Genius of Britain

Ratings: 7.00/10 from 14 users.

Genius of BritainBritain may only be a small island, but its great scientists and inventors have literally created the modern world: from the invention of the steam engine, computers and the world-wide web to the discovery of the theory of evolution and the atom.

In this series some of Britain's leading scientific figures - Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, James Dyson, David Attenborough, Robert Winston, Paul Nurse, Jim Al-Khalili, Kathy Sykes and Olivia Judson - tell the stories of the people behind these innovations.

From Isaac Newton to Frank Whittle, James Watt to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Joseph Banks to Rosalind Franklin, these are the people who - through blood, sweat and tears - overcame all obstacles in the search for answers.

Stephen Hawking and Jim Al-Khalili explain how Isaac Newton saw mathematics at the root of everything, from gravity to light.

James Dyson demonstrates Robert Boyle's air pump, which revealed the life-giving invisible world around us, whose laws could be understood through experiment and reason.

David Attenborough celebrates the many interests of Christopher Wren, who was best known as an architect, but was equally fascinated by surgery and astronomy.

Richard Dawkins explores Robert Hooke's revelatory microscopic world, and champions the virtues of a scientist whose name was almost wiped from the history books by men who despised him: most notably his arch-rival Newton.

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70 Comments / User Reviews

  1. MAllen Documentaires

    [quote]its great "scientists" have literally "created" the modern world[/quote]
    Doesn't "Science" support "Evolution", Since when did they start supporting "Creation"?

  2. Abdullah Shuaib

    Frankly, I think all PEOPLE in the world have made their contribution; its just that some people shout louder of what people of their kind have made, which really is ignorance. If there is anything more baseless; its the argument that one race is better. I believe the appropriate evaluation should be on individual level and beliefs held; A set of belief's induces actions, form norms, and essentially reflects all through. I believe this is the valid base for uniting people instead of looks, blood line and all other stuff you don't control.

  3. Patti Reynolds

    OK Guys your missing the point here they are not saying that there are other out there that got the world to the place it is now when it comes to Science and stuff ...they are just wanting to let people in on the fact that the Brits where in on it as well....i have to admit that there are some men that they spoke of that i had never even heard of before and i for one am great-full that i learnt something from this documentary....if you would stop pointing the finger and calling fowl and listen to what is being said you may all learn more than you think.

  4. Glen Hale

    The biggest hindrance to progress has been the bible basher's who have yet to prove some type of God exist yet force their backward ideas on to all.

    1. MAllen Documentaires

      Why would a bible basher need to prove there is a God?

    2. Horst Manure

      Because bible bashes are brain washed and believe any thing written in the book of crap..where the average person with a brain need facts before they accept some thing..
      Where in the Bible do they mention Dinosaurs???

  5. ildiraaleani

    Wow, when white people are racist against other white people, does that cancel things out? :p I'm being facetious. It dumbfounds me the things I read on the internet. When it comes to the history of knowledge, we should just learn, appreciate and build upon it for the future. We should thank the past geniuses for forming the shoulder of the giant in which we can stand upon. I'd love to see a documentary call "The Geniuses of the World: How these people collectively shape the course of humankind." It'd be like a forever documentary in the making because I can see it being laborious :) Perhaps each country should just do their own and I will buy the collection like the Old Encyclopedia Britannica. :)

  6. structurestrain

    Only thing we learned from them is how NOT to oppress our own citizens.

  7. structurestrain

    Brits are idiots. Why do you think U.S. forefathers created their own govt. and got away from them.

    1. lakhotason

      That's right Brits are idiots. God forbid we learn anything from them.

    2. Guest

      Hey Lak, looks like the Brits are in for it this time, at least the heat is off you Americans for a bit. Or maybe we should dip our fists in crushed glass and fight it out once and for all, I'm game if you are ! Only because I'm British you can throw the first punch, then I'll win ;)


    When you watch a Doco called Genius of Britain about British inventors why do the id**ts below get upset when it is biased towards British people. Some people shouldn't be allowed computers.

