Press Centre

I Never Knew That About Britain

  • Episode: 

    1 of 8

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Mon 03 Mar 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    8.00pm - 8.30pm
  • Week: 

    Week 10 2014 : Sat 01 Mar - Fri 07 Mar
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing - in the public domain - until Tuesday 25 February 2014.
I Never Knew That About Britain, anchored by Paul Martin, explores Britain’s rich and surprising history, unearthing eccentric characters and stories from Britain’s past and celebrating some of the greatest technological, artistic, scientific and political achievements of the British people.
In this series, based on the bestselling book series by Christopher Winn, Paul will be joined by science presenter, Steve Mould, and British historian and broadcaster, Suzannah Lipscomb.
From traffic lights to the humble toilet, from the flying bike to the skyscraper, the trio of presenters travel the length of Great Britain to reveal the unusual stories and meet the people connected with them.
Across eight episodes, I Never Knew That About Britain is an entertaining cornucopia of all the things you never knew about Britain.
Tonight we celebrate the unsung heroes of Britain. People who, for one reason or another, haven’t received the global recognition that rightly deserve.
The invention of the collapsible buggy revolutionised parenthood, but what is its connection to the Spitfire, so loved by the allied pilots during World War II? As Paul realises a childhood dream by flying in a Spitfire, proclaiming it “the best thing I’ve ever done in my life”, we learn how the buggy’s folding system, which is now so complex that it is studied at a number of universities, was inspired by the Spitfire’s wheel folding system.
Owen Maclaren, one of the engineers who worked on the Spitfire’s undercarriage, realised that the prams of old were heavy and impractical and noticed that the solution was right in front of his eyes. Owen went into production with the new lightweight aluminium Maclaren Baby Buggy 01 in 1967. Alex, Owen’s granddaughter, reflects that this invention “liberated the way mothers could be with their children”.
Most people think that Britain’s last invasion was the Battle of Hastings in 1066. However, in 1797 the town of Fishguard, Wales, fended off the advances of Napoleon’s soldiers hoping to stir up an uprising, who had inadvertently landed there after being blown off course from their intended destination of Bristol, as Suzannah investigates.
Christopher John, a local historian, tells how  “a local heroine in Fishguard, Jemima Nicholas, advanced from Fishguard with a pitchfork singlehandedly and captured 12 Frenchmen, and led them by the point of her pitchfork back to Fishguard.”
She then organised the women of the town to dress up in their traditional Welsh costume of black hats and red shawls, and line up along the hill so that the Frenchmen, who had been drinking all the booze from the abandoned farmhouses, would think they were the British army.
This bizarre and little known story had widespread repercussions both at the time and though to the present. The uncertainty caused by the invasion meant that people removed their money from the bank of England, causing them to issue IOUs in the form of paper money.
In 1847, James Simpson held the most dangerous and influential dinner party in history, as Steve discovers. After witnessing the agony of childbirth in his role as Head of Obstetrics, he made it his mission to help ease the pain of childbirth by finding effective painkillers.
As well as offering his guests wine, he fed them a multitude of different potions to find the best anaesthetising effect.
Professor Iain Milne explains what happened at the dinner party: “Simpson was looking for something that would be an anaesthetic agent…he got the local chemist to send him lots of substances which would be tried out…finally, and I think it was one of the last things they tried, was chloroform, and chloroform had the requisite effect.”
Paul Martin
How would you describe the series?
I Never Knew That About Britain is an action-packed show that celebrates the people and the places that have sometimes been forgotten or overlooked that have shaped our great history. We’re a nation that’s proud of our history, and this show celebrates it.
There’s something for all the family: children, adults and grandparents. It's a series where people will go: ‘Wow, I never knew that about Britain.'
Which stories stood out for you?
Flying the Spitfire (episode 1), definitely. It’s an iconic piece of British heritage, which shaped our history. To actually go up in a Spitfire and experience the noise and the smell, it was just fantastic. It was a window back in time. The best experience I’ve had in my life!
I was also really fascinated by the fact that the first oil tycoon came from Scotland. 
Do you think viewers will find the stories fascinating?
Yes I do. Fascinating to the extent that they will want to go of and do their own investigating. It will set them off on their own journey. 
We want to inspire people to get out there and go exploring and take these stories even further – do school projects on them, go and visit them at the weekend.
Where will viewers see you visiting?
Basically, all over the British Isles. That’s the beauty of the show, it’s armchair travel. It means viewers can see all the wonderful places this country has to offer, from their living rooms.
Did you enjoy making the series?
Definitely. We’re a very proud nation and have such wonderful heritage; the stories we could uncover are endless.
The older you get, the more you realise you didn’t know, which is lovely. Some things you take for granted, or they’re schoolboy facts, but until you delve deeper you don’t realise how many rich layers there are to the stories.
It’s a great programme because it’s entertainment and it’s educational. We’re all proud to be British, and it's a great thing to celebrate our craftsmen and heritage, and this is a way of uniting them both.
Suzannah Lipscomb
How would you describe I Never Knew That About Britain to viewers?
It’s a fun and fast-paced look at incredible stories from British history.
Which of the stories stood out for you and for what reasons?
I think the story of the last invasion of Britain was particularly striking for me, because it corrects a really pervasive popular myth that we were last invaded 1,000 years ago, in 1066. This story tells us that it was far more recently, and that a major part of a resistance came from a hardy group of Welsh women!
Do you think viewers will find the tales fascinating?
It would be hard not to be as these stories are true and yet unbelievable. This is the sort of programme that you’ll be talking about at the watercooler and over dinner for days and weeks to come.
What parts of the country will viewers see you visiting?
I go from Dolaucothi to Coventry, Newark to London, Bristol to Fishguard, and other places besides.
Which of the featured stories in the series do you take a look at?
All sorts: why we drive on the left, looking for gold in Wales, the birth of the stock exchange, and many more.
Did you enjoy making the series?
I did, very much, especially the wonderful experience of learning to joust and the terrible experience of drinking 17th century- style coffee! Above all, driving what a comedian friend of mine called my ‘Union Jag’.
Steve Mould
How would you describe I Never Knew That About Britain to viewers?
The series shows the incredible hidden history of Britain. It's full of facts you'll find yourself sharing with people.
Which of the stories stood out for you and for what reasons?
The hip replacement. It was eye-opening for me because I'd never seen an operation before and this one involves saws and hammers! As brutal as it sounds, it's one of the most successful operations in the world.
Do you think viewers will find the tales fascinating?
Yes. If you're the inquisitive type, or if you just want to celebrate some of Britain's unsung heroes, this is the show for you.
What parts of the country will viewers see you visiting?
Edinburgh, Lladudno, Sheffield, London, among others.
Which of the featured stories in the series do you take a look at?
Copper, stainless steel, hip replacement, chloroform, flying bike, traffic lights, sky scrapers, and others.
Did you enjoy making the series?
Immensely. I got to do so many things I wouldn't have done otherwise.
What did you never know about Britain until making the programme?
Traffic lights were invented in Britain, quickly abandoned, and then imported from America 40 years later.