Jana Bennett, Director, BBC Vision

Date: 30.01.2009     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.15

BBC's Charles Darwin Season launch
Speech given at the Bluebird Café, London
Tuesday 20 January 2009

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I am delighted to welcome you to the launch of the BBC's Darwin Season. I'd like to introduce the season, then hand over to Ruth Padel, Charles Darwin's great great-granddaughter who will read us one of the poems from her latest book, which is, lucky for us, all about her illustrious ancestor's life. We'll then all see a sneak preview of the season highlights.

The Darwin season will commemorate the life, work and legacy of Charles Darwin – one of the greatest scientists of all time – across the BBC on radio, TV and online.

Darwin was such a clever and prescient scientist that he managed to arrange his two special anniversaries in the same year, which is perfect timing for broadcasters! February 12 is the 200th anniversary of his birth, and 24 November is the 150th of the publication of On The Origin Of Species.

Most of us are here today because we're passionate about Darwin and I know there have already been a plethora of Darwin events since last summer - so we'll try not to make this a replica of everything you've already seen and heard so far!

Hopefully, though, this event is the culmination of a peculiarly BBC evolutionary process whereby natural selection is the best way of delivering a great season. We encourage producers to get together in intimate settings to propagate ideas, the fittest of these then make their way through a highly selective commissioning process and finally ideas that have successfully reproduced and mutated into must see, must listen and must surf content are the ones that survive and are allowed to make it upstream to your TVs, radios and digital devices.

Darwin's revolutionary idea, which came about through his immensely detailed observations and experiments of the natural world around him, has robustly stood the test of time and remains of great significance today.

It continues to inspire scientific discovery as we continually develop new ways of looking at the world. They have been shown to be relevant to many areas of science from psychology to medicine and ecology to industrial chemistry. It is one of the most influential scientific ideas ever conceived.

However, although he is a household name, his theory isn't necessarily a household idea.

Research the BBC commissioned showed that although 70% of our audiences had heard of Darwin, only 12% could say what the theory of evolution by natural selection is.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the BBC to explore Darwin's revolutionary idea, as well as the shy and private Victorian man behind it. He is an iconic British figure whose theory deserves to be understood more widely.

I am personally passionate about Darwin. Recently I was privileged to be invited to Brazil where I walked in the very same rainforest where Darwin was struck by the significance and possibilities of evolution. It's here that Darwin said: "I made no conscious decision at this time to devote my life to science. As so often with me the process was a gradual one. But looking back, I believe it was there, in the Brazillian rain forest that my future path was set. At this stage of our journey I was content simply to observe rather than make deductions. But again and again, I stopped and gazed at the beauties before me in an endeavour to fix the impression on my mind."

This moment builds on the thrill I once experienced when the Natural History Museum allowed me to pull open a drawer containing beetles from the voyage of the Beagle!

This season is central to the BBC's role as a public service broadcaster and we want to increase public understanding not only of Darwin but also the importance of scientific thinking in our everyday lives.

The season will offer a broad range of programming to inspire and engage a wide audience – from the Darwin or Evolution novice...not many of those here tonight!...to those hungry to build their knowledge of him.

Our audiences will discover how Darwin arrived at his conclusions through development of theories which he tested repeatedly again against evidence.

I urge you to take the information pack home and to visit the excellent bbc.co.uk/darwin site to see what you can listen to and tune into. I won't give a great long list now about the season as it is so rich and varied and I don't want us all standing here all night! We'll have a chance to see some highlights shortly. However, there are some things I'm personally really excited about:

You may have already heard Melvyn Bragg's superb Radio 4 series re-assessing Darwin's life and work. Radio 4 is back later this month with Ruth Padel, Charles Darwin's great-great-grand-daughter, as she explores the ideas and emotions which shaped Darwin and a series on how five modern-day scientists view Darwins legacy.

Radio 3 has five essays from a wide range of different contemporary professions, from psychologists to economists, exploring the unexpected – and often still growing – impact of Darwinism on their subject.

To TV: and on BBC One in early February, David Attenborough makes a passionate case for evolution. And we're lucky enough to have him here with us tonight – what an honour!

Andrew Marr explores the impact of Darwin's ideas on society, political movements and religion in a major three-part series for BBC Two.

Entomologist and farmer Jimmy Doherty recreates some of Darwin's ground-breaking experiments at Down House, the Darwin family home in Kent on BBC Two. Many of these experiments can be done at home with the family – hopefully inspiring younger generations to love and value science and its method.

We'll also delve into some of the debates evolution still sparks today. For example the tension between religion and science – which Darwin himself struggled with throughout his life – in Darwin Vs God, a BBC Two documentary from BBC Religion, as well as within some of our other TV and radio programming.

There have been a number of valuable and creative partnerships involved in this season and I would particularly like to thank to thank the Open University, The Wellcome Trust and the Natural History Museum's Darwin 200 Team with whom we have worked so closely and so productively.

The BBC continues to focus on science throughout the whole of 2009 and 2010. This Spring Alice Roberts looks at the remarkable migration of early humans out of Africa in Human Journey on BBC Two.

Later this year do look out for a 10-part landmark blockbuster on BBC One, Life, from the NHU – narrated by David Attenborough. A natural history spectacular, Life will capture extraordinary and awe-inspiring animal survival behaviours.

And in 2010 we will be marking the anniversary of the founding of The Royal Society, with a landmark series, The History Of Science (BBC Two). Seven Wonders Of The Solar System is another exciting series for BBC Two earmarked for next year. This is in addition to the range of excellent science weekly output and specialist features regularly to be found across Radios 3 and 4. It really will be the year of science!

We hope the BBC's commitment to science in the heart of our schedules will inspire our audiences not only about Darwin and what his ideas mean for contemporary society, but about science in general.

Before we showcase the Season I'd like to introduce you to Ruth Padel.

[Ruth speaks]

Thank you Ruth, what a perfect poem for tonight's Darwin Season launch.

Let's all watch the showreel.

[Showreel]

Thank you all so very much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to come tonight.