The BEST Episodes of James May's 20th Century

Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!

Last Updated: Apr 27, 2021

Network: BBC Two

The world in 1999 would have been unrecognisable to anyone from 1900. James May takes a look at some of the greatest developments of the 20th century, and reveals how they shaped the times we live in now.

Blast Off

#1 - Blast Off

Season 1 - Episode 2 - Aired Jul 10, 2007

James May investigates what the Space Race did for all of us who never got a chance to blast off into orbit, discovering that the race to the moon began in Chiswick, West London. James gets to road-test a street-legal version of the lunar buggy, but finds out gravity makes the handling difficult. After taking his own satellite photo from 700km above Earth, he then travels to NASA's launch pad in Florida to see for himself the massive Saturn moon rockets that he once made in kit-form in his bedroom.

star 7.66
157 votes
Directors: Paul King
Big City, Bright Lights

#2 - Big City, Bright Lights

Season 1 - Episode 6 - Aired Jul 24, 2007

Each day 180,000 people move into a city somewhere on the planet. James May investigates how the high-rise urban living condition was created.

star 7.45
98 votes
Directors: Dan Walker
Inventing The Teenager

#3 - Inventing The Teenager

Season 1 - Episode 5 - Aired Jul 24, 2007

During the 20th century teenagers evolved to the point of almost becoming a separate species. James May is on a journey to find out how this came about. Was it the promise of sex, the power of pop, or the pull of a 50cc Japanese two-stroke?

star 7.43
128 votes
Directors: Claudine Dabbs
Honey, I Shrunk The World

#4 - Honey, I Shrunk The World

Season 1 - Episode 1 - Aired Jul 10, 2007

Documentary series about 20th century innovations. James May discovers how, thanks to planes, cars, televisions and computers, our world suddenly got a whole lot smaller. He takes a flight in the pioneering airplane that created the European mini-break and looks at the Ford Cortina - the classic family car that opened up a new world when he was a young lad. James also takes a Model T Ford for a test drive and finds it so difficult he wonders how motoring ever caught on.

star 7.42
132 votes
Directors: Simon Baker
Body Fantastic

#5 - Body Fantastic

Season 1 - Episode 3 - Aired Jul 17, 2007

James May discovers just how far he can push his body, exploring some of the most remarkable medical advances over the last hundred years. He begins by testing himself in a centrifuge, a machine used to train fighter pilots and astronauts. He is then invited to watch open heart surgery, where a man's heart stops beating in the middle of an operation. Fortunately, it is all part of the procedure to fit an artificial heart. But his biggest surprise comes when he investigates the 20th century's greatest medical breakthrough - the discovery of DNA.

star 7.39
126 votes
Directors: Milla Harrison
Take Cover

#6 - Take Cover

Season 1 - Episode 4 - Aired Jul 17, 2007

James May investigates some of the most ingenious ideas to emerge from 20th century warfare. He flies in the RAF's latest supersonic jet as well as a biplane, getting to grips with just how difficult it was for early aviators to hit their targets. James also joins a group of ex-paratroopers to test camouflage painting techniques. It work so well he can't spot a man just a few hundred feet in front of him, and so turns to a hi-tech infrared camera to spot his enemy.

star 6.93
126 votes
Directors: Helen Thomas