The Ascent of Man

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The Ascent of Man
The Ascent of Man - dvd cover.jpg
DVD cover
Developed byDavid Attenborough
Directed byAdrian Malone, Dick Gilling, Mick Jackson and David John Kennard
Presented byJacob Bronowski
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes13
ProducersAdrian Malone and Dick Gilling
Production locationWorldwide (27 countries)
Running time676 minutes
(each episode 52 min.)
Audio formatMono
Original release5 May 1973 (5 May 1973)

The Ascent of Man is a 13-part British documentary television series produced by the BBC and Time-Life Films first broadcast in 1973. It was written and presented by British mathematician and historian of science Jacob Bronowski, who also authored a book adaptation. Intended as a series of "personal view" documentaries in the manner of Kenneth Clark's 1969 series Civilisation, the series received acclaim for Bronowski's highly informed but eloquently simple analysis, his long, elegant monologues, and its extensive location shoots. The programme began broadcasting on BBC2 at 9 pm on Saturday, 5 May 1973[1] and was released in the US 7 January 1975.[2]


The title alludes to The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin's second book on evolution. Over the series' 13 episodes, Jacob Bronowski travels around the world in order to trace the development of human society through its understanding of science. It was commissioned specifically to complement Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969), in which Clark argued that art reflected and was informed by the major driving forces 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 were commissioned by David Attenborough, then controller of BBC Two, whose colleague Aubrey Singer had been astonished by Attenborough prioritising an arts series given his science background.[3]

Bronowski's book adaptation of the series, The Ascent of Man (1973), is an almost word-for-word transcript from the television episodes, diverging from the original narration only where the lack of images might make its meaning unclear. A few details of the film version were omitted from the book, notably from episode 11, "Knowledge or Certainty".


The 13-part series was shot on 16 mm film. Executive producer was Adrian Malone; film directors were Dick Gilling, Mick Jackson, David Kennard and David Paterson. Quotations were read by actors Roy Dotrice and Joss Ackland. Series music was by Dudley Simpson with Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Additional music includes work by Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues, among others. Apart from Bronowski, the only other named people appearing are the sculptor Henry Moore and Polish Auschwitz survivor Stefan Borgrajewicz.


The complete series was digitally remastered and released on DVD in 2007 by Ambrose Video Publishing, Inc.


  1. Lower than the Angels – Evolution of humans from proto-ape to the modern form 400,000 years ago.
  2. The Harvest of the Seasons – Early human migration, agriculture and the first settlements, and war.
  3. The Grain in the Stone – Tools, and the development of architecture and sculpture.
  4. The Hidden Structure – Fire, metals and alchemy.
  5. Music of the Spheres – The language of numbers and mathematics.
  6. The Starry Messenger – Galileo's universe—and the implications of his trial on the shift to "northern" science.
  7. The Majestic Clockwork – Explores Newton and Einstein's laws.
  8. The Drive for Power – The Industrial Revolution and the effect on everyday life.
  9. The Ladder of Creation – Darwin and Wallace's ideas on the origin of species.
  10. World within World – The story of the periodic table—and of the atom.
  11. Knowledge or Certainty – Physics and the clash of the pursuit of absolute vs. imperfect knowledge, and the misgivings of the scientists realising the terrible outcome of the conflict. Auschwitz. Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  12. Generation upon Generation – The joys of life, sex and genetics—and the dark side of cloning.
  13. The Long Childhood – Bronowski's treatise on the commitment of humanity.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Ascent of Man: 1: Lower than the Angels Radio Times: Issue 2582, 1973-05-03.
  2. ^ IMDB release info
  3. ^ Attenborough interview in The Ascent of Man DVD set
  4. ^ "The BFI TV 100". Retrieved 3 August 2009.
  5. ^ "Charlie Brookers Screenwipe S1E1P1". Archived from the original on 3 October 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2010.

External links[edit]