back to article Maggie Philbin on tech, teens and cardigan fear

It could all have been so different. Thanks to a lack of sound career guidance, techie icon Maggie Philbin didn't become an engineer and instead co-presented the BBC's Tomorrow's World. Philbin wowed a generation of tweens regularly for half an hour a week between 1982 and 1989 with demos of the first fax machine, mobile phone …


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  1. Citizen Kaned


    tomorrow's world and johnny ball were an inspiration to guys who love tech! :)

    i wish tomorrow's world was still on. the gadget show is fun but can be annoying, their testing is usually so flawed. they do some cool stuff though.

    1. Audrey S. Thackeray

      Yes, those were interesting and inspirational programs, even if TW was occasionally embarrassing (the big plug for the Metro, anyone?) - I don't know if the current equivalent just doesn't exist or just doesn't cross my path but it feels like we've lost some of the brains amongst the CGI bling.


      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Current equivalent?

        The new series "Brave New World" has been quite good in this respect, getting real scientists to present it; unfortunately Horizon has gone ludicrously downmarket in recent years.

        The old series "Equinox" used to be quite good, as was "QED" in its early years.

        1. Dixie Nourmous

          Got to agree about Horizon,it was a staple of my childhood but now just seems to be all funnily filmed angles and strange music,definately gone low-brow...

          1. Number6

            Down the pan

            Yes, Horizon is all soundbites. Count the amount of repetition in what's said and at the end, consider how little you've actually learned from it. I haven't decided whether that's because as a child I was learning from it and have since passed the level at which it's aimed, or whether they've just cut all the useful content from the programmes.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ""I love when tech works, I love the joined up quality of it. What I don't like is a WiFi printer that refuses to do anything; that drives me nuts and I get stressed by that," she says."

    hmmmm, I think the engineering profession has not actually missed out that much.

    1. The Fuzzy Wotnot

      EXCUSE ME!!!

      No one! I mean, absolutely no one, disses the Philbin and gets away with it!

      May the fear of a thousand downvotes from middle-aged techies haunt you in your sleep!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Heretic heretic heretic! Bet you weigh the same as a duck. Burning at the stake's too good for the likes of you.

    3. Onid
      Thumb Down

      FU matey

      Wifi is superflawed. The reason it doesn't work most of the time is due to congestion when everyone uses everywhere and there aren't enough channels to hop around. While you can move about antennas until you fix the problem that is only until yet another Wifi hotspot appears in the neighbourhood.

      Effectively there are only 3 channels available so in effect if more than 3 are transmitting/receiving at the same time bandwidth starts going down. What works are cables. If Wifi works for you it's because your area isn't congested or you use it when everyone else is not using it.

      so STFU..

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      39 downvotes and counting

      guess that means MP is some sort of "sacred cow"

      as for Onid, your Wifi knowledge is really impressive but in your haste to show it off, you miss the bigger point but well done anyway.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    Ah, yes. I'm of that generation of men who go all gooey-eyed at the thought of Maggie. A very beautiful woman who could talk tech and enjoy it. Hats off to her, and good to see you on El Reg, Mags.

  4. Graham Bartlett

    Great presenter, great programme

    It was pretty much essential viewing for an awful lot of kids when I was growing up. There really isn't anything like it around today, which is a sad statement on how people view engineering these days.

    This would be a great addition to BBC3. We've finally got some decent programmes aimed at popularising basic science (Brian Cox, Blast Lab, Bang goes the theory, etc.), but that's all presented as neat tricks. What we're still missing is the stage beyond that where you show people (and young people especially) where you can take those "neat tricks" for the rest of your life.

    Maggie Philbin says she wants to see female role models in tech. I say I want to see *ANY* role models in tech. Quick, who can you think of? Guaranteed you'll pick Clive Sinclair and Bill Gates - and that proves my point, since they both got going 30+ years ago, when engineering still had some status. Maybe some people will pick Brin and Page, or Zuckerberg, or maybe even Jobs, but their careers were all based on marketing and not technical innovation. Try to think of anyone outside computing, and after Clive Sinclair and James Dyson you're pretty much SOL, yeah?

