Last night's viewing: Brian Cox should give the flag waving a rest in Science Britannica

Science Britannica: Method and Madness, BBC2
The Culture Show: Northern Soul - Keep the Faith, BBC2

Gravity. It can really bring you down, can't it? That's why it's helpful if an enthusiast like Brian Cox can spell out to science dunces such as me exactly why Sir Isaac Newton is such a big deal. Having watched last night's second episode of Science Britannica, I get it. It is truly impressive that a man born in 1642, into a Britain that was still burning witches, had the independence of mind to conceive of the scientific method.

One also had to admire the dedication of 18th-century scientist Henry Cavendish. His theories on "phlogiston" were absolute nonsense, but his experiments with hydrogen, as recreated by Cox, were a lot of fun to watch. It was Richard Borcherds, however, the quantum field theorist with the impressively cushy setup, who left the strongest impression. Right at this very moment he's probably sitting in his Berkeley, California, office, barefoot and cross-legged, strenuously contemplating the secrets of the Universe. "Watching me work is pretty much indistinguishable from watching me sleeping," he boasted. Nice work if you can get it, eh, Richard?

Where Cox and I parted ways was his attribution of all this talent to some sort of essential Britishness. Remember Newton? He was British. Cavendish? As British as they come. The Large Hadron Collider? Technically, it's under the Franco-Swiss border and the scientists involved come from all over the world, but Science Britannica was determined to claim that for Queen and Country too. "Britain," said Cox, "has arguably had a greater influence on how science is done than any other nation." Fine, but can we give all the flag waving a rest now, please?

Presumably, the harder it gets for scientists to extract funding from a tight-fisted government, the more tempting it is to start thumping on whatever tub is nearest to hand, in the hope of attracting attention. Such patriotism became rather crass when it involved Cox praising the Britishness of the Second World War code-breaker Bill Tutte, yet neglecting to mention the fate of his equally talented Bletchley Park colleague, Alan Turing.

Let the patriots keep their empiricism, then. If you want a truth that transcends national boundaries, crosses generational chasms and even has a catchy beat, Paul Mason has got just the Northern soul all-nighter for you. Yes, the former Newsnight economics editor and sometime Independent contributor, is something of a dark horse. You probably assumed he spent his spare time catching up on the markets. In fact, as last night's episode of The Culture Show revealed, ever since one night in 1975 his all-consuming passion has been for Northern soul: the music, the dancing and the people who adored it all.

Many viewers (including this one) would have been more than happy to listen to talking heads wax nostalgic while watching great archive clips of the dance floors at Twisted Wheel, Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca, but this programme also had that and more. The most pleasing revelation? Northern soul isn't the preserve of "sad Northern blokes" of Mason's generation; the movement is experiencing a revival, headed up by a group of twentysomething "Young Souls".

It was Mason's capacity to take the music seriously, without taking himself at all seriously, that really made this documentary so affecting. He's always game for a turn on the dance floor too, and while your escapism of choice might not involve listening to obscure records from 1960s Detroit, when a sweaty, straight-from-the-dancefloor Mason evangelised about the music that "captures not just something about black America, it captures something about working-class Britain and it captures something about me", we all knew what he meant. Only one mystery remained: with fancy footwork like that, why hasn't he been on Strictly yet?

twitter.com/MsEllenEJones

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor