A Way With Numbers (BBC1, 1990-1991)
This is a review of a show that I feel not too many people will find that exciting (I really know how to sell them, don’t I), as I can’t imagine that it was watched by a huge amount of viewers at the time, but I wanted to do this piece as it’s about a genre that you don’t really get on TV nowadays, and I wanted to point out a few things that I found interesting about it.
As well as all of the educational shows for schoolchildren that were shown on various channels in daytime slots for many years, Sunday Mornings on BBC1 until about the mid-90s would have a slot for educational shows aimed at older viewers, who wanted to learn various skills but had long since left school, such as learning a new language. But I thought that I would take a look back at a show that was all about maths.
Firstly, A Way With Numbers was notable because of the host. Carol Vorderman first found fame as a numbers whizz on Channel 4’s Countdown in 1982, and she went on to host many TV shows, including along with this one in the early-90s, CITV’s How 2, and by the end of the 90s she had about 20 on the go. So who better could there be to help viewers improve their maths skills?
Carol would often get out her pen and calculator, and various maths topics were covered in an engaging way. There would also be classic comedy clips used to highlight an idea, and any show that wanted to introduce a feature about how to use bus timetables with a random clip from Monty Python is fine by me. Carol also seemed to like to wear different costumes while explaining things.
Also appearing was Johnny Ball, someone who has featured in a lot of TV shows over the years that have aimed to make learning about maths fun (I also remember enjoying his series Johnny Ball Reveals All that was shown on CITV around the same time as A Way With Numbers, and I would like to review it, but there seems to be no full editions online at the moment unfortunately).
There were 20 editions of A Way With Numbers made, they were usually shown around 11am, and there was also a book released to accompany the series. And looking back, I couldn’t help but notice that the way Carol walks around the rather minimal studio and explains things to us is somewhat similar to the style of spoof show Look Around You, whether it’s intentional or not, I wonder if it was an influence (although it was more a parody of Tomorrow’s World, yet another show that Carol hosted in the 90s).
And this leads to the other notable thing. Around the mid-90s, BBC2 didn’t close down overnight, and began to fill the small hours with repeats of educational shows for children and adults in a strand called The Learning Zone. This meant that about five years after it was made, there was an unexpected repeat run of A Way With Numbers at around 2am. So to see these shows, most viewers had to set the video, which is what I did once out of curiosity. And also, the episode number was in the corner of the screen, along with a clock and bar showing how far it had progressed. Well I found it interesting.