    Sure, some of the TW inventions never came to market, and some never even worked properly at all. But simply getting the message across that people are working on this, and it's a valid career you can do if you've got some technical chops (and more importantly imagination) - that would be an achievement. And telling them that you'll get on national TV if you can invent something new and useful - now that's got to be better than X-Factor.

  5. Admiral Grace Hopper
    Thumb Up

    Thank you Maggie, you and Judtih Hann ensured that there was a female example to follow.

    It was Tomorrow's World that turned me on to technology and its potential for making the world a better place. This led by fits and starts to a career in the backwaters of ADP, sorry, IT, which might not otherwise have happened.

    TW was a perfectly pitched programme, enthusiastic without being too "Gosh! Wow! Amazing", explaining clearly without being patronising and above all always fresh and new. It might have helped that the technology that you were reporting on was more eradily explained than some of the hidden tech that we deal with today, but you certainly did it well and enthused and educated a whole generation.

    I still intend to use a bubble-jet to print something onto a raw egg yolk some day.

  6. James Pickett


    "Mention Philbin's name today, and the eyes of Tomorrow's World fans flicker with instant recognition"

    No, just lust, I'm afraid. Sorry.

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart


      No, that's Jenny from Magpie (1974-1980) that you are thinking about...

      It was 1976 before I knew what the extra bumps of her chesticles were.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I'd give her one. Can we replace the Paris icon with a Philbin version please?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing against the woman

    But I never saw MP as a great TW presenter in the mould of some of the other greats (Judith Hann for one!). When you mention her name I mainly think of her as third foil for Noel's jokes on Swap Shop...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think there's room for the BBC to bring back Tomorrow's World as a segment in an extended BangGoesTheTheory, much like they have with Rogue Traders in Watchdog

    Maggie Philbin and Phillipa Forrester should present... along with one of those blokes that do maths/physics etc on BBC4 (but not Cox.. he's great but there's only so much!)

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Philippa Forrester

      There's no way PF could ever be let loose within a metric barge pole of technology after being well and truly fooled by Chris Morris' Brasseye.

  9. Ru

    "kids of dreaming of being famous"

    There are worse things than kids dreaming of being famous act[ors/resses], sportspeople or popstars... there are the girls whose only ambition is to marry a premiership footballer.

    It isn't quite the nadir of squandered potential, but its a long way down that particular well.

  10. nobody14

    How many Lawyers & Accountants do we need?

    We have long been a services driven country with the finance sector carrying us. In the global economy we have to attract new business and people need to be recognised as our biggest asset. We can't sell Lawyers and Accountants abroad and who needs Lawyers now anyway? Their jobs have been automated and all the grunt work is done by secretaries.

    So, we need to build an educated work force. We need engineering, IT, medical expertise to grow. Education is the only way. This initiative and ones like Young Rewired State are exactly what we need :)

  11. andy gibson

    Tomorrow's World

    Showed some fantastic technology, but technologists couldn't invent anything to stop Keith Chegwin p*ssing on her clothes in the wardrobe when he was hammered.

  12. Simon B
    Thumb Up

    Nice to know Maggie is well :) And I stll think Johnny Ball is ace, he made EVERYTHING interesting, a true talent.

  13. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Missing female role models...

    No mention of Admiral Grace Hopper? Tsk tsk.

    As for modern role models, what about Dr Alice Roberts & Prof. Kathy Sykes (both on TV just this week)?

    As for Maggie, the only thing I remember about her is what a filthy mouth she has! (she wasn't enjoying the Swap Shop outside broadcast very much that day)

    BTW, "half and hour"? Is this the Grauniad?

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper


  14. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Loved watching Tomorrow's World too

    However, in a long piece about British Engineering and/or current lack thereof, can we let this pass: We mention ENIAC, but not Colossus? Especially following the brilliant bit on BBC last weekend on Bletchley Park's lost heroes (William Tutte and Tommy Flowers). Told me bits of computer science history I did not know, and I work in computer science.

