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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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BBC Archive releases Tomorrow's World collection

The BBC Archive is today releasing a new collection which looks back at pioneering technology programme Tomorrow's World, ahead of BBC Four's new technology season, Electric Revolution.

Part of the BBC's plans to open up its extensive archives, this collection gives people a chance to see how audiences of the past were told the future may look, and lets them rediscover programmes, many of which haven't been seen for years.

First broadcast in 1965, just two years after Harold Wilson's famous "white heat" of technological change speech, Tomorrow's World's mix of quirky film reports and live demonstrations examined new inventions over nearly four decades of unprecedented scientific and technological progress.

In its earlier years, Tomorrow's World was more likely to report on advances in industry or farming. By the Eighties, computing was a major interest for audiences, and the programme examined many new consumer technologies.

The Archive collection comes ahead of the start of BBC Four's Electric Revolution, a season of programmes giving viewers a unique insight into how developments in technology have shaped our lives over the past 50 years and charting the rise of today's globally-linked, instantly-gratified digital culture.

Highlights from the collection include a 1979 report on one of the first mobile phones, a 1969 demonstration of the Moog synthesiser, and another 1969 report about schoolboys who are lucky to have an early computer, but have to check its oil levels and thermostat whenever it breaks down.

With a selection of items and full programmes from the archives, the Tomorrow's World collection also remembers some of those presenters who became household names, including Raymond Baxter, James Burke, Judith Hann and Maggie Philbin.

Richard Klein, Controller of BBC Four, said: "I have fond memories of watching Tomorrow's World as a boy and wondering how technology would develop in my lifetime. Looking back at the new archive collection, I am astounded – and amused – by how much we have outstripped some of the predictions.

"BBC Four's Electric Revolution season celebrates our burgeoning relationship with technology over the last 50 years and looks ahead to an exciting future of innovation and development."

Maggie Philbin, a presenter on Tomorrow's World from 1985 to 1994, said: "Tomorrow's World was, without doubt, the best programme I have ever worked on. It's a real delight to see some of these shows again."

But Maggie also confesses: "I still can't hear the opening title music without my stomach turning over. Cutting-edge technology came with a price: the inventions were often fragile and temperamental. They would work perfectly all morning, but they'd begin to play up during the rehearsals. It could be nerve-wracking for us presenters, we didn't know whether these machines would actually work when the cameras went live."

The perils of live broadcasting are demonstrated in a 1981 edition which starts with a live report about a new prototype machine – "Hissing Sid", a robot that can play snooker. But the robot's stage fright leaves it unable to handle its cue.

This Archive collection also provides a fascinating insight into our fear of how technology might change our lives for the worse with reports on the "office of the future" suggesting that smiling secretaries would be replaced by soulless robots.

Innovations that never made it big showcased in Tomorrow's World reports in this Archive collection include the plastic garden – no more pruning, just dust your plants and vacuum clean your lawn – and a computer which took instructions from people speaking to it in Morse code.

Also available to view again is the 1994 edition of Tomorrow's World which featured Trevor Baylis and his now-famous wind-up radio. Trevor shows presenter Carmen Pryce the pile of letters of rejection he had received from industry bodies and manufacturers. It was only after he appeared on Tomorrow's World that he secured funding and the radios were produced.

Notes to Editors

The BBC Archive website is an opportunity to explore over 80 years of UK and BBC history, with programmes, documents and images bring the past to life and revealing forgotten stories.

Electric Revolution season

In the three-part series Electric Dreams, the world of one ordinary British family is turned upside down as their home is "renovated" to the standard of a typical house in 1970 – the dawn of the digital age – and then fast-forwarded at the rate of a day-per-year through the technological revolution of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties.

The programmes will reveal the huge transformation that technological change has wrought on British family life over the past 40 years. It remains to be seen how the children will cope when they swap social networking sites and modern games consoles for black-and-white telly and vinyl records.

Other programmes in the Electric Revolution season include: Micro Men, a single drama that provides an affectionately comic account of the race for home computer supremacy in the Eighties; Gameswipe with Charlie Brooker, a caustic, informative but ultimately affectionate analysis of the inner workings of the computer games industry; The Life And Death Of A Mobile Phone, a quirky look at what mobile phones must think of their owners' embarrassing calls and ill-advised texts; Upgrade Me, Simon Armitage's quest to uncover the mystery behind our obsession with technological upgrades; and The Podfather, the epic story behind the silicon chip's inventor who, according to some, remains the most important person most people have never heard of.

The BBC is committed to providing high quality science content across all platforms and for all audiences. At its heart, our content is authoritative, questioning, challenging and thought provoking – encouraging audiences to change the way they view the world. BBC One's new peak-time series, Bang Goes The Theory, is the latest in a long line of quality science and technology programmes on the BBC.

The Tomorrow's World clips and programmes are available to UK-based internet users.

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