By Asha Gage – IET Archivist

The IET has a strong history of presenting lectures and papers, not only to their members, but also to the public. Looking back at the Institution’s original aims to bring people and ideas together, to inform and influence, it is evident that lectures are a main component of what the IET does.

The Christmas Holiday Lectures were established in 1946 with W G Radley CBE PhD delivering the first lecture entitled ‘Circling the world by telephone’. The Christmas Holiday Lectures were aimed at pupils from 14-17 years of age and combined lively education with practical demonstrations. The subjects and lecturers were deliberately chosen to engage a younger audience and to inspire the next generation of engineers.

Dr Laithwaite with audience in 1959 delivering his Christmas Holiday Lecture ‘Invention and new machines’ Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers February 1959

The tenth Christmas Holiday Lecture in 1955 was delivered by Mr R Brooks on ‘Electric Traction’ and in 1959 Dr E R Laithwaite gave the Christmas Holiday Lecture on ‘Invention and new machines’. In 1960 the North-Western Centre (now the IET Manchester Local Network) played host to the Christmas Holiday Lecture on ‘Colour television’ by Dr R Feinberg. It was delivered in Manchester, Salford and Bolton and due to an unprecedented attendance, it was repeated in Manchester. In total 1700 children attended that year and a report in the Journal for the IEE in May 1960 was pleased to announce that a large proportion of the audience were girls.

The Power behind the plug’ promotional poster

The Christmas Holiday Lecture in 1984 was entitled ‘The power behind the plug’ by F.W.T Davenport, Engineering Advisor, at the Electricity Council. The lecture explored the work that went in to supplying homes with electricity, the effort made by the designers and operators to make sure that it is fit for purpose and safe. Mr Davenport illustrated how the system must survive under extreme weather conditions whilst meeting demand at reasonable cost.

A digitised version of ‘The power behind the plug’ on the London Screen Archives website is available to watch. 

In 1990 the lecture subject took a different turn and demonstrated the use of electronics in modern aircraft cockpits by describing the development process and the designer’s role in problem solving. The applications of high-technology electronics to the problems of cockpit design were examined in an attempt to show the development cycle from initial concept through to the application of technology. The lecture, ‘The electronic cockpit’ was delivered by Katharine Wykes from British Aerospace and Duncan Tincello from Smiths Industries.

‘The electronic cockpit’ the 1990 Christmas Holiday Lecture, IEE NEWS 1990

A montage film created using film footage from the IET Archives has been created to celebrate 150 years of the Institution. It contains some footage from our lectures: 

Celebrating the IET on film