Archive for the Television Category

Whither The Sky at Night?

Posted in Television, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on September 24, 2013 by telescoper

According to rumours flying around on Twitter, the BBC has decided to axe the long-running astronomy programme The Sky at Night.  There’s been a predictable outcry from fans of the show and a petition has been organized.  What I’ve heard is that the series will end in December, but that a new astronomy programme will be launched in April next year.

I’ve long felt it was inevitable that The Sky at Night would cease to be when Patrick Moore died. The programme was so much Patrick’s programme that it would be very difficult to find another presenter to fill the role in the unique way that he did. Moreover, although there’s no doubt that it is an important vehicle for UK astronomy, many feel that the format has become very tired and uninspiring. As for myself, I can’t really comment. I don’t watch television very much at all and in any case, The Sky at Night is on way past my bedtime.

Way back in 1996 I was involved with a show at the NEC in Birmingham called Tomorrow’s World Live. This involved all the regular presenters of Tomorrow’s World, but wasn’t broadcast, but performed in a small theatre with a live audience. My contribution was to talk a little bit about the Hubble Space Telescope and then answer questions from the audience.  We did four such shows a day for three days. It was tiring and a bit nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun.

Typically for the BBC the contributors such as myself were paid a negligible fee, but we did get our meals paid for. At dinner one evening I chatted to a well-known TV Producer who was involved with the live event. After a while the conversation turned to The Sky at Night. The person concerned explained that he thought the show was well past its prime and was actually holding back astronomy programming on TV: it was too old-fashioned and had a tiny audience yet while it existed it was impossible to make the case to the Beeb to commission other astro-related shows. On the other hand, while Patrick was still around, and undoubtedly a National Institution, the outcry would be so intense if they cancelled The Sky at Night that nobody had the nerve to do it. Impasse.

Of course now, 17 years later, Patrick Moore has passed away and there’s now a chance to change things. It is promising that that the BBC seems to be going to launch a new programme next year. But any new show will have to tread very carefully. The Sky at Night was followed by thousands of dedicated amateur astronomers who know a great deal about their subject and would not be interested in the simple-minded gee-whizzery that plagues so many so-called Science Programme (e.g. Horizon). These people are very important for UK astronomy, because without them UK astronomy would not have the unique role that it has in our scientific and cultural landscape. We professional astronomers would be funded anything like as well as we are either.  On the other hand, there is at least the possibility of coming up with a format that reaches a new audience as well as retaining the interest of those already enthused about astronomy.

But how to ensure that this happens? Answers on a postcard, or through the comments box!

Meanwhile here’s a little poll to gauge the strength of opinion:

A Sussex Alumna

Posted in Biographical, Television, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on August 9, 2013 by telescoper

I had a very nice meeting this morning with Sir Harry Kroto, who is back in the UK for the summer. We chatted about a number of exciting things going on at Sussex University and beyond, in the middle of which I remembered a film featuring my former  PhD Student from Nottingham days, Emma King. The film was part of a series about young scientists made by the Vega Science Trust (which Harry set up) and it was originally broadcast on BBC 2 as part of The Learning Zone.

Emma is a graduate of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Sussex University. As an undergraduate at the University of Sussex she made history when she became the first woman to win the top prize at the Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year award despite tests at school which showed that Emma was not only slightly dyslexic, but that also had very poor arithmetic skills and she says “a nearly non-existent visual memory.” None of that stopped her completing her PhD thesis (on magnetic fields in cosmology) in 2006.

p.s. After completing her PhD, Emma changed career and now runs this outdoor event venue.

Hawking at BAFTA

Posted in Film, Television, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 13, 2013 by telescoper

Having survived the chairing of our lengthy Progression and Award Board this morning here in Sussex, I thought I’d just spend a few minutes on the blog before going up to London for an event at the Royal Society this evening.

In fact I was in London for much of yesterday too, partly for a meeting relating to SEPNET but then later to attend a special Event for Fellows of the Institute of Physics at the plush premises of British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in Piccadilly:


The event was a special preview screening of the a feature length documentary called Hawking, about the life and career of celebrated British cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, followed by a question-and-answer session with the producer and director. There have been many films about Hawking already, but the distinctive thing about this one is that Hawking himself contributed to the script so, to some extent, it’s “in his own words”. It’s quite clear that it wasn’t meant so much as a science documentary as an unflinching look at Hawking’s struggle against Motor Neurone Disease, with his scientific work merely serving as background to the human interest story. It is, of course, a very moving narrative not only because of the hardship he has been forced to endure but also because of what he has achieved as a scientist in the face of difficulties that would have defeated persons of lesser determination.

I found the film interesting but a little frustrating because, while it raised many interesting issues (such as the conflict between celebrity and privacy), it moved on so quickly that none of them were really explored in any depth. I did strike me, however, as a very honest film – the discussion of the break-up of his first marriage was very candid, but it was nice to discover that in recent years Stephen and Jane have are at least on speaking terms again. Hawking’s sense of humour, which is often concealed by his disability, also came across very well. I could give an example of this from my own experience, but given the nature of the prank he played I think it’s better not to!

Anyway, I won’t say anything more because I don’t want to colour anyone’s judgement about the film, which doesn’t go on general release in the UK until later in the year. Go to see it yourself, and make your own mind up! In the meantime, here is the official trailer:

My Life as Bob Fleming

Posted in Biographical, Television with tags , on March 25, 2013 by telescoper

Listenind to Bob Fleming will give you a good idea of what I’ve been like for the last few days…

London to Brighton in 4 Minutes

Posted in Television with tags , , on March 7, 2013 by telescoper

Since I’m going to be away from base for a while I thought I’d post this classic film to cover the interruption to normal blogging service. Here’s a description from the Youtube entry.

London to Brighton in Four Minutes, made by the BBC Film Unit in 1952, was a favourite of many viewers during the 1950s. In those days one never knew when it would be screened, but it often popped up when there was an unscheduled gap between programmes. Apparently the journey on the Brighton Belle was filmed at 2 frames per second, thus at the normal projection speed of 24fps a speed of 60 mph becomes 720 mph. The cameraman was sitting in the cab with the train driver and hand cranking the film camera. Each reel of film was only 1000ft and so the camerman had to change the film during the journey. When editing the film these “gaps” were filled with a shot of the train driver.

This film footage is from the Archive Collection held by the Alexandra Palace Television Society.

Modern trains still follow the same route, but there are many new developments either side of the line, including Gatwick Airport…


Posted in Biographical, Music, Television with tags , , on January 30, 2013 by telescoper

Slightly Famous?

Posted in Biographical, Television with tags , on January 25, 2013 by telescoper



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