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24 September 2014
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BBC TWO's Horizon


40 facts for Horizon's 40th birthday


Programmes which made the headlines...

 

1. The first ever Horizon was broadcast on 2 May 1964 and was called The World of Buckminster Fuller. It explored the theories and structures of entrepreneur, Buckminster
Fuller, who made a million out of patenting domes. The upcoming autumn run of Horizon marks the series' 40th season.

 

2. As a result of Horizon’s 1972 film, Whales, Dolphins and Men, pet food companies stopped using whale meat in pet food and within a year the Government banned all imports of whale meat (20% of whale meat was going into pet food).

 

3. In 1970 The City That Waits To Die, about the siting of public buildings on the San Andreas Fault in California, led to a change of building regulations within six months.

 

4. The 1975 film A Time To Be Born led to an official investigation into the widespread use of induced births because of fears that they were being used unnecessarily. Within a year of the programme's transmission the number of induced births had fallen by one half.

 

5. In 1988 Horizon produced a drama called Life Story about Watson and Crick's discovery of DNA. It starred Jeff Goldblum, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Piggot-Smith and Alan Howard and
won a BAFTA for best drama.

 

6. In 1993, within a month of transmission, Assault on the Male (which won an Emmy) was given a special viewing at the White House, such was the concern it raised about declining male fertility and the amount of oestrogen present in pollutants.

 

7. In 2001 Horizon broadcast a film about a plane that disappeared in the Andes more than 50 years before. The plane's final mysterious Morse Code message "Stendec" has never been deciphered - but, after the film was broadcast, more than 1,000 people sent emails, letters or phoned to offer their solutions. Theories range from "Stardust tank empty no diesel expected crash" to "Santiago tower aircraft now descending entering cloud". A lot of people pointed out that Stendec is an anagram of descent.

 

8. The famous 1996 Horizon Fermat's Last Theorem won numerous awards and is still frequently used in film courses as an example of classic documentary story telling. The
film demonstrates how to turn a mathematical proof, understood only by a handful of people on the planet, into gripping, emotionally engaging and intellectually satisfying
television.

 

9. In 1983 Horizon broadcast the first TV documentary ever about AIDS, Killer in the Village, and in 2003 Horizon broadcast the only documentary on terrestrial television to mark World Aids Day with a film called The Hunt For The Aids Vaccine.


10. In 1978 Horizon broadcast a famous programme, Now The Chips Are Down, about the invention of the silicon chip. It predicted the death of the Swiss watch industry, permanent mass unemployment and showcased a new invention called a "word processor" that would see the end of the typing pool. It was a surprisingly negative view and was followed by a debate with a Government minister about what could be done to prevent a terrible future of mass unemployment. Cabinet members watched the programme to find out what the microprocessor was all about.

 

Horizon people...

 

11. 1998's Life Story was written by Bill Nicholson who went on to write Hollywood movies including, with two others, the screenplay for Gladiator.

 

12. The director of Life Story, Mick Jackson, also went to Hollywood where he directed The Bodyguard.

 

13. Simon Singh, who directed Fermat’s Last Theorem, went on to write a best selling book about it and now presents Mind Games, a quiz show on BBC FOUR.

 

14. Jana Bennett, now BBC Director of Television, became Horizon Editor in 1990 and went on to become Head of Science four years later.

 

15. Horizon producer Tim Haines went on to create Walking With..., another popular BBC strand.

 

16. Horizon currently has a team of seven researchers. All have science degrees except one who has a degree in English.

 

17. Of the present production team only one has dyed hair - producer Nick Green.

 

People who watch Horizon...

 

18. In the Sixties, when BBC TWO's transmission coverage was still limited, Horizon was watched by tiny audiences, eg in the 1965/66 run audience figures were between 50,000 and 150,000.

 

19. In the Seventies, when there were just three UK television channels, Horizon's audience figures fluctuated between 400,000 and five million. The average audience figure for the programmes was under two million.

20. In the Eighties, when there were four channels, Horizon's average ratings rose to over two million.

 

21. And now, in a multi-channel world with hundreds of channels, the audience figures average between 2.5 and three million.

 

22. The Horizon programme which attracted the highest viewing figure was Inside The Shark which transmitted on 1 March 1976 and had an audience of 5.5 million.

 

23. The second highest viewing figure was for Iceman which attracted an audience of 5.4 million on 27 April 1992.

 

24. And the third highest viewing figure was for The Pyramid Builders with 5.1 million viewers on 22 February 1993.

 

25. More recently Mega Tsunamis attracted 5.1 million on 12 October 2000.

 

26. Horizon continues to be a big ratings draw for BBC TWO. The most popular programme in terms of viewing figures for the last series was The Big Chill with 4.2 million viewers.

 

27. Horizon consistently beats the 9.00pm BBC TWO slot average of two million.


Horizon awards...

 

28. The 1991 Horizon: Inside Chernobyl's Sarcophagus about the effects of the Chernoybl disaster won an Emmy...

 

29. ...as did 1993's Assault on the Male and The Fall of the World Trade Centre in 2003. Another Emmy nomination has just been received for 2003's Dirty Bomb.

 

30. In 2000 Horizon won the RTS Award for Best Documentary Strand. Programmes in the run included What Sank the Kursk, The Mystery of the Persian Mummy and Ecstasy and Agony.

 

31. In 2001 Horizon won the Bafta for Best Factual Series or Strand. Programmes in the season included The Lost World of Lake Vostok, The Secret Treasures of Zeugma and Mega-tsuanmi. Other Baftas include one for best documentary for 1996's Fermat's Last Theorem (which also won a Prix Italia) and one for Best Drama for 1988's Life Story.

 

32. Horizon continues to win dozens of international awards, more than 10 since 2002.

 

And another thing or two...

 

33. Horizon's original mission statement, broadcast on its first ever programme, reads: "The aim of Horizon is to provide a platform from which some of the world's greatest scientists and philosophers can communicate their curiosity, observations and reflections and infuse into our common knowledge their changing views of the universe. We shall
do this by presenting science not as a series of isolated discoveries but as a continuing growth of thought, a philosophy which is an essential part of twentieth century culture."

 

Today the central mission, to be relevant and communicate exciting science, remains.


34. For a period in the Sixties Horizon was a magazine show with three or four items per programme. Today there are 18 programmes in each season of Horizon.

 

35. In 1974 Horizon was instrumental in inspiring WGBH Television in Boston to create the USA's most respected public television series, Nova. The two programmes have
maintained a close relationship ever since.

 

36. In 2003 Horizon was officially declared to be trendy. Internationally renowned trip hop band Massive Attack used a graphic sequence (of DNA multiplying) from the Death
of Hanratty programme in a pop music video.

 

37. Horizon has a long tradition of challenging "alternative" science theories. In 1978 it broadcast a two part special taking on Erich Von Daniken's famous theory, expounded in his book Chariot of the Gods, that ancient civilisations had been started by aliens.

 

38. In 1999 the series explored Graham Hancock's controversial theories on the origins of civilisation.

 

39. A typical Horizon takes five to six months to make. It takes eight weeks to research; four weeks filming; one week to prepare for editing; eight weeks offline editing; and one week of paperwork.

 

And finally...

 

40. There have been more than 1,000 editions of Horizon.

 



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