Long Runners: No 6: Tomorrow's World

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The Independent Culture
Age: 28. Born 7 July 1965. The time of Space Races and the white heat of technology and all that schtick.

Frequency: Frequent. This year, every Friday from 10 Sept to 17 Dec, and from mid- Jan to May.

What was the basic idea? Said first editor Max Morgan-Witts: 'We are setting out to reflect the men, women and discoveries which are changing the way we live. For example, teaching machines are without doubt going to figure large in the future.'

How co-presenter James Burke described it: 'Running to catch up with science and technology. That's what Tomorrow's World is all about.'

What basically happened? In the studio, ex-RAF pilot Raymond Baxter would introduce an item of something or other tomorrowish, say, teaching machines. Then he would produce a cross-section model of said teaching machine and explain how it worked.

Sounds fine. So together they made sense? Depends. The model was often on the balsa-wood side and the explanation sounded as if written by Timothy Leary.

Timothy Leary? The LSD guru.

OK. So why did you watch it? Firstly, it was cleverly scheduled. It came on just before Top of the Pops and you used to catch it while waiting for the main event.

So why do they watch it now? Because it's cleverly scheduled. Look at the competition. On ITV there's Family Fortunes with the multi-talented Les Dennis; on Channel 4 there's Channel 4 News; on BBC2, The Living Soap. Really, a live match from Highbury would get viewers.

So what are the ratings? In the old days it used to get close to 16 million viewers, but that, as the BBC says, was when ratings were 'calculated differently'. Now, its audience hovers between 4.5 and 6 million, which really isn't that bad.

What happened to Burke? He got bored and left to present Great Airline Tickets of the World.

What happened to Baxter? In 1977, TW's new, young producer Michael Blakstad called Baxter 'the last of the dinosaurs'. Allegedly. Baxter skulked off and was hit by a giant meteor that came out of nowhere. Either that or he evolved into a bird. Allegedly.

What other presenters have there been? Well, there was, and is, Judith Hann. As the cross-section of Hann reveals, she's been with the show for about 17 years and for many she is Tomorrow's World. Other than that, there have been loads: Su Ingle, William Woollard, Michael Rodd, Maggie Philbin, Kieran Prendiville, Peter McCann, Anna Ford.

What happened to them? Michael Rodd: became the most patronising presenter that a children's quiz show has ever had. Maggie Philbin: word got out that she was married to Keith Chegwin. So much for her credibility as a television soothsayer. Anna Ford? Come, come. You know about her. She's the one who joined in 1977 saying that she had 'no wish to be a public figure'. Su Ingle? Became Anna Ford.

And now? Now there's Howard Stableford, Kate Bellingham and Carmen Pryce. Howard is Blue Peterish, veering between the sensible and the gosh. Kate is the team puppy. Carmen is this year's Ford. She should have been a pop star.

Does the show live up to its name? It had the first video recorder, the first credit card, the first fibre-optic cable, the first microwave oven, the first Walkman, the first home computer. It was on the first Hovercraft trip. It had early reports on offshore oil-drilling and genetic engineering. There was a live phone interview with Christiaan Barnard shortly after he performed his first heart transplant. There was also an item on the early days of Concorde during which it was, politely of course, pronounced a turkey.

Any good stories? Well. There was the time when they were demonstrating a cross-section of a new portable bath. They had the bath, a woman bathing and lots of cover-up bubbles. Then the studio lights began to heat up . . .

And? Robots. Robots are always good value. There was one that played snooker, laid the kitchen table and then prepared a salad. To cut a long story short, it missed the pot. 'It wasn't his fault - his compressed air-supply failed.' Or the one which responded to the human voice. So there it was, programmed for Baxter. On the day of the show, Baxter developed a cold and started dalking drough his dose.

Little-known fact: Johnny Dankworth wrote the original theme music, and was paid pounds 25 for his trouble.

So what's the future hold? Well, as editor Richard Reisz said in 1986, 'the 21st century is only 14 years away'. Can't argue with that. As if to prove the point, the team have recently presented shows from Tokyo, New York, Paris, Berlin, Moscow . . .

The bottom line - is it good? As Nietzsche said when he was doing the television guide, it's beyond good or bad. It's an institution. It's solid, it's dependable and it's demographically blind.

(Photographs omitted)