Tomorrow's World

Tomorrow's World was a BBC television series on new developments in science and technology. First transmitted on 7 July 1965 on BBC1, it ran for 38 years until it was cancelled at the beginning of 2003. The Tomorrow's World title was revived in 2017 as an umbrella brand for BBC science programming.


Tomorrow's World was created by Glyn Jones to fill a half-hour slot in the 1965 BBC summer schedule. Jones and his wife conceived the show's name the night before the Radio Times went to press. In its early days the show was edited by Max Morgan-Witts and hosted by veteran broadcaster and former Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter. For some years it had an instrumental theme tune composed and performed by John Dankworth. During the 1970s the programme attracted 10 million viewers per week.

The programme was usually broadcast live, and as a result saw the occasional failure of its technology demonstrations. For example, during a demonstration of a new kind of car jack that required much less effort to operate, the jack disintegrated. Pressing on in the face of such adversity became a rite of passage, both for new presenters on the show and for the young assistant producers whose job it was to find the stories and make sure this kind of setback did not happen.

Sometimes, however, the liveness gave an added dimension of immediacy to the technology, such as inventors personally demonstrating flame-proof clothing and bullet-proof vests while the presenters looked on. Sometimes it was the presenter who acted as test dummy.

Tomorrow's World also frequently ran exhibitions, called "Tomorrow's World Live", often based in Earls Court, London. These offered the general public the chance to see at first hand a variety of brand new, pioneering inventions, as well as a selection from that year's show. The presenters, by this time Peter Snow and Philippa Forrester, also ran an hour-long interactive presentation within.

The show was also occasionally parodied, for example by Not The Nine O'Clock News, which featured demonstrations of such inventions as a telephone ring notification device for the deaf – powered by a microprocessor looking like a "Shreddie", and later by the second series of Look Around You.


Raymond Baxter, the show's first presenter, was noted for pointing out features of the new inventions with military precision using his Parker pen ("as you will see: here, here and here"). He left the show in 1977 after a difference of opinion with new young editor Michael Blakstad, who referred to him in a press interview as "the last of the dinosaurs".

Other presenters included:
  • James Burke (1965–1971)
  • Michael Rodd (1972–1982)
  • Anthony Smith
  • Lyall Watson
  • William Woollard (1974–1978)
  • Judith Hann (1974–1994—the longest-serving presenter)
  • Anna Ford (1976–1978)
  • Kieran Prendiville (1979–1983)
  • Su Ingle (1980–1984)
  • Peter Macann (1983–1991)
  • Maggie Philbin (1983–1994)
  • Anna Walker
  • Howard Stableford (1985–1997)
  • Kate Bellingham (1990–1994)
  • John Diamond (1991)
  • Carmen Pryce (1991–1994)
  • Monty Don (1994–1995)
  • Carol Vorderman (1994–1995)
  • Vivienne Parry (1994–1996)
  • Rebecca Stephens (1994–1996)
  • Shahnaz Pakravan (1994–1997)
  • Richard Mabey (1995)
  • Craig Doyle (1996–1999)
  • Philippa Forrester (1996–2000)
  • Jez Nelson (1996–2000)
  • Peter Snow (1997–2000)
  • Anya Sitaram (1998–2000)
  • Nick Baker (1999–2000)
  • Lindsey Fallow (1999–2000)
  • Sophie Raworth (1999–2000)
  • Katie Knapman (2002)
  • David Bull (2002–2003)
  • Adam Hart-Davis (2002–2003)
  • Roger Black (2003)
  • Kate Humble (2003)The idiosyncratic Bob Symes showcased smaller inventions in dramatised vignettes with themes such as Bob Goes Golfing. These often presented challenges for film directors with whom he worked when a close-up was required as Symes's own invention-related exploits in the workshop had resulted in him losing parts of several fingers. It was hard to find a finger that did not look too gruesome to show on screen. Other regular features included Whatever Happened to..., picking up on the oft-levelled criticism of the show that a significant number of inventions seemingly were never heard of again.

