Ganymede and Titan

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Chris Barrie's Massive Engines

By Tanya Jones. First published on 5th April 2004

Well, thanks to this series, I've discovered that the Discovery Channel is really rather splendid. As well as Mr Barrie and his engines, you also have Mark Williams with his trains, and Rory McGrath with his gruesome tales of just how hard life could be back in the old days. It's well worth an hour and a half of anyone's evening, and the presentation is running close to Cartoon Network in terms of quality and good humour.

However, I'm here to tell you about Chris Barrie's Massive Engines, and the programme title is certainly apt. This week, Chris tells us about the development of digging machines, from the early days in the 1820's to modern day JCBs. We look at how the early systems of steam and pulleys (demonstrated by Chris using both little models and the machines themselves) gave way to hydraulics, pioneered by the man who gave his initials to perhaps the most famous digger company in the world. This gave us the perfect excuse to see famous footage of the 'digger dancers', showing just how manuverable and powerful modern diggers are.

Chris, you'll be pleased to hear, has a go at every machine mentioned, and seems genuinely excited to be digging his own hole. It's also amusing to hear his voice travel from a slightly less butch Ace Rimmer to shades of Brittas and David Coleman, depending on how excited he gets. We end up in a German coal pit, being mined by the largest digger on earth, which, we are told, takes two years to build on the site. Chris gets his chance to take the controls, although, to be honest, it's not as rewarding as seeing him fall off a shovel. This is an example of how the producers are not scared to leave shots in that didn't go quite to plan; Chris's amused "Do you mind?!" reaction to a loudspeaker in the German coal mine is nice to see as part of the finished product.

This programme is jolly good stuff, and is pitched at just the right level for morons like myself, who never really understood Design and Technology classes. Chris is always watchable and presents the material with the air of a true enthusiast. He even manages to fit Red Dwarf quotes in: while standing at a great elevation on the arm of the massive coal mining machine featured, he proclaims that, even if you're not scared of heights, "'s still brown trousers time". Horrah!