Lectures might be ghost of Xmas past

March 26, 2004

The future of the Royal Institution Christmas lectures hung in the balance this week as Channel 4 suggested this year's would probably be the last it screens and the BBC confirmed that it did not plan to televise them in the future.

The famous science lectures for children, which are the flagship of the Royal Institution, have been running since 1825 and have been a key part of the Christmas television schedule since 1966.

But The Times Higher has learnt that Channel 4 is unlikely to renew its contract to screen the lectures when it expires at the end of this year.

And the BBC, which unexpectedly lost the contract four years ago, said it did not want the lectures back.

GlaxoSmithKline also confirmed this week that its seven-year sponsorship of the lectures had ended and would not be renewed.

A source close to the institution said the news had caused alarm in a recent "explosive" meeting of the organisation's council.

A spokesperson for Channel 4 said this week that although the channel was exploring other partnerships with the Royal Institution, the lectures about science and Antarctica this Christmas would probably be the last shown on Channel 4.

John Lynch, creative director of science at the BBC, said the broadcaster had met with the Royal Institution to discuss the possibility of taking the lectures back, but had decided against it.

He said: "We felt that the broadcasting environment has moved on from when the Royal Institution Christmas lectures were a centrepiece on BBC2."

The BBC is talking to the Science Museum about more hands-on programmes for children.

Bryson Gore, who designed the science demonstrations for the lectures for many years, said the production team at the BBC was "shocked" when the Royal Institution took the lectures to Channel 4.

He said: "I think there is an element of 'if you turn your nose up at us, we don't want you back'."

Monica Grady, who delivered last year's lectures about Mars, said: "A TV programme can reach out to so many more people than can sit in a lecture theatre."

Richard Dawkins, who gave the 1991 Christmas lectures, said: "It would be extremely sad if the lectures were not televised. I believe that generations of British schoolchildren have been turned on to science by them."

Baroness Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, said: "We have no comment as we are currently in negotiation to renew the television contract."

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