I used to enjoy Tomorrow’s World, the BBC’s flagship science for the masses programme. There were the usual ‘in five years’ myths perpetuated and some non-functioning revolutionary inventions which I can say from personal experience were put into production.
I would encourage my eldest lad to watch TW in the hope that he would become enthused by sciency things but, given that much was either wordy or non-functioning, it didn’t really grab the attention of a 10-year-old. One time, though, he sat forward on the settee as there was a short video of a staged car crash. Car safety features were being discussed with dramatic visuals. So in one way at least, it did herald today’s world.
Cars, we were told, were capable of travelling at over 70mph (those were the days) on motorways and such. This was true enough, but then they spoiled it a bit by discussing head-on collisions, not something that common on motorways at the time. There was a brief mention of energy increasing with the square of speed. Then we came to the statement which this little missive will concentrate on.
‘For the occupants of a car, a head-on collision at 70mph is equivalent to hitting a concrete bridge support at 140mph.’
At last. I had the feeling I used to experience when being able to answer a question on University Challenge, although normally the contestant would give it first. My, ‘I was about to say that’ was normally met with a disdainful look, which was exactly what I received from my son when I said, ‘They’re wrong. It’s equivalent to hitting a concrete bridge support, or any immoveable object, at 70mph.’
My son did not believe his father. I explained the details as best I could, which wasn’t very best, and my lad just nodded in the way that if I’d done it when my wife had said something, it would take flowers and chocolates before the matter was settled.
Once my lad went to bed, still contemptuous of his father’s knowledge of Principia’s fundamentals, I broke out my pen, paper and envelope to write a strong letter to ‘The Producer, Tomorrow’s World’. In it I mentioned the difficulties in bringing up children were only made more pronounced when they believe an error on the TV trumped dad.
Honour satisfied, I put the whole matter out of my mind. A bit at least. A couple of weeks went past, all the time me believing that a son’s confidence in his father had been shattered, and then the letter arrived, complete with BBC logo. It was bulky so looked interesting.
Inside was a sheet of headed paper, the Tomorrow’s World logo proudly displayed, and a sealed envelope address to my son. Or rather, addressed to ‘The son of Mr . . .’ The letter was one of apology, although it started with a polite thank-you for pointing out the error. It said they would correct it the next programme, which they did, much to my excitement.
My son read his letter, took it to bed with him, but let me read it the following day. TW pointed out that you should never believe what someone says just because they are clever [a bit of self-aggrandisement there I thought] because they might be wrong. Accept nothing, my lad was told, without facts to support.
A number of life’s lessons were explained in that little play in two acts. Firstly, just because someone talked posh does not mean they are right. Secondly, looking right is not proof. Thirdly, if you doubt your father and he proves you were wrong, he will give you lots of knowing looks over the next few weeks.
Fourthly, and a lesson that I took away from it, if you make a mistake, owning up to it at once can allow you to keep your credibility. If you go one better and use your imagination to apologise, you will get people on your side despite being wrong in the first place.
Well done Tomorrow’s World.