Dr. Bronowski’s magnificent BBC television series The Ascent of Man traces our rise both as a species and as moulders of our own environment and future. It covers the history of science, but of science in the broadest terms. Invention from the flint tool to geometry, from the arch to the theory of relativity, are shown to be expressions of man’s specific ability to understand nature, to control it, not to be controlled by it.
The 13-part series was shot on 16mm film. Executive Producer was Adrian Malone, film directors Dick Gilling, Mick Jackson, David Kennard, David Paterson. Malone and Kennard later emigrated to Hollywood, where they produced Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Jackson followed them, and now directs feature films.
The title alludes to The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin. Over the series’ thirteen episodes, Bronowski travelled around the world in order to trace the development of human society through its understanding of science. It was written specifically to complement Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (1969), in which Clark argued that art was a major driving force in cultural evolution. Bronowski wrote in his 1951 book “The Commonsense of Science” : “It has been one of the most destructive modern prejudices that art and science are different and somehow incompatible interests”. Both series had been commissioned by David Attenborough, then controller of BBC2, although he had moved on by the time The Ascent of Man aired. Quotations were read by actors Roy Dotrice and Joss Ackland.