A view of the cravings exhibition

Cravings: Can Your Food Control You?

What’s driving your food obsession? Is it the colour of your spoon, the food your mum ate while pregnant, the trillions of bacteria that dine with you, or the little known ‘second brain’ in your gut?

The answers to these questions and more can be found in Cravings: Can Your Food Control You?, a new exhibition which looks at how your appetite is shaped by food, from the flavours you learned to love in the womb to the very next bite you take.

Cravings exhibition at the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

Cravings exhibition at the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

In the exhibition you can discover how scientists and chefs are manipulating our senses to make food seem healthier and tastier. Quirky dining utensils that use colour, material and shape to trick our sense of taste are on display (see them in action here), alongside art-inspired food such as ‘Salad with a Taste of Kandinsky’, created by scientists and chefs to help understand how the brain creates the perception of taste and flavour.

Salad with a taste of Kandinsky. Credit Bottletop / Science Museum.

Salad with a taste of Kandinsky. Credit Bottletop / Science Museum.

Are squares spicier than circles? Can music make a dish taste better? By answering these questions in a unique online science experiment in the exhibition you can help chef Heston Blumenthal and Prof Charles Spence at Oxford University understand how our senses influence food cravings (click here to take part).

As Heston explains, “Think about the most memorable meal you’ve ever had. It’s not just the food you remember. Eating is a multi-sensory experience that can shape your appetite for life.”

Guests at the Cravings press preview watched as BBC Breakfast broadcast live from the Cravings exhibition to 7 million viewers, with stories from the exhibition featured in the GuardianNewsweekThe IndependentRadio 4’s Today programme and on BBC News.

BBC Breakfast broadcasting live from the Cravings exhibition. Credit: Science Museum

BBC Breakfast broadcasting live from the Cravings exhibition. Credit: Science Museum

Jean M. Franczyk, the Science Museum’s Deputy Director, welcomed guests to the press preview, remarking that, ‘You don’t need me to tell you that food has an increasing grip on the nation – whether it’s eating out at trendy restaurants, staying in to watch Great British Bake Off on TV or public discourse about obesity. Yet little is known about our cravings. What drives us to take that extra bite, or reach for another helping of breakfast? Our fabulous Cravings exhibition brings together the latest scientific research on food and appetite with personal stories and fascinating objects to explore these questions and many more.’

Chef Heston Blumenthal made a special appearance at the press preview via video and the exhibition was officially opened by Prof Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, who said, ‘I think this exhibition shows the relationship with our weight and food wonderfully. What Ling has managed to do with her colleagues is bring new science and technology together, revealing how the food we all eat shapes our appetite throughout life, from the very beginnings as an embryo.’

Ling Lee, Project leader for the Cravings exhibition, explained more, ‘Everything you’ve ever eaten, and will eat, leaves a stamp on you. Through the latest scientific research on appetite, Cravings reveals the inner workings of our brain, gut brain and gut bacteria and – more importantly – how all three work together to regulate our eating habits.’

An artificial gut developed by scientists at the University of Reading. Credit: Science Museum.

An artificial gut developed by scientists at the University of Reading. Credit: Science Museum.

When you eat, 100 trillion gut bacteria dine with you, and their response to food has a big effect on your appetite. Cravings delves inside the hidden world of these gut bacteria and your second ‘gut’ brain – millions of nerve cells embedded in the gut wall – which can make you feel hungry, full or even crave certain foods. In the exhibition you can see an artificial gut used by scientists to study gut bacteria and discover how NASA are studying how gut bacteria behave in space and on Earth thanks to astronaut twins Scott and Mark Kelly.

Cravings: Can Your Food Control You? is generously supported by GSK (Major Sponsor) and Danone (Associate Sponsor), with additional support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council. The exhibition is free and is open until January 2016. For more information visit sciencemuseum.org.uk/cravings.

Logotype of the Anti-Noise League, pressure group behind the 1935 exhibition. Credit: Science Museum.

Music, Noise and Silence

Dr. Tim Boon, Head of Research & Public History at the Science Museum reflects on a series of upcoming public events exploring science, technology and music.

In 1935, the Science Museum staged a very uncharacteristic temporary exhibition, on the theme of noise abatement. The Museum’s exhibitions in those days usually celebrated new technologies, such as television (in 1937) or showed unfamiliar parts of its collections, for example ‘rafts, canoes and boats’ (1931). But noise was seen as a by-product of industrial modernity that needed to be tackled, not least by new silent technologies and measuring devices, and so the exhibition was planned.

‘Silent lift’ display in 1935’s Noise Abatement exhibition. Credit: Science Museum

‘Silent lift’ display in 1935’s Noise Abatement exhibition. Credit: Science Museum

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of this exhibition, and as part of the research towards a future exhibition on science, technology and music, the museum has organised a series of events, organised around the themes of ‘Music, Noise and Silence’. The series, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is being developed in conjunction with the Royal College of Music and the University Nottingham. Each workshop includes publicly-accessible concerts and talks by high profile speakers.

Logotype of the Anti-Noise League, pressure group behind the 1935 exhibition. Credit: Science Museum.

Logotype of the Anti-Noise League, pressure group behind the 1935 exhibition. Credit: Science Museum.

On February 25-26 at the Royal College of Music, we explore Music and Silence, starting form the idea that silence is the ‘absolute zero’ of both music and the science of acoustics. The conversations will discuss the proposition that modern ‘quiet’ musics – including experimental, ambient and spiritual genres – are responses to industrial modernity.

The publicly-accessible concerts and talks for ‘Music and Silence’ features a two-part concert on 25th February and an afternoon of presentations by David Toop (author of Ocean of Sound, 1995) and Hillel Schwartz (Making Noise, 2011) on 26 February (book here).

On 26–27 March, we explore Noise and Silence at the University of Nottingham, focussing on the issues that led to the Museum’s 1935 exhibition and their resonances today.

How can electronics mediate a noisy world? Advertising flyer, Electronic Music Studios, c.1975

How can electronics mediate a noisy world? Advertising flyer, Electronic Music Studios, c.1975

Finally, at the Science Museum on 23–24 April, we go into Music and Noise, exploring the interactions and musical possibilities that industrial modernity has opened up for new kinds of music of all kinds. Watch this space for updates on the later events.

A Day In the Life of an Outreach Officer

New outreach officer Heather Patrick, talks about her experiences as a new member of the team.

Hello, my name is Heather. I’m one of the two new recruits on the Outreach and Resources team at the Science Museum. I’ve been in the team for two months now, and I’ve already had some amazing experiences!

The Outreach team’s job is to travel around the country, bringing explosive science shows and workshops to schools, communities and festivals. The Outreach team perform lots of different shows and workshops. Most of my time has been spent in training, learning to perform the shows. Here I am performing the Glorious Blood show for the very first time in a school. The flour shower experiment was very popular!

flour shower1

On Mondays, the Outreach team plan their visits for the week. As well as figuring out how to get to the different schools, we also need to figure out what props we need to bring for our shows. Every Monday, the team goes to the Outreach storeroom to organise the show props for the week. We perform 22 different shows and workshops, so there are a lot of boxes in the storeroom.

store

Once we’ve sorted out what we need, we load all the props into the Outreach van. Lifting the boxes can be tiring work, but I’ve been getting better at it every day. Sometimes fitting all the boxes into the van can be like a giant game of Tetris, but the oldies on the team make it look easy.

packing1

When we’re not out visiting schools or communities, we’re in the office planning our visits, ringing up schools, or working on special projects. One of my projects is to update the Meet the Team section of our webpages. I’ll be taking photos of the team, asking them intriguing interview questions and putting their answers up on the website for all to see. Watch this space!

One of the best aspects of working in Outreach, aside from all the different shows I get to perform, is visiting new places. Occasionally the Outreach team go on away trips to exotic locations such as Ireland, Italy and Hong Kong. My favourite away trip to date has been the annual Outreach trip to Gibraltar. Our team performed shows and workshops for every school over the course of the week. I was surprised when I saw photos of myself and Laura performing the Not So Sleepy Hedgehog storytelling in the local newspaper on my second day!

NSSH1

I’ve been learning something new every day on the Outreach team, and I’m having an absolute blast visiting people all around the world and showing them how fun science can be. Perhaps I’ll see you around in the New Year!

If you’d like the Science Museum’s outreach team to visit your school or event, details of what we offer and how to book can be found on our website.

A Remarkable Moment for Science

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

When the House of Commons voted to legalise a revolutionary new form of reproductive medicine on Tuesday, it was a remarkable moment for science.

This technique, known as mitochondrial replacement or three-person in vitro fertilization, aims to prevent women passing on harmful mutations in their mitochondria, the cell’s energy-producing structures. 

The vote in the House of Commons, decided by 382 members of parliament casting in favour and 128 against, is expected to lead to the United Kingdom becoming a pioneer in mitochondrial replacement methods.

