Revealing the rich and controversial past of sugar, alcohol, tobacco and opium, Hollywood actor Brian Cox embarks on a thought-provoking journey to uncover how the commercial exploitation of these products hooked the rest of the world on an appetite for a good time.
In this first episode, Brian wants to find out why (like millions of other Brits), he is a diabetic. Starting in Barbados, from which sugar cane fuelled a consumer revolution, Brian discovers how the British acquired a 'sweet tooth' and why today, this has led to epidemic levels of diabetes, obesity and even addiction to sugar.
In this second episode, actor Brian Cox travels to China to discover how the seeds of this modern-day addiction were planted during the height of Britain's trading empire. Since then opium has fuelled the world's largest drug-smuggling operation, earned vast fortunes, triggered war with China and inspired medical breakthroughs. Brian Cox reveals how Britain unleashed the most dangerous of addictions on the world, and how the consequences still haunt us today.
Growing up in the streets of Dundee, actor Brian Cox was surrounded by tobacco. His entire family either smoked it or chewed it and yet Brian reveals, he never took up the habit. To find out why not, Brian travels to Virginia in the US to discover how the habit of smoking kick-started the British Empire and created a global market of addicts. Brian discovers how manufacturers conspired to make cigarettes the optimal nicotine delivery system and that the Nazis were the first to make the link between smoking and lung cancer. Brian also takes a gene test which reveals just why he never took up the habit.
Whisky is a source of Scottish pride; it's one of the UK's few growth industries. In this last episode, actor Brian Cox reveals how whisky was born and shaped in opposition to the British tax system, and how that history forged the character of Scotland's national drink. But as he discovers, during the 19th century, addiction became a huge social problem with Scots drinking around six million gallons every year to escape the often unbearable conditions of their urban lives. The Scots reputation for hard drinking was born, an image Scotland struggles with to this day.