Losing leading presenters would to be an experiment too far
In a recent radio discussion Brian Cox, the physicist for whom cosmology is the new rock `n roll, declared that anyone who couldn't converse about science at a dinner party, was not an educated person. That probably accounts for most of us, and it must have been a comment that resonated with Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams who is determined that her tenure of the station should go some way to redressing the imbalance of coverage between the arts and sciences in broadcasting.
Fifteen months in to one of the BBC's plum jobs, Williams has launched The Life Scientific (Tuesday, 9am), a weekly series in which Jim Al-Khalili (pictured) talks to some of the world's leading scientists about their early motivations, and the significance of their work in the greater scheme of things. AlKhalili, professor of physics at Surrey University, is a new voice to radio but one which Williams describes as “tremendously engaging”.
Advances in physics and astronomy increase by the week. Not so our understanding, and so Williams wants these programmes to break down popular resistance to science and illustrate how science and the arts can interface to the benefit of both. Now, approaching the third edition, Al-Khalili is already established as a persuasive communicator who can draw out from his guests the lively ideas and compulsion to unravel puzzles which make science one long, creative adventure.
But to accommodate The Life Scientific – and the new, follow-on Tuesday interview, One to One – three series have been axed: Fergal Keane's Taking a Stand, Michael Buerk's The Choice, and the John Humphrys programme, On the Ropes. Each of these titles focused on individuals in adversity, and inevitably each sounded like an echo of the others. “They were terrific stories” says the controller, “but they became formulaic.” So, goodbye to Keane, Buerk and Humphrys? Williams insists they will play an important part in her further overhauling of schedules. Budget cuts are one thing; ditching peerless broadcasters would be a calamity of a different order.