If you need proof that today’s TV schedules are getting more and more dumbed down then look no further than a complete absence of a replacement for Tomorrow’s World. Â I can’t think of any other shows which can present and explain scientific breakthroughs clearly yet still remain entertaining.
I don’t have anything against shows like Brainiac and The Gadget Show, which are probably the closest you’ll get to popular science shows today, but blowing up caravans or raving about the latest MP3 player aren’t exactly the stuff of the future.
Tomorrow’s World was aptly named, as it quite often demonstrated technology that seemed futuristic then, but is now available today. Â Things like mobile phones, satellite navigation and even the fax machine were all demonstrated on Tomorrow’s World years before they became common place.
The show began airing on BBC1 in 1965, and ran for an impressive 38 years before falling foul to the dreaded ratings curse in 2003, which saw it come to an end. Â The first presenter was Raymond Baxter, an ex Spitfire pilot who used a pen to point at interesting parts of whatever gizmo he was talking about.
In the years that followed the show had a number of different well known presenters, including Michael Rodd, Anna Ford, William Woollard (who presented Top Gear in the eighties when it was more about everyday driving matters than about mucking about in cars), Judith Hann (who presented for over 20 years!), Maggie Philbin and Howard Stableford (both those last two were also stalwart BBC kids show presenters).
The best thing about the show were the demonstrations of the new technology, which considering how flakey a lot of prototype technology can be were quite often very successful. Â I don’t recall any particularly disastrous presentations, which given that a lot of the show was broadcast live is quite surprising.
My favourite items were those involving lasers, as they always got this table sized laser unit out, then dimmed the lights and sprayed over the beam so it became visible. Â Indeed, according to Maggie Philbin, she remembers demonstrating a supermarket barcode scanner (which was one of the less reliable gadgets featured) from behind a screen due to the fact that the scanner uses a low powered laser, but the word laser caused the BBC to panic in case someone got blinded!
By the close of the eighties the show was beginning to get a little tired, so it was given a fresh makeover in the nineties with the hiring of Carol Vorderman, who at the time seemed to host everything on TV. Â Contract problems meant she only lasted a few months though and was replaced by Peter Snow and Phillipa Forrester, fresh from Robot Wars! Â Snow and Forrester were a good mix, appealing to young and old alike, but eventually they too were replaced by the forgettable trio of Adam Hart-Davies, Kate Humble and Roger Black (names I had to look up because I had stopped watching the show by then!) and the series came to an end.
The Tomorrow’s World name has continued to be used by the BBC however, with the most recent example being reports by Maggie Philbin on BBC Breakfast news in 2007. Â Apparently there are movements to try and bring the series back properly, which given how fast technology seems to be progressing these days would be interesting to see.
In the meantime, you can check out some old editions of Tomorrow’s World online, as the BBC Archive have just released several vintage episodes from the series for you to reminisice over. Â You can also see the title sequence from the eighties embedded below, which includes some very funky synth music! Â You can also read some of Maggie Philbin’s memories of presenting Tomorrow’s World on the BBC News site.