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Science
THE INDISPENSABLES
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Lynne Treuss takes a look at life's little neccessities
Saturdays 3 to 17 July 2004 3.30-4.00pm 

Presenter Lynne Truss returns for a third series of the Indispensables which examines the revolutionary impact of everyday inventions: The baby buggy; The Fax Machine; The Lift. She talks to designers, inventors, social historians, writers and mum's to be about life before and after these indispensable items arrived on the scene. Contributors include; James Dyson; Sophie Raworth; Martin Raymond; Michael Fish, Helena Kennedy and Anne Enright.

Image of the safety lift
safety first - the lift

Programme 1:
The lift


It has been part of our lives for longer than any of us can remember but the ramification of the safety lift's invention in 1852 by Elisha Otis, are still being felt today. Buildings are safer and getting higher, while life is increasingly faster due to continued advances in elevator technology. At least that's how the PR blurb goes. The everyday experience of using the lift is quite the opposite - they seem to take forever to arrive and then, like buses, 3 of them come all at the same time; everyone feels slightly uncomfortable in them, particularly late at night or if they stop between floors. This has provided endless material for fiction writers, directors of horror films and television comedy - the lift is an essential prop throughout popular culture. Lynne Truss takes a tongue in cheek look at the history of this invention - for starters, we'd be a whole lot fitter without them if we all took the stairs. She examines how they have come to control our lives, our fears and offers her own guide to lift etiquette.

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Image of the baby buggye
the baby buggy

Programme 2:
Baby Buggy

Most babies born in the 1950's would have first seen the outdoor world from a luxurious pram built like a coach. This was fine if you lived on the ground floor and didn't want to go far, but as houses were converted into flats and travel became easier, hefty prams were a problem. In 1965, Owen Maclaren, grandparent and retired test pilot, applied his engineering knowledge to this issue. He'd worked on the undercarriage of the Spitfire and was used to managing ultra-light materials with the right amount of inbuilt strength. At six pounds, his first buggy weighed in less than the average baby, could fold in half and be carried in one hand - babe in other - just like an umbrella. Lynne talks to design guru James Dyson about the benefits of this invention, who became a father himself in the 1960's. We could jump on the bus, stick it in an aeroplane hold - at this time the package holiday was beginning to take off - and easily climb stairs with babe and pram. It was a world wide success story and is now ubiquitous on our streets, parks and luggage racks.. Today, the buggy you buy is as much a fashion statement as the car you drive. Saying everything about the parent and not much about the baby, Lynne Truss asks whether the buggy craze has gone too far. As celebrities are caught on camera pushing their offspring around in the latest models, the pressure to buy the right buggy is so overwhelming that many parents end up with not one but three buggies, each for a different occasion. Lynne Truss goes buggy shopping with 6 o'clock news presenter Sophie Rayworth [currently on maternity leave] to try and find order amongst the buggy chaos. Ironically, they discover that the old Victorian perambulator is back in fashion.

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.
Image of the fax machine
the fax machine

Programme 3:
The Fax Machine

They saturated the mass market in the 1980's, but it is surprising to learn that the Fax Machine was invented over 150 years ago. We are indebted to Alexander Bain, a Scottish clockmaker who came up with the basis of the modern fax machine in 1842. He never sent a facsimile - we have Giovanni Caselli, an Italian Abbot to thank for that. But this was an invention ahead of its time, and conventional telegraph services killed off the fax machine. In1910 it became part of specialist use such as the post-office, but just like early computer technology, fax machines were incompatible and it was decades before they really took off. In the 1950's the meteorological office used them to transmit weather charts and as Michael Fish remembers, this saved each weather man in each office across the country from hand drawing their own charts. Yet, it wasn't until the late 1970's that technical advances, combined with a number of postal strikes, forced businesses to look for an immediate alternative way of sending information. By the 1980's no self-respecting place of work, freelance journalist or designer could operate without one. And if you couldn't afford one at home, nip down to the local library or pop into the office and your message or valentines message could be sent across the world at the touch of a button. It has been displaced by email but as design guru James Dyson argues, "it is not yet a DoDo as it is still the best way of conducting any business that involves design drawings". It still has legal status as Helena Kennedy QC explains and try sending an email to Kazhakstan where they don't have the internet, if it's a visa you want, only a fax will do.

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