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Equinox (1986- )

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Equinox (1986- )
Channel 4, 31/7/1986-present
Over 240 x 60 min editions, colour
Executive Producer (1986-90)Patrick Uden

Long-running science and technology strand.

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Unlike most television non-fiction, general science and technology has never been an over-abundant or especially distinguished field. BBC's long-running Horizon (1963- ) and, perhaps, Tomorrow's World (1965-2003) may spring to mind, but, other than the occasional single-themed or set-subject limited series, there has been little to engage the science-minded viewer.

When Channel 4 initiated a technology and science strand to rival Horizon, the series' aim was to establish an international reputation and identity which would attract co-production money from abroad. Channel 4 appointed Patrick Uden as series executive producer to co-ordinate the overall strand, and the series grew out of Uden's initial idea to make a five-programme series called Technology Today and C4 commissioning editor John Ranelagh's plans for an on-going science strand.

Originating an umbrella structure to accommodate different independent companies, Uden established a diverse approach to subjects and treatment, breaking from the BBC convention of a homogeneous series style. Equinox represented a radical departure by putting science in an industrial, economic and historical context, and instead of marvelling at tomorrow's world, questioned it.

Another crucial element was Uden's impatience with the received wisdom about what constitutes 'real science'. From his long experience on Tomorrow's World, The Body in Question (BBC, 1978-79) and Horizon, he saw how applied technology and design were not considered to be scientific subjects. This was a bias he corrected with Equinox from the start: the two-part 'Turbo' (tx. 31/7 & 7/8/1986) looked at the development of a new Formula 1 car engine; 'Prisoner of Consciousness' (tx. 14/8/1986) examined the case of Clive Wearing, a former Radio 3 producer, who had lost his memory; and 'A Short History of the Future' (tx. 21/8/1986) observed how our view of the future had affected design.

While other subjects - computers predicting the weather ('Weather Forecast', tx. 6/8/1987), the development of the electric guitar ('Twang, Bang, Kerang!', tx. 20/8/1987) - explored the application of science history to industry, daily life and the shape of things to come, an unfortunate 1990 edition ('The Greenhouse Conspiracy', tx. 12/8/1990) was hailed as television's 'first debunking' of the Greenhouse Effect. The programme attempted to demolish global warming hypotheses and, misguidedly, suggested that increased levels of carbon dioxide would be good for the world.

Nevertheless, Equinox's lively and imaginative approach to its varied subjects - accessible, absorbing and, quite often, revelatory - showed that television's conception of science could be a compelling story related in intimate terms.

Tise Vahimagi

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Channel 4 Documentary