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Radio review: Wow! How Did They Do That? - From King Tut and Jacko to the discovery of DNA


Tutankhamen is a long way from the minds of those embroiled in deadly conflict in Cairo, but when order returns, Egypt can have a new tourist attraction. In a workshop in Madrid, a life-size facsimile of the pharaoh’s tomb is ready to move to the Valley of the Kings, as soon as the powers-that-be give the nod.

Historical facsimiles are Adam Lowe’s speciality, and if we recoil at the idea of his copied Veronese painting replacing the one in Venice that Napoleon made off with, Lowe points to that city as a whole. The opera house, La Fenice – a facsimile. The campanile, ditto. The horses prancing over San Marco, ringers.

In Wow! How Did They Do That?, Roger Law, who as a Spitting Image originator knows a thing or two about copies, for the first of five programmes visited Lowe and fellow 3D artist Steve Haines, who models giant-sized replicas of celebrities and oddities. A colossal Iggy Popp looks on; there’s a larger-than-life Michael Jackson. Haines works in clay, then makes a fibreglass cast. Hard to say whether, for once, the radio lacked pictures, or whether lack of vision was a mercy.

Haines has taken 3D printing beyond the novelty stage to practical application. He calls it the new industrial revolution. The current generation are consumers, he says; the next will not shop for the things they desire. They’ll print them.

There were earlier scientific breakthroughs in Bragg on the Braggs (Radio 4, Tuesday *****), in which Melvyn Bragg investigated his distant cousins who, in 1915, won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on X-ray crystallography. This in turn led to the discovery of DNA and informed research into mutations and new drugs.

Father and son William and Lawrence Bragg both held prestigious academic posts. But during the First World War, Lawrence, who heard about the Nobel award while in the trenches, made calculations that pinpointed the location of German guns, allowing the Allies to fire back with devastating accuracy, so, arguably hastening the end of hostilities.

Told with Bragg’s customary pace and clarity, this remarkable family story made modelling the King of Pop seem rather trivial.