."
And I went, "Thanks a lot."
And I got up to walk out.
And I got to the door, and he came and he put his hand on my hand
and he said, "No, come and chat." So I went, "All right."
So we went back and chatted and he persuaded me to do the audition.
And when I started doing, Play School I couldn't do it
cos he gave me a toy, you know, Hamble,
and sing a song to Hamble.
And being a stand-up comic it was very difficult,
and I couldn't do it.
So after three weeks they said,
"When you're doing something you like you're great.
"When you're doing something you don't like you're terrible.
"So you've either got to get a grip and forget adults,
"and talk for under-fives, or we'll have to let you go."
And I went out and I thought, "Why am I being bad at something
"because of some chip on my shoulder?" You see?
And I changed, and I loved it.
And I loved the integrity of the people who did Play School.
I mean, Derek Griffiths, a great performer,
he joined just after me,
and I saw his audition, and gales of laughter in the gallery
-with no effort at all.
It was just lovely.
I would drop kick Humpty through the window.
-That's a wrap. Boink!
-That's what we want to hear. I like that picture.
We used to do that in studio seven in Television Centre,
and we'd have Morecambe and Wise or the Two Ronnies next door,
and in a break they'd come and walk through other studio. Why?
Cos they said, "We used to watch it with our kids."
And they would come round and chat to us
and then they'd go off and do their shows for nine million, you know, peak shows,
and we'd do our thing at 11 o'clock in the morning.
I mean, 16 years.
Yeah. 16 years, yeah.
And it was just such a lovely period.
It was the golden age of television,
especially for BBC Children's.
We were the best in the world by far.
And that's what I did.
We're very glad you did.
Johnny Ball isn't the only comedian who found a home on children's television.
Fresh from the comedy clubs,
future EastEnder Mike Reid
hosted the anarchic game show Runaround for ITV.
15 to 1 host Sandi Toksvig
began her TV career on the live
Saturday morning kids' show No 73.
Rik Mayall's reading of Roald Dahl's
George's Marvellous Medicine provoked complaints
due to the naughty nature of the book
and Rik's delivery of it.
No surprise it is now enshrined in Jackanory folklore.
Harry Hill found his brand of comedy a perfect fit for kids' TV,
with his sketch show Shark Infested Custard.
And of course our very own funny man Johnny Ball wrote comedy sketches
for other people, but it wasn't always for children's programmes.
I'd written for Les Dawson and other people.
Not a lot, but I'd written some and they wanted more.
And it was difficult. Every time you wrote a sketch they'd say...
You'd write a three-minute sketch and they'd say,
"Great, John, we've had to whittle it down. A minute and a half."
And they'd pay you a minute and a half. So you couldn't earn.
It was about £35 a minute.
So you couldn't earn £100 in a week.
And there were people like John Cleese, The Goodies,
and all these people were in that field,
all jobbing writers before they got going.
So Play Away said, "Will you write for us?" And I said, "Yeah."
So I wrote a bit and they said, "Let's put it on a firm footing.
"How much do you want a minute?
And I said, "Well, the adults' pay 35 quid, pay me £30 a minute."
And they said, "All right."
First week, 16 minutes!
Oh, my God.
And that's how it started.
Hello? Oh, hello, Editor. Ida Scoop here.
You've a story for me to cover?
A Space probe? Where?
Mr Willie Crackett. Number seven Jubilee Terrace.
Play Away was originally intended to be a Saturday Play School,
but with its mix of songs, sketches and gags -
many of which were written by Johnny -
it appealed to a much wider audience.
-Daily Bugle here.
-Is it true you've built a device?
-Yes, yes, I have. Yes.
In your own back yard?
-In my own back yard, aye.
-To take you to the moon?
To take me to the... To take me where?
-To the moon.
-The moon? Oh, don't make me laugh. No!
So it isn't true? You haven't built a device to take you to the moon?
No, no, no. I've built a device to take me to Mars.
