1 9 7 4 – 1 9 8 0 (UK)
This prime-time science programme from Yorkshire Television became the most popular science TV series in the history of British television.
Experts answered such crucial questions as ‘why do jellies wobble?’, ‘why are fleas good jumpers?’ and ‘do crocodiles really shed tears?’.
It launched the career of pretty young doctor, Miriam Stoppard; a botanist with a funny face and a worse voice, David Bellamy (pictured above) and an eccentric birdlike nutritionist who talked very fast, Magnus Pyke (pictured below).
Magnus (secretary of the British Association for the Advancement of Science) was keen on demonstrations. Ask him to mix four hundredweight of custard in a cement-mixer and you’d have a happy man . . .
Some experiments went wrong, though. He worked out the speed truck-driver John England should use to ‘fly’ a minibus across the River Avon. It was too slow. The bus sank, trapping John for 40 seconds. “By Jove, you are wet,” said Magnus.
Despite the weekly mayhem of the Don’t Ask Me studio, where wild animals regularly misbehaved and huge pieces of scientific apparatus went awry, viewers really took to Magnus Pyke.
They loved his eccentricity and imitated his gestures, but they respected his learning. Judging from the letters that poured into YTV’s Science Office, many of them seemed to believe that he was the fount of all knowledge.
The most popular question put to the programme was ‘Why is my reflection upside down on one side of a spoon, but the right way up on the other side?’ – sent in by more than 100 viewers. Other questions asked frequently included, ‘Why do cats purr?’, ‘Why is yawning catching?’ and ‘Why do wheels on stagecoaches seem to go backwards in films and on television?’
Derek Griffiths was replaced as the host by Adrienne Posta, but she lasted only one show. “Don’t ask me”, she was told when she asked why she had been sacked. Her too-modern clothes seemed to have been her crime.
The unstoppable Stoppard was halted only once when labour pains caused her to break off in mid-sentence.
The series was rebranded as Don’t Just Sit There when Pyke and Bellamy were joined by Dr Rob Buckman – a future partner with Miriam on Where There’s Life.
Dr Miriam Stoppard