29 Jun 2007

James May puts 20th Century innovations to the test in new series for The Open University

Investigating innovations

Investigating innovations

What were the most powerful and significant inventions of the 20th Century? Presenter James May gets to grips with some of the last century’s most exciting and unusual inventions in a new six-part Open University series for BBC TWO, starting in July 2007.

In the name of progress, he subjects his body to massive forces, relives his teenage years with Status Quo and drops a 1982 Mini 1000 onto a plate of skyscraper glass. He gets to fulfil a live-long ambition and break the sound-barrier in Eurofighter – “the best thing I have ever experienced”; test drive a version of NASA’s moon buggy through the streets of London; and have his DNA tested – with surprising results. Naturally, James meets each challenge with his usual wit and aplomb.

Executive producer Phil Dolling says: “James is the best technology presenter I have ever worked with. Whether it's a fighter jet, a pair of nylons or an electric guitar he has a natural understanding of what makes things tick, and he always offers a fresh insight as to how these inventions changed our world."

Tony Nixon, the University's academic advisor on the series, adds: “Understanding technology and how things work isn’t seen as cool or even necessary, yet it defines how we live. The Open University got involved in this series to reawaken excitement and interest in understanding technology through looking at innovation in the 20th century. The activity pack gives you the chance to experiment with some of the innovations from the series for yourself. For example: do you really know how a rocket or a radio works?”

The series begins with two programmes to be shown from 8pm on Tuesday, July 10 on BBC Two. In Honey, I Shrunk the World - programme one (8pm)- James discovers how, thanks to planes, cars, televisions and computers, our world suddenly became a whole lot smaller.

He takes a flight in the pioneering airplane that created the European mini-break and looks at the classic family car – the Ford Cortina – that opened up a new world when he was a young lad. He also takes a Model T Ford for a test drive – and it is so impossible that he wonders how motoring ever caught on.

In Blast Off, the second programme in the double bill (8.30pm), James wants to find out what the space race did for all of us who never got a chance to blast off into orbit. He gets to road-test a street-legal version of the lunar buggy, but finds out that the gravity here on Planet Earth makes the handling difficult. He then discovers, to his surprise, that the race to the Moon began in Chiswick, West London.

Next, James borrows a satellite for an afternoon to take his own snap from 700km above Earth; and he travels to Nasa's launch pad in Florida to see for himself the massive Saturn moon rockets that he once made in kit form in his bedroom.

Editor's Notes
James May's 20th Century is fully funded by The Open University. The Open University and the BBC have been in partnership for more than 30 years, providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late-night programming for delivering course material to peak-time programmes with a broad appeal to encourage wider participation in learning.

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