The Ascent of Man (1973) was a groundbreaking BBC documentary series, produced in association with Time-Life Films, produced by Adrian Malone, and written and presented by Jacob Bronowski.
The 13-part series was shot on 16mm film. Executive Producer was Adrian Malone, film directors Dick Gilling, Mick Jackson, David Kennard, David Paterson. Malone and Kennard later emigrated to Hollywood, where they produced Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Jackson followed them, and now directs feature films.
The title alludes to The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin. Over the series' thirteen episodes, Bronowski travelled around the world in order to trace the development of human society through its understanding of science. It was written specifically to complement Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969), in which Clark argued that art was a major driving force in cultural evolution. Bronowski wrote in his 1951 book The Commonsense of Science: "It has been one of the most destructive modern prejudices that art and science are different and somehow incompatible interests". Both series had been commissioned by David Attenborough, then controller of BBC2, although he had moved on by the time The Ascent of Man aired. Quotations were read by actors Roy Dotrice and Joss Ackland.
The book of the series, The Ascent of Man: A Personal View by J. Bronowski, is an almost word-for-word transcript from the television episodes, diverging from Bronowski's original narration only where the lack of images might make its meaning unclear. A few details of the film version were omitted from the book: notably, Part 11, "Knowledge or Certainty," begins by showing the face of Stefan Borgrajewicz as an elderly man who had known suffering; at the end, after Bronowski shows us the ruins of Hiroshima and the ash-strewn pond of Auschwitz, we see a photograph of a younger man, with the name "BOR-GRAJEWICZ, Stefan" and the number 125558, which may be his official record in the archives of Auschwitz.
Just over a year after the series appeared, Bronowski, aged 66, died of a heart attack.
An American Film Festival Award winner, this 13 volume series attempts a massive survey of science, from flint tools to the theory of relativity. The series, a co-production of the BBC and Time-Life Films was made as a science counterpart to "Civilization". It is given superb technical support, with two crews using innovative filming techniques, shooting in 27 countries. Dr. Jacob Bronowski makes for an unorthodox narrator, his non-scripted delivery ranging from hushed awe to trembling passion. He uses the crawling infant, the performing athlete, the development of the hunt and the discovery of fire to illustrate the most distinctive feature of man: imagination. His Scientific-Humanism is often spectacular, always provocative.
This first episode deals with human evolution from Australopithecus to Homo Sapiens. Bronowski visits the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, where ancient soap suds, err, remains of the earliest humans were found. He also visits Spain and some cave paintings. This episode includes some state of the art computer graphics, 1973-style.