BBC program with Edward Teller, 1971

This was a "debate" or discussion with Edward Teller, the "father of the H-bomb,." which was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in September 1971. I (David) was aware of this over the years but did not know more about it.

In late May 2021, just a month after Michael died, I was trying to learn more, and ran across the BBC Genome Project which is an effort to document everything ever (?) broadcast on the BBC, and to provide a searchable archive for recordings and films/videos. I actually found what I believe is the specific program, from September 1971. This program was called "Controversy: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives" and featured Edward Teller. As you can see from the link (or this screen capture), there is no mention of other guests on the program.

However, I present an unusual piece of documentation to support the idea that Michael was on this program.

In the second half of 1971, Michael had a sabbatical at Imperial College, London, for which the entire family accompanied him. I (David) was in second grade (age 7) at the time. Upon returning to St. Louis in mid-January 1972, I commenced to write up a memoir of the entire trip, an 80 page (little kid pages with wide lines) journal, with postcards to spur my memory.

In four sentences on page 20 of my journal, I wrote about going to the BBC broadcasting building when Michael was going to be on "tely" [sic], where the main speaker was "Teller". The dates are correct, too, in September 1971 (although my listed date differs from the BBC archive by a week). David journal
page 20 of David's journal of family sabbatical

Due to Michael's involvement with CNI, it is not at all a surprise that he would have contested Teller's contention that peaceful uses of nuclear explosives (essentially as civil engineering), were safe and desirable.

A producer for the BBC Genome project did reply two weeks later to my email looking for assistance, writing, "I can confirm however that unfortunately this programme does not exist in the BBC Archives, like many programmes from that era."

Using the British Newspaper Archive, I was able to find numerous TV listings for this specific broadcast in newspapers across Great Britain, including the Coventry Evening Telegraph (shown below) and others. These are credited as "With thanks to Reach PLC. Digitised [sic] by Findmypast Newspaper Archive. All Rights Reserved." Others included the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Reading Evening Post, Liverpool Echo, and the Birmingham Daily Post.

I also found references to it in the OAC (Online Archive of California)'s "Register of the Edward Teller Papers" at the Hoover Instutution at Stanford University. Specifically, the reference was to: box 465, folder 12: BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) 1971-1972 and farther down on the same page (in the section marked "Video tapes undated" to "box 614, folder 8: "Controversy #5 Nuclear Explosives," BBC video tape undated."

As it turns out, Sheryl's cousin, Alexis Manheim is Assistant University Librarian for Stanford University. I wrote to her in May 2022 to ask her advice, and she graciously said she would be willing to help me with this directly.

As a result, by late July 2022 she shared with me photos she had taken of a 26-page transcript (12.9MB) of the television program in question!

As of this writing (April 2023), it appears we have reached a dead end in our efforts to obtain a digital version of the video from that program. The Hoover Institution Library & Archives (Stanford Univ.) had contracted with an external vendor to do the digitization, since they did not have the equipment in-house to do this. After many months, I was forwarded information which said digitization was not possible from this vendor (nor others this vendor had contacted).

I was told "the reel is in the PAL (Phase Alternating Line) format, which is common outside of the United States, however the 1/2-inch Shibaden open face reel used by the BBC requires special equipment to play."

So, this is the danger of all old media. Not only does the media have to survive the decades, but one has to locate a functioning piece of hardware of similar vintage which can play said media!

It has been a fascinating quest, and I remain delighted to have tracked down the transcript. My thanks again to Alexis.

Coventry Evening Telegraph BBC TV Listings

September 13, 1971
See 'Preview' and 'BBC2' entries.
BBC transcript
Transcript of BBC program

September 1971
Courtesy of Alexis Manheim, Daniel Keough, and the Hoover Institution Library & Archives
at Stanford University