Archive for the Television Category

Farewell, Mr Spock

Posted in Biographical, Television on February 27, 2015 by telescoper


I was very sad to hear this afternoon of the death, at the age of 83, of actor Leonard Nimoy. Although he did a great many other things in a long and varied career, Leonard Nimoy will of course be remembered most fondly for his role as Mr Spock, Science Officer of the USS Enterprise, in Star Trek.

I was both fascinated and inspired by Mr Spock when I was young, so Leonard Nimoy’s death is like the loss of an old friend. I’m sure I’m not the only scientist of my generation who is feeling that way today. Mr Spock represented the outsider in all of us.


Left Bank Two, for Tony Hart

Posted in Music, Television with tags , , , on February 16, 2015 by telescoper

Yesterday Twitter was awash with comments about the sad death of the pioneering children TV’s presenter Tony Hart. The trouble is that he died six years ago, thus demonstrating what I suspected for some time, i.e. that most users of social media have a very short attention span.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes.

When he actually died The newspapers and television were filled with suitably glowing tributes to Tony Hart, because he was not only a superb presenter but also a warm and generous person. That’s quite a rare combination in the world of television, so I’m told. Anyway, I’m not at all sorry to have the excuse to play tribute to him again as he is still greatly missed.

I knew of him primarily through Vision On, a programme which I watched avidly as a child, and only found out much later on that it was intended to be for deaf children. The show involved comedy sketches and cartoons, as well as Tony Hart’s contributions which involved creating works of art live in front of the camera. He hardly ever spoke and used only the simplest of materials to create very beautiful things with the idea that this would inspire his audience to get in touch with their artistic side without making it look too much like a lesson. He did it brilliantly.

My favourite bit of the programme was The Gallery, accompanied by a piece of music which is almost as redolent with nostalgia for me as the theme from Doctor Who. The track concerned is called Left Bank Two and was performed by the Noveltones, just a trio of vibraphone, guitar and drums played with brushes, I think it’s a masterpiece of relaxed simplicity. Nobody got his collar wet playing it, that’s for sure. It’s the sort of music you might have expected to hear in a smart cocktail bar in the early 60s but is now inextricably linked to The Gallery.

Parliamo Glasgow

Posted in Politics, Television with tags , , , on September 15, 2014 by telescoper

Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum on independence, it’s clear that we who live South of the Border need to try harder to understand the Scots much better than we have so far. Because Glasgow and its environs appear to be hotbeds of the pro-secession vote, I can think of no better way to begin this process than by learning more about Glaswegian and the way what she is spoke, in order to improve mutual respect and foster dialogue.

Here are some useful lessons based on everyday situations and characters, as portrayed by the inimitable Stanley Baxter…



A Sketch to Make the Blood Run Cold

Posted in Television with tags , on July 8, 2014 by telescoper

I’m assuming that the writers of Not The Nine O’Clock News didn’t know in 1980 what we now know about Rolf Harris. The joke was really just about the BBC trying desperately to get kinds to participate in a crappy programme. But still..

Yeh Yeh

Posted in Music, Television with tags , on April 22, 2014 by telescoper

By way of celebrating the end of my holiday I thought I’d post this bit of musical entertainment by the legendary Bob Downe singing a medley of the Georgie Fame hit, Yeh Yeh. If only all Australian men were as butch as Bob Downe…


Smiley talks to Toby

Posted in Television with tags , , , , on December 5, 2013 by telescoper

Just time for a brief post as it has been a very long and stressful day (it’s probably best if I don’t try to explain why). I’m going to pour myself into a bottle of wine when I get home. For some reason I thought of this clip, from the TV series Smiley’s People, which I thought I’d share because I happened to watch the entire series on DVD at the weekend. I think it’s beautifully done.

