The series covers various inventions and discoveries over the past century with some reference to discoveries made before the past century. The show features the eponymous James May, exhibiting and discussing the implications of many of the major advances and inventions made during this period. Each episode features some theme, which was discussed in depth during the show, often following sequential advances in chronological order. The programme is now shown on UKTV Documentary and Dave
Sam Wollaston writing for Guardian Unlimited described James May's 20th Century as "essentially Top Gear, masquerading as something educational" but conceded that if "teaching history can be achieved through Top Gear, then maybe that's not such a bad thing". The New Statesman thought that James May was "ill-suited to the task in hand" and described the biggest problem as May being unable to "put his wretched motors behind him". The Lancashire Telegraph wrote positively of the show praising the presenter May as "someone with genuine enthusiasm for what they were doing.
The six episodes were originally aired in 3 double-bills on BBC Two in a Tuesday 8pm to 9pm timeslot. Episodes 1 & 2 both attracted 2.4 million viewers and a 12% share. Episodes 5 & 6 received slightly less with 1.9 million and 2.3 million viewers, and respective shares of 10% and 12%. The programme finished behind BBC One and ITV1 but ahead of Channel 4 and five.
Original Air Dates: