Cyril Hilsum: 'white heat of technology' and LCDs

Cyril Hilsum recalls visits from ministers Tony Benn and John Stonehouse to RRE Malvern, and how the 'white heat of technology' led to LCD televisions.

Listen to the full interview track and all other tracks from this interview on British Library Sounds

I think it was ’67 or ’68, something around there there was the change in government and we had the White Hot Technological Revolution, as a result of which they decided that the government research establishments, or at least some of them, should be used to really improve industrial productivity and get thing into, get ideas into industry. And we were put into the Ministry of Technology, we had a more productive visit from John Stonehouse, he was Minister for Technology and he came down to see what was going on in the place. And he spent some time visiting but most of his time he was talking to our director, George MacFarlane and he … told Stonehouse that … although there’d been a bit of fuss over Concorde being developed and the money being spent on it, most people didn’t appreciate how much money the lack of science was costing the country. And Stonehouse asked for an example and he said, ‘Well for example colour television, it’s not appreciated that we pay license fees to American companies, the Radio Corporation of America, RCA, for the invention of the colour tube which is being made in Chelmsford but we have to pay a license fee on every – every tube, every television set that’s made and over time we are giving more to RCA than we’re spending on Concorde.’ Anyway, he said this, he threw this into the conversation. The next morning apparently, Stonehouse rang him and said, ‘Director, you’ve convinced me, we definitely ought to do it,’ and George had had a long conversation with him so he said – naturally he was a good civil servant, he said, ‘Oh, well that is good news minster, that is good news, I’m very pleased, which particular aspect of our work were you meaning because we did so many things.’ He said, ‘The need for a flat panel display of course,’ he said, ‘start a programme on this, we must – must get away from this stranglehold with the American company has over us so can you please start a programme?’ George immediately summoned the head of physics, David Parkinson who was a low temperature physicist, again a very very good scientist, very nice man, and me down to his office, and told us what had happened and he said to me, ‘Cyril, what can we do on flat panel displays?’ I said, ‘Nothing,’ he said, ‘Nothing?’ I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘we can make some LEDs,’ he said, ‘I don’t think that would do.’ So David said, ‘Well no we could have a working party,’ and George said, ‘Good idea, we’ll have a working party on it,’ so he was immediately able to report to John Stonehouse that we were starting on this and we’d got a working party working on it. 

  • Interviewee Cyril Hilsum
  • Duration 00:03:48
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 2/29/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/69

Related Audio Clips

The following clips are short extracts from an in-depth interview.
To listen to the full interview visit

Related themes

Related disciplines