  9. ashbytim

    Arnie, please remember that it is a BBC production and primarily targeted at a British audience. I have seen American productions that have done the same in favour of the USA - one in particular about the evolution of computers that makes just a passing reference to the Collosus which was used to decrypt German enigma traffic in WWII. Ask yourself this question: Who invented the lightbulb? As an American I guess that you would answer Thomas Eddison. In fact Joseph Swann in Britain made the same invention very slightly before Eddison but due to the communications of the day they were both unaware of the fact hence the Swann/ Eddison patent for it.

    1. Greg_Mc

      Ash are you saying that you saw an American made program that was pro American and a little biased towards the good ole US of A? I find that hard to believe, I have never seen a more servile nation in my life. You never see or hear them even slightly boasting about themselves or engaging in any sort of self promotion, they are generally such a quiet polite group of people who would never slant anything in their favour or draw attention to make themselves look good. These are just a few of the reasons they are loved all over the world by everyone.

  10. Arnie

    This is a wonderful documentary except that it is VERY one sided towards British inventors ignoring everyone else's contribution.

    When it came to powering the telegraph across the length of the Atlantic ocean the energy from Niagara Falls is harnessed. ONLY British inventors are mentioned and Nikola Tesla is completely omitted.

    At this point I knew this documentary had some very serious problems with omitting other key contributors who were not British.

    How does that saying go, "History is written from the perspective of the winners of the war."

    In this case the history of the world's inventions are rewritten from the perspective of the BBC in Britain. :))

  11. Cody Welch

    I beg to differ. I believe it was France and Germany who paved the way for all these inventions to be discovered, based on the way their university system was implemented and structured to function. Germany introduced the laboratory approach to teaching chemists, biologists, surgeons, doctors, etc. and originated the "bargaining power" of prominent professors to request such resources in return for their teaching abilities, and France introduced the specialty schools, like a school of pharmacy, engineering, etc. Britain was not even in the scientific picture until the early 1800's, no advanced mathematics and science courses were offered at Cambridge or any other university of England. We owe our modern world to the credit of France and Germany, as in if it weren't for their approaches of teaching and organizing knowledge, the great thinkers to later come out of England probably wouldn't exist at all. Just my two cents.

    1. hellosnackbar

      Are you suggesting that Isaac Newton did nothing?

  12. dan young

    @ Earthwinger, Skateboard geek


    Further to your point, robots make a few things, modern slarvery makes the majority. Factories in china, india, and soon to be africa paying staff just enough to feed themselves and their families in order to survive to work another day. Industrialisation has always been this way and always will. In Briton it was like this during the victorian era. However in the day of globalisation and with a the transport infrastucture that now exists, the slavery is now abroad, and very much rife. See any of the documentries surrounding the chinese exploitaition of africa.

    Its seems to be a downward spiral. shareholders as not interested in the long term, they want returns now. This means driving down the costs and getting everything as cheap as possible, if this means shipping the work abroad so bit, however the comes a time when people can't buy because they can't afford, this time is coming, but it will never come soon enought for the investor, as they may only invest in them for 30 mins, just enough time to earn a few thousand before ditching it for something else. add this to betting on the failings of other to hedge againt your investments, and you have a recipie for disater, no one gives a toss, only that your profit was higher than it was last time you announced it, and they dont care at what future expense because it wont be their concern.

  13. dan young

    as a side note in britain you can't actually watch the documentry as its blocked by channel 4.

    1. Guest

      It's on 4od :)

  14. dan young

    @ Earthwinger, Skateboard geek

    You should do a little more research, arm chips are designed in britain, manufactured elsewhere by any number of companies. Arm sells a license to use its design.

    We make very little now. And the call centres you speak of, well they have moved abroad too. the only jobs about are the ones employed by the relentless retail machines tesco asda to which no other store can compete and the like, who only employ people on part time contracts so they don't have to pay benefits like pensions. and whos soul purpose if to take what little moeny you have from you. preferably in one store. hence why supermarkets now sell everything under the sun!

    we, like many others, bought in to the i want it now and i want it cheaper, not just in manufacturing, but in farming too, we as a nation are unable to manufacture items we need and want and have to import as do we with food. We no longer have the ability to sustain ourselves withour relying on imports. This is the reason for the state of our economy and the debt we are in. If you don't make things, you don't sell things and you don't make tax. If you sell things that are made outside the country you make less tax. if you lose the ability to make / grow things, you then find that they bump up the prices of everything.

