Perched as they are at the dawn of fame, you may not really know who (Eric) Monkman and (Bobby) Seagull really are, or even if they are even real. Well these smart young men with Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Adventures (BBC Two) are real and, apart from Bamber Gascoigne, these are the most famous people who emerged from the TV quiz show University challenge, due to their unusually intense and serious manner of answering questions on general knowledge. You can think of them as a double tacky professional act; Cannon and Ball with a master’s degree.
Here, we find them wandering around Great Britain in their bright blue Mini for a three-part road trip. They visit the places where the many geniuses of the industrial revolution made this country the preeminent economic power of the world two and a half centuries ago. They visit the usual places: Richard Arkwright’s water textile factories in Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, and the first James Watt steam locomotive in Birmingham. We are also transported to Christ Church Meadow in Oxford, the location of some of the first hot air balloon flights in England in the mid-18th century, which is not so relevant but is quite fun, even if it was too windy for M&S in the sky.
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Recreating experiences such as Joseph Priestley’s discovery of “air dephlogistique” (which we now know as oxygen), the joy of Monkman and Seagull in discovery and the enthusiasm for enlightenment are extremely contagious . I particularly appreciated the explanation of how the mass of the Earth was calculated for the first time in 1774 on Schiehallion, a mountain in Perthshire, with Monkman using a country bread and a penknife to go through the mathematics of the weighing of the world.
I would not like to go back to all Marxists about the Monkman and Seagull version of economic history, but apart from a false reference to slavery and a mention of the relatively high wages paid in the first “factories”, there is no There was nothing about the misery dehumanization that also stems from the industrial revolution. But maybe these questions are a little too geeky for popular history.