I wrote one of the first newspaper accounts of mitochondrial donation for The Daily Telegraph a decade ago, and also chaired a debate on the technique on Monday night, organised by the Progress Educational Trust in the Houses of Parliament.

The debate was hosted by Luciana Berger, Labour and Cooperative MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and Shadow Minister for Public Health.  Among the audience of around 150 people were MPs, Lords, fertility experts and members of families affected by mitochondrial disease.

After being introduced by Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre, who is also chair of the Progress Educational Trust, I reminded the audience that we were there as an indirect result of events that took place one or two billion years ago: that’s when bacteria invaded the cells of our ancestors to trade chemical energy for a cosy home. 

But, of course, mitochondria can suffer faults and the Commons was about to debate methods designed to prevent children being born with some 50 or so metabolic disorders that result this way. Almost 2,500 women of child-bearing age in the UK are at risk of passing on disease caused by faults in mitochondria to their children.

The speakers debating the safety and ethics on Monday night were: Frances Flinter, Professor of Clinical Genetics at King’s College London; John Harris, Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester; Dr David King, Founder and Director of Human Genetics Alert and Philippa Taylor, Head of Public Policy at the Christian Medical Fellowship, and Consultant on Family and Bioethics at Christian Action Research and Education.

Important contributions to the discussion came from members of affected families, the pioneer of the research, Prof Doug Turnbull of Newcastle University, journalist and author Matt Ridley and Prof Andy Greenfield,  who chaired the HFEA Scientific Review panel.

What was gratifying was that on Tuesday the debate was cited by several MPs – including Luciana Berger, Liz McInnes and Guy Opperman  - in their contributions to the House of Commons debate before the historic vote in favour of this form of gene therapy.

Another MP even complained that we had more time for our public debate than the MPs had for their debate in the Commons.

The science and ethics of mitochondrial donation have been the subject of an exhibit in the Science Museum and years of high-profile discussions, including public consultations by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Department of Health, and representations by scientists and key organisations such as the Wellcome Trust.

£1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering goes to chemical engineer Robert Langer

The visionary chemical engineer Dr Robert Langer, whose work on drug delivery systems has benefited millions of patients, has today won Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Every two years, the £1 million QE Prize brings a splash of glamour to the world of engineering, and with Professor Brian Cox is sitting in the audience rather than addressing it, this year was no exception. As Professor Cox explained in a video shown to the audience, the prize goes “not to areas of potential, or engineers who may be great in the future, but to engineers who’ve already done something that’s demonstrably changed, in this case, millions of lives”.

Dr Robert Langer, winner of the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

Dr Robert Langer, winner of the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

The announcement itself was made by Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, in the presence of His Royal Highness The Duke of York, who told the audience “the UK is the best place to do science and engineering” and spoke about how his personal passion for engineering had been inspired by his father.

Lord Browne paid tribute to the work done throughout history by the engineers who have found solutions to the world’s most troublesome problems, noting the “excellent solutions are not inevitable”. He pointed to “imagination, creativity and tenacity” as the qualities most needed in the next generation of engineers. In December 2014, the Science Museum opening a new exhibition, Engineer Your Future designed to inspire 11- to 15-year-olds to think about careers in the engineering. 65,000 people have already visited the exhibition.

Dr Langer is one of 11 Institute Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA. His laboratory at MIT – with over 100 students, postdoctoral students, and visiting scientists at any one time -is the world’s largest academic biomedical engineering laboratory.

Professor Lord Broers, Chair of Judges for the QEPrize, said: “Robert Langer has made an immense contribution to healthcare and to numerous other fields by applying engineering systems thinking to biochemical problems. Not only has he revolutionised drug delivery, but his open-minded approach to innovation and his ability to think ‘outside the box’ have led to great advances in the field of tissue engineering. He is a truly inspiring leader who has attracted brilliant people to these relatively new and exciting areas of research and is extremely involved in the commercial development of his group’s research.”

Her Majesty The Queen will present the prize to Dr Langer at Buckingham Palace later this year.

50 Years After Churchill: A Tribute From The Science Museum Group

By Laura Singleton, Press Officer, Science Museum

The 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death is being marked across the Science Museum Group with two new exhibitions and the release of a collection of unseen archive photographs.

Last night around 300 distinguished guests, comprising scholars, funders and members of Churchill’s own family, gathered at the Science Museum to celebrate the opening of Churchill’s Scientists which celebrates the scientists who flourished under Churchill’s patronage.

