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Adam John Hart-Davis (born 4 July 1943) is an Englishmarker scientist, author, photographer, historian and broadcaster, well-known in the UKmarker for presenting the BBC television series Local Heroes and What the Romans Did for Us, the latter spawning several spin-off series involving the Victorians, the Tudors, the Stuarts, and the Ancients. He was also a co-presenter of Tomorrow's World, and presented Science Shack. Currently he presents How London Was Built and Just Another Day on the The History Channel UK.

Personal life

He was born and brought up in Henley-on-Thamesmarker, the youngest child of the publisher Sir Rupert Hart-Davis (1907–1999) and his second wife Catherine Comfort Borden-Turner.

He attended Eton Collegemarker before reading chemistry at Merton Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker. He later took a DPhil degree in organometallic chemistry at the University of Yorkmarker before spending three years as a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Albertamarker in Canadamarker. Subsequently, he worked at the Oxford University Press, editing science texts and chess manuals.

He was married (1965–1995) to Adrienne Alpin, with whom he had two sons, and now lives with psychologist Dr. Susan Blackmore. His siblings are the journalist Duff Hart-Davis and Bridget, the dowager Lady Silsoe.

He is a direct descendant of King William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan and is therefore fifth cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II, second cousin once removed of the Conservative party leader David Cameron and first cousin once removed of the historian John Julius Norwich.

He revealed on a BBC Panorama special that he caught swine flu earlier in 2009.

Career in broadcasting

Hart-Davis's work in broadcasting began in 1977 when he joined Yorkshire Television (YTV) as a researcher, working on material for Magnus Pyke, David Bellamy, Miriam Stoppard as well as Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World.

In 1985 he was promoted to production work, producing the Fred Harris-fronted TV show Me & My Micro and the Johnny Ball-fronted Fun & Games, amongst other things. He also devised and produced the school science show Scientific Eye.

In the early 1990s Hart-Davis moved in front of the camera to present two series for YTV: On The Edge and Local Heroes. The latter programme involved him cycling around the North of England in his trademark fluorescent pink and yellow cycling clothes, seeking out places associated with the great innovators of science and technology. The bicycles were his own: he is a keen cyclist, owning an early Burrows Windcheetah as well as a mountain bike fitted with an early front monoblade. This series was subsequently transferred to BBC2, where its scope became national, a different region being the subject of each episode. Big Questions [22447], a five part Channel 4 science series for young people that he presented received a BAFTA nomination in 2002.

Since then, he has essentially become the face of the BBC's output on science and the history of science, but at the same time is heavily critical of the standard of science output on British television (including, to a certain extent, his own programmes), which he sees as dumbed down.

A new television series for the BBC called The Cosmos - A Beginner's Guide was broadcast on 7 August 2007 by BBC Two, and explored the latest ideas and experiments in cosmology. It was accompanied by a book of the same name.

He also appeared in TV advertisements for HM Revenue & Customs with the catchphrase "tax doesn't have to be taxing". Following a statement from Mr Hart-Davis, in which he mentions the level of complexities within the UK tax system, his contract with HM Revenue & Customs has ended.

Ambassador for science communication

Hart-Davis has a passion for raising awareness of simple benefits that science may bring to the quality of living, particularly in the developing world. One such innovation is the design of smoke-hoods from galvanized iron or mud in order to prevent the deadly effects of smoke inhalation from cooking fires inside houses in the developing world .


Published works

He has written many books, including a history of the toilet, entitled Thunder, Flush and Thomas Crapper (Thomas Crapper being commonly, though wrongly, believed to be one of the pioneers of the toilet's development), and Taking The Piss (A Potted History of Pee).

Published works include:


  • Scientific Eye , HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (Nov 1985), (ISBN 0713525843)
  • Mathematical Eye, Collins Educational (Sep 1989), (ISBN 0044480431)
  • Scientific Eye: Exploring the Marvels of Science, Sterling Pub Co Inc (Mar 1990), (ISBN 0806957581)
  • Amazing Math Puzzles, Sterling Publishing; Reprint edition (May 1997), (ISBN 0806996692)
  • Thunder, Flush and Thomas Crapper: An Encycloopedia, Michael O'Mara Books; New Ed edition (10 Oct 1997), (ISBN 1854792504)
  • Chain Reactions: Pioneers of British Science and Technology, National Portrait Gallery Publications (24 Nov 2000), (ISBN 1855142910)
  • What the Victorians Did for Us, Headline Book Publishing (5 Aug 2002), (ISBN 075531137X)
  • The World's Stupidest Inventions, Michael O'Mara Books (18 Aug 2003), (ISBN 1843170361)
  • What the Tudors and Stuarts Did for Us, Boxtree Ltd (5 Sep 2003), (ISBN 0752215566)
  • What the Past Did for Us, Publisher: BBC Books (14 Oct 2004), (ISBN 0563522070)
  • Why Does A Ball Bounce?: And 100 Other Questions From the Worlds of Science, Ebury Press (1 Sep 2005), (ISBN 0091902681)
  • Just Another Day, Orion (21 Sep 2006), (ISBN 0752873342)
  • History: The Definitive Visual Guide - from the Dawn of Civilization to the Present Day, Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd (4 Oct 2007), (ISBN 1405318090)
  • Eurekaaargh!! A spectacular collection of inventions that nearly worked. Past Times edition published 1999


  • Where There's Life, (with Hilary Lawson), Michael Joseph Ltd (10 May 1982), (ISBN 0718121376)
  • Test Your Psychic Powers, (with Susan Blackmore), Sterling Publishing; Reprint edition (May 1997), (ISBN 0806996692)
  • "Local Heroes" Book of British Ingenuity, (with Paul Bader), Sutton Publishing Ltd; (25 Sep 1997), (ISBN 0750914734 )
  • More "Local Heroes", (with Paul Bader), Sutton Publishing Ltd (20 Aug 1998), (ISBN 0750917970)
  • 100 Local Heroes, (with Paul Bader), Sutton Publishing Ltd; Rev Ed edition (22 Jul 1999), (ISBN 0750923733)
  • What the Romans Did for Us, (with Philip Wilkinson), Boxtree Ltd; New Ed edition (20 Jul 2001), (ISBN 075226172X )
  • The Book of Victorian Heroes, (with Paul Bader), Sutton Publishing Ltd (23 Aug 2001) , (ISBN 0750928204)
  • Classic Mathemagic, (with Rraymond Blum and Bob Longe), MetroBooks (NY) (Aug 2002), (ISBN 1586636839)
  • Catchphrase, Slogan and Cliché, (with Judy Parkinson), Michael O'Mara Books (1 Oct 2003), (ISBN 1843170639)
  • Henry Winstanley and the Eddystone Lighthouse, (with Emily Troscianko), Sutton Publishing Ltd; New Ed edition (23 Oct 2003), (ISBN 0750933798)
  • Taking the Piss: A Potted History of Pee, (with Emily Troscianko), The Chalford Press (10 Oct 2006), (ISBN 1845883519)
  • The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide, (with Paul Bader), BBC Books (21 Jun 2007), (ISBN 1846072123)


  1. His father had previously been married to the actress Peggy Ashcroft.
  2. Smoke and its impact on people's lives Practical Action

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