The Origin Of Stuff

Episodes

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0101Toothbrush20190605

What is the most personal item you own - one you don’t want anyone else using?

For Katy Brand it’s her toothbrush. So how did the toothbrush become one of life’s essentials?

With the help of resident public historian of Horrible History fame, Greg Jenner, Katy goes back to ancient times, when the toothbrush was merely a stick. But the brush, as we know it, only came into being much later when a convict spied a broom in his cell and had a bright idea.

But how has ingenuity and innovation shaped the toothbrush and ensured its place in our lives? And given most are plastic, how environmentally friendly is the toothbrush’s legacy?

Featuring designer and toothbrush collector, Sophie Thomas, and advocate for clean teeth, Peter Dyer, Chair of Hospital Dentists at the British Dental Association.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Katy Brand investigates the toothbrush from its humble start, as a stick, to the present.

The surprising historical, scientific and cultural stories behind everyday things.

With the help of resident public historian of Horrible Histories fame, Greg Jenner, Katy goes back to ancient times, when the toothbrush was merely a stick. But the brush, as we know it, only came into being much later when a convict spied a broom in his cell and had a bright idea.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Comedian Katy Brand pays homage to the overlooked essentials of everyday life.

0102High Heel20190612

Katy Brand loves a high heel. Once known by friends and family for her ‘shoe fetish’, her dad even gave her a ceramic heel that could hold a wine bottle at a jaunty angle.

These days, Katy’s cherished heels from her torture days live in her cupboard. She has traded the pain for the statement trainer. But their art, history and construction still fascinate her.

So what is it about the high heel that has made it stand the test of time?

With the help of resident public historian, Greg Jenner, Katy explores the heel’s fascinating passage through time, finding a place on the feet of men, as well as women, in high and low places. Heels donned the feet of men on horseback in 17th century Persia, were adored by King Louis XIV, and gained an erotic currency with the invention of photography.

But how has science and engineering ensured the high heel’s survival?

Footwear Technologist, Mike George, shows us how the high heel is engineered, and how he can test if a particular design is teetering on the edge of safety. Social scientist, Heather Morgan, reveals the perceived benefits of wearing heels, as well as the risks when she fell foul to when fell in heels and broke her ankle.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Katy Brand tracks the extraordinary life of the high heel, from past to the present.

The surprising historical, scientific and cultural stories behind everyday things.

Comedian Katy Brand pays homage to the overlooked essentials of everyday life.

0103Fork20190619

The fork is essential. Even camping without one is a false economy, in Katy’s experience. Even a spork - with a spoon at one end and a fork at the other, with a knife formed along one prong - just won’t do. You need both - a fork to steady the meat and a knife to cut it with.

So how did the fork come to be so indispensable?

We didn’t always love the fork. Public historian, Greg Jenner, reveals how it was abandoned for the chopstick in Ancient China, and greeted with scorn in Western Europe when a Byzantine princess ate with a golden double-pronged one.

It was only after the traveller, Thomas Coryat, in 1608, celebrated its use by pasta-loving Italians that the English started to take note. By the mid-19th century, there was a fork for every culinary challenge – from the pickle and the berry, to ice-cream and the terrapin. The utensil transformed the dining experience, bringing the pocket knife onto the table in a blunt, round-tipped form, and ushering in British table manners.

So is there a perfect version of the fork? With the help of tomato, milkshake and mango, Katy discovers that the material a fork is made from can drastically alter a food’s taste.

Featuring material scientist, Zoe Laughlin, and food writer and historian, Bee Wilson.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Katy Brand explores the life of the unsung hero of the cutlery world \u2013 the fork.

Comedian Katy Brand pays homage to the overlooked essentials of everyday life.

0104Wine Glass20190626

Have you got one of those wine glasses that can hold an entire bottle of wine? Katy Brand does and she’s even used it for wine - albeit because of a sprained ankle, which would have stopped her from hobbling back and forth to the kitchen for refills.

But if we skip back a few hundred years, the wine glass was tiny. Footmen brought their masters what was essentially a shot glass. They quaffed back their wine in one. So how did we go from those dinky little things to the gargantuan goblets we have today? Is it because letting the wine breathe in a bigger glass makes it smell and taste better? Or is it a reflection of our drinking habits?

Katy Brand invites people in the know into the studio to find out, including historian Greg Jenner, Professor Barry Smith, director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at London University and Professor Russell Hand from Sheffield University.

Producer: Graihagh Jackson

Katy Brand toasts the wine glass, learning why it became the gargantuan glass it is today.

Comedian Katy Brand pays homage to the overlooked essentials of everyday life.

Join Katy and the show's resident public historian, Greg Jenner, is glass expert Russell Hand from Sheffield University and Barry Smith, Director for the Study of the Senses at London University.

0105Bed20190703

The surprising historical, scientific and cultural stories behind everyday things.

Comedian Katy Brand pays homage to the overlooked essentials of everyday life.

After a long journey, there’s nothing nicer for Katy than climbing into her own bed. It’s often the first major purchase we make when we grow up and leave home.

Its significance was not lost on our ancestors. The bed was often the place where societal attitudes to sleep, superstition, sex, and status were played out, sometimes in dramatic form.

So where did the bed come from, and what can this everyday object tell us about ourselves?

A sleeper in early modern times believed that sleep was akin to death, with the devil waiting to pounce after darkness. So bed-time rituals were performed at the bedside and wolves’ teeth were often hung around the sleeper’s neck. Iron daggers were dangled over the cradles of infants at night to prevent them from being changed into demon babies.

While we may have outgrown a fear of the devil, sleep expert and neuroscientist Prof Russell Foster fears the modern-day obsession that’s disrupting our sleep – our mobile devices. His advice? Prepare your bed for a good night’s sleep and defend it with a passion.

Also featuring resident public historian Greg Jenner, and Prof Sasha Handley, expert on Early Modern History and sleep during this time.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Katy Brand reveals how our attitudes to sleep, sex and status are played out in the bed.

0106Toilet20190710

You may call it the toilet, the loo, the privy, the potty, the can or even the bathroom, but whatever you call it, this everyday object has its roots in Bronze Age Pakistan. It even had a seat!

But how did the toilet come to be? Given one third of the world’s population still live without one, how much is our embarrassment around toilet habits to blame? And what scientific developments are underway to help make them truly universal?

Water and Sanitation Expert, Alison Parker, from Cranfield University believes part of the solution lies in a waterless toilet which creates ash, water from the waste it receives, and the energy it needs to operate, from the waste it receives.

Even in the UK, we don’t always have access to a toilet when we need one. Over the past decade, the number of public conveniences has dropped by a half, leaving older people and the disabled, who may need easy access, unable to leave their homes. Raymond Martin, Managing Director of the British Toilet Association, hopes to stop our public conveniences going down the pan.

Also featuring resident public historian Greg Jenner.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Katy Brand reveals how attitudes to the toilet have shaped its place in history.

Comedian Katy Brand pays homage to the overlooked essentials of everyday life.