Matt Jones

We need another Cosmos

Today The Times ran a piece by Sarah Vine (wife of education secretary Michael Gove) criticising the BBC’s ‘Wonders of the Universe’ and its apparently egocentric presenter Brian Cox.

To be fair to Cox it’s probably not his fault that the show is put together in such an over-the-top way. Not even Narcissus himself would have had the brass neck to stipulate this kind of treatment in his contract: long, lingering shots of the handsome professor silhouetted against a night sky, or languid close-ups of him gazing manfully into the middle distance, flashing his white teeth in a carefree yet attractively wistful smile. No, Cox is not the problem; he’s the symptom of a dreary and predictable strand of programme-making: the “sexing up” of fusty subjects.

Of course, physics and astronomy is a subject only for people with beards, elbow patches and monocles!

Has Sarah Vine never heard of Carl Sagan’s series Cosmos, which is essentially the programme that ‘Wonders…’ is modelled on? That program was hugely successful in educating American youngsters in the early 1980s about the wonders of the universe, and may even be one reason why science and technology is in better shape in the US than it is here.

It does seem that Brian Cox is getting unfair stick for being young, dashing and clever. I’m reminded of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the inventor of the Infinite Improbability Drive gets “lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they really couldn’t stand was a smart ass”.

Just as Sagan’s Cosmos was a beautiful and - literally - wonderful series that opened peoples’ eyes to the Universe we live in, Brian Cox’s series aims to do the same 30 years later. So let’s turn the soundtrack back up, listen to what he has to say and be thankful that our TV license money is being spent on fantastic, eye-opening programming such as ‘Wonders…’.