Missing CHRISTMAS LECTURES

You can help unearth missing Sir David Attenborough footage and other iconic science TV shows.

About the campaign

We have begun a nationwide search to locate 31 missing episodes of the first science show ever to be broadcast on UK national television.

We are asking people across the country and beyond to search the long-forgotten contents of dusty attics or little-used store cupboards, to help unearth past series of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES from the Royal Institution, described by Sir David Attenborough and other past Christmas Lecturers as ‘national treasures from a golden age of broadcasting’.

We are in the process of making the entire BBC archive of these broadcasts available on our website for the first time. However 31 episodes broadcast between 1966 and 1973 are missing. Included in the missing episodes is footage of Sir David Attenborough not seen since it was first broadcast live nearly 50 years ago.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have been delivered every year since 1825, making them the longest running series of scientific lectures in the world. They were the first science programme broadcast on the BBC, in 1936, and having featured on TV every year since 1966 they are also the second-longest running continuously broadcast science TV show. The CHRISTMAS LECTURES aim has always been to present an accessible and entertaining way to engage with science.

This year’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES will be given by Prof Alice Roberts, exploring genetics and identity. Prof Roberts will examine our evolutionary past and cast an eye to the future, discussing the ethical challenges that need to be overcome to ensure science is used for the benefit of society. 

While the missing Lecture episodes are officially ‘believed wiped’, the BBC and the Ri believe copies may exist somewhere, made during the earliest days of video recorders.

The missing lectures

The 31 missing CHRISTMAS LECTURES are made up of 5 complete series of 6 lectures each, plus a single episode of Sir David Attenborough’s much loved 1973 series on ‘The language of animals’:

1966 – Engineer in wonderland – Eric Laithwaite
1967 – The intelligent eye – Richard Gregory
1969 – Time machines – George Porter
1970 – Monkeys without tails: a giraffe’s eye view of man – John Napier
1971 – Sounds of music: The science of tones and tunes – Charles Taylor
1973 – The language of animals (1 episode) – Sir David Attenborough

How can I help?

You can help our missing lectures campaign in several ways:

  • Have a search through your attics, basements, and rarely used cupboards to see if you have a recorded copy of any of the missing lectures
  • Ask your older relatives if they might have copies
  • Spead the word about the campaign on social media using #missingxmaslectures

And if you find a missing lecture or any other related material? Get in touch with us at ri@ri.ac.uk or call us on 0207 409 2992.