Science and the BBC

Today Open University scientist are regularly seen in all forms of news media and are currently most often seen providing high level comment on Iceland’s volcano cloud. Thirty years ago, a more controversial issue hit the headlines that also affected its close relationship with the BBC.

189-6In 1980 the BBC cancelled a lecture on nuclear arms by the Dean of Science Michael Pentz. The BBC told the University that is was ‘inappropriate and unsuitable’. The lecture had already been filmed and the cancellation prompted an outcry including an emergency motion in the Senate. The BBC was at the same time facing criticisism for its decision not to screen The War Game, a film about nuclear war made for the twentieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing in 1965 but not shown until 1985.

Pentz was a well known peace campaigner, a member of CND Council and Chair of the Milton Keynes Peace Campaign but he explained: ‘It is not appropriate in an educational lecture to indulge in polemics, but it is appropriate for the relevant facts to be drawn to public attention. I’m not a complete nit-wit and I realised that I had to be very careful.’

The lecture entitled Towards the final abyss? A scientist’s view of the nuclear arms race was the third in an Open Lecture series. It was finally broadcast in February 1981 on condition that it was followed by a studio discussion (see Sesame, 70, January/February 1981).

Mike Pentz, the Open University’s first Dean of Science, died 15 years ago this week. An obituary can be read here.

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