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Connections Series One on UK DVD

Monday, 13 February 2017 00:00 Written by 

Connections with James Burke out now on UK DVDHe was immortalised by The Human League in their 1980 song “The Black Hit of Space”, where Phil Oakey implored we “get James Burke on the case”. At that point in time, the impact of the first series of Connections had been seismic. First broadcast in 1978, the ten part series had cemented Burke’s place not only in our British culture, but he was then exposed to a worldwide audience. He had become a national icon through working on Tomorrow’s World from when it began in 1965 through to 1971, as well as being a cornerstone of the BBC’s coverage of the Apollo space missions, and fronting The Burke Special (1972-1976).

Why was Connections such a ‘big thing’ at the time? Much like Burke’s own philosophy regarding inventions and progress, it joined together elements of history, science and technology to show how seemingly disconnected disciplines fed off each other to create major breakthroughs. This created a positive feedback loop, and explains the ever-faster rates of change that we see in our society today. The biggest surprise in all this is why it has taken so long to finally get a UK release for the series in any shape or form. Thanks to Simply Media, it is time to revisit not just this but all the incredible, and in places prophetic, work of James Burke.

The mix of monologues to camera, historical re-enactments, and technical reconstructions were directed by Mick Jackson, a Primetime Emmy-Award-winner in 2010 for “Temple Grandin”, a biopic about an autistic woman who became one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry. He also helmed the nuclear apocalypse drama-documentary Threads in 1984, and the political mini-series A Very British Coup in 1988. Certainly, Connections is right up there with all these as ‘must-see TV” that should be on everyone’s DVD ‘bucket list’.

Also of note is that the designer of the Daleks, Ray Cusick taking on production design duties across the series, and you should look out for Zaphod Beeblebrox himself, Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy star Mark Wing Davey, playing Henry V in the episode “Distant Voices”.

So, how do all these Connections work? In Burke’s congenial and witty style of to-camera narrations, he poses questions such as how did the nautical instruments of Elizabethan times give rise to the atom bomb? Or what is the link between Britain’s textile mills and the Information Age? If you want to go really ‘left field’, how did exploding billiard balls usher in an era of mass media entertainment?

It has been said that the style of the series sees James turn science into a series of detective stories. These lead the audience through 12,000 years of history to discover clues and ‘knowledge maps’ which would spark life-changing inventions in telecommunications, plastics, film and television, jet propulsion, nuclear fusion and personal computing.

Explaining the ‘trigger effect’ of ever-accelerating advances in technology which leave us dependent on increasingly complex networks, James predicted a future world in which radical change in the availability and use of information would be needed in order to remain in control of our societies and systems.

Back in 1973, Mr Burke predicted that we would see so many of us, if not all of us to some degree, allowing our personal data to be used by others, particularly such a privacy invasion being accepted amongst the young. Such privacy being surrendered, for instance, so that online shopping firms are able to recommend things to us based on our browsing and purchasing patterns.

Moving to the modern day, recent interviews see him noting that nanotechnology will be the next big shift in our world view, where our lives will become that of plenty not of little. We will all become autonomous, with no need for nations or governments, being able to instantly create anything that we need, want or desire.

We've had a lot of talk of transhumanism being where the elites want to take us, but James suggests a much more pragmatic alternative which nanotechnology could lead us to. And guess what, in all the talk of our structure and surroundings, the over-riding important driver will be CONTENT - of every sort you can think of. Abundance without austerity. Mankind being self-regulating on its numbers without the use of eugenics (a quirky answer almost at the end of a 2009 conference speech to a question from an audience member). Wow. I recall seeing the Connections series when it was originally broadcast, but seeing it with adult eyes nearly four decades later, for me this revisiting was the day the universe changed.

Nowadays, James shares his time between London and the South of France. His ways of thinking are encapsulated at his Knowledge Web website, and every so often he will turn up with a new interview or speech, moving his analysis on based around the latest technological progressions.

Hopefully, this release will be just the beginning of an increased availability of Mr Burke’s back catalogue in the UK. In the vaults, there’s Connections 2 (a 20 part half-hour series from 1994), and also Connections 3 (a 10 part hour series from 1997). Before these, The Day the Universe Changed was another landmark series in ten one-hour parts, made in 1985, with various stories of important scientific discoveries and technological advances which fundamentally altered how western civilization perceives its world.

With luck, 2017 will be the year more of us reconnect with James Burke and his outlook on the world. We shouldn’t give in to the silo mentality of keeping everything in its own particular compartments, but equally we need to engage more with what he describes as ‘social ecology’, where we all take a “wider, more contextual view of innovation and its effects, with a view to encouraging, moderating or discouraging particular projects”, as he noted in the 2007 preface to that year’s reprint of his “Connections” book.

For James Burke to note that not all change and progress is necessarily good tells us a lot about how far down an unmarked road we have already travelled.

Connections is out now from Simply Media. The three DVD set has an ‘E’ certificate, a running time of 500 minutes approx, and a RRP of £24.99, or get it for less at by CLICKING HERE.


Last modified on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 11:43