Robyn Williams

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Robyn Williams

Robyn Williams.jpg
Born (1944-01-30) 30 January 1944 (age 79)
United Kingdom
Occupation(s)Science journalist, broadcaster

Robyn Williams AO FAA (born 30 January 1944) is a British/Australian science journalist and broadcaster who has hosted The Science Show on ABC Radio National (RN) since 1975, and created Ockham's Razor in 1984.

Early life and education[edit]

Williams was born on 30 January 1944[1][2] in Wales[3] or High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England.[2][a] His father, Gwyn, a Welshman, has been variously reported as a union executive and journalist,[2] or a coalminer who also studied engineering.[3] His mother, Ray (nee Davis), was Jewish, from London's East End, and worked as a translator.[2]

Williams attended various schools in London, including Tooting Bec Grammar, as well as spending a few years at a German language school in Vienna, Austria.[2]

Williams first spent time in Australia in 1964 and worked as a temporary clerk at the Decimal Currency Board of Australia, among other jobs. He moved back to London with his Australian wife to study science.[2] He graduated from the University of London with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree. During this period he was active in university acting and was hired as an extra in BBC series The Goodies, Monty Python's Flying Circus and Doctor Who.[3][2]

Professional life[edit]

He joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Science Unit in 1972 where, after several years in background production and interviewing for the Insight program, he hosted Innovations in early 1974,[4] Investigations (2-hour format) from 6 November 1974. [5] In 1975 he began hosting The Science Show, a one-hour science-based radio interview show. At one time it was the most popular radio show on Radio 2 (Radio National's former name), and it is one of the longest-running radio shows in Australia and the world.[3]

Ockham's Razor followed in 1984, with Williams introducing a leading scientist or personality who then expounds from a prepared text on a topic of their choice, with a view to making a subject simple and accessible to the public, hence the title relating to the famous statement on parsimony by William of Ockham. In Conversation commenced in 1997, with Williams interviewing the personality.[3]

Other media work[edit]

Trade union activism[edit]

In 1977, Williams gave an impassioned speech to the ABC Staff Association against ABC management's quiescence in the face of budget cuts and political interference. He said that a UK proposal that the government appoint one third of BBC board members had been publicly opposed by BBC management but that the ABC chairman acted as if he headed an organisation rivalling the BBC. Following his speech the meeting voted unanimously that it had no confidence in the ABC chair, John Norgard.[6]

Other roles[edit]

Honours, awards and recognition[edit]

Australian honours[edit]

  • 1988: Honorary Member of the Order of Australia (AM), 26 January, "For service to science, particularly in the fields of media and education"[10]
  • 2001: Centenary Medal, 1 January, "For outstanding service in science communication"[11]
  • 2020: Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), 26 January, "For distinguished service to science as a journalist, radio presenter and author, and to education"[7]

Academic honours[edit]

As of May 2022 Williams has honorary doctorates from seven universities:[3]

He was a Reuters Fellow at the University of Oxford in 1994[2] (where he wrote his autobiography), and a visiting fellow at Balliol College in 1995–6.[12]

Other recognition[edit]


As well as many articles and introductions to books,[2] Williams has written at least 10 books,[3] including:

  • The Uncertainty Principle (1991, nonfiction)[2]
  • And Now For Something Completely Different (1995), autobiography, written when he was a Reuters Fellow at Oxford.[12] The title refers to a popular radio interview he did with John Cleese on the topic of psychiatry.[14]
  • This Is the Science Show (1995, nonfiction)[2]
  • Normal Service Won't Be Resumed: The Future of Public Broadcasting (1996, nonfiction)[2]
  • Future Perfect (2007, nonfiction),[15] about "the future of just about everything"[16]

Personal life[edit]

Williams met Pamela Traylor when in Australia for the first time, and they married on 10 June 1966 before both moving back to the UK, where he studied science. They had two children.[2]

He is a good friend of fellow ABC presenter, Norman Swan, a qualified medical doctor, who intervened to help save his life when he suffered a cardiac arrest in 1988.[3]

As of 2022 Williams is in a long-term relationship with Jonica Newby,[3] a former presenter on ABC Television's Catalyst science journalism program. Williams underwent chemotherapy for colorectal cancer in 2014 and 2015; at one point he was hospitalised for five weeks but continued to make The Science Show from his hospital bed.[18]


  1. ^ Sources vary as to place of birth; the Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation says Buckinghamshire,[1] and says High Wycombe, Bucks.[2] Using 2022 ABC source for now.


  1. ^ a b c "Williams, Robyn". Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation. Swinburne University of Technology. 25 May 2001. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Williams, Robyn 1944-". 30 January 1944. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Johnson, Natasha (29 May 2022). "Robyn Williams, host of ABC RN's The Science Show, on 50 years of broadcasting and the day Norman Swan saved his life". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 29 May 2022.
  4. ^ "Prof Lovejoy lives", The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 September 1974: 14.
  5. ^ "Anyone can talk science", The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 October 1974: 11.
  6. ^ Molomby, Tom (1991). Is there a moderate on the roof? ABC Years. Port Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia. pp. 97–100.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Mr Robyn Williams [H]: Officer of the Order of Australia". Australian Honours Search Facility. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Australia). Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "In conversation with Robyn Williams". ANU. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  9. ^ "Robyn Williams". Voiceless. Archived from the original on 28 February 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  10. ^ "Mr Robyn Williams [H]: Member of the Order of Australia". Australian Honours Search Facility. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Australia). Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  11. ^ "Mr Robyn Williams: Centenary Medal". Australian Honours Search Facility. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Australia). Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  12. ^ a b "Robyn Williams". ABC Radio National. 10 June 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  13. ^ "Past Winners & Finalists (Eureka Prizes)". Australian Museum.
  14. ^ "Robyn Williams AO". Celebrity Speakers. 18 February 2021. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  15. ^ "Robyn Williams, AM". Celebrity Speakers. Archived from the original on 2 April 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  16. ^ Conway-Wood, Sian; Vincent, James. "Future Perfect". Allen & Unwin. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  17. ^ "Robyn Williams, 2007—a true story, waiting to happen". Nautilus Institute. 19 December 2011.
  18. ^ Newby, Jonica (15 May 2016). "Catalyst - Exercise and Cancer - Transcript". ABC Website. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 22 May 2016.

External links[edit]