    The comment on ENIAC was logical in context (given women involved). It is surprising how hard it is to get girls into science and engineering over here in the West. I was at a conference on image processing last September and many women presented really good work (no surprise to me), and the vast majority were from India or China.

  15. Bunker_Monkey
    Thumb Up

    Tommorrows World

    Thats one show, they at the BBC should be bringing back! It was a light on the future and it was filled with good news that Humankind was always moving forward, where all we here about today on the news is bad news about the economy etc etc.

  16. Z-Eden
    Thumb Up

    Excellent Article

    A lot of points and arguments I can agree with. I remember tomorrows world with fondness. I grew up in the 80's and remember sitting down with my Dad to watch it and marveling at all these extraordinary tools. Definitely an inspiration for me as I took to enjoying computing and technology in my childhood.

    Oh and here's a toast to Maggie Philbin. Good programmes work best when the presenters are knowledable and enthusiastic. I applaud efforts to get engineering, science and technology profiles raised and rail against the current celebtards and their mind numbing rubbish: "Oh my god, did you, like, see X-Factor last night. Like, I could totally wail better than her."

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Erm can someoneone direct me to this multitude of engineering vacancies?

    After 25 years in the manufacturing sector I got the hell out. The I.T. skills I had there were luckily transferable.

    Perhaps it eludes some that we are no longer an industrialized trading nation?

    Pursue a field of study you find personally fulfilling or actually get a job?

  18. Alister Silver badge

    How can you not cite Stob as a shining example of female excellence in the tech world??

  19. James Pickett

    Missing female role models...

    I'd settle for our moderatrix :-)

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > science, engineering and technology ... are famously overpopulated by men.

    They aren't overpopulated, they're +populated+.

    It's not a conspiracy.

    It's because women don't study the relevant subjects at school. At university my intake of CS undergraduates contained exactly no women vs 90 males.

    I assume this means that music is "overpopulated" by women, because more women study that than men? No, didn't think so.

  21. I'm Brian and so's my wife

    > If there's a side-effect to the Cox factor, it's that we could end up

    > with a generation of physicists and astronomers - leaving other disciplines ignored.

    That would be one side of the argument. The other would be that there would be a generation of people who've actually done a difficult, testing subject and would almost certainly contribute more than a generation of (for example) media studies grads.

    There's far more chance of those guys being useful outside of their chosen field than the MS bods.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    one of the reasons...

    why the GPO and HO didn't want idiots playing about with mobile phone tech, was the fact that they knew full well that letting idiots mess about with microwave equipment was going to get someone either killed or maimed.

    A lesson that was lost after the shakeup of the telecoms industry and the replacement of management by a bunch of selfserving salesman!

    how many people have died of leukemia, brain cancer or have kids with behavioral problems which the government is ignoring as they have opened pandoras box and have no way to close it without bringing down most western governments in the process and causing another stock market crash. (personally i cant wait for that one, and the sooner the better ;)

    the insurance markets are hedging their bets on not wanting to cover that one and who can blame them, as the fallout will be greater than asbestos, as it will be everyone on the planet who is afflicted!

    if they(Gov) dont act, which they wont, then with the rollout of smartmeters etc.. the incidence of cancers across the UK will increase till even the politicians who are sitting there ignoring the steadily growing stats from the NHS and overseas will be forced to act.

    98% coverage of LTE, thanks, that means those of use with EHS will have no-where to live with any decent quality of life in the UK.

    the good news for the gov is that with the increase of cancers the population hitting retirement age will be drastically cut back, so saving their budgetary statistics, shame that the NHS will take the brunt of the additional costs instead.

    nuff said, rant over.

    1. Toastan Buttar

      Obvious troll is obvious.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Simple solution

      Point to a rigorous, randomised, peer-reviewed, double-blind experiment (i.e. basically, nigh-on-irrefutable proof) that shows conclusive evidence of EHS. Then take that to the scientific community at large and tell them to sort it.

