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The Human Body Wednesday, 29 July, 1998, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Fantastic journey through the seven ages of man
Robert Winston and baby underwater
Robert Winston dives into the mystery of life
The BBC's first major TV series on human biology promises to be a life-changing experience. Just as Life on Earth led many young people to aspire to be David Attenborough, The Human Body could push a new generation into the medical profession.

The series presents a trip through time and various internal organs.

Using special cameras and computer graphics, the programme has all the excitement of a major feature film.

Internal picture of human stomach
What did you have for dinner?
Producer Richard Dale, calls it "a real life fantastic voyage". Pictures of the inside of the body are filmed with medical equipment, "jazzed up" and stripped of gory, medical detail.

Dale says he wanted to show the inside of the body as beautiful and interesting. "We want the series to be mainstream and accessible," he said, adding that the aim was to make the definitive set of programmes on the human body.

A major production

The series took around two and a half years to make and involved researchers liaising with medical institutes and scientific organisations around the world.

Robert Winston photographed by heat-seeking camera
Robert Winston giving off energy
Presented by Lord Robert Winston, one of the UK's leading fertility experts, it begins on May 20 with a huge array of statistics about what we can hope for in the course of our lives.

For example, did you know that the average person spends three and a half years eating and 12 years watching TV?

Dale says the statistics are meant as "a bit of fun" so that viewers can easily grasp how complicated our lives are.

He adds that no human activity is harder than simply keeping alive. He compares it to balancing a pen on its nib. "When something goes wrong, it is not that something happens. It is that something stops happening," he says.

'Emotions make us human'

The series looks not only at the mechanics of the human body, but the emotions too because these are what make us human.

It follows the lives of individuals at the key stages in the human life cycle: birth, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, adulthood, old age and death.

Controversy has surrounded the decision to film the last eight months in the life of a man dying from stomach cancer. The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association and other leading figures say it is an intrusion on the most personal part of life.

But Richard Dale says he could not have made a programme about the human body without including death.

He hopes the programme, which was researched with various hospice organisations and in co-operation with the man and his family at every stage, will help break the 'last taboo' and make it easier for people face the 'final journey'.

The series also covers the evolutionary changes in human life, tracing our development from single cells to highly complex beings. It shows how our bodies still carry the traces of our ancestors.

Human foetus
Is it fish or a baby?
A picture of the human foetus in its first weeks of life, for example, has some of the vestiges of the life forms from which we have descended. The camera shows the traces of a tail and a bone which we share in common with fish. In humans, this bone is found in the ear. In fish, a similar bone is part of the breathing mechanism.

The aim is, says Dale, that we should "think about ourselves differently". But he says the series also shows how long it takes for evolutionary changes to take place. The bodies we inhabit now have changed very little since the Stone Age.

Children 'redesigned' as adults

The series claims that the difference between an adult and child now is greater than the difference between the child of a cave family and a 20th century child.

The BBC has produced a CD Rom to go with the series
Human Body in CD Rom
The body undergoes a "fundamental redesign" between childhood and adulthood, says Dale, like a caterpillar emerging from a chrysalis.

Although expensive to film, the series is already making money. Co-produced with the US Learning Channel, it has been sold to ABC, the Disney channel, Reader's Digest and tv companies in Europe and the Far East. The programmes goes out on BBC1 on Wednesdays at 22.20 BST. The series is accompanied by a 19.99 book and a CD Rom, priced 29.99.

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Producer Richard Dale on the complexity of doing nothing
BBC News
Watch the stunning opening sequence from The Human Body
BBC News
Richard Dale: "We're more than machines."
BBC News
Richard Dale: "We have to confront death."
Links to more The Human Body stories are at the foot of the page.

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