    1. Earthwinger

      I am aware that ARM chips are made elsewhere, and under licence, I didn't say otherwise. The point that I was trying to make was that we're still a nation of innovators. I also acknowledged that we no longer have large scale manufacturing, instead, we now produce lower volumes of high end products.

      As for the call centres, after a number of years of being contracted out to places like India, they're now being moved back to the UK, because there have been so many customer complaints. Apparently, the north east of England is favoured these days, as customers for the most part, seem to find the Geordie accent reassuring. But really, that example was more a figure of speech, intended to hint at a somewhat dystopian future. ;)

      As for economics, the world as we know it is very rapidly reaching a tipping point. The wobbles that we're seeing in world markets, aren't something that in the long term, we can manufacture/consume/import or export our way out of. Of course though, politicians, economists, and business leaders will say that we can, and for the most part, the electorates will probably believe it. Because believing in fairy stories is far easier than facing up to the truth. And the truth is, the earth is a closed loop, finite system, and in such a system, there is no such thing as infinite growth.

      So, we can either try and get out of the hole that we're in, by carrying on digging, or we can change our minds, put down our shovels, and try a different approach. ;)

  15. shameonyou000

    This is the biggest lie I have ever heard!! Britains are just barbarians, masons and racists, that's it!
    This doc is the usual way J>Goebbels used the movies... 10 lies become a truth... this is the only principle britains know...
    It is very sad...

    1. Guest

      What lies? and what does Goebbels have to do with anything?

    2. Jack1952

      @ shameonyou000

      "Britains are just......" is about as racist a remark a person can make. You and Goebbels have more in common than you think.

  16. Guest

    PAst Documentery search.

    I am trying to find in the listing the Documentery about a man named James I believe, that was taught sex by the old lady clinic. I want to give it to a friend who is lonely for a mate and thinks he has got problems LOL. Does anyone remember it? Remember the name of the Doc?

    1. Achems_Razor


      Hi Connie, the doc is called "Virgin School" about James going to Amsterdam.

    2. Guest

      Awe Yes, Thanks Achems_Razor I just found your reply in my spam mail.

  17. Roger Brown

    This country is a shambles

  18. Roger Brown

    I love my country and used to be proud of it. All pride and industry gone.!!!! We used to make things.......!!!

    1. John-Sebastian Barrera

      Roger, I live in South America where paving a street is an achievement. Britain is one of the greatest countries. Go live somewhere is in Latin America or Africa and youll see.

    2. Earthwinger

      I can fully understand why you feel the way you do, but I don't entirely agree with you.

      It's certainly true that the UK has gone from being an economy based on large scale manufacturing, to one based mostly on the service sector, but our industry hasn't gone, so much as changed radically. And the truth is, it had to change. Granted, the transition could have been handled a lot better, but the relentless march of progress dictated that it had to happen anyway. You can't justify keeping thousands of people employed in car factories, when robots can do the job far more efficiently. Nor could we keep on producing and burning the amount of coal that we used too. I don't know about you, but I remember the days of smog, and having to hurry home from school, through air so thick that it made the inside of your mouth feel greasy. Personally, I'm glad that those days are long gone.

      I don't know what the solution is, and I doubt that a nation of drones working in call centres is the answer, but these aren't problems unique to the UK. Ultimately, I suspect that as technology displaces ever more workers, we will really need to rethink the whole idea of what it means to work, and maybe begin to start shifting our priorities and expectations. Because unless we do that, what's the point in designing ever more efficient labour saving technologies, if all we do is then go on to create new work for ourselves, purely out of habit? But I'm going off on a tangent here. :)

      Britain still makes things. One of the consequences of our scaled back manufacturing base is that it's had a very polarizing effect. Whereas we used to make large quantities of average stuff (as well as some great stuff), we are now world leaders in highly specialised, and innovative products. The old skills and passions are still there, it's just that the things that we produce, no longer require vast armies of labourers to make them. A few examples off the top of my head....

