Saturday 10 November 2012

The Museum of Natural Curiosity

Note: These photographs are rubbish and were taken without flash on my crappy phone. They will be replaced with better shots as I get them in.

Last night we staged our first ever properly live Museum of Curiosity at London's Natural History Museum. I say 'properly' as the BBC radio show is recorded in front of an audience so, technically, that could be called 'live'. However, the radio shows don't usually get broadcast until a month or so after they're recorded so there's time to edit, tweak and to make them as good as we possibly can. This was a 'proper' live event in that what you saw was what you got; there was no such safety net. I think it's fair to say that the audience got something very special indeed.

We couldn't have hoped for a more sparkling panel of guests. The radio show normally has three guests and lasts for half an hour. This has always been something of a frustration as each guest is fascinating enough to devote half an hour (or more) to. In fact, we usually record two hours' worth of material and it's absolute hell for producers Rich Turner and Dan Schreiber to have to whittle it down to just 30 minutes and to lose so much good stuff that never makes it to air. For this live show, however, we had no such restrictions and so we were able to put on two hour long shows featuring two amazing panels.

Part One featured comedian, writer and host of It is Rocket Science, Helen Keen, the museum curator's curator Professor Richard Fortey and the legend that is Sir Terry Pratchett.

Part Two starred the Natural History Museum's 'Fly Girl' Dr Erica McAlister, the magnificent Dave Gorman and former First Sea Lord and 'ruler of the Queen's Navy' Admiral Lord Alan West, Baron West of Spithead - a man who has the best after-dinner stories of anyone I've ever met.

The show was steered brilliantly as ever by our boss, the legendary Mr John Lloyd, and by Dan Schreiber taking his first ever turn in the curator's hotseat previously filled by Jimmy Carr, Bill Bailey, Dave Gorman, Humphrey Ker, Sean Lock and Jon Richardson.

The show - staged in the cathedral-like main hall and punctuated occasionally by roars from Dippy the Diplodocus - ran from 7.30pm to 10pm during which the audience was treated to tales of monstrous 2 metre long millipedes, Superman's desk ornaments, the prehistory of Discworld, parasitic flies, the man who ate the heart of a king, Darwin's pet tortoise, Naval slang, cursed lockets, nefarious goings-on inside a whale, flying stick insect eggs, the Piltdown cricket bat and the seaweed expert who was mistakenly sent to Bletchley Park but who, by a twist of fate, ended up helping us win the war. Fascnating, hilarious stuff in the tradition of The Museum of Curiosity and our sister show QI. And the audience seemed to love it.

At 10pm 'The Museum of Natural Curiosity', as we'd called the show, had to come to an end but we still had a few more treats for those who could stay a little longer. Scientist, comedian and TV presenter Simon Watt - best known for fronting Inside Nature's Giants - did a very funny set about why we should stick up for ugly animals that don't get the same love as pandas and other 'charismatic mega-vertebrates'. And then comedian and TV presenter Eric Lampaert of How to Survive a Disaster Movie gave us 10 minutes of bizarre but brilliant stand-up on the subject of early Man. The evening was the rounded off with 15 minutes of Q and A with John and a selection of the guests: Helen, Erica, Dave and Alan.

A wonderful evening spent with tremendous people. Will we do another one? I sincerely hope so.

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