# Mathshow

*Mathshow* is a BBC schools TV series from the 1970s, covering Mathematics for secondary school pupils.

A series emphasising mathematical concepts through comedy sketches and animation, with plenty of regular characters. The programmes firmly set out to provide "mid-morning humour" in hopes that this would help pupils remember the rules and techniques that were demonstrated, which were a mixture of the traditional (number sequences, multiplication and division) and "modern maths" (probability, maps and coordinates) - one clear topic per episode.

The teacher's notes warned that "some of the programmes show scenes of explicit mathematics," but teachers using the series would probably be most concerned about how to settle down their classes to normal work after watching a comedy programme in the middle of morning lessons. The producer once challenged teachers: "Are you brave enough to use *Mathshow*?"^{[1]}

The title of the series was all one word and the cause of some confusion - do you pronounce it "Maths-How", like knowhow, or "Math-Show" using the American expression 'math'? More fun was had with the title during the programmes, for example with the character Professor MOTHWASH, and the Square and Triangle who often mused HM, SO WHAT. One preview announced it as "a series with a title likely to provide the only problem for teachers."^{[2]}

The series had its own announcer, generally seen at the beginning and end of each episode, and featured fake news announcements and adverts. The end credits were often integrated with the mathematical theme of the episode in some way, for example appearing in a rectangle whose coordinates have to be calculated, or being reflected, rotated and tessellated.

## Characters

Like any good comedy sketch show, *Mathshow* had a range of regular characters who appeared every week, recurring characters who appeared every so often, and other characters who only appeared once. They were all played by three actors. Here are a selection of the *Mathshow* characters.

- A traditional BBC
**announcer**(Charles Collingwood).

**Newton of the Yard**(Tony Hughes), a slow-witted police detective conducting mathematical investigations. After*Mathshow*ended Newton appeared in his own spin-off series,.**Maths File**

**Mrs Mopp**(Jacqueline Clarke), Newton's busybody cleaner who also has adventures of her own.

**Doctor Where**(Tony Hughes), an adventurer who travels time and space in his PHONIS with companion**Sally-Anne**(Jacqueline Clarke). The**Brigadier**(Charles Collingwood) often seeks his help to investigate maths-related evils perpetrated by a Thing from Outer Mathematics (or possibly from "Pure Mathematics"). A well-observed spoof of the contemporary series*Doctor Who*, starring Tom Baker.

**Square**(Charles Collingwood) and**Triangle**(Jacqueline Clarke), two very simple animated characters who talk to each other by flashing. They often observe the other sketches and try to make mathematical sense of what is happening.

**Tall Bird and Short Bird**, a music hall double act consisting of two animated birds.

- Put-upon Welshman
**Dai**(Tony Hughes) in the village hall.

**Ron and Eth**in the cafe.

**Alpha and Beta**, two black and white silent movie characters like Laurel and Hardy, complete with old-fashioned captions and piano music.

**Professor Mothwash**of the Mathshow International Test Centre, who often has government visitors coming to open his latest complex mathematical machinery.

**Professor Metrovsky**, who has a particular interest in the mathematical background to jokes.

**Frank N. Stein**(Charles Collingwood) who creates a creature while instructing his manservant**Igor**(Tony Hughes) in basic mathematics.

- The
**Mathia**, tiny animated gangsters who terrorise Sumsville - "home of mathematical freedom, a place where ordinary numbers go about their everyday calculations without fear, a place where 3 and 2 make 5, or 6, or 1". The Mathia consist of Luigi, Giuseppe and Tonio, and their leader Big M. They often make life difficult for an unfortunate**Workman**.

## Episodes

Quick episode list

# | Title | Broadcast |
---|---|---|

1. | Follow That Number! | 23 Sep 1975 |

2. | About a Metre | 7 Oct 1975 |

3. | O for Symmetry! | 21 Oct 1975 |

4. | Fair Share | 11 Nov 1975 |

5. | A Wry Tangle | 25 Nov 1975 |

6. | Spot Check | 13 Jan 1976 |

7. | Factor Fiction | 27 Jan 1976 |

8. | Cover-Up Story | 10 Feb 1976 |

9. | Positively Not | 2 Mar 1976 |

10. | Same Again? | 16 Mar 1976 |

11. | A Likely Story | 27 Apr 1976 |

12. | Place Your Order | 11 May 1976 |

13. | Full Up | 25 May 1976 |

14. | A Set of Scales | 15 Jun 1976 |

Recordings of all 14 episodes of the series seem to have been kept by the BBC.

Two of the episodes were revised for repeats from 1976 onwards as noted below, but there is only one version of each episode listed in the BBC archive catalogue. I don't know for sure whether these are the original or the revised versions, but it is worth noting that the version of episode 2 (which had one sketch removed in 1976) listed in the archive catalogue is about 1 minute shorter than the other episodes^{[3]}.

