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Television

In 2010 I filmed two new programmes: The Age of Steam: The story of Thomas Newcomen which was shown in the South West Region in June 2010, and The Clock that Changed the World which was shown in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

I also took part in a "Children in Need" special edition of the BBC4 Quiz Show "Only Connect". Screened on BBC4 on Monday 15 November 2010. Find out more here.

 

How Britain was Built

During the summer of 2008 we recorded programmes in Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Newcastle for a new series called How Britain was Built, shown on The History Channel in January 2009. Near Edinburgh I painted the Forth Bridge; in Liverpool I rang the heaviest hanging bell in the world; in Bristol I found out how America got its name; and in Newcastle I rode on not only a tank but also Locomotion, a replica of one of George Stephenson's engines.

Do you know the "true" story of why America is called America? Do you know which was the "fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England" according to Elizabeth I? Why were mysterious tunnels dug in Liverpool, and how did Cilla Black break into show business? What time signal was introduced by the second Astronomer Royal for Scotland? How high is the Forth Bridge (and how terrified was I on top of it)? Which is easier to open, the Newcastle Swing Bridge or the Gateshead Millennium Bridge? Where was the first successful light bulb demonstrated? And which was the first house to be lit by electric light? All these questions, and many more, are answered in this cheerful romp around four of Britain's finest cities.

The first programme: Edinburgh was shown on 26 January 2009 at 10pm on The History Channel, followed by Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle in the following weeks.

 

 
In October 2008 I presented for BBC North a tv programme called Down the line, a look at Beeching's railway cuts of the 60s. Could any of the old lines be restored - especially York to Beverly via Market Weighton?

 

Just Another Day was broadcast in 2007. Click here for podcasts.

                           

In this series I investigate the fantastic inventions that make our daily lives easier. I reveal the scintillating stories behind a kaleidoscopic range of everyday objects.  

Take the humble British cuppa. I outline how and why tea became our national obsession, and reveal that the drink first came to Britain when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza in the mid seventeenth century. The Portuguese princess was a tea addict; her love of the leaf soon spread to the wealthy classes as a whole. Before this, ale had been Britain’s chosen morning beverage; even the Royal family sank a pint or two at breakfast time.  

My curiosity also extends to Britain’s personal cleanliness. We may take our morning ablutions for granted, but the Romans took bathing extremely seriously. In Rome, there was a public bath house on every corner – much like our pubs today. I journey to the Somerset town of Bath, and relax in the best preserved ancient baths in northern Europe. Entrance was cheap and the baths were a social hub – a place to meet, play games, eat, drink and gossip.  

I also delve into the history of the barbershop. Man has been fighting his battle with facial hair for thousands of years; the average British male will spend 3,000 hours of his life shaving. Contrary to popular belief, early man attempted to keep himself clean shaven. Cave paintings show beardless men, while Stone Age razors made of stone or horn have been excavated. Alexander the Great went beardless, apparently to show off his handsome profile, while beardlessness in Roman times distinguished masters from their slaves. Later, in Elizabeth I’s reign, a law was passed decreeing that any man with more than two weeks of beard growth should be taxed.

My whistle-stop tour celebrates the unsung saviours of everyday British life. From televisions and gin and tonic, to toothpaste and teabags, you will never look at your ‘boring’ daily routine in the same light again.

Read the Daily Telegraph review of the series.

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The Cosmos - A Beginner's Guide - was shown on BBC2 in 2007

From atom-smashing to alien-hunting, the series explored the latest ideas and experiments in cosmology. I travelled around the world with my fellow presenters, Janet Sumner (below left) and Maggie Aderin (below right),

                         

to meet the people and the apparatus at the cutting edge – the gamma-ray-burst team who are on constant readiness for text messages from a satellite, the physicists deep underground at CERN (pictured right) near Geneva, the engineers constructing spacecraft in Amsterdam, the astronomers above the clouds in Chile, the ingenious planet-hunter SuperWASP on top of an old volcano in the Canary Islands, and the SETI team building a vast telescope in northern California in order to listen for messages from outer space.

