Monday, 8 August 2011

What "The Code" could have been...

On Wednesday 27th July 2011 a new three part documentary hit the British television. It was called The Code, hosted by Professor Marcus du Sautoy and had the intention of demonstrating how mathematics can be used to unravel the mysterious code that surrounds the natural and man-made world. The reaction to the shows has been mainly positive and some of the footage has truly been breathtaking (see the footage below of the bubbles creating the platonic solids, incredible!).

Whatever your thoughts or feelings are about The Code, I wanted to share with you some information about what The Code could have been and let you make your own mind up as to whether they chose the right program.

At the beginning of February 2010 I had the amazing fortune to be asked if I would like to work as a researcher on a new mathematics program called The Code. Of course I jumped at the chance. So the things I explain here are my from my own experience. They are not hearsay or rumours, just plans that never came to fruition.

The competition aspect of The Code was there from the start and it was always the intention to have the programs weave with online content. However, the style of the show had originally been very different. The plan was to team Marcus up with a different celebrity each week and challenge them to do something amazing. The celebrity would admit that they could not complete the task and the program would track the celebrities progress as Marcus tries to teach them the various, simple mathematical principles that would allow the celebrity to achieve their goal.

My job was to develop the celebrity challenges. It certainly was not easy. I had to produce an exciting result using simple mathematics. My favourite example that I came up with was:
get the celebrity to try and measure the height of a cliff standing over water. Tape measures wouldn't be possible, so, instead, they would have to learn trigonometry.
Now you may think that is extremely mundane, however, the next part of the challenge was to:
get the celebrity to jump of the cliff using a bungee cord based on their calculation.
Not only do the have to work with heights but they have to take into account the extension of the chord as well. They would literally be placing their lives into the hands of mathematics.

I created five or six such activities like that mentioned above, wrote them up in a treatment, was paid for my work and left White City, having had an amazing experience. However, on my last day I was told what would then happen to my work. The pitch would go forward and either get funded or not. If the idea was not commissioned it would be recycled until they found a format that worked. If it got funded, the project would get sent to a production team who could COMPLETELY IGNORE all the development work!

So the next time you watch an episode of The Code (the last episode is to be aired Wednesday 10th August), think about what it could have turned into and ask yourself:
Did the BBC make the right choice?


  1. "bungee chord" - been doing a little too much circular geometry recently ;)

  2. I think that idea would be a lot more fun if it was kids instead of celebrities. Either way would've been better than the yet-another-wafer-thin-BBC-science-series we got.

  3. Are you assuming the celebrities would be more or less intelligent than the kids?