HOW did they get away with it?

Mad­cap sci­ence ex­per­i­ments to give elf ’n’ safety the vapours. Very un-PC stars. As the cult TV hit re­turns...

Scottish Daily Mail - - Outcast Andrew - by Christophe­r Stevens

How do you fit two pints into a one-pint glass with­out spilling a drop? It can be done — and thanks to a clas­sic sci­ence show of the Six­ties and Seven­ties, mil­lions of school­child­ren knew How!

ITV bosses an­nounced this week that How is mak­ing a come­back next year, re­turn­ing to TV more than half a cen­tury af­ter its launch in 1966.

what they didn’t con­firm is whether the theme mu­sic would still be a thun­der of Na­tive American war drums, nor if the pre­sen­ters would be­gin ev­ery show by rais­ing the palms of their hands to the cam­era and solemnly chant­ing ‘How!’ like ‘Big Chief’ Sit­ting Bull.

At the time, no one saw any­thing amiss with this tra­di­tional ‘Red In­dian’ greet­ing — though no doubt today’s po­lit­i­cally cor­rect brigade would wail about it being ‘cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion’.

Back then, the four orig­i­nal pre­sen­ters — coun­try­man Jack Har­g­reaves, gad­get whizz Jon Miller, nerdish young Fred Di­ne­nage and cook­ery ex­pert Bunty James — posed hap­pily in feath­ered head-dresses, prac­tis­ing with a bow and ar­rows.

All this em­pha­sised that sci­ence was fun, a game for chil­dren with en­er­getic minds. View­ers were en­cour­aged to send in ques­tions, with a £5 prize for ev­ery one used. Many were rooted in ev­ery­day life: How do the po­lice fight crime? How does a foot­ball team spend its week?

others had a sci-fi flavour: How will man live in space, for in­stance, and how do rock­ets work? But the best-loved were the ones that sounded like rid­dles, such as that poser about the quart in a pint pot (Have you worked it out yet? The an­swer’s at the bot­tom if not.)

The show, which ran in its orig­i­nal for­mat un­til 1981, was made long be­fore the cur­rent ob­ses­sion with health-and-safety. In­deed, the 1968 Guide To In­de­pen­dent Tele­vi­sion praised the way it en­cour­aged chil­dren to try some­what risky ex­per­i­ments.

‘That very pop­u­lar pro­gramme How does some ex­per­i­ments with fire,’ it noted. ‘Chil­dren are fas­ci­nated with fire and want to find out about it. They will ex­per­i­ment come what may. It is far bet­ter to show chil­dren some of the things they may safely do, and warn them against things it is not safe to do, than leave them in dan­ger­ous ig­no­rance.’

Things that were safe to do, ac­cord­ing to the ex­am­ple of Jack Har­g­reaves, in­cluded light­ing and puff­ing on a briar pipe.

Dur­ing one demon­stra­tion, ab­sorbed in the ex­per­i­ment, he ab­sent-mind­edly took his pipe from his mouth and dropped it into his pocket. A minute later, the jacket was smoul­der­ing.

All this made for un­pre­dictable, of­ten hi­lar­i­ous en­ter­tain­ment. If the re­make is half as en­gag­ing, it will be a tri­umph.

THE PRE­SEN­TERS

THe show re­turned dur­ing the Nineties with only Di­ne­nage re­main­ing from the orig­i­nal cast, along with a raft of new pre­sen­ters in­clud­ing Carol Vor­der­man, Gail Porter, Sian Lloyd and Gail McKenna. But it’s the clas­sic Six­ties line-up that older view­ers re­mem­ber most fondly:

JACK HAR­G­REAVES: A for­mer vet’s as­sis­tant who switched to jour­nal­ism and be­came ed­i­tor of Pic­ture Post mag­a­zine, he found na­tional fame on a ‘coun­try mat­ters’ show called out of Town, in­ter­view­ing shep­herds, black­smiths and thatch­ers from a stu­dio set that looked like a pot­ting shed.

He de­vised How as an ed­u­ca­tional se­ries, and it was his easy­go­ing avun­cu­lar style that gave the pro­gramme its char­ac­ter.

‘He was the great­est nat­u­ral broad­caster I’ve ever worked with,’ co-star Di­ne­nage says. ‘He needed no script, no notes, no au­tocue — not even any props. He was the tele­vi­sion pro­ducer’s dream, able to talk about any sub­ject un­der the sun in­ter­est­ingly, amus­ingly and gen­tly.’

A fas­ci­na­tion with how things worked stayed with him all his life. In his 70s, he said: ‘I still can’t re­sist mend­ing things that were busted 50 or 60 years ago, and I still can’t throw any­thing away.’ Har­g­reaves died in 1994, aged 82.

JON MILLER: Served in the RAF dur­ing world war II as an aerial re­con­nais­sance pho­tog­ra­pher and shared Har­g­reaves’ abil­ity to talk flu­ently to cam­era with­out a teleprompt­er. He was such a nat­u­ral that the crew dubbed him ‘one­take Miller’. In­tensely mu­si­cal, his mother was a con­cert pi­anist and his cousin was the vi­o­lin vir­tu­oso Ye­hudi Menuhin — but his real love was caus­ing ex­plo­sions. when he died aged 87 in 2008, his obituary noted his ‘RAF bear­ing’ and ‘ded­i­cated ec­cen­tric­ity’.

BUNTY JAMES: Now 86, she was the sen­si­ble pres­ence on the show . . . and as the only woman was ex­pected to demon­strate any­thing that in­volved cook­ery, sew­ing, fash­ion or house­hold ap­pli­ances.

She was replaced to­wards the end of the show’s run by Mar­ian Davies, of pop group The La­dy­birds. Bunty launched a new ca­reer last year with the pub­li­ca­tion of her de­tec­tive novel See You Around, about a group of am­a­teur sleuths in a care home who help a po­lice in­spec­tor — the son of one of the ladies — to solve a mur­der.

FRED DI­NE­NAGE: Still a pop­u­lar broad­caster and news­reader, aged 77. Pro­duc­ers are keen for him to join the cast of the re­vamped How next year. Di­ne­nage has a sec­ond ca­reer, as a crim­i­nol­o­gist, and was the ghost­writer for the Kray twins’ au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, our Story.

He met the for­mer Lon­don gan­glo­rds when Reg­gie wrote to him from HMP Parkhurst, of­fer­ing to or­gan­ise an auc­tion of pris­on­ers’ paint­ings to raise money for a lit­tle girl who needed a kid­ney trans­plant. The cons had seen Di­ne­nage re­port­ing the story on the news, and it had touched their hearts.

Great fun to watch: The orig­i­nal line-up

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