1 9 5 2 – 1 9 5 9 (UK)
114 x 30 minute episodes
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? debuted on 23 October 1952 and presented distinguished specialists attempting to guess the nature of museum exhibits – from cuttlefish beaks to Tibetan prayer wheels.
Although one critic described it when it first aired as “a lot of old fossils looking at a lot of old fossils”, it wasn’t as dull as it sounds – It was one of the BBC’s first major panel games . . . and the Queen liked it.
Once a fortnight, a team of three experts tried to identify a succession of objects taken from Britain’s museums, giving the UK’s greatest ‘national inheritance’ a plug in the process.
The first chairman was Lionel Hale, but, from the second programme, Cambridge University Fellow, Dr Glyn Daniel, hosted proceedings.
Its star turn was flamboyantly knowledgable archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, whose powers of observational deduction were second to none, though this wasn’t what made him such a draw. With a florid, expressive face, aided by an atavistic moustache made for twirling, he’d frown intensely at a flint axe or quern – hum, ha, squint, peer – then, in a cartoonish light bulb moment, all but leap in the air as the penny dropped.
Sir Mortimer often upstaged his fellow panellists with a pinch of snuff or a quick joke. He interrupted the chairman regularly, and he once snatched the mysterious object from the hands of one colleague who he thought was getting too much camera time. Towards the end of the programme’s run, he received a fan letter from a little girl: “I like watching you,” it said. “I like old things”.
Among the other experts taking part were archaeologist Adrian Digby, Norman Cook, Dr W.E. Swinton, Dr Julian Huxley, Jacquetta Hawkes, Hugh Shortt, Professor Thomas Bodkin and other cerebral folk.
David Attenborough was the programme’s chief producer.
The final episode aired on 18 March 1959. A short-lived revival was attempted in 1971.