Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, take one

When I visited the Royal Institution in London recently, there was obviously something ‘going on’ in the building. After checking out the official exhibit in the basement, I explored the building by following the staircase up past an interesting succession of portraits. I could hear a professional sounding talk coming from somewhere, and saw several stressed stagehands running from a room packed with scientific props to a door leading to a backstage area.

This, then, would be the world-famous Royal Institution Christmas Lectures! They’re now being shown on TV as I speak. I didn’t want to get in the way of the stagehands and their precious cargo, and so I beat a hasty retreat back downstairs.

However, I noticed today that the RI website says that the christmas lectures are held at 6pm. But I visited there at around 3pm. So how come I managed to overhear a lecture?

Turns out, these slick tv productions don’t “just happen”. I found an article by a previous xmas lecturer which explain the painful reality. Each lecture is preceded by at least a gruelling day and a half of rehearsals and planning. It’s more like a stage show than a simple lecture – the cameras, sound guys, lighting and stagehands all need to figure out what they’ll be doing and when they’ll be doing it. And the lecturer needs to figure out where to look, who to talk to *and* remember their words! Seems like working with children & animals is the least of their troubles.

Having watched the first lecture on TV now, I’m left wondering how they got two donkeys up to the lecture theatre. Did they walk up the stairs? Do they have a lift – and, if so, would you get into a lift with two donkeys?!

And so I leave the Royal Institution, home of Michael Faraday and Humphry Davy, by contemplating the deepest question of science: Donkeys and staircases. Staircases and donkeys.