Well, just a bit of exaggeration there... Some weeks ago there was a question on University Challenge about the building of Pentonville Prison in 1842; it went something like “To what design was the prison built—an idea suggested by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham?” The answer given, ‘The Panopticon’, was declared to be correct by Jeremy Paxman. In fact the design of Pentonville owes absolutely nothing to the Panopticon.
I spent some months researching the Victorian prison system for an article that was published last December--read it here—and wrote to the Beeb, citing the article and other reference material, and pointing out the error. After a few weeks they contacted me, thanking me etc., apologising that ‘I didn’t think’ that Pentonville was modelled on the Panopticon, and assuring me that the point had been included in their daily report. I replied that it was not a case of ‘thinking’ or conjecture. The proposition was just plain wrong, as the briefest reference to the contemporary documentation will show.
Finally, today, they wrote back; the programme makers now ‘agree’ that the Panopticon was not the model for Pentonville, and a note to that effect has been placed on the appropriate iPlayer page—image attached.
I’m surprised that a programme like UC, which I have always regarded as an absolute gold-standard for academic excellence and probity, should need a double-prodding to set the record straight. Anyway, it is another very small step in my crusade for truth in the public record.
As an afterthought, the Panopticon was a fascinating idea, and there is a brief account of it in my article, accessible via the above link.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs