James Burke's Web of Knowledge.jpgMore people than ever are not paying their TV licence and are being hounded ever more vigorously by the evil Capita. Not just people who don’t have TVs, but people who live in places where you couldn’t get a TV signal if your life depended on it.

I’ve always taken the view that, on the whole, I got some sort of value from the three quid a week licence fee.

Maybe not like the good old days when people watched wall to wall television and the BBC gave us hard hitting dramas, PanoramaZ-Cars, The Black and White Minstrel Show, Nationwide and – erm – The Good Old Days. And Tomorrow’s World. And radio.

Do you remember Tomorrow’s World? Everybody watched Tomorrow’s World, even if it was only because it was on immediately before Top of the Pops. That was before there was an app for everything and people invented actual stuff.

These days,  £3 gives me Call the Midwife and University Challenge (a 1960s quiz show that the BBC bought from Granada).  And lots of overpaid footballers and luvvies, obvs. And radio.

I love radio.

This evening, I was listening to something called James Burke’s Web of Knowledge. Do you remember James Burke? He used to be on Tomorrows’ World. And then I had a couple of those insights which you get sometimes if you listen to enough Radio 4 and think a lot.

Insight one was that I had heard all this before. It was a series called Connections  and it was first broadcast in 1978. Insight two was that it was rubbish.

Basically it’s a variation of that game where you turn one word into another, one letter at a time, or the concept of “six degrees of separation”. The idea is that you can take two semingling unconnected ideas or people, create a link between them and show causation. So, for example, Mozart to Helicopters or Frederick the Great  to Razor Blades.

In the Frederick the Great to Razor Blades episode, one of the “connections” is between James Cook, the explorer, and Robert Boyle, the scientist. The connection is that Boyle never went on one of Cook’s voyages and this leads, by a number of further steps, to the invention of the disposable razor blade.


This sounds awfully like the Rosa Parks  episode of Dr Who which argued that change only happens in a specific way – if a specific series of steps take place. No – things can happen for all sorts of reasons. It didn’t have to be Rosa Parks or that particular bus or that particular day – there were any number of people and any number of potential catalysts. Robert Boyle didn’t have to not go to sea with Captain Cook – he could taken the tour and still have discovered oxygen and invented fizzy drinks – and , if not him, someone else. And someone would have still invented razor blades.

It’s a party trick. Nothing more. And certainly not worth three quid a week.