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Timeline: Open University Broadcasting

Updated Thursday 25th June 2009

In 2009, The Open University celebrated 40 years. Take a trip through some of the highlights.

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Timeline: Open University Broadcasting

For 40 years The Open University has produced educational programmes to inspire students and the wider public alike. Join us as we take a journey through the archives.

Wilson's vision

February 1963

Labour leader Harold Wilson gave a lecture at Chicago University and was impressed by the university's innovative use of closed-circuit TV and radio on campus – a sort of early intranet. He wanted to use this technology to go nationwide – and so the notion of the 'university of the air' was born; described, in this clip, by Harold Wilson during an address to the Labour Party Conference and then included in the Labour Party manifesto.

Jennie Lee appointed

February 1967

With Labour now in power, Harold Wilson asked Jennie Lee (Minister for the Arts) to make the 'university of the air' a reality. Jennie Lee describes how she took on the challenge, in the face of opposition from politicians in their own party.

One of the first appointees was Asa (later Lord) Briggs, the distinguished historian and expert on the Victorian period, who also became the official historian of the BBC and, in the 1970s, Chancellor of the OU.

Birth of the OU

February 1969

1969 marked the official birth of the OU. As Neil Armstrong crossed new frontiers, walking on the moon, the first OU Chancellor – Lord Crowther – announced, rather more prosaically, the revolutionary aims of The Open University.

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation made the university an offer they couldn't refuse, thus initiating a dynamic synergy between the 'aspiring borough and new city', and Britain's newest university.

The Open University – the University of the Air and of the second chance – was inaugurated and an agreement with the BBC guaranteed the OU radio and TV transmission times. Now all that had to be done was to produce the courses...

First OU course programme

February 1971

The honour of being the first course programme to be transmitted went to M100/01 – an introduction to the Maths foundation course. However, it was another week before the maths students (and curious members of the public) got to see maths actually being done.

In a typical piece of synchronicity, one of the early maths academics was Robin Wilson (see 1987), son of Harold Wilson – the Prime Minister whose vision brought the OU into existence.

Home experiment kits

February 1971

The Open University grappled with the difficulties of teaching chemistry at a distance, introducing a range of home experiment kits that included chemicals, instructions and apparatus for the eager new students.

Early success

February 1971

In this interview, recorded 10 years later, Jim Stevenson – the then assistant head of the BBC OU Production Centre – talks about the partnership. He illustrates his points with an extract from the Science foundation course on genetics, which features Mike Pentz and a lot of cats.

Maths, beards and props

February 1973

In 1989, for Comic Relief, National Treasure Stephen Fry and accidental US TV drama star Hugh Laurie performed a "bloopers" sketch poking gentle fun at the stereotypical notion of the OU academic presenter - all kipper ties, tank tops, flowing hair, complex diagrams, idiosyncratic sense of humour - and (apparently) very salty non-Maths language.

Could the presenter here be the model for Hugh Laurie's character? Check it out here and then go to 1989 to see what Fry and Laurie made of it. And yes, the BBC/OU producers had managed at last to get hold of colour cameras and, strangely, those models do exert a real fascination.

'It's Never Too Late To Learn'

February 1974

The BBC documentary series, Horizon, celebrates the setting up of the OU, and includes a look at the production process as carried out by BBC producers.

The programme, 'It's Never Too Late To Learn', offers a fascinating glimpse of students, academics and producers, as well as showing the sheer magnitude of the OU operation just three years in.

Making OU programmes

February 1974

The acclaimed Irish broadcaster, journalist and novelist, Nuala O'Faolain, began her career making arts programmes in the early 1970s.

The 1974 BBC Horizon programme, 'It's Never Too Late To Learn', investigates the progress of this social experiment.

Nuala is interviewed and delivers a passionate defence of the kind of educational television the BBC/OU are producing.