Is there life elsewhere in the universe, or are we alone?

Read The Times preview of the series.

 

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My series of How London Was Built was shown on ITV London (and repeated on the History Channel).

 

Hermione Eyre wrote in the Independent On Sunday in December 2007 "By which time at night I had Fernsehenzeitschmerz, my invented term for the enervated, fretful condition in which you no longer want to be watching TV but find yourself unable to stop. I put on How London Was Built, and learnt that the phrase "at sixes and sevens" derives from a livery company wrangle between the Merchant Taylors and the Skinners, who ranked 6th and 7th every year alternately, a fact I enjoyed and then immediately forgot. Unforgettable, however, was Adam Hart Davis"s costume: yellow kaftan top over schoolboy shorts and, no they can"t be, rewind; yes they are - odd socks. Only someone as serious as him could get away with dressing like a jester".

 

Victor Lewis-Smith wrote in his review of my first series "For thousands of years beer was Britons favourite drink said Adam Hart Davis , speaking from inside a kaftan so loud that it resembled an explosion inside an abbatoir that despatches rainbow coloured animals.......This was a typically classy documentary from ITV London. This strand is one of the few remaining jewels in ITV's increasingly threadbare crown....."

 

I demonstrate how life for Londoners today is shaped by what Londoners did in the past. The places they chose to live, their behaviour due to warfare, economics and politics, their technical innovations - sometimes even their whims - have ramifications down the centuries.

 

I explain how a pub building helped determine the shape of London neighbourhoods and how a Bond Street art gallery owner's notion to light exhibitions with a new-fangled electricity led to the birth of a power generation industry. I also explain why the architecture of St Brides church is recreated on wedding cakes throughout the world, why there is a two-way street in London where you must drive on the right hand side, how the Monument aided in the advancement of scientific experimentation, and why the industrial revolution might not have happened at all if it hadn't been for the invention of porter beer!

 

The first series of How London Was Built, covered Palaces, Tall buildings, War and defences, Tunnels, Railways and Bridges. This was shown on ITV London in July and August 2005, and on the History Channel in September and October.

 

In the Evening Standard, Victor Lewis-Smith wrote in his review of the programme -  "Hart-Davis radiates boundless enthusiasm for every subject he talks about"

My previous series, What the Ancients Did for Us, was shown as one-hour programmes on BBC2 from February 2005, and as half-hour programmes in late summer 2005. The accompanying book What the Past Did for Us, is described on my Books page.

Inside Out West - I investigated the demise of public toilets and asked "Are you prepared to pay to pee?"

Adam with a crowd of kids wearing eye protectorsI have presented four Stardate programmes:

Transit of Venus, on 6 June 2004, when from Greenwich Royal Observatory we watched the tiny black dot of Venus slowly crossing the surface of the sun;

Close Encounters, on 29 September 2004, when a largish asteroid passed within a million miles of Earth - a hair's breadth in astronomical terms;

Mission to Titan. On 13 January 2005, I was in the European Space Operation Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, south of Frankfurt, Germany, for the exciting hours when the space probe Huygens landed on Saturn's biggest moon, Titan.  The mother ship, Cassini, had given Huygens a gentle push from Saturn's orbit on Christmas Day, and for three weeks it had fallen slowly down towards Titan. Huygens entered Titan's atmosphere exactly on time, at 10.13am, which was astonishing in view of the fact that this had been planned seven years earlier and 900 million miles away. For two-and-a-half hours the probe parachuted down to the surface, sending back masses of information, about the atmosphere, the clouds, the temperature, and the surface itself.  The excitement of the scientists - from nineteen different countries - was inspiring and infectious; and the only drawback was that we had to broadcast - for BBC Breakfast, Newsnight, the Open University, and Discovery US - from a freezing car park, first at dawn and then at midnight;

