Michael Mosley: The Doctor Who Changed Britain, BBC One, review: Touching tribute to man who made the nation better

The Diagnosis Detectives was among the programmes Mosley presented during his TV career
The Diagnosis Detectives was among the programmes Mosley presented during his TV career - Dragonfly TV

It is such a shame the dead never get to hear our tributes. We truly should praise people more while they’re still with us. This certainly applies to Dr Michael Mosley. Since the 67-year-old’s body was found, so painfully and publicly, on the Greek island of Symi last Sunday, the outpouring of love has been heart-lifting to behold.

Commemorative documentary Michael Mosley: The Doctor Who Changed Britain (BBC One) looked back at his 40-year broadcasting career, celebrating a force for good who touched many lives. This effervescent figure was a tonic for everyone’s health. His absence from the airwaves will be keenly felt.

We heard how he joined the BBC on a whim, intending to return to medicine, but instead finding a new vocation. He began behind the scenes as an award-winning science journalist and producer, before moving in front of the camera. Mosley was no smug wellness guru. No finger-wagging physician in a starchy white coat. He took an accessible, good-humoured approach to delivering potentially life-changing advice.

As a result, his programmes - notably TV’s Trust Me, I’m a Doctor and Radio 4’s Just One Thing - have made a lasting impact on the nation’s health habits. He was a passionate advocate for intermittent fasting, the benefits of cold water and tricks like standing on one leg while brushing your teeth. Small changes which reap big rewards. With his twinkling wit and lightly worn wisdom, he had a knack for connecting with audiences, demystifying science and communicating complex ideas in digestible fashion.

Seeing health in a holistic way, Mosley was kind, compassionate and non-judgemental. He earned viewers’ trust by sharing his own difficulties. As a chronic insomniac, he explored the link between sleep and gut health. He reversed his own Type 2 diabetes, becoming an inspiration for others in the danger zone. Yet the evangelical Mosley admitted that he didn’t always practise what he preached.

He confessed that even though he advised others to try meditation and mindfulness, “the reality is, I don’t really get around to doing it myself”. He joked about his squeamishness over those dreaded cold showers, chuckling that “it’s always followed by a lot of screaming”. He cheerfully recalled taking a personality test, which found he was “a bit of a psychopath”.

Boundlessly curious and inspired by the self-experimentation of Nobel Prize-winner Professor Barry Marshall, Mosley went to daring extremes in the pursuit of science. He vaped, took snake venom and tried magic mushrooms. He even deliberately infected himself with a tapeworm and had a camera inserted to examine his bowel. As his colleague Dr Chris van Tulleken said: “His genius was to make himself the patient and guinea pig in a way that’s utterly relatable.”

Engagingly narrated by fellow BBC boffin Professor Hannah Fry, this was an effective tribute, if a rather patchwork one. Hastily assembled and edited close to transmission, it was essentially a clip compilation. Glimpses of Eighties-era Tomorrow’s World were enjoyably nostalgic (the big hair! the brick-sized phones!) but admirers might be better served by heading to BBC Sounds to listen to his final interview which aired on Radio 4 on Friday morning. Recorded at Hay Festival, it found him in conversation with psychologist Professor Paul Bloom about how to live a good life.

The programme is touchingly introduced by his friend Van Tulleken. Mosley was full of his trademark warmth, reflecting on his struggles and the importance of family. The devoted husband and father-of-four persuasively argued that strong relationships with loved ones is the key to a fulfilling life. Judging by this week’s wave of affection, his life was fulfilling indeed.

Mosley’s humble style belied the fact that he was one of our most important broadcasters of the past decade. He was definitely among the most directly effective, with his practical tips improving millions of lives. As Fry concluded: “He made a difference and leaves Britain for the better.”

Right to the end, his infectious enthusiasm was undimmed. His life might have been cut far too short but Mosley’s legacy will endure in all those he helped. Grateful fans might well have raised a glass of something stronger than beetroot juice at the screen. Go well, doc.

Michael Mosley: The Doctor Who Changed Britain is available on BBC iPlayer. There’s Only One Michael Mosley on BBC Sounds