The Half Open University

February 1974

It's 1974. The first OU students have graduated, the ink still drying on their degrees, and the OU presentation style, on both TV and radio, is celebrated for its sometimes frankly bizarre looks – but equally for its odd mix of academically high-flown content and prosaic instructions: that, and the sheer disbelief that distance education could actually work.

Two pilot comedies called The Half Open University appeared on Radio 3, co-written by a young David (One Foot in the Grave) Renwick. The pilots gave rise to the cult series, The Burkiss Way.

The Grand Inquisitor

February 1975

This opulent looking piece, adapted from The Brothers Karamazov, was actually for an education course. In what is virtually a monologue, Sir John Gielgud delivers a fabulous, forgotten performance as The Grand Inquisitor.

Much later on (see 1997), in a co-production with RADA, and in what turned out to be his final TV interview, Richard Attenborough spoke to John Gielgud about his life in Shakespeare.

Villa Savoie

February 1975

Treating a building as both a work of art and a sign of culture, this award winning programme broke new ground by concentrating on this single building by Le Corbusier for 25 minutes. It and the rest of this Arts series proved immensely popular in Italy. This sequence features the Promenade Architecturale - literally the stroll through the building to experience how the architecture works.

Summer school

February 1976

Summer school rapidly became an essential part of the OU experience.

Students got together for a week, in the summer, to partake of all those conventional (and unconventional) student activities – intense conversations, angst, emotion, all the highs and lows crammed into a single intense week.

This combined technology, arts and social science course decided to capture the creative process at work.

Taylor polynomials

February 1977

Here's a second generation Maths foundation course programme, pioneering the use of computer graphics to produce dynamic images of how certain mathematical functions develop.

With such good computer graphics now, it's hard to remember just how revolutionary this type of imaging was – and how long it took to create. And Taylor polynomials? Sounds like a good name for an indie band!

The Spy Who Loved Me

February 1977

In an amazing deal, the OU social science/education course on mass communications and society gained access-all-areas to the making of a new James Bond movie: The Spy Who Loved Me.

The eight programmes followed the movie's creative and commercial progress as it was made. The editing was nominated for a prestigious BAFTA award.

Angles

February 1978

As producers and academics gained in confidence and skill, the ways they found to present maths and science to students on TV got more interesting.

Seven years on from Mike Pentz's encounter with the cat lady (see 1971), he returns with Allan Solomon, and takes to the open air to present a delightfully eccentric approach to the importance of calculating angles.

WARNING: this programme includes lumberjacks.

Living statistics

February 1978

Statistics brought to life with the help of the Basildon Drum Majorettes: giving the subject a fresh and innovative treatment in the slightly crumbling interior of Alexandra Palace.

The emerging campus

February 1979

This introduction to an Open Forum programme pans across the Walton Hall campus in 1979, showing the Perry Building under construction in preparation for the BBC Open University Production Centre's move to Milton Keynes in 1981.

Risk

February 1980

The Risk course was just that – a risk! It brought together contributors from across the OU. It's an interfaculty course but the received wisdom is that "U" actually stood for universal because that's what these, and the succeeding "U" courses, were intended to do: deal with global issues across disciplines and faculties (see 1997).

The delight of this programme? First its attitude towards Indian food, and second...well, just keep looking at the background.

A student's experience

February 1980

Liverpudlian playwright Willy Russell, inspired by both the political and dramatic possibilities of an Open University education, wrote Educating Rita, featuring wannabe student Rita and fading academic Frank. The play premiered at the tiny Donmar Warehouse Theatre in Covent Garden.

Echoing Rita's dilemmas, an OU student in this clip reflects on the explosive effects of learning to think intellectually.

From Alexandra Palace to Milton Keynes

February 1981

Bob Rowland (Head of the Open University Production Centre in 1981), celebrates the move from Alexandra Palace to a brand new production centre on the OU's Milton Keynes site, whilst acknowledging the history, of which the BBC/OU production partnership is a part.

This includes a glimpse of the Alexandra Palace fire that might have consumed the master tapes and films of all the OU TV and radio programmes produced so far, had the BBC staff there not formed a human chain to rescue them from the burning building.

