Friday, 23 January 2009

News - More on BBC Darwin Coverage

Radiohead: Radio 4 celebrates Charles Darwin

The bad news for creationists starts here. The Darwin Season, celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth (on February 12) and the 150th of the publication of On the Origin of Species (on November 24) means that enterprising programme-makers have an entire year in which to celebrate the life and work of the most famous naturalist of all, and Radio 4 is starting early, with two series starting this week and a third programme telling a thrilling tale of archaeological detective work. If other programmes along the line deal with Darwin's marriage to his cousin Emma - and consequent fears over hereditary illnesses, which didn't get in the way of his having ten children with her - and the remarkably simian appearance of his own forehead, then more prurient listeners will have little to complain about in 2009.

But for this week we will have to make do with Melvyn Bragg. The BBC's polymath of choice begins a special four-part series of In Our Time on Monday (9am), recorded in various significant locations in Darwin's life. In the first, recorded in Cambridge, Bragg discusses the significance of Darwin's three years at the university, where he trained for a career in the Anglican Church (in later years, after the death of his young daughter Anna, Darwin was to lose his faith).

Then, in Dear Darwin (Mon to Fri, 3.45pm) an eminent contemporary thinker a day writes a letter to the great man illustrating the ways in which his work has influenced their own - and fill him in on how things have progressed since his death in 1882.

Finally, Hunting the Beagle (Fri, 9pm) diverts from the scientifically academic to consider a practical matter - what became of the little ship that Darwin made famous.

For more than 160 years the fate of HMS Beagle has been unknown. In 1845 she was refitted as a static coastguard watch vessel used to control smuggling on the Essex coast - and this is where the biologist and maritime historian Robert Prescott believes she lies today. The programme follows Prescott's attempt to drill down into the bilges of a suspected wreck in the River Roach to extract a sample of Beagle-identifiable sediment. Yes, it would probably work better on TV, but use your imagination and it's still exciting.

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