Maths and Magic

Jolyon Jenkins sets himself the challenge of learning a maths-based trick that can not only fool working mathematicians, but seems genuinely magical.

The internet millionaires’ Club

A trip into the world of mirrors that is internet marketing. Here, ordinary people dream of becoming millionaires without having to do any work. It is really possible?

Lymeswold – the cheesy dream that died

The rise and fall of Lymeswold – the first new British cheese in 200 years and the only one launched by a cabinet minister, in 1982. In a decade it went from hero to zero – why?

Apocalypse How – the Knockout Pulse

Could an electromagnetic pulse bomb could send us literally back to the dark ages? For many years, some campaigners, particularly on the American right, have been talking up the threat of a nuclear weapon, detonated high in the atmosphere, that could, according to a congressional commission, wipe out 90 per cent of the population in the first 12 months, by bringing down the electric grid and frying electronic devices.

Apocalypse How – Insectageddon

Could our food supplies be at risk from a worldwide decline in pollinating insects? Much attention has been focused on honey bees, but other wild pollinators could be at greater risk. In fact, by trying to protect honey bees, legislators may have made the situation worse for other insects, and reduced food security.

Apocalypse How – Death by DNA

Has DNA technology advanced so far that a rogue scientist, or even a biologically competent terrorist, could assemble a deadly pathogen from genetic sequences bought by mail order?

The Portsmouth Sinfonia

In 1974, the Portsmouth Sinfonia sold out the Albert Hall. It was billed ‘the world’s worst orchestra’ but among its members were Brian Eno and Michael Nyman. Was it just a joke?

The great ostrich debacle

In the mid 1990s companies sprung up offering huge returns on ostrich farming. It seemed too good to be true – and it was. Why did so many apparently intelligent people fall for it?

Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin

‘Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin’ was a children’s picture book that showed two gay men bringing up a small girl. When a copy was found in a teachers’ resource centre in 1986, it caused uproar and was denounced by the education secretary as ‘blatant homosexual propaganda’. The affair led to the now infamous Section 28.

Walking with Attitude

For several years now, “psychogeography” has been a word worth dropping into conversation if you want to impress with your cultural street smarts. More interesting than the oxbow lakes of your own school geography, and more hip than the human geography your own kids do, psychogeography sounds edgy, which it might be, if you could work out what it was. It was invented by drug-influenced French situationists – who described it as “pleasingly vague” – as they wandered round Paris in an attempt to escape the banalisation of the “spectacle”. But British writers like Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home have made the term almost mainstream – a way of making familiar landscapes seem exotic, sometimes by injecting a dash of magic and mysticism. Travel writer Ian Marchant wanders along the ill-defined frontier between punk and rambling

The ghost trains of Old England

Just one train a week runs between Stockport and Stalybridge. It never returns. “There is no service from Stalybridge to Stockport”, says a platform sign, cryptically. The Stockport-Stalybridge service is what’s known as a “parliamentary train” and exists only so that the rail company can avoid going through formal closure proceedings. Running the single weekly service costs only £50, but to close it down would cost far more. Of the intermediate stops on the line, Network Rail notes: “Data collection including observation has been unable to record any use of these stations”.

In this programme, Ian Marchant travels these little used lines and forgotten stations.

The bald truth

For thousands of years, bald men have been the subject of ridicule. As a result they’ve felt ashamed and have resorted to desperate measures to hide their condition. During the decades when hair style was a cultural battleground between youth and the establishment, the balding man was at the bottom of the heap. No prime minister since Clement Attlee has been bald. But increasingly, bald men are coming out of the closet and shaving their heads – and some women too. Research shows that bald men are perceived as less attractive but more dominant. Now that we are more relaxed about hair style, and more willing to tolerate tonsorial diversity, are bald men finally able to shed the stigma? And could the comb-over finally make a come back? Ian Marchant, who has shaved his head since the early 1980s, investigates.

So you want to be an exorcist?

Exorcists report rising demand for their services. According to the president of the American Association of Exorcists, “I get thousands of emails from people concerned that they may have been demonically possessed”. A church of England vicar, a former official Diocesan Exorcist, agrees that demonic activity in the UK is on the up: “The word that comes to me is almost despair”. Why do exorcists and their clients think that demonic possession is on the increase?


The Mystery of the Holy Thorn

In the small hours of 8 December 2010, the “holy thorn” tree of Glastonbury was cut down by persons unknown wielding a chain saw. The next few days saw an outpouring of grief from pagans and Christians around the world. The thorn, it is alleged, was 2000 years old and planted by Joseph of Arimathea when he came to England in the first century. The Thorn was “miraculous” because it flowered twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. For in Glastonbury, Christianity sits awkwardly alongside paganism – its Abbey is supposedly the oldest Christian building in Britain. The destruction of the Thorn was blamed on anti-pagans, or alternatively anti-Christians. In this programme Jolyon Jenkins investigates the theories.

Holy Relics

Ever since the middle ages, pieces of the True Cross, and other relics such as saints’ bones, have been sold to the gullible. But now the trade in bogus relics has moved online, to the fury of traditional Catholics. They are even more alarmed at the sale of “genuine” relics, which is also picking up pace as monasteries and convents close and their treasures come on the market. In theory selling a relic is an offence under Church law, warranting immediate excommunication. But what is a genuine relic, and how its provenance proved? Jolyon Jenkins goes on a deep dive into a world where faith, science and archaeology collide.

Desperately seeking sympathy

Why would a perfectly healthy person pretend they had cancer? Jolyon Jenkins investigates how online medical forums have been devastated by fakery, and talks to perpetrators.

Corporate Karma

Once upon a time, yoga was a mystical eastern discipline, practiced in the west only by a handful of committed adherents. But in the last decade it’s become mainstream. Up to a million Britons practice yoga, and it’s moved from the ashram to the sports centre. And yoga chains have set up in business, each offering their own particular brand of the discipline – for example, Bikram yoga, where the exercises are done in a sweltering 40 degree heated room.

But as yoga becomes more commercial, traditionalists fear that the spiritual essence of the discipline has been lost.

In this programme, Jolyon Jenkins investigates what’s happened to yoga. Has the inner journey been replaced by competitive narcissism? And how can you franchise a spiritual discipline anyway?

The Most Godless Town in Britain

Jolyon Jenkins follows the work of a missionary sent by the Church of England to ‘redeem’ the residents of the Shropshire town of Telford, which has the lowest per capita church attendance in Britain.

Mark Berry, from the Church Mission Society, hopes to tap into the huge number of people who now describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’, and sets out to compete with reiki healers, gong therapists and the local football club for the town’s attentions.