OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Honey, I Shrunk The World

Updated Tuesday 3rd July 2007

At the beginning of the 20th Century, long distance travel was for the military-minded, the uprooted and the plain rich, but the pioneers of flight were to change all that.

James May in the cockpit Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

To find out how, James May gets his hands on a Vickers Vimy aircraft that in 1919 carried two intrepid Brits, Alcock and Brown, across the Atlantic for the first time. But it wasn’t just flying that changed our perception of the world. The motor car offered us a new sense of freedom, but when James tries out a 1908 Model T Ford, he discovers driving was once a very tricky business indeed.

As he observes: "The right pedal was the brake and the middle pedal was reverse gear. There was no clutch as such: the left pedal was both clutch and forward gears - depending on how far pressed. I’m amazed this driving thing ever took off. "

Shrinking the world wasn’t just about travel becoming easier and more affordable. For the first time in history we could bring the world to us via the cinema. James shoots his own black and white newsreel at Walthamstow Dog Track and looks back at the early days of television when two different formats fought for supremacy.

Finally, James faces a dilemma: in 1969, two technologies emerged that promised to change our world forever. The first was the supersonic aircraft, Concorde. The second was computer messages, one day millions of emails would travel the world thanks to optic fibre cables. But in the late sixties which one would he have backed?

"Don’t you think it’s weird that when it comes to shrinking the world, this piece of fibre has completely triumphed over that magnificent supersonic airliner? It seems to me we spent the first three-quarters of the 20th century going out into the world, trying to see more and more of it, and then in the last few decades we’ve realised that actually we can bring quite a lot of it to us down this optical string thing."

First broadcast: Tuesday 10 Jul 2007 on BBC TWO

James May's 20th Century in more depth:

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Take Cover Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Take Cover

In 'Take Cover', James looks at how warfare drives ingenuity and gets to fly in the RAF’s latest supersonic jet. It’s an experience that he describes as "the most amazing thing I have ever done".

Article
The Rest Is Noise: Here comes the 20th Century Creative commons image Icon Work found at Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0 under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

The Rest Is Noise: Here comes the 20th Century

19/20 Jan: A new century, a new world. The first weekend in The Rest Is Noise season explores the first decades of the 20th Century.

Article
OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century

The science of the century that shaped the world we live in today.

Article
OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - About the series Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - About the series

Top Gear presenter James May takes a tour of the 20th century- trying out for himself some of the most surprising and influential technological advances of the past hundred years.

Article
OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Big City, Bright Lights Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Big City, Bright Lights

Each day, 180,000 people move into a city somewhere on the planet. In Big City, Bright Lights, James sets out to discover how we’ve created this high-rise, 24/7 experiment in urban living.

Article
OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Body Fantastic Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Body Fantastic

James sets out to discover how far he can push his body and finds out about some of the most remarkable medical advances over the last hundred years.

Article
OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Inventing The Teenager Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Inventing The Teenager

In the 20th Century the teenager emerged as a separate species. But how? Was it the promise of sex? The power of pop? Or the pull of a 50cc Japanese two-stroke? James May is on a journey to find out.

Article
10 big news stories that happened in 2006 (when OpenLearn was born) Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Imgur article icon

History & The Arts 

10 big news stories that happened in 2006 (when OpenLearn was born)

OK, so 2006 wasn't as relentless as 2016, but the year still had some huge news stories. As part of our ten year anniverary celebrations we look at what happened in our birth year...

Article
Armistice Day Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Luckynick | Dreamstime.com article icon

History & The Arts 

Armistice Day

The armistice which marked the end of the First World War took effect at 11am on 11th November 1918. For Remembrance Day, here's a collection of resources to commemorate and remember these events.

Article