Water Lilies by Jim Harris



Wireless to the rescue


I wonder how many of those who are preparing to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic realise that the only reason any lives were saved, and that we know anything about what happened to it, was the use then of what was regarded as a miraculous invention: wireless. The discovery of  how electromagnetic waves could be used to send messages without any wires was truly astonishing in the early 1900s, and would still cause wonder today if we were not so familiar with the reality. After all, these waves are both invisible and inaudible and they can travel great distances and fly through solid walls.


When Guiglielmo Marconi was developing his primitive wireless system the world was already wired up with electric telegraph cables: by 1870 the Atlantic had been crossed and most of the British Empire was in touch by telegraph. How could wireless compete? It might be cheaper to run than the cable networks, certainly, but not until the technology was much more advanced. ...

Read more

How Victorian was Charles Dickens?


With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens fast approaching it is worth asking to what extent he was the "great Victorian novelist", not because his genius is in question in any way but because he was not quite as Victorian as is generally assumed. Born on 7 February 1812 he was a child of the Regency, that short period from 1811 to 1820 when the madness of George lll led to a crisis and the appointment of his eldest son George as Prince Regent. On the death of the old King, the Regent became George lV. He, in turn, was succeeded by his younger brother, the 64 year old William who, because of his youthful service in the Navy was known as The Sailor King. William lV reigned from 1830 until his death in 1837 when the young Victoria came to the throne.


By the time of Queen Victoria's Coronation in 1838, Dickens had in publication as a serial episodes of Oliver Twist a brilliant satirical attack on the recently enacted ...

Read more



Faking the wild


 The story of David Attenborough and the "mocked up" sequence with polar bear cubs brought back to me many memories of cutting room arguments and near disasters that I can recall from twenty years as a factual film maker. I am still not sure about the acceptability of some sequences in progammes I made,  though my intention was never to deliberately deceive the viewer. Well, only a bit.


I often re-run in my mind one episode that occurred back in the mid-1980s. I was a producer-director in the current affairs and features department of London Weekend Television. In those days there was no chasing after ratings and LWT factual programmes ( Lord Birt was in charge) and we had a reputation for making few if any concessions to "popular" programming. However I was given the chance to make the first ever wildlife programme for the company, a project I relished as a keen bird watcher and amateur naturalist.


Although by then I had made a few programmes it had never occurred ...

Read more



Don't kindle that Kindle





So that I could get to research the Marconi Archive which is now safely housed and expertly catalogued in the Bodleian Library, Oxford I applied for admission . I had to find a sponsor and was lucky that a neighbour who is a publisher and was an Oxford student long ago was on hand to sign the relevant papers. As I left his house he called after me: " You will not be able to kindle any fires. " I smiled back wondering what he meant.


The admission procedure was very jolly. I was ticked off for not completing one of the forms correctly then told by the lady dealing with library tickets that my misdemeanour would, on this occasion, by over looked. I had my passport for identification and my debit card for payment, a very modest sum for six months access. But before I was finally granted permission to enter the library I had to read an oath. It was printed on a laminated card and I was instructedto read it aloud.


"I hereby undertake not to remove ...

Read more



In the dark


CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90




I was up late watching the thrilling final of the Men's Singles at the US Open and Djokovic was about to serve for the match in the third set. Would Nadal hold on?

Before the World No.1 hit his first serve everything went black. I looked into the road and could see some lights on, but there was a dark area where the street light opposite our house was out. I lit candles and found a phone book with the Electricity Emergency number. They did not know of any faults in my area. I checked the fuse box and that was OK. They would send someone round, should be within four hours.


I tried to get our clockwork radio to work in the hope that I might find the result of the match in New York, but the band connecting the generator to the spring had snapped. So I lit candles, read a bit and then went around with a candlestick in my dressing gown like someone from a BBC Victorian drama . Eventually I went to bed. I was woken not long after I dozed off by a phone call. ...

Read more