      Currently, I'm not sure that any such experiment has come out with any sort of proof of EHS... there've been a few fatally flawed ones ("The WiFi is back on. Can you feel it? Yes? Right, now it's off. Can you feel the difference?")

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not *all* of the stock market will crash.

      Manufacturers of tin foil look set to do pretty well.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't pushing tech jobs to "normal" people going to leave actual geeks sorely lacking in the eyes of non-tech hiring managers?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tomorrow's World

    Killed off because there is no chance that anyone can invent anything reasonably complex and take it commercial without infringing on some megacorp's patent and getting sued out of existence.

    Invent, patent and hopefully sell it to a large corporate, but more likely the idea will be taken and Megacorp, with better lawyers, will get a patent for pretty much the same thing or something you need and assumed was obvious and not patentable. Do you really think you can afford to fight them?

  25. Cihatari

    Tomorrows World...

    I'm more of an old school Raymond Baxter Tomorrow's World fan, Maggie Philbin was more of a eighties thing, when I was stepping back a bit from telly-centred stuff in a teenage fashion. Still, a nice article from her.

    My most remembered feature from Tomorrow's World was their introduction of Kraftwerk to an uncomprehending world in 1973 as those whimsical German guys with their home-made instruments.

  26. Graham Bartlett

    At the risk of feeding the troll

    "how many people have died of leukemia, brain cancer or have kids with behavioral problems"

    In total: quite a lot. As a result of mobile phones: precisely zero.

    Next question?

  27. Harmless

    Not enough Tech on BBC

    All we get is Click on BBC News, out of the way on weekend daytime.

    They should bring back Tomorrow's World and put the Click stuff in it (without the annoying guy who is way too old for his spikey haircut) if they have trouble filling half an hour.

    Computers are everywhere, it's one of the largest sections of magazines in the newsagents, and yet there's a yawning lack of coverage on the telly.

    It seems we just want to spoon feed people cheap drama, 'reality' (on which planet?!) TV, talent shows, cookery and other low-brow fodder, and actually enlightening people can be ignored.

  28. Paul Robinson

    Fibre Optic

    "Watch old episodes of Tomorrow's World and you'll be struck by the way that the UK has teetered on the brink of technology greatness only to pull back"

    Does anyone remember the episode in the late seventies when Raymond Baxter (I think) demonstrated the wonders of the then new fibre optic cable, and how it was going to revolutionize telecoms? Still waiting!

  29. gaz 7

    campaign for tomorrows world to be brought back

    Tomorrows world should be broght back. surely one would have thought that it would no more expensive than some of the crap they make.

    chuck it on BBC4 which would be an ideal home,and roll bang theory, click, and TW into a one hour show on BBC1 and fire some those friggin overpaid cooks. Oh and keep bloody Hammond away from it!!

    really miss Maggie: judith and the guys. someone else who was cool was James Burke and his connections.

    beer cos i would give maggie or judith one if i met them

  30. Red Bren

    Bring back TW?

    Use a valuable, prime-time slot on BBC1 to show a literate technology show? Not a chance! We need more Eastenders!

  31. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    History fail

    Demonstrated the first commercial fax machine? I don't remember Tomorrow's World being on in the 1860s:

  32. Mark H

    Old eps to watch here - that's my night sorted ;-)

  33. captain veg


    Let's not forget that, quite apart from being technologically superior to Murdoch's satellite offering, BSB was actually licensed, whereas Sky was an offshore pirate operation that the Thatcher government turned a blind eye to. They only got legit ex post facto by buying up BSB, having already stolen its lunch. This was a political failure more than a technical one.


  34. nemo20000


    I remember watching them (Michael Rod I think) demonstrate the first CD player. I say “watch” and not “hear” for the predictable reason. Hurrah for live TV.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Could have been an engineer...

    ...and ended up working at the BBC.

    Hey, Cheggers can't be Boozers. I mean....oh forget it.


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