Venus Express, on 12th April 2006. Was I the first man on Venus??? This programme told the story of a space probe sent by the European Space Agency into orbit around the planet Venus. Most of the programme came from the ESA headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, but we also wanted to give some idea of what conditions are like on the surface of Venus. The planet looks white, because it is completely surrounded by thick clouds of sulphuric acid. These must reflect away much of the sunlight, and so you might expect Venus to be cooler than the Earth, even though it is closer to the sun. On the contrary, however, there seems to have been a runaway greenhouse effect in operation, and the surface is at about 450C – hot enough to melt lead.  

No human being will ever be able to visit Venus, but we made a virtual journey in a studio in Leeds. I was filmed against green screens, and the background was painted in afterwards on a computer. There was no rocky surface, no spaceship – just me and a green carpet and a green wall behind. However, the space suit was exceedingly hot, and by the end of the afternoon I was sweating so much that the researcher had to open my visor and wipe away the condensation after every sentence that I spoke. Even so the real thing would have been worse.

 

I have presented such programmes as Tomorrow’s World, What the Romans, Victorians and Tudors & Stuarts Did for Us, Science Shack, Industrial Nation, and the Industrial Revolution Road Show; and for eight years, in fluorescent pink and yellow, Local Heroes, in which I rode around on a mountain bike talking about dead scientists, engineers, and inventors, doing curious demonstrations.   

My other television series include Secret City (history of London – Carlton), Live from Dinosaur Island (BBC2), Come to your Senses (BBC2), Science in Focus – Big Questions (C4 schools), Celebrity Mastermind (BBC2), and Top Ten Treasures (BBC2).

 

In 2003 I was delighted to receive the Judges' Award from the Royal Television Society. Many thanks to all my fans!

"This year’s recipient of the Judges' award began his engagement with educational television in 1977, when, as a lowly researcher his first assignment was to explain why you slip on a banana skin. It could have been an intimation of disasters to come, but in fact his explanation was delivered with what was to become a trademark mixture of sound science and infectious enthusiasm and led to a 25-year career both behind and in front of the camera."

I have also kept the fellow self-employed on their toes with their tax returns in advertisements for the Inland Revenue. (See my In the Press page for some entertaining discussion of the 'tax doesn't have to be taxing' slogan (Daily Telegraph, January 2005).)

Following John Tusa's attack on British television (see In the Press, Guardian and Telegraph, April 2005) I received many kind letters and emails of support, such as this lovely note, from the singer Ian Wallace OBE:

Dear Adam,
My wife and I read what John Tusa had to say about you and Dan Cruickshank's programmes on TV with astonishment. As far as we are concerned they are like candles burning brightly in a dark world. For example our 10 year old grandson stayed with us for a night on two of his school holidays and watched your recent programme about Egypt. He was fascinated by it. Which means that you have that precious gift of appealing to all age groups and you use it to inform and entertain in equal measure.  John Tusa (once of the BBC) now rules the Barbican. Your kingdom is much larger and is ruled with humour, clarity, ingenuity and imagination. Long may you reign!
All good wishes, Ian.

 

What do I eat when I watch telly? "You can't slum it while you're watching television - my favourite TV dinner is avocado in a garlicky sauce followed by wild sea bass baked in foil with butter, served with new potatoes and spinach or broad beans from the garden.  It's a meal for a celebratory occasion, really, so I like to drink Mumm Napa Cuve, which tastes like champagne but is cheaper. It's pretty close to a perfect meal."

This was written a while ago: I'd still go with the fish and veg, but my tastes in drink have got a little more expensive with age - a bottle of Perrier Jout non-vintage is my favourite these days.


The Open University Worldwide Ltd

Click the link left to visit the Open University Worldwide website,
where you can purchase copies of the Science Shack series (though they
are ludicrously expensive).

 



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