Home experiment kits revisited

February 1981

Home experiment kits, 1981 style! The Science foundation course home experiment kit seems to take up about as much space as the 1980s washing machine (see 1971 to compare it with the original kit).

We think current health and safety might take a rather more Draconian view of the potential children/chemical reactions hinted at here.

Ronnie Barker spoof

February 1981

One of Ronnie Barker's classic monologues – full of good natured bluster and bad jokes – spoofing the OU and, in doing so, showing how, in just 10 years, the OU has become an essential part of the national landscape.

Office politics

February 1982

This programme features a semi-improvised drama based around office politics and relationships during the working day, and then later at the Christmas party.

The device of following a scene, with extracts from a sort of confessional one-to-one interview with the participants, is central to reality TV shows (think Big Brother's diary room). The painful comic potential was perfected over 20 years later by Ricky Gervais, in The Office.

Later sequences went on to show the rather shocking results of this office's Christmas party.

The Alps in motion

February 1983

Once again, the OU broke new ground by taking new lightweight video cameras out on location – and this is about as location based as you can get: in a helicopter above the Alps.

As the first BBC department (apart from News) to use these cameras, the Open University Production Centre pioneered a new style – the video documentary.

Flying in birds

February 1984

This programme, investigating flying in birds, suddenly produces some exquisite close-up, slow motion footage of a flying goose. This innovative approach to filming wildlife and understanding animal habits leads directly to the Supersense series and becomes standard procedure for wildlife programme makers (see 2001).

So impressed are the Japan Prize jury with what they see, they award the programme their gold prize.

The chemistry of Live Aid

February 1985

This gets probably the biggest audience ever of any OU programme. However, riveting as carbonyl chemistry may be to some, it does seem a niche subject – so why such popularity? Well this OU programme, on BBC2, was immediately followed by the start of the Live Aid concert, which, itself, later become the subject of an OU programme about the media and society.

The videodisc unveiled

February 1985

The BBC and the OU explored the benefits of the revolutionary videodisc system for use in interactive teaching.

This cutting edge technology was the forerunner of CD-ROMs, DVDs, interactive training packages and software games.

Ever Decreasing Circles

February 1986

In this episode of the popular 80s sitcom, Ever Decreasing Circles, OU history student Ann Bryce (Penelope Wilton) is accused by stuffy husband Martin (Richard Briers) of working for the Kremlin because of her association with the OU: reflecting a conservative, Thatcherite 80s view of the OU (and universities in general) as a hotbed of Marxist bias.

A pint of pi

February 1987

In an interesting piece of synergy, one of the pioneering maths presenters is mathematician Robin Wilson – academic son of the man whose determination brought the Open University into being: Harold Wilson.

Here, Robin offers not one, but two mnemonics for remembering the first numbers for pi.

The fires of life

February 1988

The OU takes a complex concept (the progressive oxydisation of hydrogen atoms in the inner membrane of the mitochondium), and brings it to life using a specially choreographed dance featuring local morris dancers.

This general technique brought a whole new perspective to students studying at a distance, in a way in which would have been impossible if the OU's teaching materials had been entirely paper based.

Comic Relief spoof

February 1989

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie produced this OU sketch for Comic Relief, spoofing the very early OU programmes – featuring a kipper tie, flares and a tank top.

We might just have found the clip that Hugh's keen observational eye had in mind when preparing his character (see 1973).

Oceanography

February 1989

Looking into the oceans is a central part of this science course, which here hitches a ride on a survey ship bound for the tiny island of Rockall, off the British coast.

Dr. Faustus

February 1990

The Mediaeval Players theatre group toured their rollicking, rowdy and – as far as they can determine – historically accurate staging of Marlowe's Dr Faustus round the country.

The OU/BBC collaborates to record scenes from the play during a live performance in a South London theatre, including this saucy rendition of Faustus's meeting with Helen of Troy.

