Programme 1. 9.00am, 4 January 2010
Melvyn travels to Wadham College, Oxford, where under the shadow of the English Civil War, the young Christopher Wren and friends experimented in the garden of their inspirational college warden, John Wilkins. Back in London, as Charles II is brought to the throne from exile, the new Society is formally founded one night in Gresham College. When London burns six years later, it is two of the key early Fellows of the Society who are charged with its rebuilding. And, as Melvyn finds out, in the secret observatory in The Monument to the fire, it is science which flavours their plans.
Programme 2. 9.00am, 5 January 2010
Programme two begins in the coffee house Isaac Newton and the fellows of the early 18th century frequented. At the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, we learn how Newton’s feud with the Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed tested the lines between government-funded research and public access. By the end of the century the President, Sir Joseph Banks, successfully embeds the Royal Society in the imperial bureaucratic hub of the new Somerset House. But while senior fellows concentrated on foreign fields, a more radical, dissident science and manufacturing base wrought the Industrial Revolution right under their noses.
Programme 3. 9.00am, 6 January 2010
The 19th century blooms scientifically with numerous alternative, specialist learned societies and associations, all threatening the Royal Society’s pre-eminence. Attempts to reform the membership criteria – marking scientific leadership’s painful transition from patronage to expertise – are troubled, and organisations such as the British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the BSA) excite and enliven scientific discourse outside of London.
Programme 4. 9.00am, 7 January 2010
The horrors of the First World War were a shocking indictment of the power of science. Picking up the thread at this hiatus in scientific optimism, this programme, recorded in the current home of the Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace in London, looks at the more subtle, discreet role the Society played in the 20th century, such as secretly arranging for refugee scientists to flee Germany, co-ordinating international scientific missions during the Cold War and quietly distributing government grant money to fund the brightest young researchers in the land..