In this series I investigate the
fantastic inventions that make our daily
lives easier. I reveal the scintillating
stories behind a kaleidoscopic range of
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
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
Daily Telegraph review of the series.
The Cosmos - A Beginner's Guide - was
shown on BBC2 in 2007
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),
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
The Times preview of the series.
of How London Was Built was shown on ITV London
(and repeated on the
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
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,
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
What the Past Did for Us, is described on my
Inside Out West - I investigated the demise of public toilets
and asked "Are you prepared to pay to pee?"
have presented four
Venus, on 6 June 2004, when from Greenwich Royal Observatory we
watched the tiny black dot of Venus slowly crossing the surface of the
on 29 September 2004, when a largish asteroid passed within a million
miles of Earth - a hair's breadth in astronomical terms;
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 450°C – hot enough to melt lead.
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.
have presented such programmes as Tomorrow’s World, What the
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:
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 Cuvée, 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 Jouët non-vintage is
my favourite these days.