You might like to compare this production with the Radio 3's audio version, produced with the OU in 2007.

Stars in the heavens

February 1990

The OU/BBC partnership produced not only TV, video and DVD programmes, but a whole range of audio material as well – on radio, cassette and CD.

These ranged from early radiovision programmes (a kind of instant interactive experience, in the days before anyone knew what interactive meant), through programmes like this illustrated talk on what people made of the Cosmos in Europe (1450-1600), to general interest programmes, such as those we illustrate in 1997 and 2007.

Strike a light

February 1990

In the late 2000s, as a result of green pressure, the traditional filament light bulb has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Here's a reminder of where this life changing invention came from and how it works.

Body plans

February 1991

This science course programme explores the amazing forms of life to be found in the ocean – including the deadly beauty of the luminous jellyfish.

Endgame

February 1991

One of the last studio dramas – the studio was closed later this year – the television premiere of Samuel Becket's play, Endgame; stars Norman Beaton, Stephen Rea and comedian Charlie Drake – in a dustbin.

The first transmission was delayed by an hour, as the audience was taken live to Iraq for the opening hostilities of the first Gulf War. Watching the post-apocalyptic Endgame after that was a sobering experience.

Dyson

February 1992

Relatively early in his career, James Dyson, the phenomenally successful inventor of the cyclonic vacuum cleaner, discusses invention and engineering practice.

Homer CD-ROM

February 1993

The OU's first official multimedia course was, ironically, on the ancient subject of the Greek poet, Homer.

Students explored the archaeology and literature of The Iliad and The Odyssey and, as well as a CD-ROM to work with (revolutionary at the time), they are offered the opportunity to indulge in a little video archaeology.

The Galapagos Islands

February 1993

Access to the Galapagos Islands – hothouse for Darwin's theory of natural selection – is heavily restricted, but the OU's impeccable academic credentials, and the BBC's reputation as a broadcaster combined to get a team permission to record this natural treasure house.

The material they gathered has been used across multiple platforms: programmes on TV and radio, as well as direct, student-facing DVD and interactive CD-ROMs.

Future gazing

February 1994

In this episode of Opening Up Technology, we're offered a context for all the objects seen in the other programmes. Futurologist Alvin Toffler shares his thoughts on technology and society.

In an attempt to bring life to this "talking head", both the shooting and the editing style took radical steps to reflect and, in some cases, comment on Toffler's ideas.

The Rover

February 1994

Before they were famous: Daniel Craig (later to become the 7th James Bond), and Andy Serkis (later to play Golum in The Lord of the Rings) starred in this three-hour drama, The Rover by Aphra Behn, a co-production with the Women's Playhouse Trust.

 

Video news

February 1994

Opening Up Technology not only told us how things worked technically...but how they worked on us.

Celebrated TV critic and OU academic John Naughton reveals how the immediacy of the video camera has changed forever how we consume news.

The Chemistry of Almost Everything

February 1995

The Chemistry of Almost Everything represents a huge change to the look and feel of science programmes.

A classy shooting style, clever visuals and the element of the week – all held together by an engaging and skilful OU academic presenter, Mike Bullivant (also see Rough Science in 2000).

More Than Meets the Eye

February 1995

This incredibly moving and sensitively shot programme, about living with facial disfigurement, won the OU another Japan Prize for adult education.

Zeno's Paradox

February 1996

Making sense of infinity...or at least trying to! Zeno's paradox was just one among many conundrums explored at Hotel Hilbert.

Hotel Hilbert was shot and edited entirely in an out-of-season Sardinian hotel – amazingly it turned out to be much cheaper to take everyone there and hire the hotel as location, accommodation and post-production base. Strange but true!

Open Saturday

February 1997

Not only is 1997 the year of the historic Labour victory, it is also the year in which the OU produces an entertaining three-hour strand for Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The archives are plundered, topics dreamt up, guests invited, a new OU presenter engaged to do the links and the whole thing goes out live. It's scary but it works: as others later picked up on...and followed the format.

