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Watch James May's 20th Century Season 1 Online

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Watch James May's 20th Century Online

Genre: Documentary


James May's 20th Century is a television series first aired on 10 July 2007 on the British terrestrial channel BBC Two. The series is a co-production by the BBC and the Open University. The series covers various inventions and discoveries over the past century with some reference to discoveries made before the past century. The show features the eponymous James May, exhibiting and discussing the implications of many of the major advances and inventions made during this period. Each episode features some theme, which was discussed in depth during the show, often following sequential advances in chronological order. The programme is now shown on Eden, Yesterday and Dave. The theme tune is called "The Long Boot", by Jeff Knowler.



Watch James May's 20th Century S1E01 Online

SEASON 1, EPISODE 1 - Honey, I Shrunk The World

Release Date: 2007-07-10

At the beginning of the 20th Century, long distance travel was for the military-minded, the uprooted and the plain rich, but the pioneers of flight were to change all that. To find out how, James May gets his hands on a Vickers Vimy aircraft that in 1919 carried two intrepid Brits, Alcock and Brown, across the Atlantic for the first time. But it wasn’t just flying that changed our perception of the world. The motor car offered us a new sense of freedom, but when James tries out a 1908 Model T Ford, he discovers driving was once a very tricky business indeed. As he observes: "The right pedal was the brake and the middle pedal was reverse gear. There was no clutch as such: the left pedal was both clutch and forward gears - depending on how far pressed. I’m amazed this driving thing ever took off. " Shrinking the world wasn’t just about travel becoming easier and more affordable. For the first time in history we could bring the world to us via the cinema. James shoots his own black and white newsreel at Walthamstow Dog Track and looks back at the early days of television when two different formats fought for supremacy. Finally, James faces a dilemma: in 1969, two technologies emerged that promised to change our world forever. The first was the supersonic aircraft, Concorde. The second was computer messages, one day millions of emails would travel the world thanks to optic fibre cables. But in the late sixties which one would he have backed? "Don’t you think it’s weird that when it comes to shrinking the world, this piece of fibre has completely triumphed over that magnificent supersonic airliner? It seems to me we spent the first three-quarters of the 20th century going out into the world, trying to see more and more of it, and then in the last few decades we’ve realised that actually we can bring quite a lot of it to us down this optical string thing."
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SEASON 1, EPISODE 2 - Blast Off

Release Date: 2007-07-10

Like many small boys James May dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Even though he may not have realised his dream he sets off to find out what space exploration has done for him, and the rest of us. And he’s got just the right motor to begin the journey - a moon buggy… "The moon buggy, or ‘Lunar Rover Vehicle’ to give it its proper name, has to have been the most expensive car ever made. It cost 38 million dollars. And that didn’t include delivery". His first stop is Staveley Road, Chiswick, West London. It was here that Britain felt the first impact of the space race in 1944, when the street was struck by a Nazi V2 – the rocket powered terror weapon, and the distant ancestor of the Saturn V that put a man on the Moon in 1969. Next James links up with a team of amateur rocketeers to understand the pyrotechnic principles of rocket science first hand, before heading to Cape Canaveral in Florida, to see the real deal for himself. Here he meets a veteran of the Apollo programme and pays homage to the massive, 525ft, Saturn V. From there he probes the depths of the universe thanks to the enormous radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, and confronts the full implications of the revolutionary 20th Century theory - the Big Bang. Then it’s off to Mission Control, Guildford, where James borrows a satellite orbiting 700km overhead to take a photograph of Earth. Finally James talks to astronaut John Blaha, who has spent nearly six months in orbit, in order to understand how going into space changes the way you see the world. "Even the pilot of Apollo 9 said he felt lucky to be "looking down like a guardian angel on all of history and music.. of life and love". And it’s not like he was a hippy or anything", says James.
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SEASON 1, EPISODE 3 - Body Fantastic

Release Date: 2007-07-17

James sets out to discover how far he can push his body and finds out about some of the most remarkable medical advances over the last hundred years. He begins by testing himself in a centrifuge – a machine that can make fighter pilots and astronauts break out in a cold sweat. He wants to find out what would happen to his body when it is subjected to high forces. As he reached 4.4 g – he passed out: "There was no doubt that I’d clearly reached my limit. The blood was forced from my head to my feet and I passed out." He then tries out anti-g trousers, and manages to get to 5.4 g without passing out. Next stop is New York where James meets a group of athletes that have pushed their bodies to the limit to get extraordinary results. These elite sportsmen and women have each lost a leg – but are able to run long distances at high speed thanks to hi-tech prosthetic replacements. They are now winning against able-bodied competitors, a success which has brought the remarkable complaint that the disabled athletes may have a competitive advantage because of their artificial limbs. Back in the UK James is invited to watch open heart surgery - and sees a man’s heart come to a complete stop during the operation. But James’ biggest surprise came when he looked at one of the 20th century’s greatest medical breakthroughs – the discovery of DNA. He had his DNA tested: "To be honest I’m so English that I’m assuming I’m descended from a piece of fruit cake and cricket bat, but let’s see." The results, however, were not at all what he expected.
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SEASON 1, EPISODE 4 - Take Cover

Release Date: 2007-07-17

In Take Cover, James looks at how warfare drives ingenuity and gets to fly in the RAF’s latest supersonic jet. It’s an experience that he describes as "the most amazing thing I have ever done". The film begins by looking at the early days of air war at the start of the 20th Century. James flies in a biplane to get to grips with how difficult it was for the early aviators to hit any targets. Using flour bombs, he tries to hit a target on the ground. It’s a lot more difficult than he imagined. He also meets a group of ex-Paras to try some "make up for men", camouflage paint. When he fails to spot the Paras hidden in the woods he turns to modern technology for help. James moves on to look at "the biggest art show of the century", one of the most curious innovations to come from the military world. It’s called dazzle camouflage, and it involved painting warships in a confusing series of lines and stripes. Thousands of ships were painted like this to confuse German U boats during the First World War. Finally James meets up with Squadron Leader Paul Godfrey. He’s been invited to fly in the Typhoon, the RAF’s latest jet fighter. He has a private pilot’s licence - but only at 4,000ft at 120 knots. The Typhoon is a plane that can go from a standing start to six miles high in 150 seconds. After landing James admits he was slightly emotional: "Well, I admit I was a bit nervous when we set off but, absolutely unquestionably and not anything to do with bigging it up for television, that was the best thing I have ever experienced. It is, it is breathtaking, it really is, I can’t really describe what it’s like. It’s life-changing, frankly."