From Edge of Extinction to The Energy Promise

Production notes in the Caversham archives suggest that there are some pretty persistent, and at the same time, diverse, framings of environment and resources topics across half a century. Wild lurches from intonations of dire problems to just-around-the-corner whizz-bang solutions are a regular feature.

In his opening voiceover for ‘The Edge of Extinction’ (1980) Gerald Durrell says: ‘look at this wonderful tapestry of creatures that share the world with us. Bizarre, beautiful, fascinating. Yes it is quite possible that unless action is taken now, in 50 years most of these animals will be forced into a extinction.’

A few years earlier, the Horizon strand included What a Waste (1973): ‘The energy the cost of materials that we import, has totally changed the economic picture of recycling and refuse.’ The scale of North Sea oil and gas was only glimpsed at this point in time, and it was to postpone meaningful efforts at recycling by years.

But also from 1973 comes a Horizon on ‘The Energy Promise’ of nuclear fusion. Correspondence with a US lab has a physicist claiming that ‘(w)e are very optimistic that we will be able to overcome several of the surface and materials problems which we have recently identified’. He neglects to offer a delivery date.

In a letter to a school inviting student participation in filming for the Fusion show, the producer writes: ‘By the time Fusion Power becomes a reality, they will be peak consumers of energy and may well be facing an energy crisis much more severe than the one which we are experiencing at the moment. Hopefully Nuclear Fusion could prove to be the answer to their problems.’

The producer’s intention was that the children would play a central role in helping audiences imagine the next big thing in energy. In a production note with a UK lab where they are to film the producer says ‘I hope the Culham Fire Service can be standing by during the exterior sequences’. And in another note to the school:

‘The children would be filmed looking at various pieces of large-scale apparatus… and watching a demonstration of Fusion Power. Part of this demonstration involves the ignition of a quantity of acetone to produce a column of flame which the children would watch from a safe distance.’

You get the sense that the risk assessment process was a little less onerous back then.

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