Open Saturday on Mars

February 1997

The first of the big spectaculars on Open Saturday.

As well as clips from the archive, the programme presented live analysis and explanation of the photos being sent back to Earth by the Pathfinder mission to Mars.

Gielgud's Hamlet

February 1997

In one of the last interviews he gives, Sir John Gielgud talks – a little indiscreetly – to Lord Richard Attenborough about his production of Hamlet, starring Richard Burton.

This programme was a co-production with RADA.

Measure for Measure

February 1997

Made as part of an OU course but reworked with five others to go out in peak time on BBC2, this programme – with the help of actress and director Fiona Shaw – explored the rehearsals for three scenes from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.

Once again the OU spotted talent at an early stage, with the production featuring an early, villainous appearance by David (Dr Who) Tennant; possibly not since Eve, has munching an apple seemed so sinful!

The Business Cafe

February 1997

With the 'live' vibe firmly in place, The Business Cafe offered an OU generated magazine programme dedicated to business.

The New Curiosity Shop

February 1997

The New Curiosity Shop is one of the programme strands that revitalises the BBC/OU output in the Annus mirabilis that is 1997.

Similar in approach to Radio 4's successful The Long View, this radio programme looks at the channel tunnel…from the Victorian age.

Aborignal art

February 1999

Showing that art is not just what goes in western galleries, this is a fascinating insight into the sources and meanings of Australian Aboriginal art.

Rough Science

February 2000

Based on an original idea from the OU science team, Rough Science challenged a group of scientists (including Mike Bullivant, see 1995), to create some modern conveniences out of bits and pieces lying around on an island.

The programme is presented by Kate Humble, who has since gone on to Springwatch, Autumnwatch and the like.

Several more series of Rough Science followed, and it won numerous awards around the world for popularising science.

Hollywood Science

February 2001

A fascinating series of short films that set presenter Robert (Red Dwarf) Llewellyn the task of investigating the scientific truth, or otherwise, of some of Hollywood's biggest movie moments, with (Rough Science) scientist Jonathon Hare to help him out.

In Die Hard, it's the viability of Bruce Willis's jump from the top of a skyscraper with just a fire hose to hold him that's being tested; no children's action dolls were injured in the making of this obviously low budget, but critical hit, production!

Wild moves

February 2001

This award winning film, produced by the BBC Natural History Unit for the OU, looking at flying in birds, wins the RTS Adult Education Vocational Award.

The exquisite photography of geese in flight recalls the first steps (or wingbeats), in that direction taken nearly 20 years earlier (see 1984).

Consuming passions

February 2002

Another Royal Television Society award winner for the OU. One of a series of short films, shot and edited in an impressionist style, celebrating the extraordinary passions of ordinary people.

Ever Wondered About Food?

February 2002

Ever Wondered About Food? This series is a mix of practical cooking, food science, and the history of the featured food of the week.

It was one of a series that began to bridge the gap between the original OU Open Saturday concept and the eventual BBC2 Saturday morning cooking strand.

Leonardo

February 2003

Leonardo involved a spectacular mix of costume drama, expert interviews and, probably best of all, modern reconstructions of some of Leonardo's inventions.

This sequence follows an intrepid trio as they demonstrate their absolute faith in Da Vinci's parachute – one of them is dropped from 10,000 feet above the African veldt, with only Leonardo's ingenuity between him and terminal velocity.

The Mark Steel Lectures

February 2003

One of a very successful series of 'lectures', researched and delivered by comic Mark Steel, investigating, in his own particular style, the impact of Charles Darwin on thought and society.

Clearly, the committee awarding the prestigious Japan Prize found it refreshingly different, as they gave it their Abe Prize in 2003, and The Mark Steel Lectures returned for a further two series.

Child of Our Time

February 2004

Following in the ground-breaking footsteps of the original children growing up series, 7 Up, the OU joined the BBC in this annual series tracing the development of a group of 'children of our time'.