      Over 90% of the mobile phones and hand held devices sold around the world (more than a billion units per year), rely on ARM architecture, which is British.

      Most of the F1 racing teams have their factories in the UK, and there's a good reason for that. Our designers and engineers are amongst the finest in the world, and in keeping with tradition, it's British engineers who are at the bleeding edge of high performance, precision engineering. Granted, you can't build a nations economy around such bespoke projects, but the point is, we're still the country that people turn too when they need the best. ;)

      Then there's the whole aerospace industry, and avionics, not one of my personal favourites, as the main driver for that tends to be the push towards new, high tech methods of killing people. But hey, you want us to make stuff, you got it! :D

      Personally, I think that what we (and the rest of the world for that matter) need, is a complete paradigm shift. Consumer driven capitalism is failing the world over. And you don't need to be an economist to figure out why that's the case. So as nice as it is to pat ourselves on the back for being really good at producing innovative, high tech whatnots, the question for me is, when will we get *really* smart? When will we make the next great step forwards, the step that leads us out of this cycle of destructive, greed driven, and unsustainable consumerism?

  19. Guest

    Read an article this week that suggested Newton, Einstein, Darwin and many others may have had Aspergers. Don't know enough about them to say either way but it wouldn't surprise me. It also said that scientists seem more likely to have a child with autism, their hyper organised, obsessiveness somehow passes on to the kids. It was in the Metro, a free paper on the buses and trains but I think they have a website.

    1. Greg_Mc

      Aspergers eh? That's possible although I have never heard anyone suggest it before. Mark Zuckerberg I believe has Aspergers not that you can put him in the same catagory as Einstein, Newton etc. In the movie Zuckerberg came across as a complete a$$h0le but I am sure one has nothing to do with the other.

    2. Guest

      Gary McKinnon also, the man that hacked the Pentagon and NASA, almost 10 years facing extradition and banned from using computers for all that time. My sister has Aspergers, not a genius though sharp as a tack, a truly brilliant and fearless rider and obsessive collector of shoes and cheap jewellery and I mean obsessive. Would rather go hungry than go without them. It doesn't even occur to her to care, if there are 10 pairs of shoes that she sees as a set she wont stop 'til she has them all and what's worse is that she wont wear any of them and as she always buys them a size too small she can't anyway. She says they look wrong in the right size. She doesn't like to crease them either. All her jewellery is hung in sets and in colour order on cork boards, anything out of place sends her into a spin. The a-hole thing, he probably is in a way. My sister comes across like that, selfish, greedy and no empathy or willingness to understand anyone else at all. Underneath that is a frightened child trying constantly to feel how she thinks normal feels, always trying to fit in and never being understood, just judged. She has a huge heart and an acid wit, she's beautiful too. Love her to pieces even though she drives me to distraction with her endless dramas.

  20. Guest

    What, no Monty Python?

  21. Nicholas Lazarou

    the english have done allot to hurt mankind

    1. Regan

      You meant the British? or specifically the English? or don't you know the difference?

      If you go back and look at your history you will see that the original Britons, and more specifically the original English where almost wiped out during the Norman, Saxon, Viking & Roman invasions. They where a very peaceful agricultural based people who got pushed so far west by the various murderous invasions that they ended up settling in Wales and Ireland. As luck would have it the Welsh and ironically the Northern and Eastern Irish are the true original Britons and are more genetically English than the modern day Anglo-Saxon is! What a bizarre world we live in! So just accept that every dog has it's day and not too long ago England was the most raped and pillaged country in Europe, it's people suffering a holocaust long before WWII, but it grew up up into a nowty little place that took on the world and somehow ruled it for over a century. Quite remarkable really.

  22. Suzanne Case

    The discoveries of Tesla have yet to be rivaled, an amazingly rich world of energy could have been ours if it wasn't for greedy capitalism. J.P. Morgan, the man that prevented his discoveries from being shared, has British ancestry. Go figure.

    1. Earthwinger

      "The discoveries of Tesla have yet to be rivaled"

      I'm sorry!

      Tesla was a very smart guy, but he stood on the shoulders of giants, like Michael Faraday and James Maxwell.

  23. John Murgaš

    The BBC Allstars!

  24. Diane Campbell

    also hawking, american? are you for real?former lucasian professor of mathematics, cambridge? or is it the cambridge part thats getting people mixed up. you know there is more than one yeah? there is the one in massachusetts, then there is the original one in england. where the lucasian professor of mathematics is employed.

    1. Greg_Mc

      Is your comment about Hawking "also hawking, american? are you for real?" aimed at me? I would take a guess and say it was since I don't think anyone else mentioned it. For starters yes I am for real, sorry to disappoint you.
      My comment " Now I am sure at some point I did know he was British and how that has changed to me thinking he is American is a mystery to me." seems pretty harmless to me but obviously it got under your skin a little bit. I can honestly say I do not spend a lot of time thinking about the guy whether it be what nationality he is or where and on what he is working.

  25. Diane Campbell

    ibm, have offered hawking several vocal set ups and he's knocked them all back for exactly that reason.
    don't want to piss on anyones campfire here but surely the doc, with exception of the tinterweb, should be called the genius of scotland.the old adage, england may have conquered half the globe but scotland built it rings true. and david beckham is a m*ron.

    1. Greg_Mc

      I am sensing you are Scottish, an accent that if not too thick is a very attractive on a girl. Case in point being the latest companion on Dr. Who. And thank you for confirming Earthwinger's supposition, when I read it I said to myself "Self, Earthwinger has an excellent idea there". I have read many a post from him and they are generally well thought out and nicely said, something that is appreciated by many on here as we often have to put up with comments from people who may be smart but are not always the nicest people.

      Lol I believe Earthwinger agrees with your opinion of Mr. Beckham as you can see in his reply to me saying giving Stephen Hawking a voice like Beckhams may not be a good idea. I have heard and noticed from the few interviews I have seen him give that Beckham is lucky he is a good looking guy and a good (but massively overrated) player. Now I don't want to insult the English (well not to much anyway) but does everybody who were brought up in the same area he was have that accent? Even if he was smart he would still come across as, as you put it, a m*ron because of that accent. My cousins are all from the north of England (Blackpool being the closest city of note to them, which is where my dad grew up but oddly my dad never sounded like he had an English accent) but they all went to private schools where I think they were forced to speak a certain way, I believe the term "slightly snotty" describes it well enough. There are so many different accents over there it is impossible for us foreign people to figure where people are from by them. When I was there travelling all over the country I ran into many people who when they spoke to me i had no clue what they were saying.

    2. Guest

      Beckham is from London, not sure which part but it's a mild twang, not the heavy weight true Cockney, Bow Bells version. He's managed to earn a fortune so probably not as green as he is cabbage looking. I have a sneaking suspicion that they give footballers classes in speaking rubbish just so the fans can identify with them and keep them buying the new kits every season! :) Real cockneys are born within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow church.

    3. Greg_Mc

      At Beckhams level of playing and the money that has been invested in him since he was probably 17 very little of what he says or does is not scripted ahead of time. The image of him that is portrayed to the general public is pre planned for maximum return on their dollar or pound. While he comes across as not the brightest guy in the world I really don't think that is a total act but even though he has people taking care of almost everything for him he didn't have the career he has had (again lol way beyond over rated) and made all that money without as you so Englishly (not sure if that is a real word but it works for me lol) put it being not as green as he is cabbage looking.

      So people from London are cockney, I never got what that term meant I always thought it was a Scottish term.

    4. Guest

      Not a football fan but as I understand it Beks is something of an every-man and though he might not be the greatest ever player he was valued as a captain for his energy and ability to keep up morale. He's probably a nice enough guy, the nanny thought so. Not my cup of tea, If were talking mindless sportsmen - make mine a boxer. Or a cricketer.

    5. Guest

      My vote for mindless sportsman would have to go to Tiger Woods. In the history of sport no one has stuck his head farther up his a$$ than Tiger.

    6. Guest

      You might be right, that guy is a total knob.

  26. branrx

    Richard Dawkins? Id leave him out

    1. Epicurus


    2. tomregit

      Oooh, that's fascinating.

  27. Alex Boivin-Scott

    just started the doc and i have to say, so happy that David Attenborough is in this! god i love that guy!

