Christmas Lecturers past reunite for the 80th anniversary CHRISTMAS LECTURES

The 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES marks 80 years of television history since its first BBC broadcast on 22 December 1936, making it the world’s oldest televised science series.

Dr Peter Wothers MBE (2012) in his iconic yellow lab coat
Paul Wilkinson

Inspired by Michael Faraday, the Royal Institution’s most famous Christmas Lecturer past, the upcoming BBC Four series ‘Supercharged: Fuelling the Future’ will focus on energy as its scientific theme and will be presented by Saiful Islam, Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Bath. In this year’s commemorative series, Saiful will be joined by 10 Christmas Lecturers past spanning 29 years of television history between them, in the first reunion of its kind since the CHRISTMAS LECTURES began in 1825.


The line-up of well-known Christmas Lecturers past who will return to our screens this year includes Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas (1987), Professor Richard Dawkins (1991), Professor Tony Ryan OBE (2002), Professor Monica Grady CBE (2003), Professor Hugh Montgomery (2007), Professor Mark Miodownik (2010), Dr Peter Wothers MBE (2012), Professor Alison Woollard (2013), Professor Danielle George MBE (2014) and Dr Kevin Fong (2015).


With their help, Saiful will take us on a journey through scientific history, starting by recreating Michael Faraday’s famous 19th century experiments in spectacular 21st century style, and ending by exploring his own cutting-edge area of expertise – the materials needed to create next-generation clean energy devices such as lithium batteries, solar cells and hydrogen fuel cells.

Saiful will close the 2016 series by looking to the future and challenging the young audience to answer one of the biggest questions facing society today – how can we generate the vast amount of energy our modern society needs and still protect our planet for the benefit of future generations?

 Saiful said: “To be the Christmas Lecturer for this 80th anniversary year is a huge honour. I’m excited that our celebration of energy offers a wonderful opportunity to explain how current cutting-edge research on clean energy technologies is founded on the Royal Institution’s rich heritage of discovery by greats such as Michael Faraday. And I’m also looking forward to recreating some memorable moments from previous lectures with the help of some very special guests.”

 In the first Lecture, ‘Let there be light!’, Saiful will challenge Christmas Lecturer past Professor Richard Dawkins to recreate his famous 1991 swinging cannonball demonstration. Professor Richard Dawkins said: “As indicated by the space I gave them in my autobiography, the Christmas Lectures were one of the greatest challenges of my life, and the invitation to give them one of my greatest honours. Preparation dominated the better part of a year, but the enthusiasm of Faraday’s “juvenile auditory” made it all worthwhile.”


Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor, BBC Four saidI’m delighted that this year we are marking 80 years since the BBC first broadcast the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. From the first televised lecture in 1936 with G.I. Taylor FRS explaining, ‘with experiments’, how ships roll in a rough sea, to this year’s lecture on BBC Four from Saiful Islam exploring the extraordinary world of energy, the lectures have long been a much loved part of people’s Christmas television viewing and have done so much to ignite an interest in science and further public understanding. This year is going to be a particular treat as we celebrate the rich heritage of 80 years of the lectures on TV by recreating some memorable moments from previous lectures with the help of some very special guests.”

 David Dugan, Chief Executive Officer, Windfall Films said: “Sudden and unexpected releases of energy are a hallmark of Christmas Lectures demonstrations - and this year's will not disappoint. Beginning with a remarkable candle trick first performed by Michael Faraday in his inaugural Christmas Lecture, Professor Saiful Islam will open our eyes to what energy really means. Windfall Films has been producing the Christmas Lectures in partnership with the Royal Institution since the year 2000 - and we are looking forward to guest appearances from Christmas lecturers past to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the first year the lectures were televised."

 Gail Cardew, Professor of Science, Culture and Society at the Royal Institution, said: "For many families, the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are as much of the tradition at Christmas as the turkey dinner or the Queen's speech. They offer an opportunity for the whole family to gather around the telly to learn something new together. We have many examples of people who say watching the lectures as children influenced their career choice, and many of these people are now discovering them once again as they become parents themselves. Nurturing this excitement for science across the whole family, generation after generation, is what motivates us to do our very best each year."

The BBC Four broadcast will take place at 8pm on 26, 27 and 28 December.

 The 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films for BBC Four.