Winston fumes at axing of 'Child of Our Time'

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The Independent Culture

It should have been a landmark science series, which solved the nature versus nurture debate once and for all.

But the presenter Lord Winston has threatened to quit the BBC after accusing the corporation of abandoning Child of Our Time, a project which chronicles the lives of a group of children over a 20-year period.

Winston, the award-winning professor of fertility studies at Imperial College London, has been the face of BBC Science, presenting series such as The Human Body and Walking With Cavemen.

However, he said the BBC had stopped filming Child of Our Time, launched in 2000, which focuses on a group of millennium babies and follows their physical and emotional development as they grow into adulthood.

The series has returned on nine occasions to chart the progress of the 25 children. Lord Winston is unhappy that after a two-part special last May, the BBC has no plans to broadcast an update on the project until 2013.

He said: "I was under the impression they had dropped the series. They have stopped filming as the children reach adolescence. I would have thought puberty was an important stage of development that would produce a valuable, public service programme, provided it's done with everyone's consent."

Lord Winston said he was so upset that, after 30 years' commitment to the BBC, he would be "looking at other outlets". The peer, who is Britain's leading expert on fertility issues, has been usurped as the face of BBC science by Professor Brian Cox, 43, the pop star-turned-physicist who won awards for his Wonders of the Solar System series.

Lord Winston asked: "Perhaps the BBC are preparing the way for someone else to front the programmes?"

Although filming is not currently taking place, the BBC said the project was "very much active and a team is working on it now and working closely with the families".

A spokesman said: "All the children are facing big milestones – starting new schools, becoming teenagers, entering puberty – so we would like to give them some privacy." Some children may not wish to continue being placed under the television spotlight, the BBC added.

The BBC hinted that the programmes, which aim to examine how genes and the environment interact to define our adult selves, could return without Lord Winston, if the Labour peer chose to leave.

Sophie Raworth co-presented The Big Personality Test programmes in the series last year. The BBC said: "It's a 20-year project so there can be changes to the format." It added that it had finite resources and could not possibly film the children year-round.

Through experiments on the participants, Child of Our Time was designed to help answer the question: "Are we born or are we made?" The BBC hoped it would match the impact of the Seven Up series of documentaries, which followed the lives of 14 children born in 1964, at seven-year intervals.

Another BBC science presenter, Michael Mosley, recently won acclaim for his BBC1 series, Inside The Human Body, which covered similar ground to those areas investigated by Lord Winston's The Human Body programmes.