Oh, that's fantastic. Do you think I could possibly see it?
Yeah, of course you can. Just come this way.
Well, there she is.
Johnny, I want to move on to your passion now of maths and science.
-Yeah, it's odd, isn't it?
-Did it come from, you know, your parents?
It came from the start.
My dad made a bagatelle table, you know, you fire the ball bearings?
But he made one and it was better than you could buy in the shops.
He made it - every single nail he put in.
And I was very young
when I could total up the balls as they dropped in.
50, 75, 175, 225,
as they dropped in.
And I was very young when I could do that, and I just loved it.
And bought me a billiard table.
Now, billiards is all maths.
All of it is maths,
and it's angles and it's pressure.
Like driving is all maths.
So suddenly you realise everything you do in life is maths.
And I've always had this ability to link the two.
There was a show called Don't Ask Me on Yorkshire Television,
it went national, with Magnus Pyke, Miriam Stoppard and David Bellamy.
And Derek Griffiths was asked to present it.
And Derek started it, and they were giving him lines that, frankly,
didn't have a laugh within 100 yards, you know?
So he said, "Can I have Johnny Ball write for me?" So they said, "Yes."
So I started writing for that show.
I'd do things like... What kind of gags would I write?
Honestly, you couldn't believe they paid me for this.
You drop a peanut in beer and it sinks,
and then it comes up again.
Why does that happen?
And thanks to me, Magnus Pyke said,
"Because the beer is reaching parts of the peanut other beers cannot reach."
So I got involved with them
and that's when I thought,
"I could do this myself, couldn't I?"
And that's when I did my Think programmes, after that.
But how did you go into the BBC with the sales pitch for Think Again?
They said... I was writing the...
-They approached you?
They said, "If you had your own series what would you do?"
I said, "I'd do a programme on maths."
And so that was Think Of A Number.
But we found that the audience slowed the programme down
because I could only go at a certain speed.
So we did Think Again, and the reason we did Think Again is
because I could do it straight to camera and get,
we're television, and get more to the audience, the TV audience,
get more to the TV audience, and that's why we did it.
And they were my favourite programmes, the Think Agains.
In the latter years of his life the great Isaac Newton spent much
of his time studying alchemy, trying to turn base metals into gold.
He never achieved it,
but that's perhaps because he never had equipment like this!
Freed up from having to entertain a studio audience, Think Again
allowed Johnny to explore a much wider range of topics in depth,
focusing on one subject for an entire episode.
Is it? Of course it's not.
It's the base from which gold paint is made.
And, as you know, you can buy gold paint in any paint shop in the high street.
How much gold is there in gold paint? Not a scrap.
However, you can produce gold in a laboratory.
It's possible to turn platinum into gold.
But as platinum is rarer than gold
and more expensive it's a pointless exercise.
Besides, you need atomic physics to do it.
It's all very costly.
But you can produce startling effects very cheaply
with other metals.
Metal like titanium.
Well, that programme got an International Emmy nomination,
and it was beaten by a programme with all of 20 times our budget.
And, oh, it was just wonderful doing those programmes.
And I think I was, if I can say it,
I was suddenly at my writing peak.
-And it was the comedy training, you see.
You know with a comic, a gag has to go boom, boom, bash. You know?
It's got a timing. It might be boom, boom, boom, bash.
And you paint a scene and turn it on its head, and that's comedy.
And so that's how I wrote my scripts -
as though I was writing comedy.
So when I was talking about science and it had to go bang. I had to say da! And boom!
I mean, what you underestimate is how cleverly you were explaining
these things so children could get a grip on it.
I just loved the medium.
I love it.
And it's just a wonderful thing, television.
It's a great communicator, the greatest educator.
We're all better educated because of television. We know more.
It doesn't matter whether we watch rubbish or not.
We're all educated because we know you, Johnny Ball.
-Well, I see.
-I'm 77 now, but I'm still working.
-You still look good.
And I'm still working and enjoying it so much.
We're much better than we think,
and the future is brighter than anyone can imagine.
Cos it was, comparing when I was a kid to today,
much brighter than anyone could have imagined, and it'll go on.
And that's what you tell your kids.
And that's how we sell television, that's how we sell education.
Oh, it should be beautiful
in the future.
And, Johnny, is there any TV that you like watching now?
I love the good detectives.
I still love the Poirots, I still do,
even though I've seen them -
different productions, but done again -
and I know who's done it. It's lovely.
I like Not Going Out.
I think it's fabulous. I think it's absolutely...
-The programme, or not going out?
-Yeah, well, there you are! Yeah.
Oh, I never don't go out.
Yeah, Not Going Out I think is a beautiful sitcom.
It's a lovely thing, and it's...
Do you know, it's modern in an old tradition, in a way.
And it's pure. It's just pure and very inventive.
-And very well written.
-Oh, it's gorgeous.
Lee Mack, isn't it? Oh, he's just wonderful.
Go on, then, give me a compliment.
In this episode, Lee Mack is finally admitting
his feelings for long-suffering flatmate Lucy.
And he's making a typically ham-fisted attempt at it.
All right, what about this?
Your eyes look nice.
-Why do they look nice?
your eyelashes look like...
two tiny little crows that have crashed into the windscreen
of your face.
And bringing it back to television and children's TV,
are you proud that Zoe followed your footsteps?
Oh, it's just wonderful, you know?
The great thing is I didn't write my first programme,
factual programme, till I was 39.
Zoe had a great opening career then went quiet,
-and she got Strictly, and she was about 39, 40.
-Not Strictly, but It Takes Two.
it's a perfect job for her. It's perfect for her.
And then you see all the people coming in who, in 16 weeks,
are incredibly good, you know? It's a beautiful programme.
-Except for you.
-Except for me.
Leave it out! And she has dovetailed that job.
It's perfect for her, she's perfect for it,
-and it'll go on and on, and it's lovely.
Now, I give my guests an opportunity now to pick a theme tune for us
to play out on. Have you got any thoughts?
Oh... Right, I wrote five educational stage musicals,
and one was called Let The Force Be With You.
And I needed a finishing number.
And I stole this number...
-..which is Mr Ed.
# A horse is a horse, of course, of course
# And everyone understands... #
Right. What I wrote was...
# A force is a force, of course, of course
# And everyone understands force, of course
# Especially when, as a matter of course
# You've seen us performing the show. #
But that was it. And so writing lyrics, I love. Finding the tunes...
Yeah, very often they're a bit borrowed.
So, Johnny, thank you for being on,
-and you're going to go out with Mr Ed...
-With Mr Ed.
-..as your play-out tune.
So it's my thanks to YOU, Johnny Ball,
and my thanks to YOU for watching The TV That Made Me.
-We'll see you next time. Bye-bye!
# And no-one can talk to a horse, of course
# That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr Ed
# Go right to the source and ask the horse
# He'll give you the answer that you'll endorse
# He's always on a steady course
# Talk to Mr Ed!
# A horse is a horse, of course, of course
# And this one will talk till his voice is hoarse
# You never heard of a talking horse?
# Well, listen to this!
# I am Mr Ed! #
National treasure Johnny Ball joins Brian on the sofa to take a look back at the classic television that made him the person he is today.
He's the man who millions of us grew up with during his 16-year residency on Playschool. We find out how he got his name from a football game, about the TV he watched every week with his colleagues when he was in the RAF, and about the stars who inspired him to go down the road of becoming a stand-up comedian.
Along the way we take a look at the big Saturday night entertainment show that was required viewing in the Ball household, the comedian who made his dad roar with laughter, and the vintage TV ad that kept his teeth whiter than white. Throw some serious science into the mix and you really do start to see how TV made the irrepressible Johnny Ball the man he is today.