Press Office

Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

Press Releases

BBC Four examines the War Beneath The Skin

Breaking The Mould: Dominic West as Howard Florey (image: Giles Keyte)

This summer, BBC Four presents a season of programmes looking at the complex biological war that rages beneath our skin.

The season of biology programmes – a mix of dramas, documentaries and archive footage – provides a fascinating look at the biological discoveries that have shaped the modern world.

Biology is one of the most influential sciences in the world. Through the years, our understanding of biological matter and life has shaped our attitudes towards religion and the enduring question of where we come from.

Medical discoveries and global pandemics have changed millions of human lives, for the better and the worse.

The biology season delves into this captivating subject with a documentary series examining the building block of all life in the universe, Cell.

In two moving dramas, the season explores the little-known stories of two medical heroes.

Spanish Flu – The Forgotten Fallen, starring Bill Paterson (Criminal Justice), Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who) and Kenneth Cranham (Rome), pays tribute to the public health pioneer Dr James Niven and his efforts to protect the people of Manchester from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, while Breaking The Mould, starring Dominic West (The Wire) follows the work of Professor Howard Florey and his team, who persevered against all odds to make penicillin an applicable medicine.

From the archives, BBC Four draws on Casualty 1906, Casualty 1907 and Casualty 1909, which explore the historical stories of life on the wards early in the 20th century.

Finally, a Horizon special charts 40 years of documentary footage on the science of viruses and pandemics.

Richard Klein, Controller, BBC Four, says: "BBC Four has dedicated a season of programmes to a complex subject that has yielded life-changing discoveries and changed the way we look at ourselves.

"By exploring the importance of the cell – the basis of all life – and the social impact of two of the most important biological events in history, the season will offer us a richer understanding of the impact that biology can have on our lives."

War Beneath The Skin will be shown on BBC Four from July 2009.

Programme highlights

Spanish Flu – The Forgotten Fallen

Bill Paterson (Little Dorrit and Criminal Justice), Mark Gatiss (League Of Gentlemen and Doctor Who), Charlotte Riley (The Take and ITV's forthcoming Wuthering Heights) and Kenneth Cranham (Rome and The Lavender List) star in Spanish Flu – The Forgotten Fallen, a new drama illuminating one doctor's pioneering efforts to protect the people of Manchester from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic.

Set against the background of the Armistice in November 1918, as millions of exhausted soldiers return home from the Great War, the film tells the little known story of Dr James Niven (Bill Paterson), Manchester's Medical Officer of Health for 30 years, and his heroic efforts to combat a second wave of fatal influenza as it spreads across the city of Manchester and the UK.

Dr Niven has built his career protecting the welfare of Manchester's most vulnerable people, from the factory workers to the slum dwellers. But, just as Manchester's fighting heroes are returning home and crowds of men, women and children gather to celebrate the end of the Great War, Niven realises that it will take all of his energy and expertise to limit the spread of this mysterious infection.

Facing resistance from both the city and his fellow medical officials, Dr Niven, statistician Ernest Dunks (Mark Gatiss) and their secretary Peggy Lytton (Charlotte Riley) struggle to understand the evolving virus; to communicate the urgent need for action to the establishment and the media; and to pull together scarce resources to alleviate its impact on the poorest in society.

And as they battle against complacency, inertia and red tape, the gravity of the unfolding crisis hits home when Peggy's family start to succumb to the virus.

Inspired by Dr Niven's own accounts and documented facts, the film pays a rare tribute to the estimated 70 million forgotten fallen who died from Spanish influenza across the world.

Dr Niven's heroism continues to resonate today with many of his conclusions, instructions and discoveries echoed by modern advice and procedures for pandemic flu.

Spanish Flu – The Forgotten Fallen is written by Peter Harness (Is Anybody There?, City Of Vice), directed by Justin Hardy, and produced by Susan Horth, for award-winning history specialists Hardy Pictures (The Relief Of Belsen, City Of Vice).

The drama was commissioned by Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, the commissioning executive for the BBC is Patrick Spence and the BBC executive producer is Jenny Frayn.

Breaking The Mould

Dominic West (The Wire, The Devil's Whore) will star as straight-talking Australian scientist Professor Howard Florey in Breaking the Mould.

Whilst it is widely recognised that Alexander Fleming was the man who discovered penicillin, the truth is a bit more complicated than that and the extraordinary story of Professor Florey is hardly known.

Set against the background of the early years of the Second World War, this factually-based drama shows how it was Professor Florey and his team who persevered against incredible odds to make penicillin an applicable medicine, whilst refusing to patent it for commercial gain.

A revealing, poignant and witty character-driven account of a miraculous scientific breakthrough, Breaking The Mould tells the little known story of Professor Florey and the team of unsung heroes from the prestigious Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford University who were behind the discovery of penicillin, that changed the world of medicine forever.

Joe Armstrong (Robin Hood) will play Norman Heatley, the most junior member of Florey's team. John Sessions (Margaret, Oliver Twist) will play Alexander Fleming, who first discovered penicillin in 1928.

Breaking The Mould was commissioned by Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, and Richard Klein, Controller, BBC Four; written by Kate Brooke; directed by Peter Hoar and produced by Pier Wilkie. The Executive Producers are Michael Mosley and John Yorke and Jamie Laurenson is the Commissioning Editor.


Cell delves deep into the history of science to tell the story of how we unlocked the mystery of all life on Earth.

Science journalist Adam Rutherford takes BBC Four on a compelling journey through 350 years of scientific research to reveal the secrets of the cell, from its discovery to its role in shaping our future.

Cell explores how the discovery of the cell challenged centuries of religious and scientific dogma and then examines how scientists have come to manipulate and exploit the cell for the benefit of modern medicine and science.

Finally, Adam meets with US scientists keen to turn science fiction into science reality and create living cells from scratch. Adam takes viewers on a journey through the cell.

Cell is a BBC Scotland production and is Executive Produced by Marcus Herbert.


Information for viewers

More content about Breaking The Mould, Spanish Flu – The Forgotten Fallen and Cell will be posted, as transmission approaches, on these pages:

To top

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.