Presented by eminent reproductive professor Robert Winston, one of the stand-out features was to put the children through a series of fun, but illuminating games and tests.

In this clip, the team look at the children's' reactions to awkward social situations – like receiving an unwanted, unappreciated and useless present.

You can also get the latest on the children with Child of Our Time 2013.

Lab Rats

February 2004

The Open University explores bringing science to life for a younger generation, in an early series for BBC Three.

Two male guinea pigs endure a week-long battery of scientific tests to investigate what affects potency and fertility in the male of the species. It climaxes in a unique sperm race, viewed on a big screen in a pub, to see who has the strongest swimmers.

Stardate: Transit of Venus

February 2004

Adam Hart-Davies introduces an epic live production that follows one of the rarest astronomical events in our solar system: the transit of Venus across the face of the sun.

This descendant of Open Saturday's 'Pathfinder' programme went on to win the Royal Television Society's Lifelong Learning and Multimedia Award.

A Natural History of the British Isles

February 2004

Alan Titchmarsh's epic investigation of how the landscape and geography of the British Isles came to be the way we see it now, reveals a strange link between Oxford's "dreaming spires" and Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park – cue the CGI!

Local natural history

February 2004

Following Alan Titchmarsh's nationally based 50-minute episodes, the OU contributes a series of 10-minute regional optouts, concentrating on aspects of the natural history from the main programme, that can be seen in the viewer's local area.

Here, presenter Chris Packham explores some of the natural history delights around Oxford, with some ravishing meadow photography.

Someone To Watch Over Me

February 2004

An observational documentary series, filmed in Bristol, followed the experiences of those much maligned professionals: social workers, as they try to keep lives together – their clients and their own – in the face of tragedy and loss.

African School

February 2005

Reputedly one of (then) Chancellor Gordon Brown's favourite programmes of the year, we see kids trying to break into school, not to steal or damage, but to learn.

Set in the context of Uganda's critical social and political situation, rarely has understanding the value of an education been so forcefully demonstrated.

This award winner was followed in subsequent years by Indian School and Chinese School.

Coast

February 2005

The opening of the tremendously successful Coast series, produced by ex-Open University Production Centre producer Steve Evanson.

We are introduced to the Coast idea, and follow the experiments involving OU academic David Sharp, as he and his team investigate the effectiveness of the huge stone sound mirrors erected on the south coast as part of an aircraft early warning system.

The Money Programme

February 2005

Increasingly the OU and BBC work together on both new and established series, and here it's the BBC flagship business series, The Money Programme, that gets a boost from OU involvement.

But, of course, nothing dates faster than a programme on new technology, so this access-all-areas documentary following the preparations for the launch of the Xbox 360 already looks quaint.

What The Ancients Did For Us

February 2005

The latest in a recurring series of What The... Did For Us comes to TV screens.

The mixture of recreating how ancient things worked and the infectious enthusiasm of Adam Hart-Davis led this intriguing series, along with sidekick Marty Jopson and Open University associate lecturer Hermione Cockburn.

Fly On The Wall

February 2006

David Attenborough is our guide to some of the amazing technology and craft that enables the epic Life In The Undergrowth series to capture so much detail of the natural world, and the slowest of slow motion reveals the secrets of flight.

These 10-minute accompaniments to the main programmes feel like peeking backstage to see how the magician's tricks are done.

The Somme

February 2006

"Lions led by donkeys" is one of the descriptions of the British soldiers' experience of leadership in the First World War, and the magnitude of the slaughter at The Somme stands as the most blatant example of that. But if that is the popular assessment of society, how did the soldiers themselves see it?

Based entirely on surviving records, this mix of dramatic reconstruction, archive footage and contemporary camera work attempts to present the real story of The Somme.

The last course broadcast

February 2006

The last Open University course-related TV programme to be broadcast is a workmanlike study on the question of style, neoclassicism and romanticism, taken from the Arts foundation course.

