The BBC’s Great Egg Race was a precursor to todays Scrapheap Challenge, but on a slightly smaller scale. Three teams of university boffins would be challenged to solve a particular problem in as ingenious a way as possible. The kind of problems the team had to solve were usually of the “useless” variety. In early series the challenge was to get an egg from point A to point B without breaking, but in later series they deviated into a much wider variety such as creating a device capable of generating electricity by flapping your arms, or something equally stupid.
The show was presided over by Heinz Wolff, a wild haired, bow-tie wearing German professor. If you think of a sterotypical friendly German scientist, you’re close to what Heinz Wolff was like. Co-hosting was Lesley Judd, a former Blue Peter presenter and also co-presenter on the BBC’s computer show Micro Live. This worked out quite well, with Lesley asking teams the sort of questions we all wanted to know the answer to, and Heinz being the egghead who could then translate the teams answers into something we could understand.
The three teams would each have a work area in the studio, loaded with tools, wood, screws and other supplies with which to build their contraption. At the end of the show each device was put to the test, with some of the solutions looking more like one of Tom’s fiendish mouse traps in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The results were always unpredictable. One team might have the worst looking device, that you were convinced would fall apart before it worked, but then would face up to the challenge admirably. Likewise, the most beautiful looking designs were generally the ones that had some oversight which meant that the egg would start it’s journey, immediately fall off, and leave egg on both the floor and the faces of the team (metaphorically of course).
The show ran from 1978 to 1986 on BBC2, and whilst not necessarily a kids programme, it was certainly a great science primer for many a teenager, yet was still fun to watch. A few new epsiodes were made in 2000, under the new title The Great Egg Race Rides Again, which also got another of my favourite TV presenters, Johnny Ball, involved.