From left to right: Professor Sir David Cannadine, Andrew Nahum, Lead Curator, Dame Mary Archer, Sir Nicholas Soames and Ian Blatchford at the official opening of Churchill's Scientists

From left to right: Professor Sir David Cannadine, Andrew Nahum, Lead Curator, Dame Mary Archer, Sir Nicholas Soames and Ian Blatchford at the official opening of Churchill’s Scientists

Our Chairman, Dame Mary Archer, paid a warm tribute to the scholars and historians who have collaborated with our own curatorial team on the exhibition, adding “a very special mention in despatches for Allen Packwood and his team at the Churchill College Archives”. Among those she thanked was Professor Sir David Cannadine who richly praised the exhibition in a speech of his own.

Sir Nicholas Soames spoke on behalf of the Churchill family, recalling his grandfather’s abiding passion for science among his many great attributes. Guests at the exclusive event were treated to Churchill’s favourite brand of champagne thanks to the generosity of Pol Roger.

The exhibition is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, The Stanley Foundation and The de Laszlo Foundation.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s state funeral and a full day of public commemoration around the UK. To pay tribute to the great leader, Science Museum Group Director Ian Blatchford and Dame Mary attended a private Churchill family memorial service at Westminster Abbey, along with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

Archive image of the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. Image credit: Daily Newspaper archives.

Archive image of the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. Image credit: Daily Newspaper archives.

From today, visitors to the National Railway Museum can see the original train that took Churchill’s coffin on his final journey from London to Oxfordshire. In a moving tribute, Churchill’s Final Journey uses a locomotive and carriages, seen together for the first time in 50 years, plus archive TV footage and audio accounts from those involved to tell the tale of the journey from Waterloo to Hanborough.

The Pullman carriage at the National Railway Museum. Image credit: National Railway Museum

The Pullman carriage at the National Railway Museum. Image credit: National Railway Museum

No 34501 Winston Churchill, fresh from cosmetic restoration at the Mid-Hants Railway, is displayed alongside the baggage van which carried Churchill’s coffin and the Pullman carriage Lydia which carried his family and honoured guests towards his final resting place.

Say the name “Winston Churchill” and the iconic image of the war leader, standing defiant, cigar clenched between his teeth and fingers raised in a victory salute, is at the forefront of many people’s minds. To mark this historic occasion, the National Media Museum has released some rarely seen photographs of Churchill from the Daily Herald newspaper archive.

Winnie Meets 'Digger' at London Zoo, 10 September 1947, Daily Herald Archive, National Media Museum Collection

Winnie Meets ‘Digger’ at London Zoo, 10 September 1947, Daily Herald Archive, National Media Museum Collection

The selection unearthed this week gives an extraordinary insight into Churchill’s public duties and private life. It includes images of his days in the military, intimate family scenes, his fondness for animals, and even boyhood portraits collected retrospectively for his obituary.

The Science Museum Group’s offer forms part of Churchill 2015, a unique programme of events that commemorate Churchill’s life, work and achievements in the 50th anniversary year of his death. Visit www.churchillcentral.com for more information.

Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake: Britain’s First Female Surgeon

Curator Helen Peavitt and Stephanie Millard uncover the life of Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake, Britain’s first female surgeon, who is celebrated in a new Science Museum display

The medical achievements of Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake, Britain’s first female surgeon, come under the spotlight in a new display at the Science Museum. If her name isn’t familiar then it certainly deserves to be. One hundred years ago she was busy writing to every woman on the medical register to enlist their help in setting up hospitals to treat soldiers injured on the eastern battlefields of the First World War. 

A photograph of Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake. Credit Wellcome Library, London

A photograph of Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake. Credit Wellcome Library, London

Aldrich-Blake’s war work saw her, temporarily, leave the shores of Britain. In 1915 she crossed the Channel to work as surgeon for the Anglo-French Red Cross in the 600-bed field hospital at Abbaye du Royaumont near Paris. Conditions there were certainly very difficult. Louisa characteristically rose to the challenge, seeking out every trace of bullet fragments from the war-torn bodies of those under her knife. Such determination earned her the nickname of ‘Madame Générale’ from her patients.

The diploma awarded to Dame Louisa in 1920 for her wartime services.  Image © Wellcome Images, London.

The diploma awarded to Dame Louisa in 1920 for her wartime services.
Image © Wellcome Images, London.

