When the BBC was founded, Lord Reith, the first Director-General gave it the instructions to inform, educate and entertain. A near century on and whilst the BBC is still great, it’s no longer has a monopoly on the airwaves. In fact, YouTube – a place you might more commonly associate with videos of cats and people hurting themselves – has become home to lots of original content creators who easily fulfill this goal. Here’s our pick of some of ten of the best.
Epic Rap Battles of History
Everyone knows that rap battles are awesome – but it’s a relatively modern form. So we’ve no way of knowing who’d win in a rap battle between Blackbeard and Al Capone… right? Wrong. ERB is now into it’s third season and boasts not only witty and hilarious raps from the combatants, but production values that a few years ago would have been staggering for an online series.
Everyone who’s anyone has battled – from Obama vs Romney last year to Miley Cyrus vs Joan of Arc recently. Perhaps inevitably though the fan favourite seems to be Hitler vs Darth Vader.
CGP Grey is a former science teacher who has taken to producing informative YouTube videos full time. If the idea of learning something scares you though, don’t worry – CGP’s videos are fast paced, funny and easy to understand. He’s especially good at boiling topics down to something normal people can understand – from how the European Union works to why it is hard to define what a continent is. I’ve made him sound more boring than he is – seriously, go check him out – the videos are great!
Fully Charged Show / Carpool UK
Remember Red Dwarf? Robert Llewellyn, who played Kryten in the show wasn’t just a jobbing actor doing some sci-fi to pay the bills – he’s a card carrying geek. Over recent years he’s been making two of his own shows for YouTube. Carpool has a simple enough premise: Robert gives someone notable a lift from one place to another in his electric car – and interviews them en route. So successful was the format that it was even briefly picked up by the Dave TV channel – though for my money the best shows the web-focused ones where he gets to speak to less Dave-friendly people – like Cory Doctorow above.
Fully Charged is Robert’s other project in which he reviews electric cars, and it’s back for a new series soon. It’s the perfect antidote to Top Gear. Being able to watch a car show without Jeremy Clarkson turning up is a luxury everyone should experience once.
Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’s special effects company haven’t been too active on YouTube as of late – but of the little they have put up there it is fascinating. Remember the final epic battle in Avengers? Turns out it was about as real as Toy Story. The channel is packed full of videos revealing the secrets behind how they did all of those incredible special effects. And don’t worry – from all that I’ve seen Jar Jar hasn’t popped up once.
Old and venerable though the Royal Institution may be, it doesn’t mean that it’s an old fart when it comes to the internet. The RI YouTube channel has lots of short videos looking at science. My favourite strand is the “Tales from the Prep Room”, which demos some pretty incredible things. Check out the above video of a levitating superconductor on a mobius strip. Skip to about five minutes for the big moment. Don’t let your eyes deceive you – this isn’t an ILM special effect but there’s actually hovering going on. Mind-blowing.
If you’re a gamer then you’ll love these videos from DefendTheHouse – who you may have seen do the rounds recently with their superb “GTA V Mythbusters” shorts like the one above. It’s amazing to see such dedication – and the time spent setting up the different experiments must take ages. They’ve just started CoD: Ghosts mythbusters too, so I hope it’s something that will long continue.
QEDcon is an annual conference up in Manchester aimed at nerdy skeptical types – and their YouTube channel is a great showcase for the sort of thing they have on. At the moment, in the run up to next year’s conference in April they’re uploading some of last year’s panel discussions in full. Including this debate – mostly between Robin Ince and Brendan O’Neill – on if science is the new religion.
Similarly, if you’re of a bit of a ‘skeptical’ leaning, then you might you enjoy the channel of stand-up comedian Gemma Arrowsmith, whose sketches from her flat are both witty and incisive. The sketch above neatly skewers the media’s relentless and frustrating desire to create an illusion of “balance” on the issue of climate change.
Finally here’s a channel for Londoners. Especially those who have perhaps spent slightly too long staring at the tiles at the tube station whilst held at a red signal. I’m particularly enjoying Geoff Marshall’s secrets of the underground videos – going station by station and pointing out the stuff you might have missed… even if you use the station every single day.