03 April 2012

Johnny Ball - Maths Made Easy...

My dear sister likes helping this blog by hunting through charity shops for vintage '80s items for me. Here's her latest find - Johnny Ball's Think Box from 1982. Note the Rubikian-looking contraption he is holding in his hand and the Rubik's Cube in the box! Those were the days...

As an aside, note that there is no bar code on the book cover. Isn't it lovely? Bar codes would be arriving in a year or two, and, not knowing what they were for, I regarded them as just plain ugly - so disfiguring to any self respecting book cover!

Back to the main story, and here's the introduction to Think Box:

It's now about four years since the first 'Think of a Number' programme was broadcast on BBC TV and since then there have been several spin-off series: 'Think Again', 'Think Backwards' and our latest effort 'Think This Way'.

Altogether, there have been around fifty programmes, each packed with puzzles and tricks and ideas which, apart from being fun, have also made maths and science that much easier to understand.

Each time a 'Think' programme appears on television the BBC is inundated with letters asking for explanations and solutions and more information. Well, here it is one volume - the full collection of 'Think' tricks and puzzles. I hope you find it interesting and fascinating, but most of all... fun.


Johnny Ball

Johnny is best remembered by me as a children's presenter on the BBC, firstly on Play School and then branching out into his own (several) series which seemed to imply that maths were easy. Having missed loads of school, courtesy of my dire and chaotic childhood, I was never convinced - and anyway snakebites, Sons & Daughters, Stella Artois and dressing Miami Vice style were so much more fun. However, my younger sisters liked Johnny's shows and he was often on-screen when I visited home. Consequently, he has become something of a 1980s icon in my mind.

Johnny's own website reveals that there is more to him than that.

Did you know that, as a comedian in the late 1960s, he appeared on Val Doonican and Harry Secombe telly shows? That he compered ITV's 1967 Christmas Night Spectacular and the first Rolling Stones Tour? Starred in Sadlers Wells Opera? Was a presenter on Playschool for 17 years?

Johnny also wrote
Playaway and adult TV comedy before launching the BBC shows we all remember.

Apart from Playschool, I had no idea!

He's also well-known now for being the father of TV presenter and radio DJ Zoe Ball, wife of Fatboy Slim, Norman Cook, who started out in 1980s band The Housemartins and formed Beats International in 1989.

Anyway, here's Johnny at the beginning of chapter one of Think Box, encouraging readers to have fun with numbers:

A lot of people have the impression that to enjoy a book about number tricks and puzzles, you need to be fairly good at maths. What a load of tosh. (That's a rubbish word for 'rubbish'.) With this book, it doesn't really matter. All the items that follow are easy and should help you to relax and have fun with numbers and number ideas. In fact, the less you know already, the more there is to enjoy in this book - and you might even learn a few things.

I always remember the gloriously daft humour he employed in his '80s series, which is reflected in the book.

How about this as an example:

Chapter 6

Paper, plane and simple

This chapter is supposed to be about simple things you can do with a plain piece of paper. Unfortunately we spelt 'plain' (meaning flat) wrongly at the top of the page. That 'plane' is the flying variety and this chapter is not about that sort of plane.

The trouble is, some of you having read 'Paper, plane and simple' will now be disappointed that there is no plane in this chapter. You may even be near tears... Oh, all right - stop blubbering. Just to keep you happy I'll throw in a design for a paper plane made from plain paper.

Or what about this:

Long ago magicians were called sorcerers, but not because they juggled with saucers. It was because they dabbled in sorcery or magic spells. Today magicians dabble in magic tricks, although they may also perform saucer-juggling or even jug-juggling in addition to their trick-trickery.


Now in his seventies, Johnny remains active in the worlds of maths, science and technology. And he's probably STILL trying to make it all seem easy to understand and, for many people, succeeding.


Personally, I've given up!


Cerys said...

He took some of the spookiness out of numbers! :)

Pat On A Diet said...

A nice presence on the TV - so much a part of kids' programs back then.