Birth signs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2000, 12:00am

Saddam Hussein, Winston Churchill and the Queen have two things in common. They are or were all leaders, and the first-born children in their families.

Tony Blair and John F Kennedy are defined as negotiators and were both middle-born. Mahatma Gandhi and Andy Warhol were last-born, and born to be rebels.

If you have wondered whether birth order might explain why you or your children are leaders, followers or rebels, the answer may be found in Me First (World, 10pm), which explores the effect the position in our family has on our past and futures, and asks whether genes or birth order are more important.

Many maintain that such studies are assumptions, either flawed or superfluous. The examples quoted are certainly flawed. Another programme could define Blair, Kennedy and Gandhi as leaders. But the subject is intriguing, especially for parents watching their youngest children strive to match their elders, and their eldest lord it over their siblings.

Statistics show that many pilots, statesmen and policemen are eldest children, while the more older brothers a boy has, the greater the chance he has of being gay. I am not sure whether Pedro Almodovar is first, middle or last born, but he is most certainly a leader and rebel in the film industry.

Tonight Cable viewers can enjoy his hilarious, irreverent Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Movie 2, 10.30pm), a superb tonic for anyone who suspects they could be losing it. In Almodovar's post-Franco Spain, everyone is passionately mad.

Almovodar's homemade short films were famous in the Spanish counter-culture of the 1970s, and his subsequent movies have long entertained those with a taste for the outlandish. Only this year has he won Hollywood's official seal of approval, taking home the Best Foreign Film Oscar for All About My Mother.

How our solar system will end its life, is described in The Planets (Pearl, 8.30pm) in as melodramatic a fashion as the emotional fireworks that Almovodar lets off in Women On The Verge. Scientists have worked out its destiny. The sun that created it will eventually engulf and destroy it.

The solar system will see many changes before the light of our star finally goes out. Mars and Titan will warm up. Mercury and Venus will go into meltdown, and the gas around the Giants will blow away.

This all sounds very ominous for the cause of life. But this excellent series will leave us on an optimistic note. Astronomers have already discovered planets orbiting other stars.

So far, none fit the description of a living planet, being either too hot, too cold or too big.

But with billions more stars to explore in our galaxy alone, astronomers believe it is only a matter of time, possibly 10 years, before the question 'are we alone?' is finally answered with a resounding 'no'.

This programme charts our sun's decline to black dwarf status, and the quest for the first Earth-like planet to be discovered beyond our solar system, where the story of life could continue.