Mathematics and Life

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started18th Sep 1961
ended4th Dec 1961
last rpt8th Dec 1961
1 school year
duration20 mins
age rangeAge 13-16
languageenIn English

Mathematics and Life is a BBC schools TV series from the 1960s, covering Mathematics for secondary school pupils.

An enrichment series for secondary school maths teachers, showing how mathematical concepts are applied in every day life. As it was sold to schools at the time, the series was "designed to enrich the study of mathematics by showing hos useful it is, whether you are making a map, scanning your [hire purchase] agreement, or estimating how many teachers we shall need in 1970"'"`UNIQ--ref-00000003-QINU`"'!

Mathematics and Life was a second, single-term and never-repeated experiment in covering the subject of mathematics through schools broadcasting, following 1958's Mathematics series for a similar secondary school age group. The '... and Life' title was a popular structure at the time and mirrored its contemporary BBC schools TV series, Science and Life.

The series is split into two distinct units of five programmes each. The first, presented by Hugh David, looks at how mathematics in general terms is used in people's everyday life, such as census collection, statistics and hire purchase agreements.

The second unit, presented by Brian Dent, looks more specifically at measurements, shapes and simple mechanics in everyday life such as surveying and map-making, and how triangles for example are used to navigate and to measure height.

The series had some muted success: it was officially taken by 620 schools when broadcast, a slightly lower than average audience for BBC Schools TV's early days, and there was some positive feedback such as a Birmingham teacher who reported "these girls are beginning to stop asking me what we are doing arithmetic for."[2] But the producers recognised that early 1960s "secondary school maths teachers were not natural television users."[3]

The series was the work of producer Donald Grattan, himself a former maths teacher[4], and he would go on from this experiement to produce the much longer-lasting Middle School Mathematics.


# Title Broadcast
Unit I
1. How Many People? #1961-09-18-00-00-0018 Sep 1961
2. On the Average #1961-09-25-00-00-0025 Sep 1961
3. Chance and Life #1961-10-02-00-00-002 Oct 1961
4. Men and Money #1961-10-09-00-00-009 Oct 1961
5. Money Matters #1961-10-16-00-00-0016 Oct 1961
Unit II
6. Larger and Smaller #1961-10-30-00-00-0030 Oct 1961
7. The Triangle #1961-11-06-00-00-006 Nov 1961
8. Surveying #1961-11-13-00-00-0013 Nov 1961
9. Maps and Men #1961-11-20-00-00-0020 Nov 1961
10. Triangles and Movement #1961-11-27-00-00-0027 Nov 1961


  • Autumn 1961 - Mondays 11:05am, repeated Fridays 2:05pm

More than a year later, the second episode of the series was repeated as part of an Out of School programme at 12:05pm on Wednesday 2nd January 1963, as an example of the wide variety of BBC TV schools programmes[5] - even though BBC TV provided no actual mathematics programmes for schools in the 1962-63 academic year!

In the Archive

The BBC archive has film recordings of episodes 2, 3 and 7, providing example episodes from each unit and the episode repeated in 1963 as an example of the series.

  • Episode 2 BBC programme number: EFE6011L
  • Episode 3 BBC programme number: ESB5925X
  • Episode 7 BBC programme number: ESB5926R


Unit I written & presented by Hugh David
Unit II presented by Brian Dent
Illustrator / studio animations Alfred Wurmser
Film cameraman Alex Pearce, James Court
Film editor Alma Davies
Director Bill Scott
Producer Donald Grattan


A booklet of notes for the teacher was published, including suggestions for follow-up work.

Sources & References

  • BBC (1961a) BBC Sound and Television Broadcasts to Schools 1961-2. London: BBC
  • BBC (1961b) BBC School Television Broadcasts 1961-62. London: BBC
  • Fawdry, Kenneth (1974) Everything But Alf Garnett: A Personal View of BBC School Broadcasting, London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 12763 5
  • Radio Times television listings, 1961-63, including online records at the BBC Genome Programme Index
  • SBC [School Broadcasting Council for the United Kingdom] (1962) After Five Years: A report on BBC School Television Broadcasting. London: BBC
  1. BBC (1961a) p.4: "Mathematics, like Science, is related to the business of living, but not all children are all the time as fully convinced of this as their teachers might wish. 'Mathematics and Life' is a new single-term experimental series designed to enrich the study of mathematics by showing how useful it is, whether you are making a map, scanning your H.P. agreement, or estimating how many teachers we shall need in 1970."
  2. SBC (1962) p.16 provides the number of schools taking the series and feedback quote from "a Birmingham teacher." Centre pages provide graphed figures for the number of schools taking all BBC schools TV programmes from 1957-62.
  3. Fawdry (1974) p.61: "The approach was suitably experimental, and the initial response fairly tentative: secondary school maths teachers were not natural television users. Yet 'Mathematics and Life' succeeded in making topics like averages and probability interesting to ordinary children;"
  4. Fawdry (1974) also p.61: "The air did not, at first sight, suit maths: at least no one put it on their list of priorities for trial. But among the first BBC TV producers was a former Maths teacher, Donald Grattan, so it did not have to wait long."
  5. The Radio Times listing for Out of School on 2nd January 1963 (available online via BBC Genome) explains that the programme was "an opportunity to see something of the wide variety of programmes that BBC Television provides for Schools in term time."


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