Last Night's Television: Engineering Britain's Superweapons, more4
Breaking The Mould: The Story Of Penicillin, BBC4

Breaking the Mould: the Story of Penicillin began and ended with the same scene – a government apparatchik addressing a scientific committee to tell them that the PM himself had given the go-ahead for the industrial development of penicillin, and then calling for a vote of thanks to the man responsible for this great scientific advance. The camera eyed up a likely-looking cove with a centre parting and gold-rimmed glasses, bracing himself to look modest, but then it became clear that it wasn't his name that had been called out. It was, as every schoolboy knows, Alexander Fleming who got the credit and the postage stamp, while Sir Harold Florey – whose team did most of the heavy lifting in developing penicillin as a practical medicine – had to content himself with a third share of the Nobel Prize and (a bit too late for his benefit) this BBC4 drama putting the matter right.

The structure of Breaking the Mould – a sandwich of misdirected accolade with a fat filling of scientific diligence and determination – rather implied that Fleming had dishonourably taken a credit that wasn't his. But there was little in the drama itself to substantiate that charge beyond the casting of Denis Lawson as Fleming, who played him as a kind of scientific showboater, all bow-ties and vanity. And the drama had been artificially tweaked by turning Florey, played by Dominic West, into a more simplistic white knight than he probably was. It was true that he opposed the patenting of penicillin on ethical grounds (a debate that featured in the drama), but he wasn't quite the hero of compassion shown here. "I don't think it ever crossed our mind about suffering humanity," he once told an Australian interviewer, pointing out that it had been the scientific challenge that motivated his work on penicillin. He also expressed concern in later life that advances in health care might lead to a population explosion.

If Kate Brooke's drama had contained a few more awkward facts like that, Dominic West would have had a bit more to work with in the way of human ambiguity. As it was he just had to furrow his brow and look determined as we got the bare bones of the story – a triumph of make-do-and-mend and a triumph for the kind of cross-disciplinary approach that Florey helped to pioneer. There were eureka moments ("Professor! Come and see! All the penicillin mice look right as rain!") and there were heartbreaking setbacks, such as the moment when one early patient – a man who'd been brought to the brink of death by a scratch from a rose thorn – first recovered and then relapsed, because the production of penicillin couldn't keep pace with his need. There was a heavily Cherman sidekick in the form of Ernst Chain ("It vill vork!") and there was also a canonical one-last-push scene when a bereaved parent mastered his grief and stiffened the team's wilting backbone: "Keep going with the drug," he said."Don't let Jerry get their hands on it... keep it for our boys." I don't think the budget quite stretched to a Spitfire fly-past but you could feel the hankering there.

A title card at the end revealed that the Americans had promptly swept in and patented the process, which meant that the institute that actually developed it ended up paying fees for their own discovery. Transatlantic breaches of trust also featured in the evening's other story of white-coated triumph, Channel 4's Engineering Britain's Superweapons, which this week covered the development of the British hydrogen bomb after the Americans had declined to let us look at their instruction leaflet. Running the team on this occasion was William Penney, working on a very tight budget and having to pretty much start from first principles to earn Britain a place at the big boys' table. "Ethics went out of fashion when Hitler invaded Poland," somebody snapped at one point in Breaking the Mould, and they didn't appear to have come back into fashion by 1954, when the question wasn't so much whether it was morally right to develop immensely powerful weapons but whether it could be done before growing public opposition to atmospheric testing made it politically impossible.

Cannily, Penney had covered himself against possible failure with a Plan B. Build an atom bomb so big that no one could tell it wasn't a hydrogen bomb. The first H-bomb did actually work but was, comparatively speaking, a bit of a squib. The giant A-bomb convinced everyone, including the British press, who obligingly printed the government's whopper. And the final H-bomb test was so successful that the testers managed to demolish some of their own aircraft hangars. Down on the ground, squaddies employed state-of-the-art safety gear: a long- sleeved shirt and both hands over the eyes for the moment of explosion. Even so, they could see the bones in their hands through their eyelids. It was a story of the right stuff applied to the wrong end.

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee