Local Heroes

In every village, hamlet and town, you'll find a history of individuals whose modest upbringing belies their groundbreaking discoveries within the realms of science, medicine and invention. Join Adam Hart-Davis bounding around the regions of Great Britain telling fascinating and enlightening stories about these people and the contributions they've made to the human race.

Local Heroes


Starting at the bottom of the country, Adam explores the life of Sarah Guppy, whose 19th-century patents included a bed with built-in exercise apparatus. He also handles the knife used for the first smallpox vaccination and gets high on laughing gas. Not only that, but the first powered flight is recreated in Somerset and Adam discovers how a 19th-century vicar invented a toilet that needed no water! Plus, a re-creation of Brunel's atmospheric railway, which used pumps to run between Exeter and Newton Abbot, and a steam engine made from a soup tin. Phew!


Moving up to the Midlands, Adam tells the story of John Barber, who patented the gas turbine, and he also reveals information about the Lunar Society of Birmingham. Their members were mockingly known as Lunaticks but they included the greatest scientific minds of the day. Motoring enthusiasts might like to know that was this region where the first British car was built. And finally, visit the place where sport meets sci-fi: a tennis court where holography was invented.


As you'd now expect from Mr Hart-Davis, he is never far from his beloved bicycle and so he cycles to East Anglia to recreate more amazing inventions, including a treadmill used for the punishment of prisoners, and a machine that enables even terrible artists to draw beautiful pictures. Adam also delves far back into local history as he divulges the stories of two 16th-century Essex men and their important scientific discoveries.


Heading in a north westerly direction, Adam brings the disparate worlds of science and poetry together with the story of John Gough, a brilliant botanist who was totally blind and whose skills inspired Wordsworth to pen a poetic tribute. Always one to make scientific experiments entertaining, things get a little weird and not a little mucky as Adam uses a bicycle pump and disgusting jelly to demonstrate John MacKereth's pneumatic bottom corer. And for all you amateur meteorologists out there, pay attention, as this is the part of the tour where John Dalton's weather experiments are reproduced.


Of course, no trip round the British Isles would be complete without paying a visit to Scotland and Northern Ireland. A Scottish jaunt reveals the wonderful experiment of 1774 to weigh the Earth, the story of John Napier (who invented small things: namely the pocket calculator and decimal point) and Joseph Black's discovery of why ice takes so long to melt in whisky. Over the water Adam looks at the pneumatic tyre, invented by vet John Boyd Dunlop in Belfast, which was also the starting point for Harry Ferguson, whose tractors revolutionised agriculture. The Emerald Isle also is the birthplace of both the steam-powered submarine and the inventor who built the first diving suit.