    Technologies introduced

    In many cases the show offered the British public its first chance to see key technologies that subsequently became commonplace, notably:
  • Breathalyser (1967)
  • Home computer (1967)
  • Light pens and touchscreens (1967)
  • Artificial grass (1968)
  • ATM and Chip and Pin (1969)
  • Pocket calculator (1971)
  • Digital watch (1972)
  • Teletext (Ceefax) (1974)
  • Mobile phone (1979)
  • Personal stereo (1980)
  • Compact disc and player (1981)
  • Camcorder (1981)
  • Barcode reader (1983)
  • Wind-up radio (1993)
  • Starlite insulation (1993)
  • Robotic vacuum cleaner, pioneered on Electrolux Trilobite prototype (1996)
  • Targeted intra-operative radiotherapy for breast cancer (2000)Perhaps the best-remembered item in the programme's history was the introduction of the compact disc in 1981, when presenter Kieran Prendiville demonstrated the disc's supposed indestructibility by scratching the surface of a Bee Gees CD with a stone. The show also gave the first British TV exposure to the group Kraftwerk, who performed their then-forthcoming single "Autobahn" as part of an item about the use of technology in musicmaking. Another programme concerning new technology for television and stage lighting featured The Tremeloes and the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd.

    Offbeat aspects

    Featured inventions that did not change our lives included a fold-up car that fitted into a suitcase, numerous gadgets such as a miracle chopping board for the kitchen, and collapsible knives and forks. Members of the public frequently sent in their ideas.

    Final years

    By the late 1990s, the live studio demonstrations were dropped in favour of purely pre-recorded items. The final series, presented by Adam Hart-Davis, Kate Humble and Roger Black, attempted to revert to the original live format of the show, even using a remix of one of the theme tunes used during its more successful years, but ratings continued to fall, and with only three million viewers in the last series the BBC decided to axe the show. At the time they said that they would produce a number of science special editions under the Tomorrow's World "brand" from time to time. The "Tomorrow's World Roadshow" appeared in 2004 with Gareth Jones (co-host of CITV's How 2) and Katie Knapman taking the helm as the last presenters of a show bearing the Tomorrow's World name, before a partial return to television in 2007.

    For the 1000th episode, a commemorative CD was produced by Nimbus Records. It contained four audio tracks of the various theme tunes from the 60s, 70s, 80s and the 90s. 1000 copies were made and were given away in a competition. The CD was notable as being the first holographic audio compact disc ever made.

    On 14 September 2009, the BBC made some clips and episodes available online.

    In the United States, episodes of the series aired on the cable channel TechTV between 2001–2003.

    The Prince of Wales Award for Industrial Innovation and Production

    At the end of each series, the Prince of Wales gave an award or awards for superlative inventions.

    Revival of the brand

    At the start of 2007 the BBC announced that the Tomorrow's World brand would be used on science and technology news reports across the BBC's TV, radio and internet services, including a blog. The Tomorrow's World name returned to television screens on 8 January 2007 as part of the BBC's news coverage on BBC Breakfast, hosted by Maggie Philbin and as a blog on the BBC News website. In August 2007, it was reported that Michael Mosley, director of development at the BBC's science wing, had pitched the concept of resurrecting the format to BBC commissioners.

    In May 2017, the BBC announced it was launching a year of science and technology under the Tomorrow's World banner. Its purpose is to "seek to address how science is changing peoples' lives, reshaping the world, and rewriting the future of healthcare".

    BBC 4 Live Edition

    Tomorrow's World returned for a one-off live special, with Hannah Fry and four presenters from the show's original run: Maggie Philbin, Howard Stableford, Judith Hann and Peter Snow. The 90-minute interactive show was broadcast at 9pm on BBC 4 on 22 November 2018.

    Science Channel Reboot

    In May 2018, Science Channel premiered a new version of the show called Tomorrow's World Today. The show explores sustainability, technology, new ideas and worldwide concepts around innovation. Julian Taylor serves as executive producer and the program features executive producer George Davison as host and field reporters Tamara Krinsky and Jackie Long.