The work of Louisa and her fellow female doctors serving overseas helped turn the tide of popular opinion back home in their favour. Their skill and dedication in treating soldiers, often close to the front line, was widely recognised and welcomed – helping to silence the War Office, which was initially reluctant to enlist the help of female medical staff. Furthermore, their example inspired other women to enter medical school for the first time.

By the time war broke out Louisa’s own medical career was already distinguished. She enrolled at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1887 aged 22, along with a handful of other new students. Her ambition was largely driven by a deeply held desire to do ‘something useful’. After completing her bachelor degree in medicine she quickly gained her Master of Surgery degree – the first British woman to do so. She also became Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women.

Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake display at the Science Museum

Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake display at the Science Museum

Aldrich-Blake also researched and pioneered new surgical methods to treat cervical and rectal cancers. In 1903 her paper on a new procedure to treat rectal cancer was published in the British Medical Journal. She was evidently extremely proud of this, because if you leaf through her notebooks – now held at the Wellcome Library in London – you will find a copy of the paper, carefully folded and pressed between the pages.

Aldrich-Blake’s contribution to medicine is celebrated in a statue erected in her honour in Tavistock Square in London – near the headquarters of the British Medical Association. You can visit the showcase exploring Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake’s life on the ground floor of the Science Museum.

Go on Punk, make my day!

Jon Milton from our Punk Science team writes about a new era for Punk Science.

Just like when you buy a pack of chewing gum and only have a £20 note, change is inevitable. And change has lifted its fickle finger and pointed at Punk Science. For those of you who are new to Punk Science may I suggest using the excellent search engine Google to familiarise yourself with our oeuvre. Or, if you can’t be bothered doing that, here’s a potted history. Punk Science is the world’s first museum based science comedy team. We started back in 2004 featuring the talents of Rufus Hound, Kat Nilsson, Brad Gross, Ben Samuels and myself. The line-up has changed over the years as has the format from more of a stand-up style, to a hybrid of stand up and the excellent science shows performed by the Science Museum’s brilliant Learning team.

But now, a new era is about to begin in Punk Science. With the immensely talented Dan Hope leaving to pursue his acting career we were faced with the unique challenge of finding someone who is both quite good at science communication and can be quite amusing at the same time. After an arduous selection process involving an assault course, a baking contest and a spelling test, it was Science Museum Explainer and comedian Sam Furniss who served up a particularly good millefeuille accompanied by an ability to spell millefeuille that lead to his selection.

What can you expect to see in the new era of Punk Science?

Punk Science: The Gameshow

Punk Science: The Gameshow

Some of the same stuff people liked from our extensive back catalogue along with the new game show featuring at Lates on the last Wednesday of every month. This is a new style of science show taking the conventional demonstrations based format and combining it with the competitive elements of a TV game show. The idea is to attract an adult audience who wouldn’t normally go to a science themed event by using main stream entertainment techniques. It’s the next generation of “The Generation Game”. For those of you, who aren’t familiar with “The Generation Game”, add it to the list of things to Google.

Punk Science: The audience

Punk Science: The audience

Tickets are available for the all new Punk Science: The Game Show via the Science Museum website. You can also catch them at NerdNite London this month, and next month at NerdNite Brighton as part of the Brighton Science Festival, as well as at The Angel Comedy Club.  Follow them on Twitter for updates and science-based comedy interjections.

Their children’s book “The Intergalactic Supermassive Space Book” is available via the Science Museum shop and at other good retailers.

Download the free, new Lates app and gain access to exclusive special offers and information about Lates. Available on Android and iPhone.

Celebrating Churchill’s Scientists with Sir Winston’s great-grandson

By Laura Singleton, Press Officer

‘Science isn’t a word most people associate with my great-grandfather’ said Randolph Churchill, standing in front of an imposing image of his iconic relative as he addressed journalists at the press preview of Churchill’s Scientists.

Randolph Churchill addresses guests at the media preview of Churchill's Scientists. Image credit: Science Museum

Randolph Churchill addresses guests at the media preview of Churchill’s Scientists. Image credit: Science Museum

The exhibition opened to the public today on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death. It celebrates a crucial, but often overlooked element of Churchill’s life and legacy – his relationship with science and the incredible breakthroughs that he championed during his time as Prime Minister, during the Second World War and post-war era.

Randolph told the audience that his great-grandfather had been fascinated with science from a young age. He lived through an age of great technological change, which saw the development of flight, electronics, atomic physics, telephones and televisions, mass consumerism and mass destruction.