Just to set the scene, the series (based on the novel of the same name by John Le Carré) is set a few years after Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Intelligence officer George Smiley (Alec Guinnness) is in retirement, as is his former colleague Toby Esterhase (Bernard Hepton) who has adopted the identity of a dodgy art dealer. Smiley is called back into action when a former agent by the name of Vladimir is murdered on Hampstead Heath en route to an appointment with British Intelligence (aka “The Circus”). Smiley is told to find out what happened and hush it up, but a combination of detective work and intuition leads him to the realization that he may, at last, have stumbled upon a way of bringing down his opposite number in Soviet Intelligence, the enigmatic Karla. This scene, wherein Smiley and Esterhase meet up for the first time since they parted company with the Circus marks the point where Smiley decides to ignore his instructions to bury the case and embark on one last operation in the hope that he can at last locate Karla’s Achilles Heel. To find out more, you’ll have to watch the series, which unfolds slowly, but brilliantly…



Doctor Who at 50

Posted in Biographical, Music, Television, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2013 by telescoper

Today is the official 50th birthday celebration of Doctor Who and, since The Doctor and myself are of the same vintage, I thought I’d repeat an old post about the show. I just listened to the original theme music again before posting this and I still think it sounds amazingly fresh.


As a Professor of Astrophysics I am often asked “Why on Earth did you decide to make a career out of such a crazy subject?”

I guess many astronomers, physicists and other scientists have to answer this sort of question. For many of them there is probably a romantic reason, such as seeing the rings of Saturn or the majesty of the Milky Way on a dark night. Others will probably have been inspired by TV documentary series such as The Sky at Night, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos or even Horizon which, believe it or not, actually used to be quite good but which is nowadays uniformly dire. Or it could have been something a bit more mundane but no less stimulating such as a very good science teacher at school.

When I’m asked this question I’d love to be able to put my hand on my heart and give an answer of that sort but the truth is really quite a long way from those possibilities. The thing that probably did more than anything else to get me interested in science was a Science Fiction TV series or rather not exactly the series but the opening titles.

The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast in the year of my birth, so I don’t remember it at all, but I do remember the astonishing effect the credits had on my imagination when I saw later episodes as a small child. Here is the  opening title sequence as it appeared in the very first series featuring William Hartnell as the first Doctor.

To a younger audience it probably all seems quite tame, but I think there’s a haunting, unearthly beauty to the shapes conjured up by Bernard Lodge. Having virtually no budget for graphics, he experimented in a darkened studio with an old-fashioned TV camera and a piece of black card with Doctor Who written on it in white. He created the spooky kaleidoscopic patterns you see by simply pointing the camera so it could see into its own monitor, thus producing a sort of electronic hall of mirrors.

What is so fascinating to me is how a relatively simple underlying concept could produce a rich assortment of patterns, particularly how they seem to take on an almost organic aspect as they merge and transform. I’ve continued to be struck by the idea that complexity could be produced by relatively simple natural laws which is one of the essential features of astrophysics and cosmology. As a practical demonstration of the universality of physics this sequence takes some beating.

As well as these strange and wonderful images, the titles also featured a pioneering piece of electronic music. Officially the composer was Ron Grainer, but he wasn’t very interested in the commission and simply scribbled the theme down and left it to the BBC to turn it into something useable. In stepped the wonderful Delia Derbyshire, unsung heroine of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop who, with only the crudest electronic equipment available, turned it into a little masterpiece. Ethereal yet propulsive, the original theme from Doctor Who is definitely one of my absolute favourite pieces of music and I’m glad to see that Delia Derbyshire is now receiving the acclaim she deserves from serious music critics.

It’s ironic that until earlier this year I used to live  in Cardiff, where the newer episodes of Doctor Who and its spin-off, the anagrammatic Torchwood, are made. One of the great things about the early episodes of Doctor Who was that the technology simply didn’t exist to do very good special effects. The scripts were consequently very careful to let the viewers’ imagination do all the work. That’s what made it so good. I’m pleased that the more recent incarnations of this show also don’t go overboard on the visuals. Perhaps that’s a conscious attempt to appeal to people who saw the old ones as well as those too young to have done so. It’s just a pity the modern opening title music is so bad…

Anyway, I still love Doctor Who after all these years. It must sound daft to say that it inspired me to take up astrophysics, but it’s truer than any other explanation I can think of. Of course the career path is slightly different from a Timelord, but only slightly.

At any rate I think The Doctor is overdue for promotion. How about Professor Who?


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