  28. Guest


    1. Guest

      Oh you have lots of people we envy like Bush and ummm ...

    2. Greg_Mc

      You replied to Guest who only typed in "...." lol is there a comment he made that I can't see? Unless of course his comment is in braille and you somehow could feel it through your screen.

      Please oh please explain how you were able to reply to him or her, I will lose sleep until I find the answer to this. I would say not knowing this may drive me crazy but we all know how that sentence would end.

    3. Guest

      Sorry G_M, if I told you I'd have to kill you :) Sleep well

    4. Greg_Mc

      Sleep well? How can I with the possibility of death looming over me, I know you only kill me if you tell me but you may let it slip out one day and then I live in fear of you popping out of no where to lay waste to my sorry ass lol. I would say you don't know where I live but you seem to have the ability to find things out, just to be safe I am putting up extra guards in the tower and more aligators in the moat.

    5. Guest

      Haha, laughing my socks off, I will lift the threat of death and tell you my secret. I may have wonderful powers but even I can't wrestle more than one 'gator at a time! Actually didn't need to use any magic for this one though, He who wrote the comment also deleted it after I replied. Rest easy in your tower :)

    6. Greg_Mc

      Ok I appreciate the threat of death being lifted and i will hold off on the gators. I had an idea there was another comment you were answering to.

      Ok gotta go try to figure out how to hook up a printer to our apple notebook, I don't know how to use the mac so my son is in charge of that and the part where you put the cd in to install the drivers etc wont open but I believe the web site for the printer will have everything I need available for downloading. My son has a homework assignment that needs printed up so if I get the printer working that will take away his last stalling tactic lol.

    7. Guest

      Good luck with that, all our disks have vanished and our wireless printer will no longer work wirelessly. Homework printing is a sunday ritual. Hope he gets A's :) He could e.mail it to you and print from another computer.

  29. Greg_Mc

    Havent had the chance to view this yet but I have to mention that I didn't know that Stephan Hawking was British, which I should have known because thinking about it his accent does give this fact away

    1. Earthwinger

      There's a funny story on that subject.

      A couple of years ago, when the Investor's Business Daily in the USA was bashing socialized medicine, they assumed that Stephen Hawking was American, and went on to claim that had he been British and reliant on the NHS, he'd not be alive today.

      Ironically, Hawking (who's about as English as tea and crumpets) has always maintained that he owes his life to the NHS. :)

    2. Guest

      Three cheers for the NHS :)

    3. Greg_Mc

      LOL That's a great story Earthwinger, Americans HATE the idea of socialized health care (socialized anything to them is communism). Now I am sure at some point I did know he was British and how that has changed to me thinking he is American is a mystery to me. It could be that as I am in Canada I always see him on an American TV channel or being associated in some way with an American university that after a while assumption just creeps in.

      Judging by your last little paragraph Hawkings did not grow up wealthy (I really do not know much about the man except the obviousness of his genius) in which case had he grown up in the States he would have only had access to an HMO and the limited care that comes with it. We have socialized health care here too and while it has many many problems if you need it you do get care (eventually).

      The description of the doc says that the British invented computers so they must still know a thing or two about them so I will go back to my original point/sarcasm about his machine that talks for him. It is very robotic sounding and you would think that they would want him to sound more human and possibly add in a British accent. A nice educated sounding one lol you don't want him coming out and sounding like David Beckham. Beckham for all I know may be a very nice guy (I have an opinion on him but that's not for this conversation) but his accent makes him sound like a moron (keeping quiet on that topic too lol).

    4. Earthwinger

      Purely supposition on my part....I'm wondering if maybe that voice synthesiser has become so firmly linked with Hawking, that maybe he's reluctant to change it now, even though there are much better ones available these days.

      As for Mr Beckham, I've spoken to people who've met him, and without exception, they all say that he's a lovely guy, very friendly, approachable, and kind. When all's said and done though, he's a footballer, so yeah.....there was never much chance of him becoming a rocket scientist. ;)

    5. Imightberiding


    6. [ shawn ]

      Body, by England
      Voice, by Redmond.

  30. Gareth Jones

    Already been blocked by channel 4 in the UK.