He spoke of Sir Winston’s passion for aviation and how he was probably the first Government minister to learn how to fly, at a time when the sport was still considered highly dangerous. This story is brought to life in the exhibition through the display of a model aeroplane.

A guest peers at a model Bleriot plane in the exhibition. Image credit: Science Museum

A guest peers at a model Bleriot plane in the exhibition. Image credit: Science Museum

Randolph also read an extract from a prescient 1924 essay by his great-grandfather that highlighted Churchill’s acute awareness of both the creative and destructive potential of science. The essay speculates about “a bomb no bigger than an orange” with “the secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings – nay to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke”.

Randolph Churchill examines a Jacob Epstein bust of Sir Winston Churchill. Image credit: Science Museum

Randolph Churchill examines a Jacob Epstein bust of Sir Winston Churchill. Image credit: Science Museum

Churchill’s Scientists illuminates other aspects of Churchill’s life including his love of fashion, shown in the display of a green velvet ‘siren suit’ – an all-in-one ‘romper suit’ which bears strong resemblance to the ‘onesie’. At the heart of the exhibition are the stories of the individuals who flourished under Churchill’s patronage, from Robert Watson-Watt, inventor of radar, to Bernard Lovell who created the world’s largest radio telescope, told through unique objects, original archive film footage, letters and photographs.

Randolph Churchill with a high speed camera that captured the first microseconds of the detonation of Britain's first atomic bomb. Image credit: Science Museum

Randolph Churchill with a high speed camera that captured the first microseconds of the detonation of Britain’s first atomic bomb. Image credit: Science Museum

The exhibition forms part of Churchill 2015, a year-long programme of events that commemorate Churchill’s life, work and achievements.

The exhibition is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, The Stanley Foundation and The de Laszlo Foundation. The exhibition is free and runs until March 2016.

Winston Churchill: style icon and inventor of the ‘onesie’

Martin Wise, Archivist at Turnbull & Asser shares the story behind Sir Winston Churchill’s famous ‘siren suit’, as one goes on display for the first time in the Museum’s new Churchill’s Scientists exhibition which opens next week

The ‘siren suit’, which bears resemblance to the infamous ‘onesie’, is a practical one-piece item of clothing originally designed by Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War to be quickly slipped over his clothes in the event of an air raid. The great statesman had a variety of siren suits, which he referred to as ‘romper suits,’ including sombre, military style suits, as well as more extravagant pin-striped and velvet versions.

Winston Churchill wearing   one of his siren suits. Image credit: Turnbull & Asser

Winston Churchill wearing one of his siren suits. Image credit: Turnbull & Asser

There are only three original Winston Churchill siren suits known to be in existence, including a green velvet garment created by Turnbull & Asser. Churchill reportedly returned his siren suits to the Jermyn Street shirt-maker for repair on several occasions – damaged not through enemy action but by cigar burns.

It would seem that the former Prime Minister had developed something of a penchant for the outfit, opting to sport it for the most formal of occasions. Churchill wore one of these suits on a visit to the White House, Washington, in December 1941. At a press conference that week, Mrs Roosevelt declared she was having one made for her husband.

Winston Churchill making a BBC broadcast wearing one of his siren suits in on 30th November 1942. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Winston Churchill making a BBC broadcast wearing one of his siren suits on 30th November 1942. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

After the war, Churchill wore a siren suit again when he sat for sculptor Oscar Nemon in the 1950’s. After the sittings he gave the suit to Nemon as a souvenir. Small splashes of red paint on the trousers suggested Churchill also wore it whilst painting.

Due to Churchill’s rather large proportions, Turnbull & Asser have commissioned a bespoke mannequin to display the unique garment in the Science Museum. Expertly built using a fibreglass frame, the mannequin is covered in padding to mimic the former Prime Minister’s body shape, bringing the siren suit to life.

The pattern for Sir Winston Churchill's siren suit. Image credit: Turnbull & Asser

The pattern for Sir Winston Churchill’s siren suit. Image credit: Turnbull & Asser

For those wishing to emulate the British bulldog’s style, Turnbull & Asser are due to launch a Churchill-inspired capsule collection to mark the 50th anniversary of his death this year, celebrating a great man, whose bold style and strong leadership inspired a nation.

You can see the green velvet siren suit on display together with the cigar Churchill smoked on the evening of the 1951 election when he heard he had been re-elected as Prime Minister.

Churchill’s Scientists opens to the public on Friday 23 January. For more information visit our website.