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February 14th, 21st, 28th and March 7th at 8pm
>Why Did We Do That? banner

Described by 'The Times' as a series that "ought to be compulsory listening for politicians, scientists, doctors and sundry other professionals who think they know best", Why Did We Do That? uses a distinctive mix of archive and new interviews to uncover the roots of present day problems. All is driven by a narrative which takes unexpected turns, and revels in the black humour with which our greatest blunders are laced.

February 14th: The Bugs' Revenge
In the depths of wartime despair came a medical miracle - Penicillin, which promised to defeat disease as decisively as we were defeating fascism. The age of antibiotics dawned, and we embraced everything from lifesaving cures for hideous infection to penicillin lipstick for hygienic kissing. But a few decades later, as superbugs threaten our hospitals, resistance to antibiotics has ended all that optimism. This programme shows how we squandered a precious gift as ambitious doctors, demanding patients and a profit-hungry pharmaceutical industry all encouraged us to ignore the warnings that too much use of antibiotics would allow the bugs to fight back.

February 21st: Glued to our Seats
From medieval throne etiquette to Tony Blair's "government by sofa", postwar trends in toddler transportation to French motorised settees, this programme reveals why our modern love of sitting down has unexpected historical roots. Sitting as status symbol is explored as well as the powerful instincts that have shaped our sedentary life and driven walking out of fashion. We hear how imperialism sought to spread chair use globally; India and China resisted what they called "barbarian beds". A Californian professor explains how she's resisting the trend by lecturing lying down. It all goes to show that there's far more to the sedentary society our government worries about than endless car driving and computerised work.

February 28th: The Supercity and its Shadow
Move the British capital to Yorkshire? That was one of the options debated in the 1960s in order to try and reduce London's domination of the UK. Sharing population and economic power across the country is something politicians have often talked about. But this programme explains how government has in fact been much more successful at creating a super-region in the south of England with London at its centre. The pull of London as global city and capital of everything from government to media to fashion has intensified. Negative images of the north have deterred any fundamental shift of people and power in its direction. So was this inevitable or could things have been different?

March 7th: The Ideas Strangler
Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher loathed them; others celebrated them as bastions of British democracy. The committee has become one of the constants of British life everywhere from village hall to Westminster. So why have we loved this way of doing - or failing to do - our business? We trace the Victorian roots of our obsession, and hear from the fearsome guardians of correct committee procedure, who saw it all as a vital part of our Cold War defences against menacing Soviet "central committee" imitations. And we hear from the victims of what have been called "the ideas stranglers", committees which undermined Whitehall mandarins, ruined works of art, or left Oxbridge dons spending terrifying amounts of time formally discussing what to put in their window boxes.

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Chris Bowlby

Chris Bowlby first began studying how policies go wrong when working on the research staff of the House of Commons. He has been a producer and presenter in the BBC World Service, and was BBC Prague correspondent. In recent years he has been a regular presenter on Radio 4, specialising in history.

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In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg

Thursday, 9.00 - 9.45am, rpt 9.30pm
Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas.
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