To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 2009 and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, Melvyn Bragg presents a series about Darwin’s life and work. Melvyn tells the story of Darwin’s early life in Shropshire and discusses the significance of the three years he spent at Cambridge, where his interests shifted from religion to natural science. Featuring contributions from Darwin biographer Jim Moore, geneticist at University College London Steve Jones, fellow of Christ’s College Cambridge David Norman and assistant librarian at Christ’s College Cambridge Colin Higgins.
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid 18th Century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes in tariffs made everyday beer less affordable. Within a short time, production increased and large sections of the population that had rarely or never drunk spirits before were consuming two pints of gin a week. As Hogarth indicated in his print ‘Beer Street and Gin Lane’ (1751) in support of the Gin Act, the damage was severe, and addiction to gin was blamed for much of the crime in cities such as London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the eminent 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday. Born into a poor working-class family, he received little formal schooling but became interested in science while working as a bookbinder’s apprentice. He is celebrated today for carrying out pioneering research into the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Faraday showed that if a wire was turned in the presence of a magnet or a magnet was turned in relation to a wire, an electric current was generated. This ground-breaking discovery led to the development of the electric generator and ultimately to modern power stations. During his life he became the most famous scientist in Britain and he played a key role in founding the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures which continue today.
Entrepreneur Dame Stephanie Shirley joins Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs.
As a child, she escaped Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport - travelling across Europe for two days in a train with a thousand children and just two adults. She went on to set up a computer programming company which made her a millionaire many times over. But she has given away most of her fortune and now is an ambassador for philanthropy. Her determination throughout it all, she says, has been to prove that hers was a life worth saving.
Surprisingly, Uncle Sam played an essential role in the creation and development of the iPhone - of course, much has been written about the late Steve Jobs and other leading figures at Apple and their role in making the modern icon, and its subsequent impact on our lives. And rightfully so. But who are other key players without whom the iPhone might have been little more than an expensive toy? Tim Harford tells the story of how the iPhone became a truly revolutionary technology.
The boom in global trade was caused by a simple steel box. Shipping goods around the world was – for many centuries – expensive, risky and time-consuming. But 60 years ago the trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean changed all that by selling the idea of container shipping to the US military. Against huge odds he managed to turn ‘containerisation’ from a seemingly impractical idea into a massive industry – one that slashed the cost of transporting goods internationally and provoked a boom in global trade.
Saving lives with thin air - by taking nitrogen from the air to make fertiliser, the Haber-Bosch Process has been called the greatest invention of the 20th Century – and without it almost half the world’s population would not be alive today. A 100 years ago two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, figured out a way to use nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, which makes fertiliser. It was like alchemy; ‘Brot aus Luft’, as Germans put it, ‘Bread from air’.
Haber and Bosch both received a Nobel prize for their invention. But Haber’s place in history is controversial – he is also considered the ‘father of chemical warfare’ for his years of work developing and weaponising chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War One.
Kirsty Young’s castaway this week is Bruce Springsteen.
His career has brought him 20 Grammys, two Golden Globes, an Academy Award and his albums sell in their millions around the world. He grew up in New Jersey where the Catholic church played a central role in his early life. The family teetered on the brink of poverty, and his first guitar was rented, rather than bought. He spent his apprentice years as a musician and singer with local bands before landing a record deal in 1972. When ‘Born to Run’ was released in 1975 it turned him into a household name. His first Top Ten single was ‘Hungry Heart’, ahead of his most successful album ‘Born in the USA’ which was released in 1984.
In spite of having long transcended the environment he grew up in, Springsteen has remained a chronicler of blue-collar lives. His records are frequently a political commentary on the struggles of ordinary Americans. In the Nineties he settled into family life with his wife Patti Scialfa who sings with his E Street Band.
BBC programme on the history and music of the concertina, focusing on its inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone as a somewhat belated recognition of his bicentenary in 2002.
In addition to the presenter, Peter Day, the program features (in order of appearance) Bob Gaskins, Brian Bowers, Margaret Birley, Stephen Chambers, Frank James, Douglas Rogers, Sean Minnie, and Steve Dickinson.
The program was produced by Neil Koenig.
BBC World Service programme broadcast 07 September 2004.
Stephen Evans goes deep into the Milky Way to look at the phenomenon of StarCraft.
Stephen Evans goes deep into the Milky Way to look at the phenomenon of StarCraft and reveals how, in South Korea, it is more than just a computer game and is a key part of the rapidly growing multi-billion dollar world of esports. Worth over $620 million globally, with a worldwide audience of over 135 million people, esports are now big business, and in South Korea much of this thanks to the impact of certain computer game called StarCraft. StarCraft is essentially a sci-fi, military-based real-time strategy (RTS) game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. It was released in 1998 and in the years since has become one of the world’s most popular computer game titles shifting over 11 million copies and spawning a mainstream cultural sensation in South Korea where thousands of fans pack into stadiums across the country to watch the best StarCraft players in the world battle it out for big money stakes. From the importance of PC Bangs - the ubiquitous street corner hubs for gaming fans - to the multi-million dollar world of professional StarCraft and esports Soul-based journalist and broadcaster Stephen Evans joins the dots of how this game took root in a South Korean society that embraced super fast broadband and was thirsty for a multi-scenario, multi-player and multi-layered challenge. Socially inclusive, cheap and available to everyone, since the late 1990s online gaming has taken this nation of 50 million people by storm, and StarCraft is central to this way of life. This way of life has brought dizzying successes and change, but with it the issue of addiction and related health problems the South Korean government have been forced to regulate this brave new world to tackle issues that are becoming increasingly relevant to policy makers outside of the Korean peninsular.
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