Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press on BBC2 this Saturday, September 20th

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News | Yves Peters | September 15, 2008

This Saturday, September 20th, BBC2 broadcasts the documentary The Machine that Made Us: Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press, produced by Wavelength Films. I believe this to be the first time that people outside the UK will be able to watch it, because up till now it has only been shown on BBC4, and  the online version on the BBC’s iPlayer can’t be viewed if you’re living outside the UK. So program whatever recording device you have hooked up to your telly – especially if you’re attending ATypI’08 St.Petersburg at the end of the week.

Here’s the description for the show, part of BBC4’s Medieval Season, on the BBC4 website:

Stephen Fry examines the story behind the first media entrepreneur, printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg. He finds out why he did it and how – a story which involves both historical enquiry and hands-on craft and technology. Fry travels across Europe to find out how Gutenberg kept his development work secret, about the role of avaricious investors and unscrupulous competitors, and why Gutenberg’s approach started a cultural revolution. He then sets about building a copy of Gutenberg’s press.”

As always the charming Stephen Fry displays a genuine interest in his subject, and he doesn’t hesitate to get down and dirty, cutting type, handmaking paper and aiding with production of the actual press. Fry’s endearing enthusiasm makes this one definitely worth viewing.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the critics had to say about the film after it premiered on BBC4 on Monday, April 14th:

“this terrific documentary” — Simon Horsford, Telegraph

“a fine documentary … a reminder that television too, sometimes counts as a pretty decent invention” — Brian Viner, The Independent

“the best documentary of the night” — Andrew Billen, The Times

“an absorbing documentary … a winning combination of wit and wonder — Stephanie Billen, The Observer

“Stephen Fry gets Beeb 4’s Medieval season off to a splendid start” — Mik Duffy, The Scotsman

“a remarkable story” — The Guardian


  1. “I believe this to be the first time that people outside the UK will be able to watch it”

    This may be a stupid question, but those of us outside the UK can’t see BBC4, how will we be able to see it on BBC2?

    Posted by Craig Schmidt on Sep. 15, 2008
  2. It was shown on BBC 2 in April as well, but a lot of people probably missed that. It is indeed a very nice documentary. Stephen Fry speaks to all the right people, such as Alan May and Stan Nelson.

    Posted by Sander Pinkse on Sep. 15, 2008
  3. Craig Schmidt wrote: “This may be a stupid question, but those of us outside the UK can’t see BBC4, how will we be able to see it on BBC2?”

    Well, for instance in The Netherlands, lots of people are able to watch BBC 1 and 2, but not BBC 3 or 4.

    Posted by Sander Pinkse on Sep. 15, 2008
  4. You can also watch it at

    I don’t know if it’s legal or what but it’s worth a visit.

    Posted by Nicola on Sep. 18, 2008
  5. This link has been doing the rounds in typographic circles for a while now, but we have not published it anywhere obvious in fear it will be taken down. Let’s hope nobody notices it. ;)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 18, 2008
  6. Sorry about that, just delete that comment!

    Posted by Nicola on Sep. 19, 2008
  7. Naw, don’t worry – it’s worth leaving it a while to allow more people to see the video. There haven’t been any problems up till now, despite it having been posted here and there, so I guess we’re good. I just hope Jamison doesn’t get into trouble for this.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 19, 2008
  8. Thank you for leaving that link up for those of us who can’t get BBC2 or 4. It’s a wonderful documentary…very nicely done.

    Posted by Pam on Sep. 23, 2008
  9. Is there a DVD of this video that can be purchased and be viewable on DVD players in the United States?

    Posted by Tabatha Oberleiter on Nov. 21, 2008
  10. Is there a DVD available in Australia of the Gutenberg episode and the whole series?

    Posted by Gerrit Brouwer on Aug. 23, 2009

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