Num | Title | Archive | Broadcast | |
---|---|---|---|---|

1. | Follow That Number! |
BBC | 23 Sep 1975 | |

Maths content: number sequences
Newton visits a drawing room and investigates a calendar. He discovers a number pattern adding 7 each time and a clue: the number 1. He watches a knock-out tournament at a tennis club and sees that the number of competitors at each stage, working backwards, is 1, 2, 4, 8, 16. He finds another clue: the number 2. Finally he visits a public convenience and notices wall tiles in a square formation of 1, 4, 9, 16, 25 and also a clue: the number 3. Newton returns to his office to study the clues: 1, 2, 3, and wonders whether the number 4 will be next. His assistant rushes in with the next clue: the number 5. Now Newton knows who the culprit is. He goes to confront Fibonacci: "1+3=4, 3+4=7, 4+7=11. Definitely your work." - This episode was revised in light of teachers' comments following its initial transmission in 1975. I don't know exactly what was changed though
^{[3]}.
| ||||

2. | About a Metre |
BBC | 7 Oct 1975 | |

Maths content: measurement and accuracy
A Other characters are also measuring things, including - This episode was revised for repeats following its initial transmission in 1975. I believe the changes amounted to a slight re-ordering of some scenes, and the removal of a sequence in which
**Professor Metrovsky**claimed that the Longnuf in a museum was a fake because it was 0.06mm too short - perhaps this scene caused confusion to viewers^{[3]}.
| ||||

3. | O for Symmetry! |
BBC | 21 Oct 1975 | |

Maths content: reflective symmetry
Some of the characters cut and fold paper to make symmetrical shapes, including paper policeman and an ink blot shape. Two
| ||||

4. | Fair Share |
BBC | 11 Nov 1975 | |

Maths content: division
The
At a bring-and-buy sale, | ||||

5. | A Wry Tangle |
BBC | 25 Nov 1975 | |

Maths content: angles
There are different ways of demonstrating turns and angles. The Alpha and Beta are star-gazing, Alpha sees that the Moon is at elevation 30° and Beta tells him to turn another 20° to see Jupiter. But Alpha turns in the wrong direction, demonstrating that turns have a sense as well as a magnitude. | ||||

6. | Spot Check |
BBC | 13 Jan 1976 | |

Maths content: geometric pattern
The short animated film | ||||

7. | Factor Fiction |
BBC | 27 Jan 1976 | |

Maths content: divisibility and primes
The programme begins with a news announcement - the number 97 has disappeared. An identikit pictures has been released by the Number Squad and Newton of the Yard is on the case.
The animated Newton has moved over to the odd-numbered side of the street and discovers that not only has 97 disappeared, but it has taken the house with it. "Will 3 go into it?" he asks, and his assistant starts dividing 97 by 3. Newton demonstrates the test for divisibility by 3 (add the digits). As the investigation progresses Newton is able to eliminate all the numbers with factors other than themselves and 1, and is left with a list beginning 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13... He doesn't like the number 13 at all, and Alpha is also worried about what will happen on Friday 13th. Realising that 97 is a prime number Newton races to Downing Street. The programme is again interrupted by a newsflash, as the | ||||

8. | Cover-Up Story |
BBC | 10 Feb 1976 | |

Maths content: area
Triangle tries to persuade Square that she is just as big as him because they can both be divided into four equal triangles. Square rearranges Triangle as a rectangle, which fits wholly within Square, finally proving the Square is the larger.
The | ||||

9. | Positively Not |
BBC | 2 Mar 1976 | |

Maths content: directed numbers (introduction to negative numbers)
A rocket launch counts down to zero - then seems to count back up again.
Back in the village hall Dai finds £3 that he hadn't counted the first time. Adding that to the previous total it turns out that Mrs Morgan made £2 profit. | ||||

10. | Same Again? |
BBC | 16 Mar 1976 | |

Maths content: geometric transformations
The Thief makes a final attempt to steal the painting, but this time a translation has occurred. | ||||

11. | A Likely Story |
BBC | 27 Apr 1976 | |

Maths content: probability
The Minister for Chance and Spec has arrived to open the coin-tossing wing of the Mathshow International Test Centre. Things have come a long way since
| ||||

12. | Place Your Order |
BBC | 11 May 1976 | |

Maths content: coordinates
In an expensive boutique,
A | ||||

13. | Full Up |
BBC | 25 May 1976 | |

Maths content: volume
Paddy from the Mathshow International Test Centre visits
At the Test Centre, The | ||||

14. | A Set of Scales |
BBC | 15 Jun 1976 | |

Maths content: maps and plans
A Big M announces that the Joe and Maggie are looking round Bekonscot Model Village and discussing the scale (1:12). Suddenly Maggie is reduced to one twelfth of her former height. The Brigadier has information that this is something to do with TQ, and |

## Credits

Starring |
Jacqueline Clarke |

Written by | David Taft David Roseveare |

Animation | Kate Canning |

Set Design | Ian Watson |

Director | David Taft |

Producer | David Roseveare |

## Broadcasts

The series was designed to be shown fortnightly throughout the school year, with five episodes in the autumn term, five in the spring, and four more in the summer. For most of the run episodes were shown first on Tuesday morning at 9:58am, and then repeated in the following week on Thursday morning at 10:25am. Different programmes - including *Out of the Past* and *Near and Far* - were shown in the same slots in the intervening weeks.

