Christmas TV is like a box of cheap chocolates – most of it’s crap, but you’ll stuff your face anyway.
If you look a little deeper, however, you can find genuine quality content to feed your mind, like the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures coming up on BBC 4 this week.
Almost as traditional as the Queen’s speech (and a damn sight more watchable), the Christmas Lectures have been going strong since 1825.
Every year, the Royal Institution – Britain’s top charity dedicated to all things science – drafts in some TV-friendly boffin to break down complex scientific theories to the ordinary Joe.
Basically it’s all about making science fun and interesting for young people, with a target audience ranging from 7 to 11 and upwards. Past lecturers have included David Attenborough and philosopher Carl Sagan. This year’s host is materials scientist Dr. Mark Miodownik on the topic Size Matters.
In front of a live studio audience, he’ll be carrying out weird and wacky
experiments to demonstrate Why Elephants Can’t Dance (just don’t tell Ellie from Pocoyo), How Hamsters can Sky Dive (go G-Force!) and what makes chocolate taste so good (it’s all in the crystals, baby).
We were invited to a Behind the Scenes tour of the Christmas Lectures last weekend. Our guide Olympia and Kindred agency reps Jessica and Shona were impressed to see us emerge Eskimo-like from the mini-blizzard that hit London that morning.
Olympia whisked us off on a tour that was slightly scaled down to suit my
four-year-old’s attention span. Since the lectures are aimed at slightly older kids, much of the chat went over Ezra’s head (Jed was snoozing soundly in the buggy).
But there was plenty to catch his eye, from big screens broadcasting historic lectures to the Inspector Gadget style lighting in the Time & Space cafe. Along the hallways, we bumped into various random and bizarre props used in lecture demos. Ezra had a good laugh when Olympia gave him this massive thumbs up.
We got to look inside the TV control rooms as the lectures were being filmed and also poked around in the archives where notes from past lectures have been kept since the 19th century. We watched from the wings as Dr. Miodownik let a team of girl gymnasts climb on top of him to create a human pyramid. All in the name of science!
One of my favourite stops was inside the props room which really looks like a mad scientist’s lab filled with strange liquids bubbling over. You feel like you’re about to witness some breakthrough…or something blowing up!
The Royal Institution’s a fascinating building that not only has a museum open to the public daily but offers an events space and several places to eat, including the
cafe where we stopped for a delicious tea of cupcakes and shortbread.
It’s a fun place to visit and I’ll plan to bring the babes back when they’re old enough to watch a live Christmas Lecture broadcast in the studio.
Meanwhile we’ll be tuning in tomorrow to see Dr. Miodownik and some of those props in action.
Thanks to Olympia, Jessica and Shona for an entertaining day out, a yummy tea and for enduring Ezra’s mini-lectures on snowmen and cow pats (you had to be there)!
Watch the Christmas Lectures on BBC Four (Freeview/Digital) at 8pm on Dec 28, 29 and 30.
Visit the Royal Institution web site