Did we like it?
In an act of near-Biblical bravery Melvyn Bragg attempts to hold back the inexorable force of ITV1 sewage with his own authored series about how brilliant books are, and how they have shaped the modern world far more profoundly than TV ever could – in a TV series.
What was good about it?
• The passion Melvyn had for this series was apparent from the introduction in which he breathlessly listed the reasons why the books profiled are so important both in a historical and modern-day sense.
• The outlining of how Isaac Newton’s Principa detailed huge chunks of physics, most of which Newton established himself through exhaustive experimentation. And also how much of what Newton discovered still holds true today and has aided and pioneered the development of space travel and satellite navigation.
• Newton set out his theories in a language that was both uncompromising and dense in content and today reads as an inadvertent inversion of Heat which is all style and no content, unless you happen to be fascinated by the lives of a human vacuum with blonde hair and the singer with a once-promising Indie band who could now teach even Faust a thing or two about selling your soul for superficial gain.
• But Melvyn clarified one of Newton’s most famous discoveries – gravity – by explaining how both the apple and the Earth were pulling towards one another, but because of its much superior mass, the apple does almost all of the movement.
• How the pressure-cooker of Britain’s repressed sexuality had its lid finally blown off by Marie Stopes’ Married Love, which was a kind of Lovers’ Guide for the post-World War One woman who, because of her husbands selfish needs, viewed sex with them as something as alluring as any woman today imagines a day with Chris Evans, sex or no sex.
• In the section on the Football Association Rulebook, the pre-history of football was an enlightenment of what it was like before the Football Association formed. We learned how games were played between villages were the brutality resulted in “broken necks, arms and backs”, making it only slightly less violent than the Argentine league where murder only usually results in a yellow card, and that only if the offender is a player on the away team.
• Football evolved in the public schools across the country, with individual schools adapting the basic rules to suit their own environments so, for instance, one school played indoors around tables and thus their players became adept at dribbling, while another school might prefer to launch the long ball across their huge playing fields.
• But when the schools played against one another, the disparate interpretations of the rules made it necessary to divide the game into halves where the first is played under one set of rules and the second under the other (this is why half-time exists). And it was because Rugby’s version was so distinct from the rest with the allowance of handball, they splintered off to develop rugby.
• The mock up of a football match under pre-FA rules was a delight as Melvyn explained the rules that have now disappeared from our national game as though mournfully detailing extinct species of dinosaur. For instance, when the ball goes out of play, the throw in goes to the first player to reach it; passing forward was illegal (and was only brought in with the offside rule) but dribbling was allowed; and players could catch a ball in the air and call a ‘mark’ – a rule that still exists in rugby today.
• The production inserting, probably surreptitiously knowing Melvyn’s an ardent Gunner, Nayim’s winning goal in the 1995 Cup Winners’ Cup.
• Melvyn crystallising the absurdity of football by noting that, for more than 100 years, incidents in matches all over the world have been scrutinised with much greater intensity and length than ethical decisions in every other sphere of human endeavour.
What was bad about it?
• For all his revolutionary advances in the field of physics, Newton left behind an excruciatingly painful legacy – calculus. We already know that not everything Newton has facilitated is welcome as for every spacecraft that soars through the celestial heavens there is a smug stockbroker who finds a shortcut through the winding streets of the West End on his way to a champagne-tasting session followed by a lapdance by some weeping, enslaved Albanians because of his SatNav. But there are also a thousand school pupils slumped over their desks confounded down to the marrow of their souls by some indecipherable mathematical equation that will be of no use to them once they set foot in to the real world.
• How the scared moral guardians used disinformation over STDs as a form of social control and how they castigated Marie Stopes’ Married Love when it became a threat to that engineered status quo.