Classic shows that have almost been forgotten, as well as shows that should probably have been forgotten
Earlier this year, I was bemoaning the fact that not only is there very little mainstream science programming, the stuff that is around is dumbed down almost to the extent that it’s completely worthless. Okay, so BBC4 is trying to fill in the gaps with things like The Story of Maths, but everywhere else, there’s nothing but rubbish.
Which is a shame, because the BBC used to produce some truly excellent science programmes, usually as part of its Horizon strand. Possibly the biggest jewel in its crown was Life Story, which was billed as a “Horizon special”. This was a feature-length dramatisation of the race by Francis Crick and James Watson against Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins in the 1950s to discover the secrets of the structure of DNA. It depicts how the quick-moving Crick and Watson were able to beat the more methodical Franklin and Wilkins to the discovery using Franklin and Wilkins’ own work – while still finding time to flesh out the characters of the scientists involved and give an unpleasantly accurate picture of the misogyny of 1950s Britain.
This was how to do science dramatisation. Step aside rubbish like Egypt, Life Story had Tim Pigott-Smith and Jeff Goldblum as Crick and Watson, and Juliet Stevenson and Alan Howard as Franklin and Wilkins. It had a script by William Nicholson (Shadowlands), based on Watson’s book The Double Helix, and direction by Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard). It ended up winning three awards, including a BAFTA for best single drama.
However, it was such a good dramatisation and the science was so accurate that it quickly became popular at universities and schools as a teaching aid. As a result, although it was made available as a VHS video, it was priced at the $160 institutional mark. It hasn’t been made available on DVD, it’s only been repeated a couple of times. It’s a Lost Gem.
Here’s the opening few minutes which sets the scene for the rest of the film.