James May’s 20th Century

July 24, 2007 by  
Filed under News

James May’s 20th CenturyIn another attempt to make Jeremy Clarkson the least popular member of Top Gear the BBC is showing off James May again. May is the spaniel-haired ‘Captain Slow’ from the motoring programme, the one who comes last in all the challenges and bores them all with long-winded explanations. 

In James May’s 20th Century he takes aspects of Twentieth Century life and shows how they evolved. Two programmes are aired each week with this week’s contributions being Teenagers and Cities. 

It may seem odd to consider teenagers to be a modern phenomenon. Surely, everybody had to get from twelve to twenty in all previous generations, somehow. As James points out, previously times adolescents were just mini adults, looking and acting like their parents. Throughout the twentieth century various inventions helped create the cult of the teenager. These include nylon for tights and coloured clothes, vinyl for records, transistors for radios, the electric guitar and the Yamaha FS1-E; known as the ‘Fizzy’. What he showed was that young adults took anything new and made it their own and fun, and there can’t be anything wrong with that. 

Cities also managed to exist well before the end of Victoria’s reign but the way that they have changed since is astonishing. May points to the skyscraper as his starting point and how steel structures made these possible but how the use of toughened glass made it possible to make them even higher and cheaper. Moving on he looked at the National Grid, neon signs and multi-storey car parks. These combined inventions helped transform our cities from low-level, dark places to high-rise, bright and buzzing metropolises with a 24-hour lifestyle. 

James May’s affable boffin persona helps brings these subjects to life. His ready wit and schoolboy enthusiasm is perfect to showcase the history of technology. This is actually an Open University production and makes a wonderful contrast to the classic image of stilted 70s lecturers in brown suits and wide ties. A genuinely enjoyable piece of historical television.

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