There's no big fanfare, as decades of broadcasting for OU students comes to an end, moving instead to sending programmes directly, on video and DVD, through the post.

BBC News

February 2006

As the last Open University course-related broadcast goes out on BBC TV, BBC News looks back at the decades of the 'university of the air', with a 'Farewell to Beards and Flares' feature.

Nation on Film

February 2006

The series, Nation on Film, looks through the film archives to cast a new light on the past.

In this epsiode, Cherry Kearton's pioneering wildlife films are assessed by presenter and wildlife photographer Chris (Springwatch) Packham.

Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?

February 2007

Embracing its (deliberately) over-the-top title, this programme took the late John Harvey-Jones 'troubleshooter' model and applied it to the third largest employer in the world, to see if Gerry's approach to management could make a difference.

Dr. Faustus (take 2)

February 2007

Marlowe's Elizabethan horror/comic story – scenes from which were previously recorded on video back in 1990 – got the full length Radio 4 play treatment.

Compare this audio version of "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" to the 1990 video version performed by the Mediaeval Players.

Inside the Medieval Mind

February 2007

What did people believe before the Renaissance swept everyone off their feet into a 'brave new world'?

Professor Robert Bartlett investigates the nature of belief for the medieval mind, including the legendary dog people, in this BBC Four series .

Paris

February 2007

Accordion music – tick, pavement cafes – tick, seductive French accent – tick. But this tour of the French capital city isn't a typical tourist view of Paris; our local guide, art historian Sandrine Voillet, gives us the insider's view of the city of lights.

Radio 4 Today programme

February 2007

The Radio 4 Today programme invited a trio of geographer-listeners to guest edit the New Year's Day 2007 edition.

These guest editors brought in OU Professor Doreen Massey to conribute a short piece on the real calculation of greenhouse gas emissions for the UK.

The Material World

February 2007

Part of the ongoing OU/BBC collaborations on radio, this flagship Radio 4 science series looks at topical issues and research in the worlds of science, geology, climate and so on.

As part of the series, the team follow the experiences of OU students at OU residential schools, who were actually 'doing' science out in the field – many for the first time!.

Under the Skin

February 2007

Another of David Attenborough and the team's 10-minute The Making of... series, made to follow the main feature, Life In Cold Blood.

This clip features some astonishing footage of chameleons in Madagascar.

Gerry Robinson: One Year On

February 2008

One year on, Gerry Robinson returned to Rotherham Hospital to see how successful the reforms he helped institute were going.

In a Newsnight follow-up, Jeremy Paxman quizzes Gerry on what he thinks is wrong with the NHS.

James May's Big Ideas

February 2008

James May, from Top Gear, travelled the world seeking out new life, and boldly going in search of the big ideas of his childhood.

In this award winning 'Man Machine' episode, he asks where all the robots are that he dreamt of as a kid, and sees just how far scientists and engineers have progressed the robot dream.

The Story of Maths

February 2008

Marcus de Sautoy – the recently appointed Professor for the Public Understanding of Science – explains the origins of the language of mathematics, and demonstrates how the Egyptians devised a basic binary system of calculus, predating the system that underlies the functioning of all our computers and calculators today.

The Bottom Line

February 2009

Evan Davis's popular Radio 4 business programme broke new ground by moving into a format that worked for both radio and TV.

Perceptive discussion of economic and business issues by three studio guests, is recorded in a radio studio, on camera, for transmission on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service, BBC News and BBC World News.

The Tree of Life

February 2009

Several of David Attenborough's previous series – including Life In The Undergrowth – featured fully OU funded 10-minute additional sequences on The Making of..., but, in this year of the Darwin bicentenary, it seemed only proper that we should offer an extract from his most recent work: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life.

This generated so much interest from viewers wishing to know more about Darwin that it caused a 'meltdown' of the OU servers and phoneline.

Appropriately, this clip also briefly evokes the length and passion of David's love affair with science and the natural world.

 

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