OU/BBC
09 Jun 2009

Happy Birthday To OU – Lenny Henry celebrates 40 years of The Open University in a new documentary for BBC Four

An early OU broadcast

An early OU broadcast

As The Open University turns 40, former OU student Lenny Henry explores the roots of the largest university in the UK, and a world leader in distance education, for a new BBC Four documentary.

The first OU degree ceremony

The first OU degree ceremony

In Happy Birthday To OU (working title) Lenny imparts some of his own experiences while studying for a BA in English Literature.

In addition the programme also profiles some remarkable people who taught and studied through the OU.

Contributors include David Attenborough, who was controller of BBC Two when the OU launched; David Puttnam, the Chancellor of the OU; Myleene Klass, who studied astrophysics at the OU; Anna Ford, an early lecturer and presenter; and Robin Wilson, the son of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and now a maths professor at the OU with a penchant for brightly-coloured jumpers.

Reflecting on the OU's partnership with the BBC, Lenny remembers returning home and switching on the TV to see a man in a tank top explaining quantum physics.

Over the years this partnership has produced a very broad range of acclaimed programmes which reach audiences outside the traditional teaching and learning base, including Child Of Our Time, Coast, Life In Cold Blood, Timewatch and The Money Programme.

Award-winning series this year include James May's Big Ideas and The History Of Scotland.

The programme also explores how the OU has pioneered technology and harnessed it to improve distance education.

Originally using audio cassettes, video and late-night TV broadcasts, the OU has evolved to use the web, podcasts and CD-ROMs to reach students.

In 2008, the OU became the first British university to offer free downloadable course material via iTunes U and today over 50,000 OU tracks are downloaded from iTunes U each week.

Lenny Henry says: "Since beginning my BA Hons with the OU I have achieved something I never thought possible. I have studied for six years in a semi-disciplined way (ha ha) whilst also sustaining a career and finding time for my family, who are now incredibly proud of me and insist on seeing my scroll whenever possible!

"The OU has given me confidence in my abilities both creatively and academically."

George Entwistle, Controller, Knowledge Commissioning, says: "The partnership the BBC has enjoyed during the last 40 years with The Open University has been of the utmost importance.

"Our alliance continues to evolve and now features innovative multiplatform commissions in addition to fantastic linear programming.

"I hope together the OU and the BBC will continue to inform, educate and entertain the nation for many more years to come."

Andrew Law, Director, Multiplatform Broadcasting at The Open University, says: "The BBC and The Open University are two of the great social inventions of the 20th century.

"The partnership has provided learning journeys for hundreds of thousands of graduates – their interests sparked by some of the best factual broadcasts in the UK.

"Together we are celebrating 40 years of bringing inspiration to the nation."

Emma De'Ath, Multiplatform Commissioner for the Open University at the BBC, says: "Happy Birthday to the OU!

"We are extremely proud of our collaboration with the Open University which has produced a huge range of content on a wide range of BBC channels and platforms.

"The BBC/OU partnership has reached a very wide spectrum of audiences over the past four decades – and many programmes have been award-winners – so there's much to celebrate."

The 1 x 60-minute film is being made by BBC Birmingham. It was commissioned by Emma Swain and the executive producer is Bill Lyons.

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