*Mathshow* was broadcast every year from 1975-76 to 1979-80, a total of five years, which is a longer life than had originally been envisaged for the series. The actors' contracts had to be extended by one year to allow the repeat run in 1979-80, and a BBC report in 1979 reported that "it is unlikely that a further extension would be granted."^{[5]}

In autumn 1980 the series was effectively replaced by a spin-off, * Maths File*, featuring the further adventures of Newton of the Yard.

## Video

Watch a clip on YouTube. Two short, black-and-white clips from broadcasts of the series in Australia have been uploaded to YouTube. These clips are the source of some of the images on this page. The first contains the Doctor Where sketch, and Dai's final dilemma, from the end of episode 11 *A Likely Story*

Watch a clip on YouTube. The first few sketches from the beginning of episode 12 *Place Your Order*, plus the end credits

## Resources

Extensive booklets of teacher's notes were published to accompany the series.

Containing 32 pages per term they gave full, scene-by-scene descriptions of each episode (which form the basis for the episode guide above) without giving away too many of the jokes and plot twists, and extensive mathematical background notes and suggestions for classroom follow-up work.

In the middle of each notes booklet there were worksheets that could be copied in schools and given out to pupils. One of the worksheets in the summer term notes was a revision quiz to see whether viewers could remember the topics covered by the autumn and spring term programmes.

The notes were written by **Alistair McIntosh**, "Principal Mathematics Adviser for Leicestershire and formerly Chairman of the General Committee of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics."

There were no separate pupil's booklets or other resources.

## Links

## Sources & References

- BBC (1975)
*Mathshow*Teacher's Notes Autumn 1975. London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 13875 0 - BBC (1977)
*Mathshow*Teacher's Notes Autumn 1977. London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 30078 7 - BBC (1978a)
*Mathshow*Teacher's Notes Spring 1978. London: BBC. - BBC (1978b)
*Mathshow*Teacher's Notes Summer 1978. London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 30379 4 - BBC (1979)
*Broadcasting and Mathematics: The contribution of BBC School and Continuing Education Broadcasting from 1958 to 1979*. London: BBC. ISBN 0-563-16403-4 - Pixley, Andrew (2004) 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in
*Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #8: The Complete Fourth Doctor Volume 1*. Tunbridge Wells: Panini Publishing. ISSN 0963-1275 - Roseveare, David (1975) 'There were these two Maths teachers walking down the street...' in
*Mathematics in School*vol.4 no.5 September 1975. Harlow: Longman. ISSN 0305-7259 p.17 - Roseveare, David (1977) 'BBC TV mathematics programmes for 1977-78-79' in
*Mathematics in School*vol.6 no.5 November 1977. Harlow: Longman. ISSN 0305-7259 p.24 - Visual Education (1975a) 'Educational Broadcasting' in
*Visual Education*April 1975 p.12 - Visual Education (1975b) 'Educational Broadcasting' in
*Visual Education*August/September 1975 p.11

- ↑ "Are you brave enough to use
*Mathshow*?" and also the reference to "mid-morning humour" are from Roseveare (1977). Visual Education (1975b) said "it's a mix of 'mainstream modern maths' and more traditional topics." - ↑ The preview of the series in Visual Education (1975a) began "A series with a title likely to provide the only problem for teachers."
- ↑
^{3.0}^{3.1}^{3.2}BBC (1977) p.1 states "(episodes 1 and 2) have been modified since 1975 in the light of users' comments." My only source to identify the modifications is to compare the episode synopses in BBC (1975) and BBC (1977). - ↑ The
*Mathshow*teacher's notes are not very clear about what Dr Where did in his adventure in*O for Symmetry!*Pixley (2004) p.27 gives some more details "this insert concerned the menace of an invisible barrier across which objects vanished when they passed. A journey in the PHONIS allowed the Doctor to investigate the mirror-image problem." - ↑ BBC (1979) p.14 explains that "by the end of 1979-80 the series
*Mathshow*(11-13) will have been on the air for 5 years. Already the contractual arrangements made with the actors have had to be extended by one year and it is unlikely that a further extension would be granted. Furthermore, the nature of the demand at the lower end of the secondary school has probably changed since*Mathshow*was planned.

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