Revolution in the Kitchen. Russell Hobbs and the invention of the Automatic Kettle

Nicholas Russell

South West
Notice Period:
Regular (more than one month's notice)
Retired Professional
19th November 2023

Everybody of a certain age remembers the Russell Hobbs K2 kettle which turned itself off when it boiled. It was an aspirational wedding present for many couples in the 1960s and 70s. Bill Russell was the inventive design engineer who created it along with his business partner, another electrical engineer, Peter Hobbs. The firm remains well known but has nothing like the reputation of its hey-day. Its origin and decline mirrors the rise and decline of post-war British manufacturing. I can tell the story as Bill Russell was my father and I can recall the company's early days. Its history is an object lesson in what went wrong with British industry and how it might be revived.

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About Nicholas Russell

My working life was spent in colleges and universities. I was a bit of an academic tourist, hopping between applied biology, the history of science and technology and science communication. I also undertook curriculum development in vocational science for the Nuffield Foundation and wrote features in the educational and scientific trade press, and for national newspapers. My final post was Head of the small Humanities Department at Imperial College London.

In retirement i have been an active volunteer in heritage organisations, including for the National Trust at the architect Ernö Goldfinger's house in Hampstead and at Dyrham Park near Bath, at the Blenheim Palace sawmill at Combe near Woodstock in Oxfordshire, and at the American Museum and Gardens at Claverton Manor, just outside Bath.

I have used one of these volunteer roles as a basis for the book, 'Lubetkin and Goldfinger, The Rise and Fall of British High-Rise Council Housing' (2023) and the fact that my father, William Russell, was the designer and inventor at the firm of Russell Hobbs in the history/memoir, 'Household Names, Russell Hobbs and the Automatic Kettle, A Story of Invention and Design' (2021). These topics form the basis of two of my
talks, while others arise from contributions to other projects. More information can be found on my website,

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