Cicle Cine i Ciència amb Tim Boon

Col·loquis SCHCT 2011-2012
Cicle Cine i Ciència

The British science documentary’s transition from film to television
Tim Boon. Head of Research and Public History, The Science Museum, London (UK)

Coordinat per Carlos Tabernero Holgado

Dijous, 9 de febrer, a les 7 pm
Sala Pi i Sunyer de l’Institut d’Estudis Catalans – Carrer del Carme 47, Barcelona

In May 1964, the BBC broadcast the first programmes in its long-running science documentary series, Horizon. In formal terms, this represented a return to a more cinematic mode of science documentary; these were almost exclusively programmes shot and edited on film, complete in advance of broadcast. For the previous decade and a half, the emphasis in non-fiction television had been on live programmes, whether studio-based or outside broadcast. This return to the ‘prestige documentary’ form for television science programming raises questions in our understanding of science’s representation in the moving image. Film and television historians have generally assumed the two media to have been quite separate. But in our case, there are also clear continuities between documentaries made for projection in public spaces and television produced for private viewing in the home. Some of these continuities are in personnel. Not only did the eminent documentarist Paul Rotha run the BBC’s Documentary Department from 1953 to 1955, but certain filmmakers also made the transition to television. Ramsay Short, director of many of the first Horizon programmes, was one such, starting at the Shell Film Unit, directing films such as A Light in Nature (1960), made for the Royal Society’s Tercentenary celebrations.

This presentation will feature examples of early Horizons and A Light in Nature in addition to earlier science documentary films. It will explore questions of what science television owes to earlier film conventions, and what characteristics, developed within the constraints of live broadcasting, have made their way into the established forms of science on television. Along the way, we will also learn much about the ways in which science was being represented to the British public during the Cold War.